Big Tech During The Pandemic – Spotlight #335

Good Monday morning. It’s April 6th.

The picture below is from the Washington D.C. waterfront on Saturday afternoon and was posted by Facebook user Christie Nieri Troxell. The one below that is from a park authority in Ohio that told local visitors “…it is in no way possible to keep a good distance from others [in overcrowded parks].”

In the simplest possible terms, you need to stay home and not visit parks or restaurant areas. Make sure you have groceries and enough of any medication you take. Being able to work from home is a privilege, not a vacation. If this sounds preachy, it’s because the people in these photos are contributing to the spread of COVID-19. We all get to have a say when people jeopardize our lives. 

How serious is this? The Pope and other Christian faith leaders have canceled in-person gathered worship services through long past Easter. The punchline is funny but indicates how serious world leaders consider the pandemic. They certainly haven’t taken these actions so that people can line up outside Captain White’s for seafood,

Reach out to George if you need to brainstorm about your organization doing new things in a digital way. We’ve already had these conversations with clients and friends. Now more than ever, we need to all work together and support each other.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,729 words, about a 7 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Apple bought weather app Dark Sky, one of my favorites. As part of the acquisition, the Android version of the app known for its hyperlocal forecasts shuts down on June 30.

b. Facebook rolled out a new desktop version of Messenger (iOS or Windows) that is reportedly much easier to use. The app includes free group calls. Here is Facebook’s announcement along with images.

Last week’s poll results: Nearly all of you are working from home, and that’s good! If you don’t do that every day, it’s a hard adjustment. Ask someone who has done so for years for any hints or tips they have developed.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News


Covidly — my go-to
Johns Hopkins — the one you see on the news
Covid Tracking Project — great for state level data (hospital beds, tests, etc.)

Big Tech is having pandemic issues too although thankfully we’re doing this in 2020 instead of 1970. Can you imagine stay-at-home orders without the Internet, grocery delivery, and access to  darn near any movie or music ever released?

Although scientists knew that a pandemic was likely, our reliance on Big Tech for functions like video conferencing and grocery delivery underscores the pivotal role companies like Amazon and Google play in our nation’s infrastructure. Amazon’s vaunted Prime delivery times have regressed as it deprioritized anything other than essential items. The company simply can’t hire enough delivery drivers or warehouse staff to keep up with orders. 

Companies like Netflix and YouTube have had to scale back the quality of their streaming. Before the pandemic, Netflix accounted for 15% of global internet traffic. YouTube and Amazon Prime video represented another 15 percent or so, which means that streaming video for everyone could cause problems for other internet traffic.

Zoom is one of the established internet companies currently having its moment in the sun after spending nearly a decade as a regular ol’ video conference provider. Big tech is often gargantuan and can scale for any issues. Zoom is a $600 million company and lacks the financial resources of Microsoft or Google. And although analysts are generally pleased with the way that Zoom is addressing problems now cropping up as its user base more than doubles in only one month, the company has had a number of unfortunate stumbles.

There are significant Zoom vulnerabilities that previously allowed people to view private calls or to take over a group call. Those have mostly been addressed, but Zoom has become one of the top apps targeted by bad actors. We’ve compiled a list of articles about Zoom for you. For now, there’s enough attention and activity that allow us to say that Zoom is still an acceptable tool for small businesses, but we’ve also contacted many of our clients that use Zoom or similar programs to tell them about the threats and give them options, notably a new form of Skype called Skype Now that offers free video conferencing.

Smartlinks: Zoom during the Pandemic

A Feature on Zoom Secretly Displayed Data From People’s LinkedIn Profiles — NY Times
Zoom Sends Data to Facebook Even if You Don’t Have a Facebook App — Motherboard
FBI Issues Warning, NY Attorney General Makes Inquiry into Zoom — Gizmodo
Thousands of Zoom Video Calls Left Exposed on Open Web — Washington Post
Skype Unveils Free Meet Now Video Calls — Tom’s Guide

3. Search Engine Optimization News

This is worth repeating from last week. If you run a business that is temporarily closed, there are Google processes for you to follow that will help inform potential visitors and keep your search visibility intact for when you reopen. You can also use this to designate different operating hours and canceled events.

Here is a link to their official guidance. If you run a small business and need help with this, we’re happy to lend you a hand. Click the silver “Write George” button at the bottom.

The internet is abuzz about a lawsuit in a UK court that could compel Google to disclose part or all of its search engine ranking algorithms to a digital marketing firm. Search Engine Journal addresses the case, which was filed eight years ago and dates back as early as 2006. In short, Google provided the relevant documents to the court and the plaintiffs are now arguing that they want their expert to review the documents. My favorite tweet from their expert was made back in 2015 when he wrote and linked to an article about, “Google steals over 550 million clicks from #Wikipedia in 6 months, Jimmy Wales confirms.”

As you collaborate remotely with more people, there are also new Google Drive shortcuts to help simplify folder structure and sharing. 9 to 5 Google unpacks them

IMPORTANT for federal and state agencies that publish information about COVID-19. Google has created a special, secret group that will provide hands-on technical support for search engine optimization to ensure that your agency’s information is visible to as many searchers as possible. I can’t think of them or any other search company ever doing this. There is an application to complete and admission is on a case-by-case basis only. But if your agency publishes this information, you can use help from Google in optimizing that information to be disseminated. Here is last week’s announcement.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Coronavirus Advertising

Google and Twitter have reversed their positions and will allow advertising that includes information about the pandemic. Many advertisers told the companies that they wanted to advertise about their organization’s response to the pandemic. Google and Twitter previously considered “COVID-19” and “coronavirus” as prohibited words in advertisements.

Making false advertising claims, especially related to health, remains illegal no matter what company accepts money for advertising. In theory, that should mean that all advertising claims are completely accurate. In practice that means that you should double-check everything, especially about your health, and not from someone trying to sell you something.

5. Following Up: Amazon Bans Most Medical Mask Sales

Amazon has justifiably been criticized for allowing third parties to sell items for inflated prices to panicky buyers. The retail giant has now banned the public from purchasing N95 and surgical masks on its site. The company is also banning the public from buying “facial shields, surgical gowns and gloves, and large volume sanitizers.” Organizations with medical necessity for those items must complete a qualification process.

The story at Recode.

6. Debugging: There is No Phone Number to Track Stimulus Payments

I know that we shouldn’t have to say this, but apparently we do. Do not believe anyone who posts that there is a special telephone number to track your federal stimulus payment. While we’re on the subject, you do not receive a stimulus payment for completing the census either, but look, it’s only a few minutes, and it’s the law. 

Snopes debunking the phone number claim that it charitably attributes to April Fools’ Day.

7. ProTip: Use Amazon Echo as TV Speaker

We’re all spending a little more time at home and if that means a bigger crowd around your television, we have a how to for you that explains how an Amazon Echo device can buttress your television’s speakers.

Learn how at PCMag

8. Great Data: Where Americans Are Getting News

I’ll bet that you’re thinking that the CDC and NIH websites are not the top sources for U.S. adults seeking COVID-19 information, and if you are, congratulations for your correct guess. eMarketer is out with its timely Q1 Social Media Update along with some great data and visualizations. 

Most adults say that they’re getting their information about the novel coronavirus from TV or news websites. Social media was third, and those pesky federal agency websites were fourth.

Get all the data here

9.  Screening Room: Jack Daniels & Social Distancing

Jack Daniels is out with a social distancing ad that is comprised of user content showing people connecting online. It’s a sweet look at our present time.

10. Coffee Break: Every Second

I’m a big fan of this Neal Agarwal site that shows you in non-pandemic times how often things occur online, at famous places like Disney, on Uber, or even at McDonalds.

Spend a few moments watching the counters grow.

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See you Monday.

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