It’s April 4. Batter up!  Baseball season begins Thursday afternoon after the owners locked out the players in a labor dispute and washed out the original start date.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,245 words — about a 4 1⁄2  minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“Only 10 percent of offices have been equipped with video conferencing software. We expect that more and more will be as … companies will start reopening and allow people to work from home”— HP CEO Enrique Lores on a call with analysts last Monday after HP spent $1.7 billion to acquire conferencing device maker Poly.

a) Wyze home security cameras were finally patched after Bitdefender told the company about an issue nearly three years ago. Wyze effectively said that the whole network had to be compromised to reach the cameras, but it was still an issue. This is also your reminder you should not ignore software patches.

b) Barnes & Noble removed the ability to purchase books and audiobooks via the Google Play Store for its Nook app (but not most devices). The company’s move apparently addresses Google’s revenue sharing model. Users can still purchase directly from B & N.

3. Search Engine News — Meta Descriptions & Domain Authority

We’re always going to tell you that “domain authority” isn’t a metric that Google uses to determine how a page ranks in its search engine regardless of any well meaning industry articles to the contrary that you read. Google has insisted that for years while its proponents insist that there is a correlation. Because we’re humans who understand this field, we can provide context to the search results you might see.

Google search exec John Mueller was quoted as saying on Reddit last week:

I’m kinda torn. On the one hand, you do not need DA for Google Search. Google doesn’t use it *at all*. If you’d like to level your site up in search, you’d need to focus on something else, or at least use other metrics for it. This is mostly why DA as a metric is frowned upon by many SEOs. For context, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up the DA for a site in the 14 years I’ve been doing this.

Please be wary about snake oil posing as a delicious tonic.

We were tickled last week (pre-April Prank Day) to see that one SEO used the new Google Docs summarize feature to create meta descriptions. Upshot: it can write meta descriptions at scale, but it’s really an excellent ideation tool. This is exactly what we see using machine learning techniques for search. You must have a subject matter expert reviewing the work because the people creating the documents and the software summarizing it are imprecise.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Google Search Accuracy Tools

New Google search accuracy tools can be used by searchers to create context around the results they see. The company’s hope is to elevate highly sourced reporting, provide an easy way to review multiple fact checks, and to provide even more tools to evaluate search sources. They apparently didn’t plan to give me an excellent transition between sections three and four, but sometimes you get lucky.

Creating an official looking website with disinformation is easy. Most people in the digital marketing workforce can do that in just an hour or two using free, non-traceable tools. That is why search accuracy tools are so important.

What tools are there?

The one that has me most excited is a brand new label rolling out in the U.S. that shows that a source is “highly cited.” Think of a local news story where national outlets quote a local TV station or newspaper. This enables someone to see a visual cue directly in the search results about which websites are most trusted by others.

What about fact checks?

I love Google’s Fact Check Explorer and regularly review it because it aggregates fact check information from around the world. Using the simple search function, you can see results about a specific topic. The fact check source is identified as part of this tool’s results. There’s also a link to see all of the most recent fact checks.

Other Google search accuracy tools

There’s an expanded version of the “rapidly changing information” flag you may have seen if you’ve searched for news about a still developing issue. The flag says “It looks like these results are changing quickly” and provides tips to help you evaluate the current links. 

There’s also an expanded version of the “About This Result” function that includes what other sites publish about that site as well as how the site describes itself. You can read both directly in Google before you click.

Why is Google doing this?

In some ways, Google fobbing this evaluation off on users is the organization’s continuing attempt to avoid creating rules about the accuracy of websites and the information they publish. This is the publisher vs. platform argument Big Tech companies make, and it’s a tough issue. 

Google (or Facebook or Microsoft) will tell you that it’s their job to organize the world’s information, and that it’s your job to evaluate the veracity of that information. Exceptions are made for public emergencies such as the pandemic or wars, but I recall a conversation with someone who had been arrested and later found not guilty at trial. This person wanted the information removed from search engines, but Google’s stance in such matters is pretty firm. The arrest occurred and was a fact, perhaps even a newsworthy fact. Evaluating the arrest and subsequent trial is a searcher’s task.

5. Did That Really Happen? — Deion Sanders’ Amputation Not COVID-Related

NFL great Deion Sanders had complications from foot surgery last year that led to two toes on his foot being amputated. Some social media users began posting hoaxes that blamed the amputation on the COVID-19 vaccine instead of those complications. Here is the Reuters fact check.

6. Following Up — Facebook Elevated Misinformation Because of System Error

We’ve written often about the algorithms that control Facebook’s news feed. We also told you last year that the company promised to downrank political content and hate speech. Now The Verge reports that a Facebook system error did not demote or throttle issues related to nudity, violence, or disinformation published by Russian state media.

7. Protip — 10 Free Ebooks Reader Apps

You don’t need to buy a Kindle or have Barnes & Noble tell you where you can buy books. PC Mag assembled this lovely list of free ebook reader apps for all sorts of devices.

8. Screening Room — Eva Longoria & The 5D Model to Fight Street Harassment

L’Oréal and spokesperson Eva Longoria collaborated on this excellent long commercial promoting ways that passers-by can help others being harassed and promoting a safety program.

9. Science Fiction World — CrowdBot’s Wheelchair

Some shoppers in Switzerland are getting a sneak peek at the Qolo robotic wheelchair being developed by a nearby team of researchers. The news is exciting because as the lab’s director says, “You hear a lot about self-driving cars, but not about robots that could be moving among pedestrians.” You can read more and see video here.

10. Coffee Break — Forgotify

This program made waves years ago because Spotify had millions of tracks that had never been listened to on the service. That issue still exists so hop on over to Forgotify and let it spin you a tune that will make today a really special day for everyone who created that song.

11. Sign of The Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 28th. This is your special reminder that Thursday is April Fools’ Day. There will be plenty of online shenanigans. Those originating in Oz or APAC countries will reach US users on March 31st. Be a little judicious regarding what you see online midweek.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,358 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”— GIF creator Stephen Wilhite to The New York Times in 2013. Wilhite died last week at the age of 71, but not before fulfilling this word nerd’s fantasy of correcting the OED.

a) Graphics chip company NVIDIA announced last week that it has developed software that can render a 3D scene from a series of 2D photographs in nearly real-time.

b) A data privacy agreement between the U.S. and E.U. will allow American data centers to handle operations in Europe. Stringent data privacy laws there created asymmetry among different divisions in many organizations, especially after the EU’s Court of Justice ruled twice in five years that American laws were insufficient to protect European citizens’ rights. The deal was announced Friday and is still preliminary.

c) Facebook moderation seems to be undergoing some changes. In the last few days we’ve heard from two capable social media posters that they received account restrictions based on memes or sarcastic posts they made two years ago regarding the Trump administration’s handling of COVID-19. Facebook rolled out some new automated tools for group moderation just two weeks ago, which may explain part of the delayed response. Algorithms have a nearly impossible time detecting sarcasm, but there is also a tough toll on human moderators, nearly all of whom are classified as non-employee contractors.

Also last week, attorneys for two former TikTok content moderators announced a class-action suit against that social media network for being required to moderate videos of extreme violence, pornography, and child abuse. Facebook settled a similar suit last year for $85 million. Meanwhile, moderation often remains heavy-handed because of its reliance on automation.

3. Search Engine News — Even The Inside Folks Ask Each Other

It’s not just those of us outside Google.

Earlier this month, former Google Search executive Malte Ubl announced his departure from the company after 11 years.  Just days later he was publicly asking for help or documentation about a Google search index practice. Kudos to Search Engine Roundtable for spotting the tweet. Everyone involved in search needs reference materials, notes, and the ability to strategize. No one memorizes it all.

We also got confirmation last week that Google uses “alt text” on images for image search. And while that very important field is not used for non-image search, it is used by millions of visually impaired people whose assistive devices rely on a website’s written description of the image.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Health Technology Breakthroughs

There have been so many health technology breakthroughs announced in the last month that rounding them up for you fills a whole explainer. Even better: some of them have jumped from tech and science journal coverage to mainstream media, especially the exciting brain-computer interface.

Brain-Computer Interfaces
We last wrote about Neuralink 10 months ago. We were excited then about the opportunity for an interface that could decode signals in the brain related to creating letters to communicate. That project’s researchers insisted at the time that their system was not even close to a prototype.

That’s why it was thrilling last week to learn that a team in Europe has published a journal article on this topic citing experiments with a “locked-in” patient who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). There are plenty of questions and vetting left to happen, but it’s a marvel.

Fabric That Monitors Your Heartbeat
A team from MIT & The Rhode Island School of Design has created fabric that amplifies the imperceptible motion of mechanical vibrations made by sound … like a heartbeat. Those vibrations are then converted to an electric signal that can monitor respiration and heart activity. There are plenty of non-health applications for this technology, but there are also more than 100 million Americans who suffer from heart or lung disease who could benefit from convenient, non-invasive regular monitoring.

While AI Diagnoses Heart Disease In 20 Seconds
The British National Health Service has launched a new AI tool that detects heart disease for patients in an MRI scanner within 20 seconds. A health technology journal reported that a similar diagnosis from a physician averaged 13 minutes. The NHS says that the tool is being used for 140 patients per week in London now and will roll out to 40 more locations.

Face2Gene App Now Diagnoses 1,000 Conditions
Another health technology visualization tool called Face2Gene launched years ago has now tripled the number of conditions it can detect. The algorithm can also reportedly adjust for different ethnic backgrounds between patients. There are more than 7,000 rare diseases (sometimes known as orphan diseases) according to the NIH.

5. Did That Really Happen? — A VA Tech Swimmer Did Not Tweet About Trans Athletes

Faking a tweet is child’s play. There are multiple free fake tweet generators available online. A new fake image accusing a transgender college swimmer of “stealing a competitive slot” was attributed to a Virginia Tech swimmer who never made the post. 

The AP details the false statement that was shared more than 28,000 times.

6. Following Up — Ukraine Using Clearview AI Facial Recognition

We’ve written about Clearview AI and the way that they improperly downloaded facial recognition data from many of the world’s largest social media networks. Now Reuters is reporting that the Ukrainian military is imaging the faces of dead Russian soldiers and contacting their families about their loved ones death.

Tread lightly around this issue because many false positives are possible, to say nothing of the propaganda value of a country fighting for its life giving these stories wide play. Could there be a better way to win the hearts and minds of your enemy’s citizens? This could be happening and would be interesting if it did happen, but it’s impossible to know for certain. 

7. Protip — How To Reopen Closed Tabs in Chrome’s Browser

Not so fast. We mean how to reopen those tabs if your browser crashed and there is no “reopen last session” or “reopen closed tab” option. You, my friend, need to learn about the Chrome browser’s History function.

8. Screening Room — Behr Says Its Time For A Makeover

The paint company behind some great past campaigns wants you to really understand what not repainting says about you.

9. Science Fiction World — Broadband On The Moon

To hear Aquarian Space talk about the issue, there would not just be broadband on Earth’s moon, but between the Earth and moon. The company says that the 13 landers, orbiters, and rovers on and around the moon are projected to grow to 200 vehicles over the next 8 years. You are not alone if you just thought about a streaming movie buffering on your television.

10. Coffee Break — Politician Short Attention Span

You may have noticed plenty of distracted U.S. senators during last week’s televised hearings. Belgian politicians are also on a daily livestream. 

Dries Depoorter wrote software that monitors that livestream to search for politicians using their phone when they should be paying attention to the proceedings. The software then captures the image, uses facial recognition to identify the politician, and then posts the image to Twitter and Instagram with the politician tagged.

Have I mentioned yet how much I adore this? Have a look for yourself.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 21st. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins its hearings at 11 a.m. today on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first female African American justice on the Supreme Court.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,358 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “Children deserve to be protected before they have the ability to consent that their data be shared and sold to third parties.”— Maryland state senator Susan Lee to Government Technology on her sponsorship of new student privacy legislation. We unpack the issue in Maryland and elsewhere in Spotlight Explainer below.

a) Instacart launched Shoppable Recipes with partners TikTok, Tasty, and Hearst Magazines. As content creators share their short video recipes on TikTok or a magazine site, the audience watching the video can easily add the ingredients to an Instacart cart. In addition to TikTok, sites featuring Shoppable Recipes include Good Housekeeping and Country Living.

b) A bipartisan group of House Judiciary committee members have requested that the Justice Department investigate Amazon and its executives for obstruction of Congress. The lawmakers say that the company has refused to answer its questions and has not produced information that committee members say would implicate Amazon in anticompetitive behavior.

c) Columbia University may have gamed the famous U.S. News college rankings according to a tenured math professor at the school. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell surfaced Prof. Michael Thaddeus’ allegations to his newsletter audience last week. If his explanation is accurate, Columbia has done things like use the cost of patient care in its hospital as part of its teaching expenditure. The school also reported that more than 96% of its faculty were full-time and that 100% of the faculty had attained the highest possible degree in their field, data that Columbia reports lower in other surveys.

3. Search Engine News — Google Related Search & New Hotel Searching

Google introduced a new related search feature for advertisers last week. The feature allows websites that monetize using Google’s AdSense program to display a “related searches” widget directly on their site. If a visitor clicks a related search, they remain on the site, but on an embedded Google search results page.

Why is that important? We’ve been telling you since Spotlight started years ago that Google’s mission is to control the entire information research ecosystem. By subsidizing publishers, Google takes the reins from a visitor who may be dissatisfied with the search result and try a competing search engine. 

Google gives the publisher some money for their trouble, but it’s not a lot. The big thing that Google gets is the ability to learn what site it sent a search visitor to and how that person refined their request to get the information that they wanted.

Hotels will see a similar tool that they use get expanded availability soon. Free hotel booking links will now appear directly on Google Maps and Google Search. That inserts Google as a middleman between the hotel and traveler. Restaurants already suffer similar encroachment from Google, Facebook, and delivery apps that provide links to their ordering process instead of the restaurant’s website.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Student Privacy

As education tech and online tracking grow, students of all ages are being observed in ways that were never possible before. Privacy advocates express extreme concern about schools using location monitoring, facial recognition, and device tracking to stay abreast of student behavior. 

The Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act is the law that protects student privacy according to the Education Department. That law took effect in 1974 and was last amended twenty years ago in 2002. Critics understandably say that it is incomplete given technology advances since then.

Device Tracking & Student Privacy
School personnel use software that monitors a student’s behavior online–even if they’re at home–while using a school-issued device. Schools argue that they own the device, and that teachers can only view information during school hours. That’s not always the case. An important distinction remains that teachers cannot access the data, including location coordinates, but that the data is saved and can be viewed by school administrators.

No Student Privacy With Facial Recognition at Lunch
The promise of accurate and contactless school lunch payments led some UK schools to begin using facial recognition last fall. They were quickly warned by a national privacy agency to “consider less intrusive ways” of collecting payments.

A school district in New York had already begun using a similar program before the state government banned facial recognition in its schools. Meanwhile, Colorado legislators last week advanced a bill that would ban all facial recognition in public and charter schools until 2025.

Universities & Facial Recognition
One of the most prominent recent abuses of student privacy became public knowledge last month when interim George Washington University president Mark Wrighton apologized for GW tracking student, faculty, and staff locations during the fall semester. The program had begun before Wrighton arrived and his email to the community was explicit about what was tracked.

When To Sue An Unknown Student
A Chapman University professor has sued a student known so far only as John Doe because that student uploaded copies of questions from his midterm and final exams in a business law course. The company would not identify the person who uploaded the information without a legal proceeding so the professor sued. 

Online cheating is a serious issue. The Markup published an outstanding story last month about a company called Honorlock that uses websites seeded with specific exam questions and tracking software to identify students who look for them.  Honorlock’s critics call the ruse entrapment and are encouraging educators to find different ways to assess student knowledge.

5. Did That Really Happen? — UCLA Posted A Professor’s Job Last Week With No Compensation

UCLA published a job listing last week with a strange provision:

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.

The people who use the internet had some thoughts about that until the job listing vanished. Not before it was captured here, of course, but pretty fast.

Now UCLA is apologizing for “unfortunate wording” for a position that it said required an affiliation with the school, but would be paid for by a grant. But yes, the university did advertise for an unpaid chemistry professor gig. Wait until Columbia hears about this.

6. Following Up — Yale List of Who Left & Who Stayed In Russia

In much the same way that Johns Hopkins leaped to the forefront of COVID-19 data publishing in January of 2020, Yale has developed a list of hundreds of organizations and whether they still do business in Russia. 

Hundreds have left that country after it attacked Ukraine, but 37 remain including Credit Suisse, Koch Industries, Renault, and Subway.

7. Protip — Leaving Photos Behind When You Die

No one wants to plan for this, but if you read Spotlight, we know that you’re most likely a planner. Wired has a nice, short piece on how to best organize the digital photo portion of your legacy. (P.S. Don’t forget to set up access to your digital accounts for email, social media, and banking too. It’s important.)

8. Screening Room — Tattoos & Duolingo

A hysterical promotion and accompanying ad from Duolingo UK is worth your time. 

9. Science Fiction World — AI Speech

Now that the Duolingo spot loosened you up, you must watch this video from AI voice company Sonantic.  You won’t regret giving it two minutes.

 10. Coffee Break — Test Your Reaction Time

JustPark lets you take the wheel in this quick “emergency stop game” to grade your reflexes. I tell you this as a thirty-one year old man who may be a bit older than that.

 11. Sign of the Times