Good Monday morning. It’s March 11th. The Youth Climate Strike is this Friday. Expect tens of thousands of young adults and children marching to call attention to climate change.  Read their platform.


News You Need To Know Now


  • Senator Elizabeth Warren is now the most prominent politician to call for breaking up Big Tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, after a policy announcement Friday.


  • The California Consumer Privacy Act may be getting even tougher. State leaders have introduced an amendment to include protections for biometric and passport data. The bill takes effect January 1.


  • France takes another turn at revenue generation via tech with a bill that will tax 3% of revenue created by the 30 largest companies that do not sell products online. This includes Facebook and Google.


  • Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook would change to temporary, private messages was met with resounding yawns in the digital marketing industry. No one we’ve spoken with knows how or when such an initiative would take place. Our take is that things could change tomorrow and not dissuade Senator Warren or the French government.


Hidden Nest Surprise

Rumors about your devices listening
 to you may not be as far-fetched as you think. Google now admits that its Nest Secure home security device includes a microphone that wasn’t previously disclosed.

Google says that the plan had always been to enable Nest Secure to work with voice commands via Google Assistant. They just didn’t disclose that future plan and built the mic in. My thermostat says that’s pretty standard.

iPhone apps also had a nasty surprise for users, who learned last month that their screens were being recorded without their knowledge.  Apple demanded that app developers remove or disclose the functionality or be removed from the App Store.

Facebook’s security teams got a lot of attention this week for their cool-sounding executive security work that includes rumors of a “panic chute” to get Mark Zuckerberg out of the building in an emergency, but the company’s use of a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) list of security threats worries some privacy advocates. CNBC reporting tells of a global list that can include people who simply send an irate email with threats or expletives to Facebook.

The people on that list can be tracked if Facebook is on their mobile device OR if they are using an app that reports data to Facebook. We told you about those apps–some of the world’s biggest–weeks ago.

  • There are undoubtedly credible threats to the only organization we know with nearly 3 billion accounts. But the ability to create a quasi-law enforcement agency with undisclosed surveillance capabilities is something that lawmakers will have to wrestle with in the coming months.

Also In The Spotlight


Worth your time this week:

  • “Verified Licenses” on Yelp are a new paid service, writes local expert Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land. They’re available for state-issued licenses in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas, and Washington.
    • Google announced local changes that highlight budget options on its map display.  That’s just in time for spring vacations. Read the announcement.


  • Which TeleTubby are you? Facebook filed suit against two Ukrainian men who created quizzes that injected malware on user computers. The quizzes went by the names “SuperTest” and “Megatest” although not the one I’m most familiar with: Stop Sending Me This Garbage, Uncle Ralph!
    • Bottom line: if you take a quiz or survey and need to allow the system to access your Facebook account, your most recent info is almost certainly harvested.


  • Another 150 Facebook accounts were deleted last week for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” coming from Romania and the UK. That follows a suit Facebook announced that it  filed the previous week against companies “selling fake accounts, likes, and followers“.
    • But if you remember that a committee in the UK’s Parliament has a trove of Facebook documents, you’ll be interested in learning that Facebook “promised politicians investments and incentives while seeking to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook’s behalf against data privacy legislation.”

Good Monday morning. It’s February 25th. Meteorological spring begins Friday.

Thank you, George Mason University’s Marketing 491 class and Professor Shaun Dakin, for allowing me to talk with them Thursday at the Fairfax campus. I always learn a lot from these sessions, and last week was no exception. Here’s an overview of what we discussed.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 5 minutes to read.

News to Know Now


  • The Open AI initiative announced it would not release its recent text generator project because “it looked pretty darn real.”  We unpack the important story below.


  • Facebook is in new hot water over apps that report user health information to the company. It’s a day that’s name ends with the letter “y” – you expected good Facebook news?


  • Those Amazon Scout delivery robots being tested near Seattle have some cousins in college. George Mason University now has a fleet of 25 delivery robots bringing food including pizza, doughnuts, and coffee to people on campus. DoorDash has also tested the Starship Tech robots. The rollout video from the Mason launch is below.



Artificial Intelligence News


An algorithm’s writing reached a level that caused scientists to block its release. The text generator was reviewed by journalists including reporters from Axios and Wired. Fake political stories quoting real people and even fake Amazon reviews were well within the program’s grasp.

An excerpt from a story Axios had the AI write,

China uses new and innovative methods to enable its advanced military technology to proliferate around the world, particularly to countries with which we have strategic partnerships,” the Pentagon said in its five-page strategy outline last week.The new U.S. strategy will be a major component of the White House’s first National Security Strategy, coming in two parts in September.”    (Axios, Wired)

Visual disinformation, often called “deep fakes”, are also making news after software engineer Philip Wang created a website called This Person Does Not Exist. The site creates an entirely new image of a person from an algorithm every time a browser refreshes the screen. The very real image is of a person that never existed. Wang said that he created the site to show people how A.I. has advanced and its possibilities in today’s world. (Inverse)

CAPTCHAs are the small programs websites use to separate human visitors from automated traffic. You’ve seen them before–click this box to prove you’re a human or maybe select the parts of a picture showing a street sign. But machine learning and artificial intelligence is solving each new type of puzzle faster than before. “Machine learning is now about as good as humans at basic text, image, and voice recognition tasks,” said scientist Jason Polakis. (The Verge)


Tech Privacy News


“What’s the big deal if consumer tech has privacy problems?” a GMU student asked me. “They’ll just use the info to market more appropriate things to me.”

And he’s right.

But as Professor Dakin and I explained, there are many abuses from redlining based on race or gender to employment and other discrimination. NATO researchers have another take.

They used publicly available data against the participants in a military exercise in an Allied country. Their goals were to get service personnel to leave position, not fulfill their duty, or other actions. They took three to four weeks of prep time, used only information that the public could retrieve, and quickly identified the individual soldiers involved. Then they lured soldiers into fake social media groups and conversations, gained the exact locations of battalions as well as dates and troop movement information.

One conclusion: “The privacy features and settings…cannot be trusted not to leak information.”  Our takeaway: people adept at pretexting and Internet research are not limited to NATO. Your organization can be targeted. Read the Stratcom report.

This wasn’t Facebook’s fault but the British government would like you to know that the company “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws” in their country. We’ve been telling you for months about the legal clashes between EU countries and Facebook, especially the United Kingdom and Germany. The report from Parliament is harsh and could have ramifications beyond that country’s nearly 40 million users. The U.S. government is also reportedly in talks with Facebook regarding a multi-billion dollar fine for the company’s data privacy practices.

Data privacy’s big news this week centered around an explosive WSJ expose that cites medical and other private data being sent to Facebook from mobile apps. The Journal has been following this story for months. This latest expose is going to spell trouble for the social media company for decades. WSJ and privacy researchers found:

  • Instant Heart Rate sends a user’s heart rate information to Facebook
  • Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker sends dates of a woman’s period or if she’s trying to get pregnant
  • sends locations and prices of homes users review
  • Better Me Weight Loss Workouts sends height and weight information.
  • Lose It also sent height and weight information along with exercise information, including sexual  activity that the user entered.
  • Glucose Buddy sent blood pressure information and meal detail from food tracking.
  • Trulia sends zip code and some neighborhood information about homes users check.
Here is the most important part about these apps: they were downloaded from Google’s Play Store and Apple’s iOS App Store. They were not Facebook apps, but Facebook had reached seemingly legal data agreements with them to purchase information. And in some cases, the user didn’t have a Facebook account.When apps specify that they are going to share user information only with its trusted partners, those partners are often trusted as the result of writing a check.

The original WSJ article is here but requires a subscription. A free CNBC article is here.

Also in the Spotlight

Worth your time this week:

  • Advertisers are leaving YouTube again over “soft core” child exploitation and porn videos and comments left on them. The company has been deleting users (including commenters) and videos. AT&T and Walt Disney are among the companies that are boycotting the company.
  • Pinterest has filed for an IPO according to multiple reports, but as a direct listing. That means much less fanfare. Slow, steady Pinterest is winning praise for solid growth and banning anti-vaccination and other health-related disinformation.
  • 40% of LinkedIn users check the site daily according to Search Engine Journal. The site now has 610 million members.


Good Monday morning. It’s February 11th. Valentine’s Day is Thursday, and the federal government faces its next shutdown crisis on Friday. These both occur right before the 3 day President’s Day holiday next Monday. We won’t be publishing next week unless something extraordinary happens.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.

News to Know Now


  • Germany told Facebook its data collection practices, specifically sharing data between the platforms it owns: Whats App, Instagram, and Facebook, violate the EU’s GDPR privacy regulations. Facebook is appealing.
  • Three new numbers worth knowing:
  1. Google’s Gsuite (gmail, calendars, etc.) has 5 million paying customers.
  2. Twitter has 126 million ‘daily active users’–far less than competitors and even Snapchat
  3. Duck Duck Go served 1 billion searches in January. That’s 1% of the U.S. search market, and as we always say, “One billion of anything is worth knowing about.”

Spotlighting Google


Google’s parent Alphabet reported better than expected revenues that still didn’t please Wall Street. Like Amazon, analysts cited higher spending concerns as a reason to drub the stock.  Also like Amazon, the company’s future growth is in cloud computing services. Industry leading Amazon Web Services (AWS) created $7.4 billion in cloud revenue last quarter.  Watch the tension between Google and Amazon in 2019–especially as Amazon’s ad revenue keeps growing.

Google continues cozying up to small businesses, the last bastion of mostly untapped digital marketing dollars Their latest effort to control local advertising included letters sent to small businesses that said Google would begin automating their advertising unless the business opted out. The solicitation did not fare well at the small and medium sized businesses we spoke with or in the digital agency world, and yes, that’s us. Let us know if you got one of those emails and want to understand your options.

Keeping nonprofits happy remains a Google business practice. Most nonprofits can receive free advertising, GSuite services, and other freebies on Google after a qualification process (we can help). Prominent nonprofits like the Wikimedia Foundation that offer complementary programs receive millions in cash and licenses.

Privacy experts continue to cite Google’s far ranging reach as problematic. The company now has global search market share of 90%, which means that Alphabet knows the things that consumers want to know more about and often things that are not even disclosed between couples. As Bing and other services have experienced decreasing market share, privacy-centric Duck Duck Go is enjoying its highest volume ever. The industry is also buzzing about Google Assistant launching facial recognition in 2019.


Also in the Spotlight


  • Spotify will suspend or cancel accounts if free users block ads with an ad blocker.  Spotify also rolled out an option to block artists after furor over recent R. Kelly sexual abuse revelations
  • Apple fixed the FaceTime bug called FacePalm. That’s a good reason to update now.
  • Facebook is closing the LOL Memes section we told you about and announced new options that allow Page owners to join groups as the page. Facebook is also rolling out a petition program.

Great Data

Google Earth has released Timelapse, a free program that allows users to see a changing aerial view of an address over 32 years. It’s addictive and comes with some already preconfigured views in Las Vegas, Alberta, and others. (Our hint: pause the video and drag the slider as slow or fast as you like