How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

Photo: Artwork by Ayatgali Tuleubek

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.

The metrics are fake.

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

The people are fake.

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots. On some platforms, video views and app downloads can be forged in lucrative industrial counterfeiting operations. If you want a picture of what the Inversion looks like, find a video of a “click farm”: hundreds of individual smartphones, arranged in rows on shelves or racks in professional-looking offices, each watching the same video or downloading the same app.This is obviously not real human traffic. But what would real human traffic look like? The Inversion gives rise to some odd philosophical quandaries: If a Russian troll using a Brazilian man’s photograph to masquerade as an American Trump supporter watches a video on Facebook, is that view “real”? Not only do we have bots masquerading as humans and humans masquerading as other humans, but also sometimes humans masquerading as bots, pretending to be “artificial-intelligence personal assistants,” like Facebook’s “M,” in order to help tech companies appear to possess cutting-edge AI. We even have whatever CGI Instagram influencer Lil Miquela is: a fake human with a real body, a fake face, and real influence. Even humans who aren’t masquerading can contort themselves through layers of diminishing reality: The Atlantic reports that non-CGI human influencers are posting fake sponsored content — that is, content meant to look like content that is meant to look authentic, for free — to attract attention from brand reps, who, they hope, will pay them real money.

click farm

The businesses are fake.

The money is usually real. Not always — ask someone who enthusiastically got into cryptocurrency this time last year — but often enough to be an engine of the Inversion. If the money is real, why does anything else need to be? Earlier this year, the writer and artist Jenny Odell began to look into an Amazon reseller that had bought goods from other Amazon resellers and resold them, again on Amazon, at higher prices. Odell discovered an elaborate network of fake price-gouging and copyright-stealing businesses connected to the cultlike Evangelical church whose followers resurrected Newsweek in 2013 as a zombie search-engine-optimized spam farm. She visited a strange bookstore operated by the resellers in San Francisco and found a stunted concrete reproduction of the dazzlingly phony storefronts she’d encountered on Amazon, arranged haphazardly with best-selling books, plastic tchotchkes, and beauty products apparently bought from wholesalers. “At some point I began to feel like I was in a dream,” she wrote. “Or that I was half-awake, unable to distinguish the virtual from the real, the local from the global, a product from a Photoshop image, the sincere from the insincere.”

The content is fake.

The only site that gives me that dizzying sensation of unreality as often as Amazon does is YouTube, which plays host to weeks’ worth of inverted, inhuman content. TV episodes that have been mirror-flipped to avoid copyright takedowns air next to huckster vloggers flogging merch who air next to anonymously produced videos that are ostensibly for children. An animated video of Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen riding tractors is not, you know, not real: Some poor soul animated it and gave voice to its actors, and I have no doubt that some number (dozens? Hundreds? Millions? Sure, why not?) of kids have sat and watched it and found some mystifying, occult enjoyment in it. But it’s certainly not “official,” and it’s hard, watching it onscreen as an adult, to understand where it came from and what it means that the view count beneath it is continually ticking up.

These, at least, are mostly bootleg videos of popular fictional characters, i.e., counterfeit unreality. Counterfeit reality is still more difficult to find—for now. In January 2018, an anonymous Redditor created a relatively easy-to-use desktop-app implementation of “deepfakes,” the now-infamous technology that uses artificial-intelligence image processing to replace one face in a video with another — putting, say, a politician’s over a porn star’s. A recent academic paper from researchers at the graphics-card company Nvidia demonstrates a similar technique used to create images of computer-generated “human” faces that look shockingly like photographs of real people. (Next time Russians want to puppeteer a group of invented Americans on Facebook, they won’t even need to steal photos of real people.) Contrary to what you might expect, a world suffused with deepfakes and other artificially generated photographic images won’t be one in which “fake” images are routinely believed to be real, but one in which “real” images are routinely believed to be fake — simply because, in the wake of the Inversion, who’ll be able to tell the difference?

Our politics are fake.

Such a loss of any anchoring “reality” only makes us pine for it more. Our politics have been inverted along with everything else, suffused with a Gnostic sense that we’re being scammed and defrauded and lied to but that a “real truth” still lurks somewhere. Adolescents are deeply engaged by YouTube videos that promise to show the hard reality beneath the “scams” of feminism and diversity — a process they call “red-pilling” after the scene in The Matrix when the computer simulation falls away and reality appears. Political arguments now involve trading accusations of “virtue signaling” — the idea that liberals are faking their politics for social reward — against charges of being Russian bots. The only thing anyone can agree on is that everyone online is lying and fake.

We ourselves are fake.

Which, well. Everywhere I went online this year, I was asked to prove I’m a human. Can you retype this distorted word? Can you transcribe this house number? Can you select the images that contain a motorcycle? I found myself prostrate daily at the feet of robot bouncers, frantically showing off my highly developed pattern-matching skills — does a Vespa count as a motorcycle, even? — so I could get into nightclubs I’m not even sure I want to enter. Once inside, I was directed by dopamine-feedback loops to scroll well past any healthy point, manipulated by emotionally charged headlines and posts to click on things I didn’t care about, and harried and hectored and sweet-talked into arguments and purchases and relationships so algorithmically determined it was hard to describe them as real.

Where does that leave us? I’m not sure the solution is to seek out some pre-Inversion authenticity — to red-pill ourselves back to “reality.” What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t “truth,” but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it’s our only choice. Otherwise we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.

 

By , December 26, 2018, first appearing on New York Magazine: Intelligencer
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The State of Net Neutrality

A coast-to-coast roundup of efforts to restore the open internet

net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) took effect June 11, 2018, overturning the net neutrality rules the agency established with 2015’s Open Internet Order. Since then, many individual states and other entities have taken it upon themselves to try to restore net neutrality protections. The following is a review of those efforts—successful, failed, and in progress—around the US.

More than 35 states have introduced legislation to protect net neutrality, although only four (California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed laws. Several governors have also issued executive orders related to net neutrality.

The details of state net neutrality actions vary significantly, but common provisions are:

  • prohibiting all internet service providers (ISPs) in a state from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or devices; impairing or degrading the speed of lawful internet traffic based on content, application, service, or device; engaging in paid prioritization of traffic; or unreasonably interfering with a user’s ability to select, access, or use broadband internet service
  • requiring ISPs to meet the net neutrality provisions above to be considered for state contracts (in some cases, these acts apply to contracts for municipalities as well)
  • requiring ISPs to transparently disclose their network management principles
  • establishing certification systems or registries of ISPs that meet net neutrality requirements
  • issuing resolutions urging the US Congress to implement net neutrality requirements but having no regulatory power on their own

“Having 50 different approaches to net neutrality is not optimal for anybody,” observes Larra Clark, deputy director of public policy for the American Library Association’s Washington Office and the Public Library Association. However, in addition to providing net neutrality in the states where they’ve been implemented, state activities are valuable in advocating for meaningful protections nationally.

“States taking these leadership roles makes it more likely that the FCC will come to the table and the telecommunications companies that have fought us on this issue will work to find a compromise,” she says.

State legislation passed

California

On September 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (S.B.) 822, requiring ISPs in the state to comply with net neutrality principles and disclose network management practices. The bill goes beyond the Obama-era regulations by also limiting certain forms of “zero rating,” in which ISPs favor certain information by not counting content or websites they own against data limits.

The bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) called it “the strongest in the nation.” However, the US Justice Department filed suit against the law the same day Brown signed it. This suit has been postponed, and California has agreed not to enforce its law until the D.C. District Court decides on the state attorneys general suit on RIFO.

Brown also signed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 1999 on September 30, requiring broadband networks created by local governments to follow net neutrality.

Oregon

Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill (H.B.) 4155 on April 9. The law prohibits public bodies from contracting with ISPs that do not abide by net neutrality.

Vermont

May 22 Gov. Phil Scott signed S.B. 289, requiring state agencies to contract only with ISPs that practice net neutrality, directing the state Secretary of Administration to develop a process to certify ISPs that practice net neutrality, and directing the state attorney general to study the extent to which the state should enact net neutrality rules. It also requires ISPs to disclose their network management practices. The law followed Executive Order 2-18, issued February 15, that required state agencies to contract only with ISPs that follow net neutrality.

Even though the scope of this law is narrower than California’s, industry groups filed suit to block it October 18 in the US District Court in Vermont.

Washington

Gov. Jay Inslee signed H.B. 2282 on March 5. The law requires ISPs to practice net neutrality and to accurately disclose network management practices.

Executive orders

In addition to Vermont, governors in the following states have issued executive orders related to net neutrality. Each of these orders requires ISPs to follow net neutrality principles to receive state contracts.

Hawaii

Gov. David Ige issued Executive Order 18-02 on February 5.

Montana

Gov. Steve Bullock issued Executive Order 3-2018 on January 22.

New Jersey

Gov. Philip D. Murphy issued Executive Order 9 on February 5.

New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 175 on January 24.

Rhode Island

Gov. Gina Raimondo issued Executive Order 18-02 on April 24.

Bills introduced but not enacted

Alaska

Neither of the proposed bills requiring ISPs to practice net neutrality (H.B. 277 and S.B. 160), nor House Joint Resolution 31 and Senate Joint Resolution 12 urging the US Congress to overturn the FCC’s order, were acted on in committee.

Colorado

H.B. 18-1312 would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality to receive money from the High Cost Support Mechanism, the state’s implementation of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which provides funds for deploying broadband in rural areas. The bill passed the house but failed in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs.

Connecticut

The senate passed S.B. 366, requiring ISPs in the state to practice net neutrality and disclose network management practices. However, the house did not vote on the measure. H.B. 5260 and S.B. 2, which would have required ISPs to adopt net neutrality policies to qualify for state contracts, both failed in committee.

Georgia

Neither of the bills related to net neutrality introduced in the house or senate progressed out of committee. S.B. 310 would have required all ISPs to follow net neutrality, while H.B. 1066 would have prohibited the state from contracting with ISPs that don’t provide a certification of net neutrality.

Hawaii 

S.B. 2644, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and disclose network management practices, passed the senate unanimously, but its house companion, H.B. 2256, stalled in committee. The similar S.B. 2088 was deferred in committee.
In addition to requiring net neutrality, H.B. 1995 would have established a task force to examine the costs and benefits of a state-owned public utility to provide broadband internet service. Two of three house committees recommended passage of the bill, but the Finance Committee did not act on it.

Idaho 

H.B. 425, which would require ISPs to comply with net neutrality, was not acted on in committee.

Illinois 

H.B. 4819, which would have required state contractors to comply with net neutrality and other ISPs to notify consumers of any deviations from those principles, passed out of the House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, and IT Committee, but the house re-referred it to the Rules Committee and did not vote on it.

Two other measures did not advance out of committee: H.B. 5094, which would have required ISPs in the state to abide by net neutrality, and S.B. 2816, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality to qualify for state contracts.

Iowa

Neither Senate File 2286 nor House File 2287, which would have required ISPs to provide service in accordance with net neutrality, advanced out of committee.

Kansas

H.B. 2682, which would have prohibited state contracts with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality, died in committee.

Kentucky

The Small Business and Information Technology committee did not act on H.B. 418, which would have required state contractors to practice net neutrality.

Maryland

H.B. 1654, which would prohibit state agencies from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality and require ISPs to notify customers about the types of personal data they collect and disclose, passed the house, but the senate did not vote on it. The similar H.B. 1655, which would also authorize local governments to grant franchises for broadband internet service, did not pass out of committee.

S.B. 287, which would require the state to only contract with ISPs that follow net neutrality, did not pass out of committee.

Massachusetts 

Senate Order S2263, establishing a special senate committee on net neutrality and consumer protection to review RIFO, was adopted January 18. The committee issued its report March 23 as S.B. 2376. This report accompanied S.B. 2336, a bill that would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality.

S.B. 2336 was replaced by S.B. 2610, which would direct the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable to create standards for a Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal to identify ISPs that abide by net neutrality and provide consumers with an easy way to opt out of providing third parties access to personal information. It would also establish a registry of broadband service providers in the state and list their network management practices and privacy policies. The bill passed the senate July 19 and has been referred to the House Ways and Means committee.

H.B. 4151, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality, was replaced by House Order 4684, authorizing the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy to study documents concerning several bills, including those on net neutrality. This order also covered H.B. 4222, requiring ISPs to follow net neutrality and establishing the Massachusetts Internet Service Provider Registry to provide service quality and pricing information to customers.

Minnesota

Two bills have been introduced in both the house and the senate that would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and prohibit state agencies and political subdivisions from contracting with ISPs that do not. None of the bills—S.B. 2880, S.B. 3968, H.B. 3033, and H.B. 4411—has been acted on in committee.

Missouri

H.B. 1994, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and publicly disclose their network management practices, was not acted on in committee.

Nebraska 

Legislative Bill 856, which would require net neutrality, was indefinitely postponed.

New Jersey 

S.B. 1577 and A.B. 1767, identical bills that would require all ISPs in the state to abide by net neutrality, have not been acted on by their respective committees.

A.B. 2131, which would prohibit the installation of broadband telecommunications infrastructure on public rights-of-way or underground facilities owned by public utilities or cable television companies unless the ISP follows net neutrality, was favorably reported out of committee. The senate has not acted on the identical S.B. 2458.

A.B. 2132, which would require state agencies to reject all contract bids from ISPs that do not follow net neutrality, was reported out of committee. The senate companion, S.B. 1802, has not been acted on in committee.

A.B. 2139, which would require cable companies that provide internet service to follow net neutrality principles, passed out of committee.

New Mexico 

H.B. 95 and S.B. 39 would amend the state Unfair Practices Act to require ISPs to follow net neutrality; both have been postponed indefinitely.

S.B. 155, which was similar to those bills but would also allocate $250,000 to the state attorney general in FY2018 and FY2019 to review RIFO and to file or join a lawsuit challenging the decision, was also postponed indefinitely.

New York

A.B. 8882, which would direct the state Public Service Commission to develop a plan for monitoring broadband ISPs and create a certification for ISPs that comply with net neutrality, passed the assembly June 19. Under this bill, only certified ISPs would be eligible for state agency contracts. The senate has not acted on its version, S.B. 7183.

Other bills have not made it out of committee, including: S.B. 8321, which would require net neutrality, provide regulatory control by the state Public Service Commission, prohibit zero-rating of certain content in a category but not the entire category, and require ISPs to comply with net neutrality to be granted permission to attach broadband infrastructure to utility poles; S.B. 7175 and A.B. 9057, which would require state agencies to contract only with ISPs that adhere to net neutrality and appropriate $250 million to a fund to establish municipal ISPs; and A.B. 9059, which would establish a commission to study and report on potential implementation of net neutrality rules.

North Carolina

Neither S.B. 736, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality, nor H.B. 1016, which would have applied only to state contractors, passed out of committee.

Oklahoma

S.B. 1543, which would have required state agencies to contract only with ISPs that follow net neutrality and created a fund to support municipalities attempting to create their own ISPs, was not acted on in committee.

Pennsylvania

H.B. 2062, which would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality, did not make it out of committee. The same fate befell S.B. 1033, which also would have prohibited state contracts with ISPs that don’t follow net neutrality and required ISPs to disclose network management practices.

Rhode Island 

S.B. 2008, which would have required state agencies to award contracts only to ISPs that follow net neutrality, passed the senate June 19. The House Corporations Committee has not acted on it.

That committee recommended that H.B. 7076, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and require the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to annually certify ISPs, be held for further study. It made the same recommendation for H.B. 7422, which would require net neutrality and obligate ISPs to disclose their network management practices.

South Carolina

Neither H.B. 4614 nor H.B. 4706, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality and disclose their network management practices, passed out of committee.

South Dakota

The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted February 6 not to send S.B. 195 to the full senate, killing the measure. The bill would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality and disclose network management practices to receive contracts from the state.

Tennessee

Several bills were introduced but did not pass out of committee, including H.B. 1755 and S.B. 1756, which would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality and disclose their network management practices, and prohibit state agencies or local governments from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality; S.B. 2183 and H.B. 2253, which would have prohibited state governmental entities from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality; and H.B. 2405 and S.B. 2449, which would have created a task force to study issues relating to RIFO.

Virginia

H.B. 705, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality, stalled in the Commerce and Labor Committee.

S.B. 948, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality and prohibited them from knowingly disclosing personally identifiable information about customers, did not pass out of committee.

West Virginia 

Neither H.B. 4399, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality and disclose network management practices to receive state contracts, nor S.B. 396, which would have applied to all ISPs in the state, passed out of committee.

Wisconsin 

The assembly voted against taking up A.B. 909, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality and limited disclosure of personally identifying information. Senate counterpart S.B. 743 did not pass out of committee.

Neither S.B. 740 nor A.B. 908, which would have applied only to state contractors, were acted on by committee.

Resolutions

California 

In February, Senate Resolution (S.R.) 74, urging the US Congress to reinstate the 2015 rules, passed.

Delaware

Senate Concurrent Resolution 44, expressing the state assembly’s opposition to RIFO and urging the US Congress to enact legislation preserving net neutrality, passed the senate in January.

District of Columbia

A round table hearing was held in January 2018 on Proposed Resolution 22-0691 opposing RIFO. While it was cosponsored by all 13 members of the council, no vote has been taken.

Georgia

House Resolution 1161, a resolution that would have encouraged state agencies to establish policies requiring contract recipients to adhere to net neutrality, was introduced, but it did not progress out of committee.

Illinois

S.R. 1196, which would have urged the US Congress and the Trump administration to advocate for permanent adoption of net neutrality rules, did not advance out of committee.

Michigan

S.R. 131, which would have urged the governor to issue an executive order requiring ISPs with state contracts to abide by net neutrality, has not been acted on in committee.

Missouri

House Concurrent Resolution (H.C.R.) 84, which would urge the US Congress to pass legislation restoring net neutrality, has not been acted on in committee.

New Mexico

Senate Joint Memorial 17, urging the US Congress to review RIFO, passed, but the house postponed action indefinitely.

Ohio

The Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations did not act on H.C.R. 18, which would have urged the president and US Congress to protect net neutrality and open internet access.

 January 2, 2019, first appearing on American Libraries Magazine

Looking to find a few new branches on the family tree?

ancestry class

Moline Library computers have access to Ancestry.com for Libraries, so feel free to come upstairs and put what you’ve learned into practice.

Learn Basic Computer & Internet Skills at the Library

Comp Basics Prog

Of course, if you’re reading this blog you’re probably too advanced for the class already… maybe you know someone that could use some help; feel free to pass it along.

Learn (Where to Find) Your Library Resources – The List

The library is a great place.

I know, of course I would say that, I work there, but that doesn’t make it less true. Public libraries are, generally speaking, welcoming places filled with helpful people that are their solely to serve their respective community. They do this by providing their community with quality services, resources and information (it is literally in our mission statement).

‘Fine, but what about when the library is closed?’ I’m glad I pretended you asked that.

Even when we are closed you have access to numerous online resources provided by the library through our website. Some on the resources will require a Moline Library card number to sign in, but you can access all of them for free, 24/7. Just look for “Online Resources” under the “Find It” tab on our website.

Find It

From there you can view all the available resources sorted into helpful categories,

By Category

or as one big list.

List

Whichever way you prefer to look at them, we hope that you will start putting them to good use today. As always, if you have any questions about anything we offer feel free to stop by the library and ask, or you can call us at (309) 524-2440.

Amazon’s Curious Case of the $2,630.52 Used Paperback

After seeing the price on the left for “One Snowy Knight” on Amazon, the author asked: “How many really sell at that price? Are they just hoping to snooker some poor soul?”

SAN FRANCISCO — Many booksellers on Amazon strive to sell their wares as cheaply as possible. That, after all, is usually how you make a sale in a competitive marketplace.

Other merchants favor a counterintuitive approach: Mark the price up to the moon.

“Zowie,” the romance author Deborah Macgillivray wrote on Twitter last month after she discovered copies of her 2009 novel, “One Snowy Knight,” being offered for four figures. One was going for “$2,630.52 & FREE Shipping,” she noted. Since other copies of the paperback were being sold elsewhere on Amazon for as little as 99 cents, she was perplexed.

“How many really sell at that price? Are they just hoping to snooker some poor soul?” Ms. Macgillivray wrote in an email. She noted that her blog had gotten an explosion in traffic from Russia. “Maybe Russian hackers do this in their spare time, making money on the side,” she said.

NYT Tweet1

Amazon is by far the largest marketplace for both new and used books the world has ever seen, and is also one of the most inscrutable. The retailer directly sells some books, while others are sold by third parties. The wild pricing happens with the latter.

Books were Amazon’s first product. They made the company’s reputation and powered Jeff Bezos’ ascent to his perch as the world’s richest person. Amazon sold books so cheaply that land-based shops could not compete. It controls about half the market for new books, more than any bookseller in the history of the United States.

Prices of $600 or more are popular among booksellers looking for big spenders. “If I’m selling a $10 book for $610, all I need to do is get one person to buy it and I’ve made $600,” said Peter Andrews of One Click Retail, a consulting firm.

But books are now a minuscule part of the company’s revenue. Amazon is expanding into seemingly every field and geography, rattling competitors along the way. Prime Day is a promotion that draws enormous media attention to discounted tech, gaming and other products. Meanwhile, the original bookstore is looking a little neglected, as if it were operated by algorithms with little sensible human input.

“Amazon is driving us insane with its willingness to allow third-party vendors to sell authors’ books with zero oversight,” said Vida Engstrand, director of communications for Kensington, which published “One Snowy Knight.” “It’s maddening and just plain wrong.”

The wild book prices were in the remote corners of the Amazon bookstore that the retailer does not pay much attention to, said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of Boomerang Commerce, which develops artificial intelligence technology for retailers and brands.

Third-party sellers, he said, come in all shapes and sizes — from well-respected national brands that are trying to maintain some independence from Amazon to entrepreneurial individuals who use Amazon’s marketplace as an arbitrage opportunity. These sellers list products they have access to, adjusting price and inventory to drive profits.

Then there are the wild pricing specialists, who sell both new and secondhand copies.

“By making these books appear scarce, they are trying to justify the exorbitant price that they have set,” said Mr. Hariharan, who led a team responsible for 15,000 online sellers when he worked at Amazon a decade ago.

Amazon said in a statement that “we actively monitor and remove” offers that violate its policies and that examples shown it by The Times — including the hardcover version of the scholarly study “William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion,” which was featured for $3,204, more than 32 times the going price — were “in error, and have since been removed.” It declined to detail what its policies were.

A decade ago, Elisabeth Petry wrote a tribute to her mother, the renowned novelist Ann Petry. “At Home Inside,” published by the University of Mississippi Press, is now out of print, but late last week secondhand copies were  for sale on Amazon. A discarded library copy was $1,900. One seller offered two copies, each for $1,967, although only one was described as “Nice!” All these were a bargain compared with the copy that cost $2,464.

“I wish I had some of that money,” Ms. Petry said.

Buying books on Amazon can be confusing, because sometimes the exact same book can have more than one listing. For instance, a search for the Petry book turned up another listing. This time, there was just one copy for sale, which cost a mere $691. Whether a customer paid that price or three times that sum apparently depended on what listing he or she found.

“Let’s be honest,” said Peter Andrews, a former Amazon brand specialist who is manager of international client services at One Click Retail, a consulting firm. “If I’m selling a $10 book for $610, all I need to do is get one person to buy it and I’ve made $600. It’s just a matter of setting prices and wishful thinking.”

One of the sellers of Ms. Macgillivray’s book is named Red Rhino, which says it is based in North Carolina. The bookseller’s storefront on Amazon is curiously consistent. One of the first books on the store’s first page was Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” It was priced at $607, a hundred times what it cost elsewhere on Amazon.

All the books on the first few pages of the storefront — including such popular standbys as “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “1984” — also go for $600.

That appears to be a popular price point for booksellers taking the high road. Acme Books, which was selling the $691 Petry book, used that exact price for “101 Blessings for the Best Mom in the World” and quite a few other books.

Supersonic Truck recently marketed copies of “Kitchen Confidential” for $614, which is $608 more than what Amazon itself is asking. According to Amazon, Supersonic Truck has 100 percent positive ratings.

Supersonic Truck recently marketed copies of “Kitchen Confidential” for $614, which is $608 more than what Amazon itself is asking. According to Amazon, Supersonic Truck has 100 percent positive ratings.

Red Rhino got nearly 1,400 customer-service reviews over the last year — an impressive number, considering many customers do not bother posting reviews. The reviews are 91 percent positive, although some of the reviewers appeared uncertain just what a book is. “The book is intact, and it is not broken,” wrote one. Commented another: “Very nice. Flexibility noted in many venues.”

Neither Acme nor Red Rhino returned emails for comment sent through their Amazon pages. As with many Amazon booksellers, it is hard to determine what, if any, existence they have outside the retailer.

Even a casual browse through the virtual corridors of Amazon reveals an increasingly bizarre bazaar where the quaint policies of physical bookstores — the stuff no one wants is piled on a cart outside for a buck a volume — are upended. John Sladek, who wrote perceptive science fiction about robotics and artificial intelligence, predicted in a 1975 story that computers might start making compelling but false connections:

“If you’re trying to reserve a seat on the plane to Seville, you’d get a seat at the opera instead. While the person who wants the opera seat is really just making an appointment with a barber, whose customer is just then talking to the box-office of “Hair,” or maybe making a hairline reservation …”

Mr. Sladek, who died in 2000, is little read now, which naturally means his books are often marketed for inordinate sums on Amazon. One of his mystery novels, “Invisible Green,” has a Red Rhino “buy box” — Amazon’s preferred deal — offering it for $664.

That is a real bargain compared with what a bookseller with the improbable name Supersonic Truck is asking: $1,942. (Copies from other booksellers are as little as $30.) Supersonic Truck, which Amazon says has 100 percent positive ratings, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Ms. Macgillivray, who has published eight novels, said she had been poking around Amazon’s bookstore and was more perplexed than ever by the pricing.

“There’s nothing illegal about someone listing an item for sale at whatever the market will bear, even if they don’t have the book but plan to buy it when someone orders it,” she said. “At the same time, I would think Amazon wouldn’t want their platform used for less than honorable practices.”

Since Ms. Macgillivray tweeted about “One Snowy Knight,” the price on Amazon has not stood still. The most expensive copy just jumped again, to $2,800.

By David Streitfeld, July 15, 2018, first appearing on NYT > Books

Learn Your Library Resources – LearningExpress Library

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LearningExpress helps students and adult learners improve the skills required for academic and career success. This great resource includes more than 1,000 tutorials, practice exams, and eBooks that will help with basic skills mastery, academic success, job preparation and career advancement.

LearningExpress SC

Getting started is easy. Just go to the Moline Library website and click on the “Find It” tab. Then select “Online Resources” and scroll down to find “LearningExpress Library” on the list. And feel free to check out all of our other great online resources on the list while you are there!

How to begin once you’re in?

  1. Click on “Sign In/Register”
  2. First time? Click “Register” and complete the “New User Registration” form. Returning users can just enter their username and password and click “Sign In.”
  3. Browse the different categories that interest you, or search for something specific.
  4. Get started learning about a career, practicing exams, sharpening skills and so much more!

 

 

 

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