Good Monday Morning

It’s October 23rd.  Big Tech is reporting Q3 results this week: Microsoft and Alphabet tomorrow, Meta on Wednesday, and Amazon on Thursday. Expect a lot of product and holiday announcements.

Today’s Spotlight is 839 words — about 3 minutes to read.

Headlines to Know

  • FCC takes steps to reinstate net neutrality, undoing Trump-era repeal to promote equal internet access.
  • Minecraft, the bestselling video game ever, hits 300 million sales.
  • Atlassian to acquire video messaging platform Loom for nearly $1 billion, enhancing its collaboration tools amid rising hybrid work demand.
  • Best Buy to cease DVD, Blu-ray sales in-store and online by early 2024 while Netflix said that it would open 2 new stores weeks after stopping DVD mail fulfillment.
  • Google expanded social media links in its Business Profiles, allowing organizations to link to 7 of its competitors.

Spotlight on Airbnb’s Course to Navigate The Holidays

In March, we highlighted the regulatory challenges Airbnb faced. We also talked about security risks, ratings inflation, and complaints from municipalities about lost tax revenue.

The situation has since escalated in New York, with Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky voicing concerns over stringent regulations that virtually eliminate short-term rental options. New York City regulations now limit the number of guests and mandate hosts to be present during a guest’s stay.

Even smaller cities, like Bozeman, Montana, and Palm Springs are considering cracking down on Airbnb properties, as are larger world capitals like Paris and London.

Airbnb’s strategy in the face of such regulatory disparities has been to engage with local governments, attempting to shape rules that protect local interests while also supporting the home-sharing economy. As the winter holidays approach, Airbnb is also investing in promoting longer-term rentals, a segment not typically subject to short-term rental laws. 

Beyond regulation, Chesky is addressing operational hurdles. Recently, he acknowledged cleaning fees as a “huge problem” and unveiled measures to tackle it. Following the launch of Airbnb’s total price display, over 260,000 listings have lowered or removed cleaning fees. 

These regulatory tussles remain significant for both hosts and guests. Most host applications filed with New York don’t meet the city’s requirements. Hosts, especially in restrictive markets like New York, face the dilemma of adhering to laws, which in many cases means removing their listings, or facing hefty fines. Guests, on the other hand, find fewer and often more expensive lodging options, making travel less accessible.

Practical AI

Quotable“There are already a number of music lyrics aggregators and websites that serve this same function, but those sites have properly licensed publishers’ copyrighted works to provide this service,”

— Suit filed by music companies, including Universal, against Anthropic for allowing its AI chatbot to post music lyrics when responding to prompts.

Alexa Denies Election Results: The Amazon assistant is using information it sources online to tell its users that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen by a massive amount of election fraud,” in the latest horrifying example of Garbage In/Garbage Out.

 Tool of the Week: The AI Incident Database is a repository of user-supplied information about AI failures such as errant identifications of people or autonomous car collisions.  

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen — EU Wants Social Media Answers  

The EU is requiring that Meta, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter) provide details on how they are combating Israel-Hamas conflict misinformation. Failure to comply with those regulations can result in fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual revenue.

Following Up — Online Tax Filing  

We’ve written extensively about how the federal government accused former participants in the Free Tax File program of improprieties. Now, the sector is navigating challenges resulting from the IRS’ announcement that it has expanded free direct filing to 13 states. 

Intuit is warning that the new program will hurt black taxpayers, a fraught statement that a researcher has already debunked. Meanwhile, the FTC has warned five tax prep companies that they may face penalties for tracking confidential data about taxpayers.

Protip — Hiding, Not Deleting Painful Photos

Google Photos now allows users to hide images of specific people or pets from their Memories feature, providing a respite for those troubled by past images. Lifehacker explains how.

Screening Room — Gallaudet & AT&T’s 5G Helmet

Good Monday Morning

It’s October 16th, the 100th anniversary of Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio signing its first distribution deal.

Today’s Spotlight is 941 words — about 4 minutes to read.

3 Stories to Know

1.  User data from 23andMe’s genetics database was posted on underground digital markets following an online data scrape, with Ashkenazi Jewish individuals notably targeted. The breach, suspected to be a result of credential stuffing, reignites debates around cybersecurity and how data can target individuals or groups.

2.Big Tech’s evolving ad game:YouTube’s nudging ad-blocker users to pay up, X (formerly Twitter) debuts a covert ad type that dodges forwarding and reporting, while Meta explores premium ad-free accounts in Europe and leverages generative AI to up the ante for advertisers.

The gist: A mixed bag of tactics aiming to redefine advertising-consumer dialogue

3.  From consumers to government, Big Tech’s dance with regulation is intensifying. In India, Facebook faces scrutiny over alleged propagation of hate speech at the government’s request, while in the U.S., the Texas Attorney General sues Yelp over the company’s labeling of “crisis pregnancy centers” typically providing “limited medical services” and operating without a requirement for medical professionals. Meanwhile, significant regulatory lawsuits continue against Google and Amazon and Microsoft fends off an IRS claim for nearly $29B-with-a-B.

Spotlight on Passkeys: One Year Later & Ready for Their Closeup

Nearly one year after we told you about passkeys, the landscape has evolved, with Google recently swinging the door wide open. The search giant announced that they are making passkeys the default for personal accounts, a significant nod to this burgeoning change.

Passkeys, a form of passwordless authentication, are essentially public-key cryptography securing user accounts. Unlike traditional passwords, they don’t require memorization and reduce the common headache of duplicating them on other sites–which led to that 23andMe data scraping. They’re created and stored on devices, with a public key registered to the service and a private key securely tucked away on your device.

Passkeys Pros and Cons

Consumer Reports elaborates on their ease of use, noting a better user experience, while the potential for enhanced security makes a compelling case for passkeys. Apple has also been in the fray, simplifying passkey use in its iOS 17 and macOS Sonoma updates. .

Our previous Spotlight on passkeys highlighted their promise in combating phishing and other cyber threats. The trail blazed by Apple, and now followed by Google, shows growing tech industry alignment.

The Future of Passkeys

Yet, as with any nascent technology, hurdles remain. ZDNet points out the initial setup can be intimidating for non-tech savvy individuals. And there are often questions of what happens if you lose the device your passkey is stored on. Of the two passwords managers we recommend, passkeys are available on 1Password and coming soon to BitWarden.

Google’s pivot, however, is a significant stride towards mainstreaming passkeys, nudging us closer to a potential password-free reality. As passkeys continue to mature, they could very well become the keystones of digital security, blending ease of use with robust protection.

Practical AI

Quotable“BEWARE!! There’s a video out there promoting some dental plan with an AI version of me. I have nothing to do with it,

— Tom Hanks posting on Instagram

Spotify’s new groove: The audio streamer developed an AI-powered voice cloning tool to translate podcasts across languages, broadening auditory horizons while tiptoeing on the thin line of deepfake technology that Hanks wrote about.

The bottom line: Your favorite podcasts could soon speak your language, but at what cost to authenticity?
 Tool of the Week:Likewise, kickstarted five years ago as a haven for shared TV, movie, and book recs among like-minded folks, now generates buzz with its AI chatbot, Pix.

My hands-on test, even post-Goodreads sync of hundreds of books, exposed a clunky rec mechanism. There is a commercial vibe missing Netflix or Amazon’s finesse. The buzz, fueled in part by Bill Gates’ financial backing, hints at a shift: generative AI like ChatGPT or Bard, might soon yield the stage to personalized chatbots like Pix.

Did That Really Happen — Ukrainian First Lady Didn’t Buy Jewelry

A claim went viral alleging Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska splurged $1.1 million on Cartier jewelry and got a salesperson fired during a U.S. visit last month. The tale, originating from a YouTube video, is debunked by Snopes.

Following Up — YouTuber Shot

YouTube creator Tanner Cook was shot by Alan Colie during a Virginia mall prank, but a jury acquitted Colie of aggravated malicious wounding. The incident sparks debate on prank ethics and self-defense as Cook plans to continue pranking, and Colie faces a potential 10-year prison term on other charges.

We’ve covered social media pranks before, as well as this one in particular. This video was played in court.

Protip — How To Set Up Your Passkeys

If you’ve got the urge, here are step-by-step instructions to use passkeys with GoogleApple, and 1Password.

Screening Room — Google Pixel 8 with AI Camera & Recording

Science Fiction World — NASA’s Moon Neighborhoods

NASA unveiled plans to construct lunar houses by 2040, exploring durable, self-repairing materials for sustainable habitation, nudging closer to long-term human presence on the Moon.

Coffee Break — CR’s Permission Slip

Consumer Reports unveiled Permission Slip, an app for iOS or Android that allows users to track, manage, and delete their personal data across companies. Get it here.

Sign of the Times

Good Monday Morning

It’s September 18th. Happy National Cheeseburger Day. Wendy’s will sell you one for a penny today, while McDonald’s has double cheeseburgers for fifty cents. Details.

Today’s Spotlight is 822 words — about 3 minutes to read.

3 Stories to Know

1. A critical flaw in a code library for web images is being actively exploited. The vulnerability affects major browsers like Chrome and Firefox. Users should update their browsers immediately to apply auto-updating security fixes. Check for updates via Help > About in your browser’s setting or options.

2. Ransomware group ALPHV managed to infiltrate MGM Grand’s network by posing as an employee and having the company’s help desk reset a password. The $34 billion company has locations in multiple states.

3. Crocs subsidiary Hey Dude agreed to a $1.95 million fine from the FTC for suppressing negative customer reviews and violating shipping regulations. The case, similar to a prior FTC action against Fashion Nova, is pending federal court approval. 

Midjourney 5.4, prompted by George Bounacos

Spotlight on Google’s Trial


In the latest chapter of U.S. Big Tech trials — following AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft—Google stands accused of monopolizing online search and advertising.

At issue: Google’s $10B annual payments to tech firms for default search engine status that allegedly manipulated consumer choices and stifled  competition. Penalties could include a breakup of Google, now valued at $1.7T.

Week One Recap: The government zeroed in on “the power of defaults,” criticizing Google’s payments to Apple and Mozilla that favor its search engine. The practice not only limits consumer choice but also blocks small businesses from the search industry and inflates ad rates.

Prosecutors’ Take: Google’s ability to dismiss major customers yet grow its business is “direct evidence of monopoly power,” said prosecutors. They’re ready to show that even companies Google paid found the default terms restrictive but accepted them.

What’s Ahead: The trial is expected to run through the holidays, with a decision in early 2024. Possible outcomes include separating Google’s ad and search businesses or dividing its consumer and B2B operations.

Practical AI

Quotable“If a company wants to use AI to, say, control the electrical grid or all of the self-driving cars on our roads or the water supply … we need a safety brake, just like we have a circuit breaker in every building and home in this country.

 Microsoft President Brad Smith before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Amazon Product Descriptions: Amazon is rolling out an AI tool that auto-generates product listings for sellers. The company says it makes listings more consistent and complete and creates more sales. Amazon hints this is just the start of AI’s role in its retail platform.
Tool of the Week: Stable Audio can convert text into high-quality music, thanks to its advanced algorithms trained on a 19,500-hour library of music. You can try it for free or opt for a $12 monthly subscription for more features.

Did That Really Happen — Rogan’s $6 Billion Ukraine Claim

AP News debunks a viral claim that the U.S. accidentally sent $6 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine. Originating from conspiracy theorist Joe Rogan’s podcast, the claim misconstrued a Pentagon announcement about a $6.2 billion overestimation in weapon value.

Following Up — Chromebooks Get 10 Years Support

We wrote this summer about school districts and consumers getting stuck with obsolete Chromebooks. Starting in 2024, new Chromebooks will get updates for 10 years. Google is also adding adaptive charging to keep batteries at 80% and an energy saver mode that kicks in at 20% battery. Users can also extend updates and set charge limits.

Protip — Don’t Trash Your Old Chargers

Don’t trash your old Lightning chargers; it’s bad for the planet. Instead, recycle them at Best Buy, Earth911, or donate to Goodwill. The EU pushed Apple to USB-C, making these chargers obsolete beginning with the newest Apple products. STEM programs may also accept old tech.

Screening Room — Petsmart’s I’d Do Anything 

Science Fiction World — Making Oxygen on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover has made breathable air on Mars for the first time. The MOXIE experiment, run by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and led by MIT, generated 12 grams of nearly pure oxygen per hour. This breakthrough could make future human missions to Mars more feasible by providing essential life support and fuel resources right on the Red Planet.

Coffee Break — Free Audiobooks

Project Gutenberg and Microsoft are offering free, high-quality audiobooks that you can customize. Using AI, they’ve made classics by authors like Shakespeare sound almost human. You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or even download them for later. It’s a big step in making good reads accessible to everyone.

Sign of the Times