Web search engine

Microsoft is helping restaurants cook up their own bots

Microsoft has launched a service for businesses to quickly and easily create a FAQ bot customers can chat with inside Bing search results.

The Bing Business Bot service begins by asking a business owner a series of basic questions about their business, like where parking is, how to make reservations, and handicap accessibility details. The service then creates a bot that draws on your answers as well as Bing Places business listing data.

If the bot doesn’t know the answer to a question, it will reach out to the restaurant owner — and remember the answer to the question for future customers.

The simple creation of a bot based on Bing Places information provides businesses with a less technical way to enhance…

How Google Cashes In on the Space Right Under the Search Bar

SAN FRANCISCO — Before Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google, they wrote a research paper as doctoral students at Stanford University in which they questioned the appropriateness of ads on search engines.

“It could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want,” the pair wrote in the 1998 paper.

How times change. Two decades later, it’s not unusual for a smartphone user to see only ads on a Google search page before scrolling down to the regular results.

When Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reports earnings this week, the internet giant’s big profits are expected to demonstrate yet again that the billboard space accompanying Google queries is the web’s most valuable real estate for advertisements.

In the 17 years since Google introduced text-based advertising above search results, the company has allocated more space to ads and created new forms of them. The ad creep on Google has pushed “organic” (unpaid) search results farther down the screen, an effect even more pronounced on the smaller displays of smartphones.

The changes are profound for retailers and brands that rely on leads from Google searches to drive online sales. With limited space available near the top of search results, not advertising on search terms associated with your brand or displaying images of your products is tantamount to telling potential customers to spend their money elsewhere.

The biggest development with search ads is the proliferation of so-called product listing ads, or P.L.A.s. In a departure from its text-based ads, Google started allowing retailers to post pictures, descriptions and prices of products at the top of search results in 2009.

In recent years, Google has served more product ads and expanded their availability to more general search terms — for example, showing photo ads on a search for “running shoes,” not just “Nike Air Max.” It has also tinkered with the size, location and number of ads on results pages for both computers and smartphones.

Retailers are snapping up product ads. They accounted for 52 percent of all Google search ad spending by retailers in the first quarter of 2017, versus 8 percent in 2011, according to the digital marketing agency Merkle.

“P.L.A.s takes the search engine results page to a different level,” said Andy Taylor, Merkle’s associate director of research.

A Google spokeswoman said the company’s goal had always been to quickly give people the best search results.

“Our goal has always been to deliver results that people find immediately useful, which is even more important on mobile devices with smaller screens,” said the spokeswoman, Chi Hea Cho. “For most queries, we show no ads, and we recently…

Reminder: Google Is An Ad Company

Google is a massive company that does a lot of things. It gives you email, a cool search engine, a fantastic Maps app, and plenty of cloud storage, all for free. We also tend to forget that it’s an ad company. Until an ad pops up on someone’s Google Home device, anyway.

Over the last couple of days, Google Home users have heard a little spot about the opening of Beauty and the Beast when they ask for a summary of the day ahead. Bryson Meunier posted a clip of it on Twitter:

“By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast opens today,” says, Google Home, in between spots on the weather and whatever other news stories are popular at the moment. Speaking with The Verge, Google issued two statements, one seems to suggest it is an ad despite explicitly saying it’s not. They then quickly followed up with a statement that suggests it’s not an ad but rather some type of algorithm deciding what content to dish out to you. Here’s the first statement:

This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.

How to Add Search Keywords to Safari for Faster, More Specific Searches

Most people use one search engine—Google, DuckDuckGo, etc.—to find things online. But sometimes you want to quickly search Amazon, ask a question of Wolfram Alpha, or find a video on YouTube, all without the extra step of going to that site first.

If you’re using Chrome, you can set up search keywords to search specific sites from the address bar. There’s no way to do that by default in Safari, but a free Safari extension called Safari Keyword Search makes it easy to search a number of sites. So typing y kittens in the address bar searches YouTube for kittens or typing wa warp 9 asks Wolfram Alpha how fast Warp 9 is.

Here’s how to set up this power, and how to customize it.

Installing Safari Keyword Search

We’ll be using an open-source extension called Safari Keyword Search to make this happen. Head to the Safari Keyword Search homepage and download the extension. It comes in the form of a .safariextz file.

Open the file and Safari will ask if you want to install it.

Click “Trust,” assuming that you do trust the extension. The source code is on GitHub if you’re interested.

Running a Search Using the Default Keywords

The extension, by default, supports 12 keywords. Put a keyword at the front…

18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

Most people have already been victims of the most basic forms of identity theft — having fraudulent charges on your credit card. Those even less lucky have been victimized in more aggressive ways, with criminals obtaining medical care, working, and flying in our names.

Unwinding that mess can take years and thousands of dollars. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the crime doesn’t generally stop with the one person who stole your information. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other data gets packaged and sold on the underground Internet so that different people all over the world could be impersonating you at the same time.

“It’s a pain. It does cause a lot of stress,” said Lindsay Bartsh, of San Rafael, California, who said that straightening out a web of fraudulent medical bills, flights, job applications, and credit applications took every minute of her free time for a year.

How does it happen? Here’s a look at both the most common ways thieves steal our data, as well as some of the newest ploys to watch out for.

1. Mail Theft

Bartsh believes this time-honored tactic is how her personal information got out into the criminal underworld. An expected W-2 tax form never arrived. Assuming it was stolen, it would have given thieves a wealth of information, such as Social Security number and workplace.

2. Database Hacks

When a large corporation gets hacked, the effect can be widespread. When the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management was breached, some 22 million people had their personal information exposed. (I was one of the many who received a warning about this, because I had a writing contract with a government agency.)

3. Malicious Software

If you have a virus on your computer, you may suffer more than a slowdown or a system crash. Some malicious programs that spread as viruses record every keystroke you type, allowing thieves to find out your online banking username and password. These programs can infect your mobile phone as well as your computer.

4. Search Engine Poisoning

This is a sneaky way of tricking people into giving up their own personal data, or getting malicious software onto a person’s computer. The criminals create a fake website similar to a real one, or that could plausibly be a real one.

One tactic is for you to click through to the fake site and try to buy a product, entering your credit card or debit card number. Another way they try to get you is for you to unknowingly download information-stealing software onto your computer.

Where does the search engine part come in? These criminals manipulate Google and other search engines’ algorithms to get their phony sites ranked high in search listings, leading users to believe they must be legit. Fortunately, Google has made progress in preventing this in recent years, but it still happens.

5. Phishing

Phishing is a term that broadly means “fishing” for personal information through a variety of common social interactions — so-called “social engineering.” The most common phishing attack happens when you get an email that looks like it came from your bank or another legitimate company. It may come with an alarming subject line, such as “overdraft warning” or “your order has shipped.” When you click a link in the email, you may see a login screen identical to your normal login, which will trick you into entering your username and password. You could also be asked for more identifying details, such as Social Security number and account number.

Fortunately, banks have put some countermeasures into place to fight phishing. You can also protect yourself by not responding directly to incoming messages. If you get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, type your bank address into your browser instead of clicking the link, sign in, and check your account’s message center. Or just call your bank’s customer service number.

6. Phone Attacks

The Internal Revenue Service has been warning for several years that scammers are calling people claiming to be the…