Good Monday morning. It’s April 15th, tax day. Passover begins Friday night. Easter is on Sunday. Earth Day is one week from today.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.

News to Know Now

  • Uber has filed to become a public company. This is a big deal. The company had $11 billion in revenue during 2018. They’re profitable through financing but posted an operating loss. Want to learn more?  Here’s their S-1.
  • Google is getting unwanted attention from law enforcement. The company’s ubiquitous phone tracking is allowing law enforcement to subpoena records that show a person’s movements throughout a day, allowing police to corroborate or dismiss alibis. The NY Times has great reporting to read.
  • Alexa is listening, but so is Amazon. Employees there and at the other companies that make voice-powered apps transcribe voice input to help create better algorithms, says the company. And sometimes they hear things that consumers may not want them to hear or didn’t say to the device. Bloomberg broke the story.

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Below: The tech backlash continues in the U.S. Senate, and Google has made a big number of changes in search, Calendar, and Docs. We’ll explain them in your Spotlight Top 5 below.

1.  Tech Backlash Intensifies in the Senate

Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally regardless of the company providing the Internet service and the data source. Whether it’s video, phone calls, apps, or anything else, net neutrality guidelines required Internet Service Providers to treat them all equally.

The Trump administration eliminated those protections and now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that any bill attempting to restore them will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate, according to reporting in The Hill.  There are still state-level bills that are delayed because of pending court cases, and the issue isn’t going away soon. 

Senate Republicans remain angry at BigTech and accuse the companies of bias. They also suggest that the companies censor conservatives, a claim that the president often repeats. Facebook and Twitter representatives testified last week at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution. Things did not go well. 

Subcommittee chair Ted Cruz (R-TX) has threatened BigTech companies with legal actions based on antitrust and fraud violations as well as a threat to amend the Communications Decency Act that protects tech companies as platforms and generally shields them from liability regarding what users write. Learn more at WaPo’s Technology 202.

2.  Google Adds Better Date Filters, Other Enhancements

Google is rolling out a feature that will allow users of its office suite software (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) to open and edit Microsoft Office files. A plugin formerly allowed some limited editing, but this is a global change for all users and does not require a special plugin.

The company’s big search news was that users can now type the word “before” or “after” with a date to narrow search results. The commands can be used together to specify after one date and before another. One example Google demonstrated showed a search for the upcoming Avengers movie but only for content published in April.  You could previously do this by clicking down three levels in a search box and choosing dates on a calendar display, but this is much faster.

More news from Google includes a public events section being added to Google Maps. The function is designed to work on phones or tablets via the Contribute menu. It’s still rolling out but could be a huge boon for business and community leaders.

3. In the Spotlight 

  • Amazon is using search terms consumers type to create new skin care products. That sounds very smart. Vox has good coverage.
  • LinkedIn is adding Facebook-like reactions. You’ll be able to mark content there with icons that translate to celebrate, love, curious, and insightful. (TechCrunch)
  • Facebook continues receiving data about users even after they cancel their account. We’ve been telling people this for years. CNet can tell you more in a nice first-person piece about the program.

4. Great Data: Social Media Use Largely Unaffected 

NBC made news with its reporting that the majority of Americans dislike social media. More than 80% of American adults told an NBC/WSJ poll that social media is a waste of time, and 60% don’t trust Facebook to protect personal data.

Pew data also out last week shows that the share of American adults using social media is essentially unchanged since early 2018 despite scandals and controversies and the negative connotations reflected in the NBC poll.  Have a look at their charts and explanations here

5. Monday’s Coffee Break 

A young woman posted a great video about her prom experience. 17-year-old Lizbeth says she saved money from a part-time job to buy a dress and rode to the prom in a Mercedes owned by her date’s father. But it’s a really cool video and one Twitter wag joked about FAFSA (the federal student loan application people) checking out the video.

And, well, yes they did. They even posted a response and the entire thing went viral fast. It’s a fun read although Lizbeth apparently didn’t think so at first. Check it out on Buzzfeed.

Good Monday morning. Welcome to April. Be careful online today because the Internet loves April Fool’s Day. You’re a Spotlight reader. Don’t let ’em get you.

News to Know Now 

  • Facebook has banned white nationalism and white supremacy. Yes, they can. Support for or posts about either are grounds for Facebook action, including account cancelation. Read their announcement, Standing Against Hate
  • Personal data including bank info improperly shared to contractors by FEMA we told you about last week will test the Trump Administration’s resolution to hold government officials liable according to new Washington Post analysis.
  • The federal government also charged Facebook with housing discrimination by allowing advertisers to select the demographics of people who can view ads. We’ve written extensively about this including last week. Other tech companies remain under investigation.

Breaking Sunday night
Facebook announces a “Why Am I Seeing This Post” feature.
Here’s the announcement complete with screenshots and video.

Google Product Changes

Expect to see longer content online. Google has told webmasters that it doesn’t use that helpful prev/next link you see to paginate long web content. That was a guideline they published more than 7 years ago and rescinded–but never told the tech community about rescinding.

The SEO world wanted to know when Google made that decision. Industry liaison John Mueller confirmed that it was “years ago”. The best line we read was from Edwin Toonen at WordPress SEO dev shop Yoast. “Sometimes you wonder if Google even knows how Google works.”

Indeed. And the bigger issue is Mueller’s admonition that “each page on a website should stand on its own.” We’ve always been fanatical about including internal links for context all over long-form content. That’s something your organization should be looking at soon because when asked if Google still captured the information to create a page sequence for long content, Mueller admitted that Google hadn’t used the data in years.

Also note Google’s official stance: studies show that users love single-page content.

Google’s hotel listings will also get a bit more crowded. The newly redesigned feature will now include vacation rentals, the company announced Tuesday.  The new listings appear now on mobile and will begin appearing on desktop searches during April. Check out the new interface.

If you remember or still use Patch’s  hyperlocal news websites, you’re going to love Google’s announcements about its investment in a new project called the Local Experiments Initiative. News publisher McClatchy will operate digital-only news websites in markets of fewer than 500,000 people. Google’s role is monetary – investing what it says will be millions of dollars. Google and WordPress are also collaborating on a customized version of WordPress for local media. If all that sounds familiar, AOL bought Patch from its founders for $7 million ten years ago before pumping tens of millions more into the venture before selling it in 2014.

Local news interests everyone. We saw that in a great Slate feature this weekend that examined the most shared news story on Facebook this YTD. It’s a 119 word story (really) posted to the Facebook page of a  Temple, Texas radio station. Read the Slate analysis of this fun story.

2. Numbers to Know

Now add up YouTube, Netflix and Facebook video to reach 41.9%. Also consider that Snapchat (8.3%) and Instagram (5.7%) are visual channels, and it’s easy to project that more than half of the world’s mobile traffic is image-based.

We often write about Big Data although not usually McDonald’s. The massive restaurant chain is embracing analytics and business intelligence to the tune of a $300 million acquisition of analytics firm Dynamic Yield. On tap: drive through displays customized on the fly, ordering and supply chain improvements, and even recognition of repeat customers based on license plate readers. The company will continue operating separately, a move analysts are quick to point out only enhances the decision making abilities of the firm that has dozens of brand-name clients including AutoNation, American Greetings, Ikea, Cabela’s, and Weber.

Describing this last bit of Internet number data won’t do it justice. Click to see a comparison of what happens in each minute on the Internet this year compared to one year ago. A quick sample:

  • 4.5 million YouTube videos viewed (up from 4.3)
  • $996K in revenue (up from $862K)
  • 3.8 million Google search queries

See the inforgraphic here

Good Monday morning. It’s March 18th. Spring allegedly begins this week.

Google makes a mystery announcement on Tuesday that they’ve teased will “unveil its vision for the future of gaming.” The current state of gaming is around $140 billion annually so their take would be interesting. Just like search and advertising, about half of that amount comes from mobile.

News to Know Now

  • Facebook’s outage on Thursday included Instagram and other Facebook properties. It’s the biggest outage the company endured since allowing widespread public access in 2006.  
  • Social media was criticized by many in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s gun massacre in New Zealand. But we’ll look at the facts of what people can reasonably expect in situations with fast breaking news.
  • Google confirmed a “core algorithm change” took place March 1. Core updates occur only a couple of times each year and affect Google’s main search engine algorithms rather than the specific, more focused changes that happen daily.
This is part of  Silver Beacon’s live website traffic display.

We can toggle them to different metrics and watch multiple clients throughout the day.  But it’s important to remember issues like seasonality (which caused the growth in the second site shown) and different externalities. 

Knowing the history helps us understand any shifts.

1.  Murder Videos Online

Facebook stopped 1.2 million copies of the video streamed during the New Zealand massacre from being uploaded. Another 300,000 were taken down after they were uploaded. The white supremacist who murdered people at worship seemed to have a good working knowledge of how social media works online.

  • This had nothing to do with Facebook or YouTube any more than the post office is involved with an illegal scam or the phone company when someone calls in a bomb threat.
  • Stop and ask this question: who tried to upload the video 1.5 million times to Facebook? Those are the people deserving of your anger.
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren was upset when Facebook automatically removed ads her campaign posted calling for its breakup. Facebook replied this week that ads using its logo are blocked. 
    • Uploads happened all over the Internet, not just Facebook and Youtube. 
    • A Reddit channel called r/watchpeopledie showed images of people hit by cars and other deaths for 7 years. There are 300,000 subscribers.
    • Where does Facebook draw the line between recognizing problem imagery?
    • Are trailers for R-rated movies okay? What about news coverage of wars?

YouTube has the same problem. So does every website. There were still copies of the video available on Sunday on many different websites in New Zealand. YouTube told The Verge that they can stop child pornography well, but their systems aren’t designed for “urgent situations”. That’s fair. No one is going to catch a murder or suicide being live-streamed. And the company deliberately errs on the side of having news-related videos stay online. Think the Arab Spring, riots in Venezuela, and war throughout the world.  

YouTube Kids exists for children under the age of 13. The company is explicit that children under the age of 13 are not permitted to use the main service. That’s reasonable although we’ve all seen parents and others plop a kid in front of videos.  I’m sympathetic. After once grounding one of my children from the Internet, the then-enterprising student used his game console to access a neighbor’s WiFi signal and went about whatever it was he did online then.

Humanity has shown that we are not good at putting genies back in bottles. We are hopeful Big Tech will solve this problem, but let’s not forget that 1.5 million attempts were made to upload this horrific video to Facebook in only 24 hours.

2.  Facebook’s Troubling Carousel

Facebook is an easy target. No one seems to really like it except for the couple of billion people who access it as much as several times a day. Much was made of 15 million U.S. users quitting last year.  The company deserves to be pilloried for some of the ways it has handled data in the last decade, but it’s certainly not alone. 

Last week was especially bad for the social media giant besides the ridiculously long outage on Thursday  that TechCrunch reported caused 3 million people to sign up for new Telegram accounts. Besides the outage, the Christchurch videos, and temporarily blocking Senator Warren’s ads, these things happened:

  • Chris Cox, the company’s #3 exec, announced Thursday that he was leaving. So did another executive who was running Whats App after that company’s founders left. Their moves are widely regarded to be a response to the idea of combining Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. But it’s a big shakeup because Cox was an early Facebook tech voice.
  • Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp and received nearly $4 billion in Facebook money when it was sold to them, repeated his advice that users should “delete Facebook now”.  Acton left the company in November of 2017 after Facebook monetized WhatsApp traffic by placing ads inside the app.
  • Data deals that Facebook signed with more than 150 companies are under criminal  investigation by a grand jury according to The New York Times.
    • It’s not just data causing trouble at Facebook. A Fast Company article in February reported that “a shockingly large majority of health news shared on Facebook is fake or misleading.”  Read it here.
    • The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard links many problems back to Facebook’s de-emphasis of news sites. Their analysis published this week is “One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated-and very engaged!-News Feed.

The bottom line: Facebook will survive and continue thriving despite fines and legal brickbats until people find a substitute for the communication need the site currently fulfills.

Also in the Spotlight

Worth your time this week:

  • More than 600,000 people in Michigan may have had their health records compromised by a data breach affecting a company that works with providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and McLaren Health Care. Attorney General Dana Nessel’s announcement.
  • Google introduced Be My Eyes last year. The free app connects visually impaired people with sighted volunteers for assistance describing an area or situation. Now the company has announced that it will work with Be My Eyes to set up free help from Google Disability Specialists each weekday. Their announcement.
  • Firefox Send is a new free service. The service allows people to send an encrypted file safely from a browser. And it will even be available on Android later this year. Files up to 1GB can be sent free by anyone while files up to 2.5GB require a free registration. Neither the sender nor the recipient need to use a Firefox browser to access the file. Details.