Spotlight

News You Need to Know Now

Good Monday morning. It’s June 4th. There is a major Apple product announcement today at 1 p.m ET. Analysts expect the company to announce the latest system upgrade and new tools built into its phones that will help people monitor and potentially curb their usage.

Highlights

    • Privacy battles are making news on multiple fronts, and there is more to it than websites changing their terms of service.
    • Facebook weathered its criticism over news hoaxes and privacy. Overall Facebook usage looks consistent, but there’s a big drop among younger users.
    • Multiple Google search initiatives launch in the next few weeks. They include new signals about a website’s security and even more reliance on a website’s speed as a quality measure.

Privacy Battles: (CA vs FTC, ACLU vs Amazon, and Those Privacy Notices)

A European Union data privacy rule that took effect May 25 caused all of those “Our data privacy rules have changed” notices you saw over the last few weeks. The rules are among the most stringent ever and create new requirements for any online entity regardless of where they’re located. The General Data Privacy Regulation, known by the acronym GDPR, even address information that doesn’t identify a person by name.

A company like Securus couldn’t exist in a GDPR world. Media reports have focused on the little known data company that can track “any phone within seconds using data from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint,” according to a ZD Net report. That’s pretty explicit information, and there have been abuses of that private data. Even worse, that company has been hacked at least once. Brian Krebs, one of the best security reporters on the planet, has written a must-read story called “Why is Your Location Data No Longer Private?

Krebs ties the whole thing to the death of net neutrality’s consumer protection rules. That deadline has shifted several times and is now set for next MondayThe California State Senate passed a bill that is expected to become law that requires companies to adhere to net neutrality protections or be ineligible for California state contracts. And like the EU used GDPR to protect its citizens everywhere, California’s rules are expected to apply to its citizens as well.

Meanwhile, the ACLU is targeting a face-recognition program made by Amazon’s web services division called “Rekognition”. The ACLU claims that law enforcement agencies in at least two states are using the program to conduct surveillance. Other uses include finding lost children in crowds or providing security for high-profile events.

This was probably not the best month for Google to remove its “don’t be evil” motto from most of its websites.

Facebook Political Ad Archive

Facebook’s Influence & Enforcement

Anyone can now search a Facebook archive of political or sensitive issue ads by company name or subject matter. The two ads shown above are part of the archive which grows more every day. Visitors can see the ad and which ages, locations, and genders were targeted and how those ads performed.

Search the archive at this link

Facebook also announced Friday that it was eliminating its Trending News feature and will instead show news items from Fox and CNN. Look for that feature change this week as Facebook rushes to slap a fresh coat of paint on the website.

Little more than cosmetics seem necessary because usage actually rose during CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional and EU testimony. Facebook continues policing itself and says that it removed 583 million “fake accounts” in the first 3 months of 2018. It also removed 2.5 million pieces of hate speech, 21 million sexually explicit images, and 837 million pieces of spam. You can read their first published enforcement report here.

Google Search Initiatives

Google’s “Speed” update, ranking websites based on how fast they render to end users, launches in July. Google is serious about website speed. We’ve been telling you about this initiative for years. They’re only going to be more focused as devices rely on public wifi and other slower systems.

The most important thing to note is that Google Analytics now reports on actual user experiences regarding speed. The speed data in their reports shows how fast your users load a page regardless of the technology they are using. Google will not base rankings on how fast its programs can access your website, but how fast your users do. The difference sounds subtle but is significant. Sue and I have spent most of the last year getting daily reports on site speeds for some sites. It’s not because we thought the reading was great.

Google will also start reporting on websites that are unencrypted in its Chrome browser. The previous standard was to show that a website was “secure”. The company will now report on an “insecure” website as it assumes that all are following the best practice of encrypting the entire site.

Also coming fast is Google’s “mobile-first” update. Google has already notified us that they will be using pages in the index based on how those pages appear on mobile devices in some sites we own and manage. This initiative affects consumers, businesses, and even government sites.

Finally, watch for a Google Chrome option this summer that will allow you to use facial recognition instead of passwords to access sites.

Great Data

Mary Meeker is one of the most prominent and influential Internet analysts ever. Her annual report each summer is considered a milestone moment. There is always some grumbling that it has become more event than milestone, but it is required reading in the industry.

Here is a link to the 294 slide presentation.

We read it a couple of times so that you don’t have to. Our 10 takeaways:

1. The Internet growth rate has slowed as the cycle matured.
2. More than half of the world’s population is now online.
3. U.S. adults are averaging about 6 hours a day online.
4. More than half of that time is on mobile devices.
5. Voice interfaces are exploding with 30 million Amazon Echos installed.
6. Amazon (and Apple) are growing their search business to compete with Google and Facebook.
7. Google is growing its delivery business to compete against Amazon.
8. China is home to several companies that could become as ubiquitous as Google and Facebook.
9. Internet companies are spending hundreds of millions on R&D.
10. Voice and machine learning are now at human accuracy levels for voice detection.

 

Good Monday morning. It’s May 14th. Ramadan begins tomorrow evening and continues through June 14th. About 3.5 million Americans are expected to observe Ramadan, which includes fasting during daylight hours.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.  There are also video links to another 10 minutes of video. 

Highlights

  • Digital ad spending during 2017 was $88 billion, a 21% increase over the previous year. Don’t try conceptualizing $88 billion. Think about 21 percent YOY growth.
  • Online political advertising’s future continues with the first wave of agencies, including Silver Beacon, authorized for political advertising on Facebook although the process is still a bit glitchy
  • Right after the video of robots running and a Google demo of a computer talking to a person on a telephone wowed the Internet this week, Google said it had plans to make tech less addictive. 

Questions or comments as you read this week’s Spotlight?  Write George

And it would be great if you encouraged your colleagues to get their own copy. They can do that at this link.

Political Ads Released, New Rules in Place

Congressional Democrats released 3,500 ads that were purchased by a Russian company over a two year period. We’ve looked through many and read many analyses. The key points:

  • The ads targeted people on divisive issues. Feel strongly about health care coverage or another hot button topic? You were targeted, but so were people on the other side. The goal was to create dissension.
  • It worked.
  • USA Today did the best analysis we read. They found that more than half the ads were about race and another 25% were about crime, often with a racial component. 

Hint:  Don’t get caught up in the money spent or even the impression count that describes the number of times something was displayed. Every ad you see or hear in any media counts as an impression. We don’t know the real impact yet of the 25 million times that the racially divisive ads were seen.

What this means for the future

We told you last week about Facebook’s new political ad authorization process. The process works, but the execution of new ads was glitchy this weekend. Google is launching the same type of program as Facebook approves the first agencies to place political and issue advertising and hopefully things will run smoothly when after a few more days.

Facebook’s list of “political issues” that will require disclosure: abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values.

We’re pretty sure we can advertise toast, but it can’t be buttered and can only be made from white bread, not whole wheat.

Why this is Important

The issues surrounding online political advertising are summarized in a fantastic BuzzFeed News piece. They found that they could access an unreleased Facebook tool that shows where a Facebook page’s managers are based.

The page above that shows an American flag and is titled “Conservative Fighters” is managed by 17 people who live in Macedonia and Germany. 

There are plenty of other pages, not ads but pages, that are run from overseas locations. Some mention political candidates or the president.  That’s a problem that won’t be fixed by a political ad authorization process. Read the article here.

See video of Atlas the Robot and his buddy SpotMini navigating and running. This is a huge advance from the videos we saw of Atlas around Thanksgiving. 
 

“We are living in a science fiction world,” my wife Joan told me. She’s right, and it’s not just Atlas.

Google made people gasp this week with these phone calls that Google boss Sundar Pichai played at a developer’s conference.

One big issue: the human-like non verbal comments such as the “umms” and the other vocal tics. Another big issue: the automated assistant doesn’t introduce itself as a machine. We’re in uncharted territory–the science fiction world my wife mentioned. Our laws, ethics, and education don’t address these issues yet.

Even as Google introduced this amazing technology and former Google company Boston Dynamics showed its robotics tricks, Google made a pitch to make tech less addictive. The initiative is called “Digital Wellbeing”.

Three features in the rollout:

1. Turning your phone screen side down will activate “Shush” and silence calls and notifications.

2. “Wind Down” activates color filters on your phone during the times you set so that looking at your phone doesn’t disturb your sleep cycle.

3. And you can see how much time you spend on different apps on your phone with “Dashboard View”. You can even set the system to alert you if you’ve used your phone longer than you planned overall or in certain apps.

Spotlighted

Facebook is rolling out new fundraising functions for non profits. If you work at a nonprofit org, you need to be putting them on your Facebook page. 

Media company Gannett has purchased a leading Google advertising agency that also created its own software. Could they be positioning to supplement newspaper advertising online?

Amazon has stopped purchasing Google shopping ads. That’s good for retailers who won’t have as much price competition. Amazon is one of the few companies who could stop advertising on Google and remain okay.

Great Data

The Equifax data breach was catastrophic for data privacy. We got a look this week at the impact when Equifax filed a report with the SEC. 

The final numbers include 146.6 million US consumer names and dates of birth with almost that many social security numbers. The whole report is two pages and worth your time.

 

Spotlight

News You Need to Know Now

Good Monday morning. It’s May 7th. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers this Sunday, including the mothers in heart and spirit who never ad the opportunity to raise a child.

Highlights

    • F8, Facebook’s big annual show, happened this week. There is plenty of news including the new dating function everyone is talking about.
    • Google introduced dot app–a place for mobile app downloads. They bought the rights to the entire top-level domain three years ago for only $25 million.
    • Twitter left a password file unprotected. Any password used there may have been compromised. If you’re still using the same password for multiple services, you need to stop. And if you’re using them on Twitter and another service, you need to change both.

Facebook Starts Advertiser ID Program

Facebook application screen for political ads

Facebook’s promise to track individuals purchasing political ads became real Friday afternoon when the first requests were sent to advertisers. This is part of my personal application. Here’s the process:

  • An application with a physical mailing address.
  • A copy of a driver’s license or passport including size and color requirements for the image.
  • A portion of your Social Security Number (like a credit application)
  • A letter with a code is sent to the address on the license to be entered in Facebook.
  • Only after all that matches are you cleared to run ads.
  • Whoever pays for the ads also has to be identified.
  • That identity will be be published for anyone to see, as will the ads that are run.

There are holes in this program. U.S. agencies could work for another country. Applicants can lie. But by making the information public, Facebook transfers a big part of political ads verification to the Internet. The wisdom of crowds won’t find everything improper, but you can be certain that people on the other side of an issue or political race will be motivated to look.

That’s the other promise Facebook made. These political ads are also defined as issue ads. Those can be anything from health care to gun violence prevention to the environment and everything in between.

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” wrote Judge Louis Brandeis in 1914. This type of advertising transparency has never been available before–and still isn’t required for broadcast ads.

EU’s Privacy Wars

Rigid data privacy laws in the EU take effect at the end of this month. They’re included in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and cover the privacy rights of all citizens of EU countries regardless of where a company is located.

This is why you’ve seen more notices on websites in the last month than you probably have in previous months combined. Any organization storing information, even an email address, from an EU citizen is subject to the regulation. 

Google is warning its advertising partners, those who place and those who publish ads, about the issue. 

Does a Main Street retailer need to address this? Well, maybe. You should check with your attorney. At the very least, your organization should have a great privacy policy that it abides by. Talk with your attorney.

Spotlighted

We often tell you about voice being the new frontier of search. AudioBurst agrees and has an audio search engine for podcast and radio broadcasts

Facebook’s dating service will require a separate profile according to reporting at Recode. There will be a separate messaging app and a mix of automated suggestions and the ability to match others manually. And Facebook says that it will allow all users to clear their history on the platform. This is potentially the biggest program they announced.

Great Data

Understanding probability is a critical part of deciphering your organization’s online performance.

This fantastic website helps people understand that through a live experiment with your own birthday. If you had a fun statistics professor, you may have already participated in the birthday paradox. This website is still worth your time in how it educates users in a technical subject.

 
 
Featured image of political symbols: Larisa

Spotlight

News You Need to Know Now

Good morning. It’s Monday, April 23rd.  Alphabet, Google’s parent company, declares earnings after the market closes this afternoon. Analysts expect to learn more about the value of the company’s investment in Uber and several other investments including Credit Karma and Auction.com. Meanwhile, Facebook reports Wednesday afternoon. Expect lots of news about both companies.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.

Highlights

  • Facebook privacy is still making news. We have lots of coverage on web privacy for you this week.
  • Changes to Google Search, Maps, and Chat are done or in the works.
  • We have a must-see video showing how easily people can manipulate video, a must-read article about a data broker, and a can’t-miss series about regretful Internet execs.

Facebook to Ask About Privacy Choices 

The company announced this week that all users regardless of where they live will be asked how they will allow Facebook to use their data. “We’ll ask everyone to make choices about ads based on data from partners [and whether you want to continue sharing] political, religious, and relationship information on your profile,” the company promised in a statement.

Facebook faces a gauntlet that includes declining approval ratings, tough privacy laws from the EU that start in May, and a lingering malaise expressed by analysts that next quarter’s ad revenues will slip.

The video below is not from Facebook. It was created by comedian Jordan Peele and published on Buzzfeed this week to show how easily videos can be altered. Israeli technologist Aviv Ovadya spoke for a world skeptical about video and audio proof by asking, “What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened…”

This video has NSFW language AND it’s by an Obama supporter. But it also shows how easy it is to have software originally used by people to fake porn creating hoax videos. Stick with it in a private space. It’s only 73 seconds and shows how any of us can be taken in by a good fake.

More Privacy

We told you weeks ago about analytics firm Palantir and their secret program with the New Orleans Police Department. Bloomberg followed up on The Verge’s original reporting with “Palantir Knows Everything About You“. Police programs in New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are studied as is a JPMorgan finance program.

Big quote from a JPMorgan cyber security exec in this must-read article: “Nefarious ideas became trivial to implement; everyone’s a suspect, so we monitored everything. It was a pretty terrible feeling.”

Regretful Execs

New York magazine has been running a series called “The Internet Apologizes“.

We’ve written about Facebook’s first President and a former Google ethicist making startling comments about these world-changing organizations. Last week we shared news from Jaron Lanier’s TED talk that included this line about Facebook and Google, “I can’t call these things social networks anymore. I call them behavior modification empires.” If you’ve lost a geek like Lanier, you’re tech-cred is crashing.

That’s the “techlash” that Axios was first among mainstream media to start calling out last year. Now New York’s Internet Apologizes series demands your attention. Look for a longer piece by Lanier. There’s also former Reddit exec Dan McComas saying,” …my time at Reddit made the world a worse place.”

There’s also early Facebook investor Roger McNamee who says, “You have created a persuasion engine unlike any created in history.”

It’s big stuff. Many people who built what exists online today are expressing remorse.

Spotlighted – the Google Edition

  • Problems ahead for Google. A study claims that Android apps in the Google Play store may improperly be collecting data from kids under the age of 13. WaPo article with the news
  • Ghttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2018/04/16/thousands-of-android-apps-may-be-illegally-tracking-children-study-finds/?utm_term=.375897d82d6f&wpisrc=nl_tech&wpmm=1oogle announced it made another “broad core change” to its search rankings this month. That’s two in five weeks. If you’re seeing traffic fluctuating at your org’s website, look at the details. Or call us. We’re pretty good at that.
  • Google is also removing many items from its “autocomplete” function. That’s the part of its software that tries guessing what you want to search for as you type. Spam, adult content phrases, and other non-family friendly phrases are all getting axed.
  • Google is also said to be introducing map directions that include landmarks. What a great idea. “Turn right at the Burger King” is a lot easier to deal with then “Turn right in 600 feet”.
  • And finally, you know those text/SMS messages that have been with us forever? A report in The Verge focuses on Google convincing carriers selling Android phones to revamp texting.

Spotlight

News You Need to Know Now

Good morning. It’s Monday, April 16th. This is Spotlight #250. Tax Day is Tuesday. You think you have a busy season? The IRS is expecting 32 million tax returns between this week and last week. More than 85% are expected to be filed electronically. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 3 minutes to read

Highlights

Facebook Testimony Week is over. The company was never held to account the way industry insiders expected. We have some fresh data for you from some polling we did.

Uber and YouTube are also in trouble (again) over privacy issues.

Gmail users should see a new version soon that includes Confidential Mode.

Facebook Users Say ‘Legal But Unethical’

After hearing and reading a lot of Facebook news, we asked its users to comment on their perceptions of the issue. There isn’t enough data for us to give high quality percentages on answers, but its fair to say that the people we asked overwhelmingly thought that Facebook operated within the law. To paraphrase Dickens, they also think the law is an ass and that their personal info is being handled in an unethical way.

We cared most about reader answer to this complex question:  Briefly describe the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal.

Many correctly noted that the data policy had changed over time. Many also correctly said that Cambridge took advantage of their Facebook app agreement. 

Facebook permission screenBut there was a lot of focus on the fact that Cambridge is not a U.S. company and a huge percentage that said Facebook sold the data or allowed access to it without user permission. Many of those believed that the 2016 presidential election was influenced, giving credence to the intelligence community theory about Russian government involvement.

Almost all of the Facebook data was obtained when users gave apps, websites, or social media sites like Facebook permission to mine their data. And that’s the issue: people freely volunteered everything. Canceling your account now doesn’t mean that the company has to remove your data unless that’s in their agreement.

Have a look at this Facebook permission screen from an app this weekend.

Facebook Data Agreements

Most of us think that this agreement is how data is captured. And a lot of it is captured that way. This is not an official Monopoly app, and it’s not played on a phone, but on Facebook itself. The company will tell you that they want your birthday to give you in-game rewards on your special day and that they want your friends list so that you can invite them to play. 

But it’s not just game apps looking for data.

ESPN app permissionsTo the right is a screen from an official ESPN app Note the images above. The app is using social proof to show me that 33 of my friends have already done this.

And this app wants even more information. In addition to my public profile, Disney-owned ESPN explicitly says that they want a list of all the things I like on Facebook–not just those that are sports-related. And they want my email address.

The moment that I agree to that, I’ve become the entity giving away my data. It’s not ESPN’s fault. It’s certainly not Facebook’s fault. If I don’t want this information out, then I don’t have to get my sports news from the ESPN app.

Technology scientist Jaron Lanier, one of the fathers of Virtual Reality and a prodigy who entered college at the age of 13 said last week in a  well-received TED Talk,

“We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them.” 

But we do have that society. And hopefully with a little more light on the issue, you can make informed choices that best fit your desires.

Spotlighted

Facebook isn’t alone in the hot seat. Uber has agreed to an FTC data privacy audit proposal after it failed to disclose a breach in a timely manner. And a coalition of 20 consumer groups has accused YouTube of violating federal law regulating data collection from children under the age of 13. The groups are asking the FTC to intervene. YouTube has countered by saying that the site’s rules require that users be at least 13 years old to access the site.

Google’s Gmail desktop app is getting a big makeover, including a cool new font and the ability to block others from copying or forwarding your email. Google is also introducing the same kind of suggested replies that are currently featured on its Android app.

Google also switched search results delivered on mobile devices to one long continuous page with a “Show More Results” button instead of reloading the page. That’s the same kind of design that sites like Pinterest and Facebook use.

Great Data

Conveying information in a memorable, visual way is something that we all strive to accomplish. Italian designer Emanuele Abrate did that in a great way by showing the logos of famous companies with the font name replacing the company name.

Here’s YouTube. See the rest of the display called “Logofonts”

YouTube logo from Logofonts project

 

Spotlight

News You Need to Know Now

Good morning. It’s Monday, April 2nd. Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You can visit The King Center online to learn about events commemorating the date. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 5 minutes to read.

Highlights

  • Public criticism of Facebook continues, and there are some real changes that we’ll run down for you.
  • Google’s long coming move to mobile content indexing is here. 
  • We review the president’s claims regarding Amazon.

Facebook Problems Mount

Facebook introduced real change to its advertising and fact-checking operations as well as the streamlined privacy screen shown above.

Facebook’s automated systems rejected one of our client ads that featured a news story about a condominium. Facebook didn’t let the ad run because of the word “condo” and a limited audience. The client wasn’t advertising a condo–merely the presence of a news story about a condo, but approval took a day-and-a-half and two written appeals. I know because I wrote both appeals. This is a good, but painful step to ensuring that housing ads are visible to everyone.

Facebook already announced that it will identify the purchasers of political ads *and* show other ads that advertiser purchased. That program goes live this summer, but a new program to fact-check videos and links is starting now in France and expected to roll out in other countries in time for the U.S. midterm elections.

These are substantial changes. We may all want faster or more comprehensive changes, but this is a promising beginning. 

What about advertisers who were able to target you with ads via Facebook? 

We’ve already said that Facebook is only one of many data repositories. And remember that every click, every character you type, everything you do online goes through your Internet Service Provider. And with the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality protections, those companies are empowered to do a lot more than they have been doing with what they know about you.

We know that Facebook faces other problems, but as the company shows its willingness to change, it may avoid regulation. And as we say to people, “You don’t pay for it, and it’s voluntary. It’s awfully hard to build a case for Facebook being worthy of legal oversight.”

Google Readies Mobile Switch

We can’t stress how important this is for every organization. Google announced this week that they have begun indexing and ranking websites on the basis of how their content displays on a mobile device.

The change only benefits websites that are following best practices. And Google is notifying those sites. Google also doubled down on the promise that sites that load content slower “may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searches.”

Google has beat on the mobile drum for years and the speed drum for even longer. Talk with us if you’re not ready. At some point in 2018, your website’s visibility in Google will be based on how your mobile output works today in terms of speed and usability.

Bottom line: Facebook is getting the headlines, but this change will impact most of the world’s search behaviors. Ultimately, it will have a bigger effect on the economy than Facebook.

Fact Checking Claims About Amazon

The president attacked Amazon instead of Facebook this week with some claims we thought were wrong. Here are the claims and the facts:

“The post office charges Amazon and others little to deliver their packages…making Amazon richer and the Post Office [sic] dumber and poorer?” – the president on December 29, 2017

The USPS makes money on package delivery. The USPS financial issues stem from email, the lack of home catalog shopping, and a Congressional requirement that it fund its pension 75 years in advance.

“They pay little to no taxes to state & local governments…” – March 29, 2018

Amazon pays state taxes in the 45 states that have them. Amazon does not pay taxes on items sold by third-party sellers on Amazon because the third party sellers are supposed to do that.

“...They use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S…)” – March 29, 2018

Amazon pays USPS bulk rates. Taxpayers do not pay for anything because the postal service does not receive tax dollars.

“It has been reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon…” – March 31, 2018

The president is using flawed data that would encumber all USPS rates with their retirement liability. And the data was created by a financial firm with a stake in FedEx. But yes, if the USPS changed its rates to reflect its retirement requirements, then the rates would go up for everyone, incuding Amazon. And for you and me too.

The bottom line: The USPS doesn’t get taxpayer money, Amazon pays the same rates as everyone, and Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but the public markets own about 83% of Amazon–not Bezos.

Monday Coffee Break

The Richmond Times-Dispatch covered the fun story of 15 year old Darian Lipscomb of Prospect, Virginia. Darian created a Snapchat id called @CarnivalCruise six years ago when his family vacationed on a cruise ship. They’ve gone on others since then, and the teen is pretty vocal in his love for the experience.

Rather than sending a nasty letter from an attorney, the cruise line had fun by going to Prospect and offering the Lipscomb family a free trip aboard their newest ship in exchange for the Snapchat name. There is even a promise of lots of surprises that sound intriguing given the huge mobile billboard that showed up at their home. 

After all the crazy-making news this week, that’s a story we can get behind. And it’s a case study in how to be smart about your business goals. Carnival and the Lipscombs both won. Read the rest

Highlights

  • Remember that Amazon Prime plane picture in last week’s edition? Yep, whispers were making the rounds that Amazon wanted to get big in delivery. They did.
  • Google Chrome’s  “Not Secure” warnings are coming to all non-https pages in July.
  • Facebook is testing a downvote function that lets users rate comments.

Today’s issue of Spotlight takes an average of 3 minutes and 30 seconds to read

Amazon Gets Bigger, Faster

We wrote last week that Amazon was eyeing an acquisition. Instead, look for Shipping with Amazon to launch and reduce the company’s reliance on the USPS, FedEx, and UPS. Amazon spent about $50 billion on shipping over the last three years so this move has leverage.

This move also has precedence. Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud business, now accounts for more than 60% of Amazon’s operating income. Amazon launched the service in 2004 to resell the Internet hosting services it developed for its own use. Delivery could be a similar success.

Jeff Bezos’ mantra of “get big fast” is almost surreal in the company’s execution. Amazon delivery is only one example. Amazon announced its Whole Foods acquisition less than 250 days ago. Since then, they’ve also:

  • announced a search for a second headquarters housing 50,000 employees,
  • partnered with Warren Buffet and JP Morgan to start a healthcare company,
  • and announced two hour delivery windows for Whole Foods groceries in four cities.

Google Gets Customer-Friendly

Visit an unencrypted web page using Google Chrome beginning in July, and your browser will show that the page is “not secure”. That’s true today for e-commerce pages. But starting in July, Google will flag every page without encryption just as they’ve been warning that they would do. 

Google is also requiring ticket resellers to be certified and declare the face value of the ticket. The other kind of tickets–airline tickets–along with hotels and other travel services are getting a redesign. Travel info firm Skift says: “Google is one step closer to its user-centric vision of travel booking,”  Translation: Google wants to sell more travel, not travel advertising.

And hallelujah, word came from Lifehacker Thursday afternoon on Twitter that Google Chrome now has a “mute site” instead of a “mute tab” button. That means that the site’s audio will NOT play when you’ve selected that option. And your browser stores your choice so you only set it once per site.

To mute a website while using Google Chrome: hover over the tab at the top of the browser page, press right-click once, and scroll down. Silence is that easy!

Facebook Gets Comment Voting

You’ve probably seen comment sections that allow you to see “Top Comments first”. Facebook is testing a “downvote” comment link on comments left on personal pages. It’s available only on a small sample of pages. Sites like Reddit and Imgur already have this function, as does blog comment platform Disqus. 

Facebook is adamant that this is to downvote comments only. The fabled thumbs-down dislike button still does not exist.

Hoax Alert: Facebook didn’t limit your content to 26 people

If you haven’t seen the downvote link yet, you’ve probably seen a post from one of your Facebook friends asking you to comment on their post because Facebook has limited the newsfeed to 26 people. It’s a hoax that got new life when a version appeared that read, “I checked Snopes and…”  Read Snopes calling foul on the whole thing.

Monday Coffee Break

It’s over now, but The Washington Post captured the collision of SEO and Philadelphia Eagles fandom. Google’s quest to “organize the world’s information” sometimes goes astray. Sometimes it is deliberately led astray. For a brief time, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was the answer to the search query, “who owns the New England Patriots” in a nod to Philadelphia’s Super Bowl win.

Google temporarily said Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was the owner of the New England Patriots

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Good morning. It’s Monday, February 5th. The federal government has four days of funding remaining. Watch for a vote in the House on Tuesday. Without an agreement, the federal government could be forced to close again on Friday.

Today’s Spotlight takes an average of 3 minutes and 45 seconds to read.

Highlights

  • Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be “…good for your well-being and for society”.
  • He’s onboard with the themes of the “Time Well Spent” movement without explicitly saying so.
  • Amazon posted $2 billion plus in Q4 operating income, leading speculation that another major acquisition is in the cards.

Tristan Harris’ TED talk on how giant tech companies command the attention of several billion people is gathering a lot of fans. It’s only 17 minutes. Save this issue of Spotlight and watch it when you can. 

Former Google ethicist Harris is raising the same issues we told you about last fall when Facebook’s first President Sean Parker said that Facebook knowingly exploits human psychology

Zuckerberg is publicly embracing the “less is more” mantra of Facebook usage and speaking about tech addiction. This was the first time that Facebook average usage decreased, and the company is steadfast in its support of that trend. Zuck is also talking about Facebook creating local news channels that might not be as divisive as national news channels. That suggests he hasn’t attended a contentious local meeting. And not surprisingly, Google announced its own plans to test local news in Nashville and Oakland.

The entire issue is ultimately about tech addiction. We’ve all gone down a YouTube or Wikipedia rabbit hole–it’s easy to do. But people like Harris and Parker are forming an umbrella organization called The Center for Humane Technology and shouting about this issue so it’s worthy of your attention.

Have a look at the group’s data from a 200,000 person study showing how increasing time on apps lowers overall satisfaction with that app. App ratings here

We now talk about Amazon’s growth in ways that we once used for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, AT&T. It’s time for their closeup. 

It’s not a story about cloud business Amazon Web Services. Pay attention to advertising this year. Amazon sold tens of millions of voice-powered devices in 2017.  And the company is not shy about saying publicly that it wants a healthy slice of the advertising pie that Google and Facebook currently share.

The growth machine Amazon has created will require disrupting another industry to maintain its growth. The company ranked #29 in revenue on the Fortune 500 two years ago and 18th last year. The three largest ad agencies are each increasing their spending on Amazon by 40% to 50%. That money is coming out of other digital companies. Advertising could easily be Amazon’s next huge opportunity.

Spotlighted

Facebook’s second biggest property is now WhatsApp, not Instagram or Messenger. Details

Restaurants can now add their menus to their Google My Business listing. Learn how

Snapchat is selling branded merchandise inside their app. It’s not for revenue generation. The company is testing whether its users will buy things while using the app.

Monday Coffee Break

No one who knows why is talking, but Elon Musk added to his legend by selling 20,000 “Not A Flamethrower” devices for $500 each. The device shoots a 10 foot flame, which allows it to be sold as a non-weapon.  Advised that customs agencies wouldn’t allow a product called a flamethrower to be shipped into their country, he had the name changed to “not a Flamethrower”.

He’s still only 46 and will go down as an engineer/inventor at Tesla’s level. Nope, we don’t get it either. But he may be the best business leader in the world today for executing on a project. And if it was all a distraction, it was one that came with a $10 million revenue line in 6 days.

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Good morning. It’s Monday, January 29th. This is earnings week. Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, PayPal, and eBay are all reporting financial results on Wednesday and Thursday. Each report creates news we’ll cover next Monday.

Highlights

  • Net neutrality opposition is growing and now includes AT&T (sort of)
  • Google is testing hyperlocal news like the kind that Patch publishes
  • Google is also giving consumers the ability to stop those remarketing ads on other websites

Burger King’s buzz-worthy ad that introduces “Whopper Neutrality” to explain the net neutrality concept:

 

The Montana and New York governors directed their organizations to only buy Internet services from companies that abide by net neutrality standards. That doesn’t change the FCC’s rule, but other states may follow or join the lawsuit that nearly two dozen states are parenting on to that seeks net neutrality’s reinstatement.

The states have a powerful ally in AT&T, which is calling for “free and open” Internet services that companies won’t slow down. The kicker: AT&T wants Facebook and Google to be governed by the same regulations. The Washington Post reports that a Senate resolution with 50 supporters may be introduced to reinstate net neutrality. Legislation could be introduced if that resolution fails.

Room with 7 doors

Facebook and Google are giving consumers new tools that allow them to sculpt more of their own experiences online. The free-flow of content is already being stopped in some ways. One example: we successfully appealed a blocked Facebook ad with political content for a non-profit client this month. The messaging wasn’t new, but the automated system stopped it and required a human intervention. That’s exactly what Mark Zuckerberg promised would happen.

Facebook disclosed to Congress that about 90,000 people expressed interest or sent an RSVP to phony political events advertised on the site during the 2016 presidential election.  Now the company is rolling out new “branded content” policy to cover Facebook and Instagram while also limiting the amount of non-friend content appearing in a user’s news feed.

Google is doing the same with ad remarketing. That’s the process advertisers use to show you “reminder ads” if you’ve visited them in the past. Google is reinvigorating its “Mute this Ad” feature to work on all your devices and on more websites. Read the Google post here.

And to fight against larger publishers, Google is testing Google Bulletin, a hyperlocal news service similar to Patch.com in Nashville and Oakland. Patch has been part of Hale Global Media for nearly four years and is reportedly profitable while operating in more than 100 markets.

Monday Coffee Break

Strava Map Visualization of Northern Virginia

The map above shows my suburban Washington, D.C. neighborhood. It was generated by Strava, a data company that receives trillions of data points from fitness activity trackers and similar devices. The company then uses a connection to Google Maps to show running, driving, or other maps. This project is free and has been accessible for years.

What people didn’t realize was that members of the armed forces might be using those trackers. And sure enough, media reports over the weekend claimed that military and other sensitive sites were lit up as brightly as my Virginia neighborhood. That’s apparently a pretty big deal for places in Afghanistan or Iraq.

This type of data is something that we all have to learn how to think about because the lives of convenience that we lead also have surprising repercussions–even years later.

 

Good morning. It’s Monday, January 22nd. Amazon Go, the company’s retail store without cashiers, opens today in Seattle.

Highlights

  • Facebook plans to have users vote on news sources’ trustworthiness
  • The speed of a mobile website is now officially a Google ranking signal
  • Bing is adding appointment booking for local services

Facebook Users To Vote on News Sources

Facebook’s Monika Bickert tells NBC that the content appearing online during the 2016 election was “unacceptable”. She later testified with Twitter and Google execs in a nearly three hour Congressional hearing.

Bickert is not only the public face of Facebook during these discussions. She’s in charge of issues like counter-terrorism for the social media site.

But a day after her testimony, Facebook announced that it will ask users to rank news sources that they trust. As much as 5 percent of Facebook content is created by news organizations. Surveys show that the majority of American adults now receive at least some of their news from Facebook. 

Media experts, sociologists, and psychologists doubt that the company can create a process where the wisdom of crowds creates rankings that can be trusted.

woman-on-train-using-phone

“Today we’re announcing that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.”

That was Google’s blog last Wednesday. 

They almost never make those kinds of announcements. 

“The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users…”   

Google execs openly mock search marketers for naming major updates. Then they named their own for the first time in many years. The post ended with links to five tools and resources.

Google’s usual inscrutability is nowhere in sight for this announcement. This is great news for anyone who has used a phone to access a website. And it’s a wake up call to any organization that ever wants people who are using a phone to access its website.

Spotlighted

Amazon Go opens the cashier-free store in Seattle. Recode has details and images

How does Google select which result its Google Voice product uses for search? A new report suggests it’s from a website structure called featured snippets. Search Engine Land has coverage.

Local service businesses will be happy to learn that Bing now has appointment booking directly in search results. Read more

Monday Coffee Break

Your organization’s analytics can tell many stories. And the truth is that most data-driven marketers can get lost for hours examining trends and teasing data out of different parts of your business.

We’ve seen content sites like Spotify and Netflix create great advertising around their member usage, but adult website Pornhub (75 million daily visits and 10 million registered users) maintains an analytics blog. And that blog paid off big after the missile scare in Hawaii uncovered a huge drop in traffic followed by a, um, traffic surge after the all clear.

As you look at the data consider this: Pornhub made itself part of the news about what many people thought was an impending bombing of Hawaii. Even better: the data wasn’t a trick or manipulation. It said something real about people.

What stories are hiding in your organization’s data?

Pornhub Usage Analytics During Hawaii Missile Scare