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 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.

Good Monday morning. It’s December 30th. There are only two more days until our Roaring Twenties begin.  Wednesday is also when California’s Consumer Privacy Act takes effect. Organizations that earn at least $25 million in annual revenue or that retain information for 50,000 or more consumers or households have new rules to follow. And you will keep getting email notices this week from those companies advising you that their privacy policies have changed. As with the European GDPR privacy launch 19 months ago, those emails will stop soon.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read. Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1. Microsoft will no longer support Windows 7 as of January 14. That matters to everyone because there are up to one billion computers with Windows 7 still installed, they are going to become less reliable, and they will be great hacking and virus targets for the ten year old operating system. I’ve seen dozens of messages in the last week from people who insist that they won’t upgrade — even for free. Good luck with that if you’re one of them.

Smart links
How Many PCs are Still Running Windows 7 at ZDNet
You Can Still Get Windows 10 for Free at How-To Geek
How to Move on or Keep Living With Windows 7 — Tom’s Hardware

2. News broke last week that Chinese government hackers can breach a system with two-factor authentication (2FA). That includes servers containing sensitive information or controlling traffic signals, power plants, and more. The hackers still need to get to the servers in question, usually through a phishing or password cracking attempt. The bigger issue is their ability to fake the code that is sent to a mobile phone or similar physical device check.

Smart links: ZDNet broke the story, the 40 page report as PDF

3. Facebook is piloting a fact-checking program of part-time contractors who are ‘ordinary people’, reports Axios. The company reportedly wants to feature work done by regular individuals instead of trained researchers as a way of creating a higher threshold. Axios also reported that Facebook and Reuters are teaming up to offer a free 45 minute class on how individuals can spot “manipulated media and deepfakes.”

2. Amazon Delivery

Amazon made a lot of money this month. The company reports that tens of millions of its devices were sold worldwide this holiday season. Consumers also began five million new or trial Amazon Prime memberships, the company stated in a December 26 report.

Amazon delivery statistics caught the attention of many analysts. Amazon said that the company and its contractors delivered 3.5 billion packages during 2019, more than half of what UPS delivered. Critics say that the company reached that volume by skipping planned driver training and requiring unrealistic productivity, which are similar to complaints lodged about conditions in Amazon’s distribution centers where items are stored and packed.

Drivers reach productivity goals by skipping meal breaks and urinating in bottles stored in their trucks to save time, according to an expose by Pro Publica and BuzzFeed. Amazon is ramping up its logistics capabilities by outsourcing to small companies that handle between twenty and forty routes.

Dozens of these subcontractors are not in compliance with Amazon standards and rules. The report also alleges that at least 60 collisions have occurred with serious personal injuries. The scale at which Amazon delivery has grown has also required the company to write guidelines for how to address deaths that occur after collisions with Amazon delivery vehicles.

Three U.S. Senators signed a letter in September asking Amazon for more information regarding its delivery practices. After receiving the company’s response, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called Amazon’s answers “evasive” and demanded that the company “throw open the books” to lawmakers.

3. Google Search Updates

Your organization’s website has a source of “primary content” that you can’t edit. Coverage of a Twitter conversation this month by Search Engine Roundtable included the statement by Googler John Mueller that Google uses public comments to help rank a website’s content. 

Google can also help you remember upcoming movies. 9 to 5 Google reports that mobile users can now choose a “Watched It?” checkmark to track movies they’ve seen. There is also a “Watchlist” feature that will allow you to store the names of movies you would like to see.

Don’t forget that we publish a free weekly newsletter that updates Netflix DVD and streaming release dates. We also include information about many Amazon Prime Video dates and even some Canadian data. We pioneered this category of information way back in 2011 and have published steadily since then. You can always see the latest movie dates at our Everything Netflix page

Ask for your free newsletter here. We only need your email address.

4. Debugged: Plant Based Burgers & Breasts

The good folks at Tri-State Livestock News claim that men might grow breasts after eating Burger King’s new Impossible Whopper. The claim, made without evidence, is a good example of how inaccurate news can be passed around via official-looking sources. Understanding information’s original source is critical. 

For the record, men already have breasts, and eating too many of any kind of burger will cause them to grow larger.

Ars Technica debunks this one.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Spotify Stops Political Ads

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and the Republican National Committee are two advertisers that will soon say goodbye to Spotify. The music streaming giant has 141 million users on its ad-supported tier and will stop accepting political advertising soon. Sanders and the RNC are its two highest profile political advertisers.

Ad Age has details.

6. Great Data: Annotated Animations

No one is going to criticize your data if you add helpful annotations. This short video of Moore’s Law visualized over time makes great use of short annotations that appear among the techspeak throughout its runtime.

Moore’s Law states the number of components per integrated circuit would double every year. The animation explains the principle, debunks a popular misquote, and explains other technically advanced information as it also reports on the data.

Have a look at Visual Capitalist’s video here.

7. Protip: Share Notes Between Your Chrome Devices

The new version of Google’s Chrome browser features an easy-peasy way to transfer links and notes between your phone and a computer or tablet.

Lifehacker has the helpful details.

8. Following Up: Hackers Release Pensacola Files

Two weeks ago, we told you that the Pensacola, Florida, government was a ransomware victim. The hackers behind the attack demanded $1 million to release the network. The group published two gigabytes of files last Monday and claim that they have ten times that amount in reserve.

Bleeping Computer says that they’re in touch with the hackers.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

Tracking President Trump (via cellphone data) at the New York Times.

Deep Sea visualization showing where creatures live at

RFK, Jr. is Single Largest Anti-Vax Advertiser at Ars Technica

10. Coffee Break: Deer Scores Goal, Celebrates

There were about 55 hours remaining in the year when I typed this. Lots of people will share resolutions and greetings over the next two days.

My wish for you is that you are as happy in the coming year as this deer who scored a goal with a soccer ball and then celebrated.

Watch him here.