1. Good Monday Morning

Batter up! Baseball season starts Thursday. It’s been 32 years since James Earl Jones intoned his famous “People Will Come” speech in Field of Dreams. Get ready for spring with this clip.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,119 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) The Guardian reports that Facebook considers four political ideologies as hateful. When they are found, moderators must take action to remove them. White nationalism, white supremacy, white separatism, and Nazism are the four. According to the newspaper, a leaked 300-page document also indicates whether certain emoji constitute praise for hate speech.

The social media giant also learned last week that a UK government regulator is concerned that its acquisition of GIPHY might lead to anti-competitive behavior in display advertising. Facebook must respond to those concerns this week.

b) Online publisher Medium abruptly announced that it would buy out its editorial staff and appoint a new CEO, reports Axios. Medium is one of the Internet’s biggest digital-only publishers, according to industry reports, with 725,000 paying subscribers. Ev Williams, who previously founded or co-founded Twitter and Blogger, also wrote an open letter to employees.

Separately, Verizon announced that its diverse publications including TechCrunch and AutoBlog will be rebranded as part of a new Yahoo offering. Verizon’s remaining publications have a combined three million subscribers after it sold off HuffPost, MapQuest, and Tumblr.

c) A program that allows game designers to create photorealistic digital humans with hair, clothing, and voices in under one hour has been made available through the game design software Unreal Engine. Have a look at this short video that has delighted designers and been viewed more than one million times.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data – Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths – 983 (higher than Sept & October)
US Hospitalizations – 39,570
US partial or full vaccination – 28%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder — CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Facebook Flags Venezuelan President’s PageThe Hill

New York Launches Excelsior Pass for Covid Tests, VaccinesSyracuse.com

White TX Republicans Refuse Vaccine More Than Any Other Group Chron.com

4. Search Engine News

Hyphenated words took the spotlight last week after Google admitted that they don’t ignore hyphens in words. We knew that, and we often debate words and spellings in our practice, but it was nice to see Google acknowledge that punctuation matters.

Recently, I reviewed search results for ten different hyphenated keyword phrases. Some keywords, such as “over-the-counter” and “one-half,” have drastically different search results when hyphens are added. We often tell our clients that our keyword research will reveal the difference between the times when it makes sense to use the word “attorney” as opposed to its synonym “lawyer”. Google’s clarification about hyphenated words is welcome.

More welcome news: Microsoft has submitted a new proposal to build software into WordPress that would automatically upload sitemaps to search engines for those 40% of the world’s websites that use WordPress. That is a process that web managers use separate software to address now.

5. In The Spotlight — Ransomware Cyberattacks 

Ransomware cyberattack payouts tripled last year and are increasing again due to wider acceptance of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin that the criminals often demand. Cybercriminals are getting smarter in their attacks though. Insurance giant CNA announced last week it was the latest big name company to sustain a disruption. 

CNA had to disable its web services and email after Bleeping Computer first reported how the attack encrypted more than 15,000 devices on its network. Other high-profile companies that have suffered ransomware cyberattacks in March include the computer company Acer, the University of Miami, and the brewer MolsonCoors. Acer reportedly spent $50 million restoring its systems.

Any company can be a victim of ransomware criminals. A Wichita clothing company was also attacked last week. The Tightwrapz Printshop got a notification that its software and designs had been encrypted and could only be obtained for a fraction of a bitcoin — a little over $550. Criminals typically follow this “easier to pay” ransomware strategy, but Tightwrapz owner Daniel Trantham told KSN that he alerted the FBI and hired an IT expert.

As large and small organizations battle ransomware cyberattacks, there are always new challenges to guard against. Recently, we learned of a researcher who infected 35 tech firms that included Microsoft, Apple, PayPal, Netflix, and Uber while testing a new technique.

Worth your consideration: It’s a crisis when Microsoft and Apple fall prey to an attack. Put appropriate insurance in place and consult your IT team. Criminals who aren’t paid often retaliate by releasing the organization’s files on the internet.

6. Debunked — VP Harris Saluting

Vice President Kamala Harris is taking heat across social media after being criticized by disgraced former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik for not saluting troops while boarding Air Force Two.

As the Pentagon pointed out, civilians are not required to render a hand salute.

7. Following Up — NFTs

NY Times columnist Kevin Roose wrote about a meta-experiment he tried. He would write a column about NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and sell an NFT of that column for charity.

The bit was cute, Roose carefully set the minimum price at $800 …

… and the damn thing sold for $560,000.

Want to learn more about NFTs? We covered them here. If you have New York Times access, you can read Roose’s column here.

8. Protip — Avoiding Instagram Scams

Spotlight readers don’t get hoodwinked often, but see above where Microsoft and Apple got nailed by a friendly security researcher and then have a peek at this handy Naked Security list of 8 common Instagram scams.

9. Screening Room – Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz (“we invented the car”) has a gorgeous commercial out this week touting its new sustainable energy initiative. Keep an ear out for the haunting cover of “Come Together”.

10. Science Fiction World — Delivery Robots are Pedestrians

Delivery robots carrying no more than 500 pounds and with a top speed of 12 mph are considered pedestrians under a new Pennsylvania law, reports Car and Driver.

I am simultaneously in love with this idea and wary of sharing the sidewalk with something carrying hundreds of pounds while moving at 12 mph.

 11. Coffee Break — That Big Boat

Shaun Dakin found this hilarious clip of a former traffic reporter guiding ships through the Suez Canal.

Humanity bonds over the strangest things.

12. Sign of The Times

Good Monday morning. It’s November 2nd. We’ve got information for you below about a great new free tool from First Draft that shows disinformation in social media posts, ads, and elsewhere online. This week promises to be unlike any we’ve ever faced so please practice self-care and don’t believe everything that you read or hear.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,121 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a.   Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter all announced earnings Thursday following another round of testimony on Capitol Hill. No one in that group is hurting. Amazon’s profit soared to over $6 billion for the quarter and Facebook added more advertisers despite an advertising boycott that included dozens of brands. (AdAge)

Wow moment: Amazon has saved one billion dollars in travel expenses so far this year. 

b. Twitter continues labeling disinformation. The company started last week by flagging a dishonest tweet by President Donald Trump that claimed that there were problems and discrepancies with mailed-in ballots throughout the country. That is not true. Twitter announced last week that it will use headers and images on its site this week to show accurate voting information. (New York Times)

c. Facebook has told New York University researchers that they may not use information downloaded by the team using software that it built to access its political ads library. Facebook says its rules prohibit third party software from downloading the contents. (CNN)

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

Eight In-Store Innovations for the COVID-19 Era – Econsultancy
MIT: AI Identifies Asymptomatic COVID-19 Carriers – Venture Beat
Older People, Republicans Share Inaccurate COVID News – Nieman Lab
Post election, Vaccine is Biggest Disinformation Threat – CNBC
SF Stops Google-affiliated Testing After Results Take 10 Days – SF Gate
The Challenges of Contact Tracing as U.S. Battles COVID-19 – Pew 

3. Search Engine News

Google continues remaking Google My Business listings into a profit center by selling upgraded proafiles and the “Google Guaranteed Badge” for a $50 monthly fee. The process includes background checks for customer-facing employees, insurance verification, and appropriate license checks. Working directly with small businesses allows Google to build direct relationships with organizations that typically use a third party when interacting with the company. 

What we think: The $600 annual fee is inexpensive, but still a budget-sized item that was previously free. We’ll be advising customers that we’ll monitor performance on Google My Business since it is now effectively paid advertising.

4. In the Spotlight — Machine Learning

Let’s stop using the term AI as a synonym for machine learning. Machine learning uses a lot of data to create software that is capable of determining whether new input fits that pattern. Image recognition and malware scanning are two common applications of machine learning.

We’ve told you in the past about GPT-3, which is a deep learning model that can create human-sounding text when prompted. Above, in the COVID resources section, we link to a fascinating article about an MIT research team that used 200,000 audio samples of people coughing, including some who were infected with COVID-19, to train their model. That is a level of audio analysis that is beyond human limits.

The world is racing to train machine learning algorithms to handle all sorts of analysis that was previously thought impossible. Being human, there are good and bad applications for this technology.

A machine learning algorithm that was trained on nude imagery is being used as an automated chatbot to create deepfake nudes of ordinary people. The user uploads an image of a clothed woman, and the algorithm removes the clothing while building a credible-looking nude image of the woman.

More than 104,000 women had their images faked in this way by midsummer. Research by technology firm Sensity found that over 60% of those images were subjects known to the individual while another 15% were celebrities. Sensity also reported that a limited number of images appeared to feature children. The images carry a watermark from the software that can be removed by purchasing higher levels of access.

This level of technology is commonplace. Microsoft has a new program for software developers called Lobe that automates machine learning of images so that anyone can create a training model by uploading labeled images to the software. I’ve reviewed the initial videos and anyone can easily be taught to train the model.

On Thursday, Google announced URL2Video, a software tool that converts a website page into a 12 second video. Google says that it is now working on generating audio for the video created from a web URL as well as voice-overs.

Our take: For more than forty years technologists spent much of their time making information digitally accessible. The next phase — telling stories about that information — is here. When consumers first began using automobiles, they needed to understand how to repair them and spent much of their time maintaining them. Many of today’s sophisticated automobiles can’t be repaired without a mechanic’s specialized equipment. 

5.  Debunked: The First Draft Dashboard

First Draft has published a must-use online dashboard dealing with election misinformation. They’re a trusted source funded by Google, Facebook, and multiple tech companies who are heavily invested in cleaning up misinformation and disinformation appearing online.

At this link you’ll find ads, identified misinformation, Twitter feeds, and reliable news and information. I can’t stress enough how much you need to bookmark this website for this week.

First Draft News Dashboard

6. Following Up: Self-Driving Data

We’ve told you that Alphabet’s Waymo unit has introduced self-driving taxis in Phoenix. This week Waymo released public road testing data from January 2019 through September 2020.

The results were way better than human driving results.

7. Protip: Changing Messenger Themes

Facebook’s new Messenger interface comes with some nifty themes including Pride, Love, and Tie-Dye, as well as different emojis and colors. 

The Next Web shows you how to put your spin on Messenger chat.

Screening Room: Vipps

There is no Christmas, no COVID-19, and no election news in this commercial for Norway’s Vipps smartphone app. That’s why you should watch “Give Your Phone a New Start.” At least it’s attention getting.

9. Coffee Break:  MIT’s Nightmare Machine

A little more machine learning for you before you go to face this first week in November. MIT has created a website that shows scary images one of its algorithms creates. You get to click through some of them and help train the model on whether you think it’s a scary picture.

I was going to show you this last week, but I was distracted when the U.S. government decided to sue Google.

Have fun. Click over to Haunted Places on the same site for more.

Good Monday morning. It’s June 1st, the start of Pride Month. People are raw right now between a pandemic, protests over racial inequality, and forty million lost jobs. We’re going to have to take care of each other. Try really hard to do that this week.

We’ve created new pricing during this crisis for nonprofits and small businesses that need help maintaining their online presence on websites, email, and social media.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,304 words, about a 4 1/2 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. We told you for months and most recently on May 19, that “Twitter is cracking down on misinformation and deliberate disinformation. The company says it will remove tweets that are deliberately misleading and that have a severe propensity for harm even if that content is sent by the president.”

Twitter did just that early in the week after the president posted an inaccurate two-part tweet about voting fraud. The company left the tweets in place but labeled them as “potentially misleading.” The president retaliated by issuing an executive order filled with complaints about Big Tech and a request that the FCC review the Communications Decency Act provisions that protect tech companies from liability for what users post on their systems. A consensus among industry legal analysts seems to have formed that suggests legislative rather than executive action is needed to accomplish what the president wants.

Later in the week Twitter labeled, but did not remove, a post by the president that it said “glorified violence.” Twitter’s labels were among the least punitive action that the private company could have taken. Twitter, Facebook, or any other company can remove anyone’s account or posts as they have shown in the past when taking action against people posting legal but inaccurate information. 

b. Facebook continues adding features to attract small businesses. The company announced that its new Shops program is available on Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp to any entity with a business profile. Ten percent of U.S. small businesses remain closed today due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

c. Facebook also launched Venue, “a second screen” mobile app for live events. Venue’s goal will be to directly compete with Twitter to provide social media coverage of live events from well known personalities. Tech Crunch has coverage including screenshots.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers

Johns Hopkins – added state level and other data.
Covidly — flexible data and charting tools
Our World in Data — Oxford nonprofit 
ProPublica Reopening Tracker – State by state measures – truly excellent
DC Metro Tracker spreadsheet by WTOP editor Alejandro Alvarez

Note: if you’re a DC area resident on Twitter, follow Alvarez there for excellent local info (@aletweetsnews)

Tech News

Google’s AR tool helps you measure two meters to maintain proper social distancing – read at The Verge

Microsoft News just cut dozens of editorial workers as it shifts to an AI-driven system of picking stories – read at Business Insider

Nearly Half Of The Twitter Accounts Discussing ‘Reopening America’ May Be Bots – read at Carnegie Mellon

One of the first contact-tracing apps violates its own privacy policy – read at The Washington Post

Tracking COVID-19 Excess Deaths Across Countries (updated) – read at The Economist

WATCH: 9 Local TV Stations Pushed the Same Amazon-Scripted Segment About COVID-19 – read at Courier

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Google has created a new report called “Core Web Vitals” that it says provides metrics around areas that it considers “critical to all web experiences.” In nearly twenty years of running websites, I’ve learned to pay attention to what Google does rather than what they say.

These metrics are outgrowths of Google’s focus on speed. As SEJ’s Matt Southern reported, “There’s more to keeping users happy than having a site that loads fast.”

Google is singling out these three elements:

Cumulative Layout Shift — this measures if a page loads something late that causes the whole display to shift.

First Input Delay — This is how fast the website responds in a way that the user can see.

Largest Contentful Paint — That is the measure of how long it takes the main section of the page’s content to load. Yes, it is called Contentful.

There are dozens of significant factors that affect an organization’s website visibility, and page speed is among the most important. These are not the replacement for page speed metrics, but a way to subdivide the metric and to measure if websites use less desirable fixes like loading things late that cause the display to move.

Why should you care? As a business leader, your team should already know about and have plans to optimize these factors. As a user, you’ll see the continuing and increasing focus on usability as it relates to website speed.

4. Also in the Spotlight — NSA Built a Social Network About You. And They Update It.

Award winning journalist Barton Gellman’s new book is “Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State.” Wired has published a 3,600 word excerpt well worth your time.

This section explains how Gellman learned that the NSA didn’t simply capture the data of who called whom, when, and for how long. Instead, the data was continually fed through software that mapped each connection at the first, second, and even more remote levels.

Read Gellman on “contact chaining.”

5. Following Up: Walmart Discontinues Jet

Walmart saw Jet.com as its jump start to challenge Amazon in the e-commerce space when it bought the company four years ago for $3 billion. We’ve talked about Walmart’s other acquisitions such as ModCloth and Bonobos also failing to help the company much like Amazon acquiring Zappos in 2009.

Tech Crunch has coverage here.

6. Debugging: Minneapolis Police Station Fire

Enough misinformation circulated online about the police station fire in Minneapolis that Reuters felt compelled to issue a fact check. The city’s Third Precinct was indeed set on fire, but the building often shown engulfed in flames was an apartment building still under construction.

Reuters has pictures of the construction site and police station, plus y’know, facts.

7. ProTip: New Chrome Features 

If your web browser is called Google Chrome, you can access new safe browsing settings and the ability to group multiple open tabs.

C|Net’s Iyaz Akhtar has a great five minute explainer video demonstrating them.

8. Great Data: Coronavirus Data Visualization

By now, you and everyone that you know is an expert on the difference between linear and logarithmic trendlines because we’ve all seen enough of them this year. One thing that we’re all going to do in the future is make data beautiful because plenty of others are setting the bar high.

French brand marketers BRIGHT took coronavirus data that you know well and gave it a great visualization. You should have access to people who can create at this level.

Move to the right after each animation loads.

Screening Room: Ryan Reynolds & Mint

Ryan Reynolds’ second splashy acquisition was last year’s purchase of budget carrier Mint Mobile. Here’s a goofy spot in the “we’re all working from home” style.

10. Coffee Break:  Can’t Unsee

This fun graphic design quiz gets progressively harder as you play. You’ll see side-by-side designs and pick which one “is most correct.”

Have fun. See you again in 20 minutes.