1. Good Monday Morning

Crypto enthusiasts and industry insiders will be eagerly anticipating Coinbase’s upcoming IPO this week. Coinbase will now be one of just three companies with a billion dollar valuation exclusively operating within the crypto market according to CB Insights’ data.

As Ramadan begins today, a quick correction from last week when Spotlight said Easter had occurred the previous day. As I was graciously reminded by Reverend Laura Cochran, Easter Sunday was the beginning of the 50 day Eastertide season. In addition, the world’s Eastern Orthodox observers celebrate Easter Sunday this year on May 2. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,275 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “Targeting LinkedIn is not rocket science. It is social media for the corporate world with a description of the key players in every industry. I assume that I am a target too and always look for that.” — Chris Morales, CIO of Netenrich to Threatpost about new phishing attacks on LinkedIn job searchers.

a) Amazon’s share of U.S. digital advertising grew to 10 percent in 2020, up from 7.8 percent the year before, according to a new report from eMarketer on Wednesday that examines the company’s growing dominance in what it calls the US advertising triopoly. Despite this, Google and Facebook’s market share remained relatively unchanged

b) An algorithm operated by Google allegedly used data gathered from past ad-buying bids to give its own system an edge over competitors. Google’s controversial Project Bernanke had been withheld from publishers according to court documents filed in the case 10 states have filed against Google. This is the same lawsuit that alleged proof of a deal with Facebook to competitively cooperate. (Wall Street Journal)
c) A Texas man who allegedly plotted to blow up a data center in Virginia has been charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive. Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested on Thursday after allegedly attempting to obtain an explosive device from an undercover FBI employee in Fort Worth. Pendley reportedly stated that 70% of all internet traffic flowed through the Ashburn data center, demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of how the internet works. He also participated in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Also know these headlines:

DoorDash, Instacart Eye Launching Credit Cards — Retail Brew

YouTube Testing Hiding Dislike Counts — Search Engine Journal

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data — Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths — 761
US Hospitalizations — 43,706
US fully vaccinated — 29.1%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder — CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Counterfeit Vaccine Cards Pop Up, Virginia Tells Twitter, eBay — Dogwood

The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work. Are We Ready? — Microsoft

4. Search Engine News

Google has released updated product review guidelines.They include demonstrating expert knowledge, providing unique content beyond manufacturer’s information, quantitative metrics, and more. Google provided writers with nine bulleted review questions to consider. That is the closest thing to a template that we’ve ever seen Google offer. Expect to see much more standardization in product reviews across the internet any moment.

Google also clarified that it does not want businesses to include telephone numbers in posts to Google My Business, but rather to use a “Call Now” button widget available to business owners. Some among you may think they have done so to track consumers and act as gatekeepers between companies and consumers. I applaud that thought process. 

5. In The Spotlight — Police Facial Recognition Use

A great deal of misinformation continues to spread regarding police facial recognition use in addition to a conflation of biometrics and police work. There are more reasons to embrace biometrics including facial recognition, but consider these high profile events:

  • Following the U.S. Capitol domestic terror attack, Facebook provided police facial recognition data and “helped them identify people who posted photos of themselves from the scene, even after the attack was over.”
  • Using automated license plate readers, the Oklahoma government is tracking uninsured vehicles throughout the state and mailing $174 citations to the owners. 
  • Minneapolis police are banned from using facial recognition technology.
  • Police in Massachusetts are allowed to conduct searches while under a judicial order, with a non-law enforcement agency conducting the search.|
  • Police in New York City are coming under fire for running thousands of searches using a controversial system called Clearview AI that scraped social media sites to build its database.

But biometric identification isn’t just for law enforcement; schools, companies, and landlords use it for access to restricted areas. Another use is WorldReach’s Know Your Traveller service that enables people to easily apply for eVisas and travel documents from home. 

Those who work with facial recognition admit that the technology has shortcomings, but not biases since the code functions exactly as humans direct. Within the limitations of the system, further distinctions are drawn between false positives and false negatives and the outcomes for each. Another key issue is the way the images are collected. 

Those Clearview AI images NYPD officers used for searches were collected scattershot from social media. They show people in wildly differing conditions and were stored in low-resolution formats. A higher resolution image taken in consistent lighting with consistent equipment responds best to an algorithm created by humans.

6. Debunked — KC Superintendent Didn’t Tweet at Rapper

Someone created a parody Twitter account of Kansas City Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell and tweeted to rapper Bhad Bhabie about her Only Fans account.

You already know it’s not him, but here’s the AP confirming it.

7. Following Up — Google AI Ethics Again, LinkedIn Data Leak

We’ve been writing about Google’s ouster of the co-founders of the company’s AI ethics team after one co-authored an academic paper critical of the type of machine learning that the company’s search engine uses.  According to Bloomberg, the executive they reported to has announced his departure at the end of the month.

We also wrote extensively last week about a massive Facebook data leak being made available free on the dark web. Now Cybernews reports that hackers have scraped 500 million LinkedIn records and are selling them. They’ve posted two million of the records free as proof.

8. Protip — Google Chrome Live Captions

Whether you have impaired hearing or simply work in a noisy environment, Google Chrome can now  automatically caption videos as they play. 

There’s a video at the announcement to show you how to do it.

  9. Screening Room –  Sam Adams’ Cousin & Vaccination

The brewer’s popular Cousin from Boston does his shtick while getting vaccinated.

10. Science Fiction World — Elon Musk’s Monkey

I was pretty impressed with Elon’s new tunnel under Vegas, but the Neuralink company he owns swears that their brain machine interface has now allowed a primate to control a Pong-like video game with its mind. The implications are staggering for a world of people with disabilities and injuries.

Here’s their announcement and video.

11. Coffee Break — Tokyo Live

This remarkable site shows activity throughout the Tokyo metro system including live ground level and underground images of where vehicles are located. 

You can add in layers for weather, view live cameras, and watch a real city go about its real activities.

The mesmerizing Tokyo map is here.

12. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

Easter and Passover ended yesterday. Ramadan begins next Monday. Happy celebrations to everyone who observes them.
Today’s Spotlight is 1,329 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) “You make the tax laws @SenWarren; we just follow them. If you don’t like the laws you’ve created, by all means, change them. Here are the facts …” read the tweet from an Amazon official Twitter account last week after she criticized the company online. We later learned that Amazon’s own security team filed a report suggesting the account had been hacked after criticizing three members of Congress by name, but it turned out that the social media staff were following Jeff Bezos’ direction to more vigorously defend the company. (Recode)

b) Apple has added two new voices to Siri and removed the default option of a female voice. A UN report released in 2019 criticized Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft for using female default voices in virtual assistants. (TechCrunch)

c) Wyatt Travnichek, a 22-year-old former employee of the Ellsworth County Rural Water District in Kansas, was indicted last week on charges of entering a remote system and changing the disinfectant mix to toxic levels. Officials have not disclosed how Travnichek gained access to the system, though the Florida system that was compromised earlier this year used a shared password among multiple employees. (Ars Technica)

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data — Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths – 825
US Hospitalizations – 40,665
US partial or full vaccination – 32%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder — CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Apple Maps To Display Travel Guidance – The Verge

Everything You Need to Know About Vaccine Passports – Recode

Microsoft Delays Full Office Reopening to At Least September – Engadget

4. Search Engine News

Google has always had a problem coordinating its policies across huge divisions of its empire. I encountered this repeatedly when I would visit Google with evidence of conflicting advice. The Googlers I met would shrug and apologize that they didn’t know how the advertising people wanted to do things. Then the advertising people would smile, shrug, and say that they did not follow the rules from other Google divisions.

So when we tell you that Gary Illyes of Google said last week during a podcast that a page’s title can be any length in a search engine snippet, we realize it is accurate. What wasn’t discussed is that the title will truncate after a certain amount of pixels or that the words that appear in search engine results have a huge impact on whether potential visitors click on them.

Ilyes correctly states that the search marketing world has adopted its own industry standards. That’s true too, and I remember when those standards did not include Google because it wasn’t built yet. The point is that there is a lot of bad advice out there even when it’s technically accurate. 

His podcast statement quoted by Search Engine Journal: Try to keep it precise to the page, but I would not think too much about how long it is and whether it’s long enough or way too long. If it fills up your screen, then probably it’s too long, but if it’s just one sentence that fits on one line or two lines, you’re not going to get a [penalty] …”

We understand that the words and the truncated text can affect user behavior, so we adhere to best practices. You do the same thing in your job. That’s why we cannot give you a book or a class and realistically expect you to your job and keep pace with search engine optimizations. Search best practices can be technically correct and effective. It’s great when they’re both. 

5. In The Spotlight — Facebook Data Posted Online

A trove of personal information about Facebook users has been making its way around the internet ever since it was leaked in 2019. The last major sighting of the information was in January when Vice reported that “a user of a low-level cybercriminal forum is selling access to a database of phone numbers belonging to Facebook users.”

According to Business Insider, that information was released for free on Saturday. The Facebook data includes phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birth dates, bios, and email addresses from 533 million people in more than 100 countries. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is often talked about, but it had a relatively small database of 80 million users.

Did your data get scraped? Troy Hunt’s Have I Been Pwnd website has been a great resource for years. The data from the 2019 Facebook data breach is also in this database. It is easy to search with an email address.

Caveat: In Hunt’s data, the three email addresses that I used most in the past ten years appear between 10 to 26 times each including the 2019 Facebook data breach. You should be doing three things to help secure your data online.

1. Subscribe to a great password manager. I use 1Password. I also read good things about Bit Warden for free basic password tools.

2. Turn on two-factor authentication everywhere you can. You have to use a code or press a button sometimes. But bad actors who have your Facebook data won’t know your credentials because they can’t access those codes or buttons. Learn about 2FA.

3. Keep your phone and computer software current. Do not press the “remind me later” link because big companies constantly provide updated software to fix security issues.

6. Debunked — 12 People Create 65% of Anti-Vax Propaganda

A stunning report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that 65% of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter can be traced back to just 12 people.

Coverage in The Guardian.

7. Following Up — Ransomware, NFTs, Solar Winds

We learned last week that the University of California and Brown University are recent ransomware victims. We also learned that Stanford and Maryland data was released online following ransomware attacks at those two schools.

The owner of Atari’s intellectual property cashed in on the non-fungible token (NFT) craze by earning $110,000 in one day from selling an image of an Atari 2600 Centipede game cartridge. There were 10 images in the sale.

We also learned last week that hackers breached the email account of former acting Homeland Security head Chad Wolf and members of the agency’s cybersecurity staff. You’ve seen us warn for months that these interconnected hacking incidents remain one of the biggest threats the U.S. faces. Officials still can’t describe the full extent of classified information obtained throughout the months of attacks.

8. Protip — Disable Facebook Friend Suggestions

Maybe you have enough friends. Maybe you don’t really know any of the people Facebook suggests that you add as friends.

Here’s a guide on disabling those suggestions

9. Screening Room –  Google “Get Back to What You Love”

Google dipped into its own history for a commercial and hit a home run with its spot imagining post-pandemic search.

10. Science Fiction World — Tourist on Mars Takes Selfie

The Curiosity rover on Mars seems a little jealous of the attention that new arrival Perseverance is getting.

See the selfie. I’ll change the heading to Science Fact Universe.

 11. Coffee Break — The Simpson Intro Using Only Stock Video Footage.

Creator Matt Highton posted, “It took a day, but here it is.”

701 original episodes of The Simpsons have aired since it debuted more than 32 years ago.
And speaking of 30 years ago…

1. Good Monday Morning

Batter up! Baseball season starts Thursday. It’s been 32 years since James Earl Jones intoned his famous “People Will Come” speech in Field of Dreams. Get ready for spring with this clip.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,119 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) The Guardian reports that Facebook considers four political ideologies as hateful. When they are found, moderators must take action to remove them. White nationalism, white supremacy, white separatism, and Nazism are the four. According to the newspaper, a leaked 300-page document also indicates whether certain emoji constitute praise for hate speech.

The social media giant also learned last week that a UK government regulator is concerned that its acquisition of GIPHY might lead to anti-competitive behavior in display advertising. Facebook must respond to those concerns this week.

b) Online publisher Medium abruptly announced that it would buy out its editorial staff and appoint a new CEO, reports Axios. Medium is one of the Internet’s biggest digital-only publishers, according to industry reports, with 725,000 paying subscribers. Ev Williams, who previously founded or co-founded Twitter and Blogger, also wrote an open letter to employees.

Separately, Verizon announced that its diverse publications including TechCrunch and AutoBlog will be rebranded as part of a new Yahoo offering. Verizon’s remaining publications have a combined three million subscribers after it sold off HuffPost, MapQuest, and Tumblr.

c) A program that allows game designers to create photorealistic digital humans with hair, clothing, and voices in under one hour has been made available through the game design software Unreal Engine. Have a look at this short video that has delighted designers and been viewed more than one million times.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data – Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths – 983 (higher than Sept & October)
US Hospitalizations – 39,570
US partial or full vaccination – 28%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder — CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Facebook Flags Venezuelan President’s PageThe Hill

New York Launches Excelsior Pass for Covid Tests, VaccinesSyracuse.com

White TX Republicans Refuse Vaccine More Than Any Other Group Chron.com

4. Search Engine News

Hyphenated words took the spotlight last week after Google admitted that they don’t ignore hyphens in words. We knew that, and we often debate words and spellings in our practice, but it was nice to see Google acknowledge that punctuation matters.

Recently, I reviewed search results for ten different hyphenated keyword phrases. Some keywords, such as “over-the-counter” and “one-half,” have drastically different search results when hyphens are added. We often tell our clients that our keyword research will reveal the difference between the times when it makes sense to use the word “attorney” as opposed to its synonym “lawyer”. Google’s clarification about hyphenated words is welcome.

More welcome news: Microsoft has submitted a new proposal to build software into WordPress that would automatically upload sitemaps to search engines for those 40% of the world’s websites that use WordPress. That is a process that web managers use separate software to address now.

5. In The Spotlight — Ransomware Cyberattacks 

Ransomware cyberattack payouts tripled last year and are increasing again due to wider acceptance of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin that the criminals often demand. Cybercriminals are getting smarter in their attacks though. Insurance giant CNA announced last week it was the latest big name company to sustain a disruption. 

CNA had to disable its web services and email after Bleeping Computer first reported how the attack encrypted more than 15,000 devices on its network. Other high-profile companies that have suffered ransomware cyberattacks in March include the computer company Acer, the University of Miami, and the brewer MolsonCoors. Acer reportedly spent $50 million restoring its systems.

Any company can be a victim of ransomware criminals. A Wichita clothing company was also attacked last week. The Tightwrapz Printshop got a notification that its software and designs had been encrypted and could only be obtained for a fraction of a bitcoin — a little over $550. Criminals typically follow this “easier to pay” ransomware strategy, but Tightwrapz owner Daniel Trantham told KSN that he alerted the FBI and hired an IT expert.

As large and small organizations battle ransomware cyberattacks, there are always new challenges to guard against. Recently, we learned of a researcher who infected 35 tech firms that included Microsoft, Apple, PayPal, Netflix, and Uber while testing a new technique.

Worth your consideration: It’s a crisis when Microsoft and Apple fall prey to an attack. Put appropriate insurance in place and consult your IT team. Criminals who aren’t paid often retaliate by releasing the organization’s files on the internet.

6. Debunked — VP Harris Saluting

Vice President Kamala Harris is taking heat across social media after being criticized by disgraced former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik for not saluting troops while boarding Air Force Two.

As the Pentagon pointed out, civilians are not required to render a hand salute.

7. Following Up — NFTs

NY Times columnist Kevin Roose wrote about a meta-experiment he tried. He would write a column about NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and sell an NFT of that column for charity.

The bit was cute, Roose carefully set the minimum price at $800 …

… and the damn thing sold for $560,000.

Want to learn more about NFTs? We covered them here. If you have New York Times access, you can read Roose’s column here.

8. Protip — Avoiding Instagram Scams

Spotlight readers don’t get hoodwinked often, but see above where Microsoft and Apple got nailed by a friendly security researcher and then have a peek at this handy Naked Security list of 8 common Instagram scams.

9. Screening Room – Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz (“we invented the car”) has a gorgeous commercial out this week touting its new sustainable energy initiative. Keep an ear out for the haunting cover of “Come Together”.

10. Science Fiction World — Delivery Robots are Pedestrians

Delivery robots carrying no more than 500 pounds and with a top speed of 12 mph are considered pedestrians under a new Pennsylvania law, reports Car and Driver.

I am simultaneously in love with this idea and wary of sharing the sidewalk with something carrying hundreds of pounds while moving at 12 mph.

 11. Coffee Break — That Big Boat

Shaun Dakin found this hilarious clip of a former traffic reporter guiding ships through the Suez Canal.

Humanity bonds over the strangest things.

12. Sign of The Times