Good Monday morning. It’s December 9th. The Fed’s Open Market Committee meets for two days starting tomorrow. The entire financial world seems to expect interest rates to remain unchanged. 

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. Uber faces more scrutiny after an internal report released Thursday detailed nearly 6,000 incidents of sexual assault or misconduct for 2017-2018. The company is betting big that transparency and education will help it address the issue. Meanwhile Match Group, which owns 45 dating sites including Tinder, OK Cupid, and Plenty of Fish, acknowledged that it does not verify user information against a sex offender registry. 

Smart links: Uber safety report, ProPublica dating app investigation

2. Domain registration fees for dot org names are expected to climb next year for the first time in sixteen years. The companies that sell organizations those domains pay a capped $9.05 wholesale price, but the registry has been purchased by a venture capitalist. Various government agencies and NGOs report that they lack any authority to get involved with the deal. 

Our take: Expect but don’t worry about a price increase. Even if the price doubled, it’s probably not worth renewing all your domains now.

3. We told you this summerabout Samsung warning consumers about viruses on smart TVs. We even give you a link to check your TV and caught some flack from very cool tech friends who insisted that we move along because there was nothing to see here. Then the FBI’s Oregon office issued a news release last week that said an unsecured television can provide a path for hackers to reach your router. The bottom line is that this is still a long shot, but it’s possible. Aren’t you glad you’re a Spotlight reader?

Smart links:Our July 1 issue, FBI: Securing Smart TVs

2. TikTok Explained

Think of video app TikTok as a child of YouTube and Snapchat. Users can post video stories of up to one minute — a relative eternity in video. Arising from the roots of karaoke, lip syncing, and stupid human tricks, TikTok is enjoying its doubling phase when user growth each quarter makes year-over-year comparisons worthless.

TikTok has 800 million active monthly users. About 60% of those are in China. Another 26 million are in the U.S., and sixty percent of those users are between the ages of 16 and 24. The market share of the teen-to-24 group is remarkable. There are 43 million U.S. residents in that age bracket, and more than 15 million of them use TikTok.

You have probably heard about Congressional hearings where TikTok’s Chinese ownership and its perceived security threat make for great headlines. We have no knowledge that would suggest Chinese mind control is possible or that the Chinese government doesn’t already have ridiculously robust data about all Americans since it’s available all over the dark web. There are certainly more serious digital sercurity issues.

The app is fast-moving, often seeing memes and fads rise and dissipate within days. Users are spending a very long average of five minutes per session on the app and open the app multiple times per day. You’re not wrong if you think that sounds like your mother’s Candy Crush fix. U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas spent a big chunk of her career as a YouTube exec where she was also blessed with an app that has ubiquitous reach and great engagement. TikTok claims U.S. users spend a total of 46 minutes on the app each day.

Advertisers are rushing to reach this audience of young, addicted community members. Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, booked more than $7 billion in revenue for the first half of 2019. The company had been using a traditional advertising model but is quickly moving to a self-service advertising platform like Google, Facebook, and other digital platforms use. The catch for now is that most advertisers — most adults, for that matter — still don’t have the understanding of the platform that would allow it to spend money wisely.

Congress aside, the waters are still choppy for TikTok. News came last week that a group of parents have filed a class action suit against the company regarding its data practices with minors. We also learned that moderator guidelines for the site instruct staff and contractors to restrict amplifying videos made by overweight, disabled, or LGBTQ contributors. Meanwhile growth at the company is creating an acute need for technical staff. The company has recently hired more than two dozen staffers from nearby Facebook and is reportedly paying salaries of 20% more.

Learn more:The leaked pitch deck at AdAge, revenues at CNBC, hiring at NBC, moderation guidelines screen out disabled, overweight people at Netzpolitik.

3. Google Search Updates

  • Continuing its quest to have searchers stay on Google’s search results pages instead of visit websites, Google is asking shippers to supply them with a feed of logistics data. Google can currently understand which carrier used which tracking number. Now it wants to give you the tracking information without sending you to the company. As a consumer, you won’t care. As a business leader, you may be starting to feel horror at the amount of non-Google information that Google is attempting to become the provider for.

  • Song lyrics are a popular fact-based item that has gotten Google in trouble before. Now lyrics site Genius is suing the search engine for allegedly taking the company’s transcriptions. Genius apparently seeded its song lyrics in a way that allows them to tell when they’ve been copied. Neither Genius nor Google own the song lyrics. This is a messy harbinger of the fights to come between search and organizations over what can appear in search results.

4. Debugged: The White Van Myth

CNN seemed incredulous when Baltimore Mayor Jack Young warned Monday that people should not park near a white van and should keep their phones handy in case they were abducted. The tip wasn’t from the FBI or the Baltimore police but the mayor said he saw it “all over Facebook.”

Here’s the debunking, if you really needed a fact check.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Don’t Romanticize Plantations

The Knot, Brides, and Pinterest are telling couples planning weddings that they will remove references to plantations on their websites. They also now prohibit content that romanticizes plantations. The sites are also working to remove existing content from appearing in search engines.

BuzzFeed broke the story early last week.

6. Great Data: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Literature professors have long told people that Shakespeare likely had a collaborator of some sort. A Czech data scientist has written an algorithm that suggests a playwright named John Fletcher was that man. The algorithm is able to identify each author’s style and credits Fletcher with writing nearly half of Henry VIII.

MIT Technology Review has details.

7. Protip: Protect Your Health & Fitness Data

If you’re ready for a new fitness app or gadget during the holidays or hope to make some great resolutions this new year, then you’ll want to pay attention to how much of your health and fitness data is being shared.

Wired has step-by-step directions for each major platform.

8. Bizarre Bazaar: Fried Chicken Log

Oh, KFC, why you wanna hurt me like this? 

The food chain is selling an Enviro-Log made from recycled material that smells like fried chicken. It’s available for $18.99 (yes, really) exclusively at Walmart (insert your own joke here).

The copy cautions that the smell may attract bears or hungry neighbors.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

See how your web browser shares information about you — at Robin Linus

The funniest things photographed by street mapping cars — at Street View Fun

Learn how locals are fighting climate change — at Moms Clean Air Force

10. Coffee Break: That Pizza Commercial

Twenty-one years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev made a commercial for Pizza Hut. There were only eight leaders of the Soviet Union, including Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev, and the one who made this pizza commercial.

Yes, opportunity

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

Good Monday morning. It’s December 2nd. The UN’s Convention on Climate Change begins today in Madrid. Visit Moms Clean Air Force’s state directory pages to learn about ways you can help restore Earth’s equilibrium.  We’ve been proud to work with them for more than eight years.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 5 minutes to read. Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1. NYC tells FedEx to get their delivery robots ‘off our streets’ reads the New York Post’s headline. The article has video of the Roxos bot in SoHo. Apparently it can’t be on the sidewalk and it’s not street legal. But FedEx says it has “stair-climbing wheels” which suggests to me that our robot overlords will not be deterred if we hide in the guest room. Completely unrelated but interesting is news that Walmart’s Jet subsidiary is halting grocery delivery in New York City. Maybe the FedEx bots were blocking the streets.

2. Threatpost reports that more than 100,000 scam domains have names that look like trusted retail names and have registered https certificates in those fraudulent names. Please make sure that you are using the correct website this holiday season.

3. Ransomware incidents are also increasing, reports Bleeding Computer citing a confidential report in the Netherlands. Three types of ransomware have infected 1,800 businesses, including a New Mexico school district and a cloud computer company servicing 110 nursing homes. This is an issue that sounds far-fetched until it happens to your organization.

2. The Truth About Influencers

Marketers have long used celebrities in advertising, but lately seem to have conflated celebrity with notoriety. The idea of being famous for being famous isn’t new but monetizing that noteworthiness for advertising has brought society to the profession of social media influencer. 

There are social media celebrities with millions of subscribers following their video or other channels. This is about the next level down, the people who have tens of thousands of likes, followers, or other vanity metrics and relatively few subscribers. Influencers use the platform’s notoriety, especially Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter, to blast their followers with a commercial.

The engagement metrics for the messages they promote are poor. Learning that a brand scrapped its influencer program after failing to achieve its goals is now common. And the sad truth is that most influencers sell their promotions using the same vanity metrics of impressions and followers that by themselves create no profit.

Those vanity metrics are also often inflated, making them even more suspect. Data from Google’s Avinash Kaushik tells a cautionary tale of average prices ranging from $200 to $4,000 for a single Instagram post from “micro influencers” who have 10,000 to 50,000 followers. Avinash also discloses rates for fake Instagram followers that are only $16 per thousand.

Paying a higher $50 rate will get you bots that share and amplify your messages. This combination of inflated follower counts and declining engagement combine to make influencer campaigns problematic for any advertising efforts.

Disclosure is also a problem. The FTC has chased this issue for more than a decade and continues posting rules for compliance that extend to anyone promoting a product or service online. The FTC has also made selling likes and similar engagement illegal although its quiet on how it plans to enforce those rules. 

Brand managers claim that there’s too much money in digital advertising for big brands to do anything more than accept losses on low quality influencers to ensure that they don’t miss out on the next trend. That’s passionate consumer thinking, not data-driven analysis, and a big part of the problem. 

Instagram is luring real celebrities instead of influencers by offsetting video production costs of up to $250,000 for multiple posts by a celebrity. Bloomberg found and confirmed the presence of these contracts. The IGTV deal requires that stars do not post about politics, elections, or social issues.

Our take remains as simple and unchanged from when George first placed an online ad in the pre-Google days: be diligent in tracking all the data and only continue advertising that is proven profitable. We’ve gone into large and small organizations where the first way we’ve provided value is to show that current ads are costing more than they’re bringing in.  And if you’ve hired influencers already then be extra-diligent about breaking out all their costs and assigning revenue to them.

3. Google Search Updates

  • Google now allows its My Business service customers to provide custom lists of what they offer customers. For example, a plumber can specify what appliances they work on or an exterminator can specify if they exterminate rodents. Search Engine Journal has more.
  • Google is also testing a small blue arrow icon next to titles in search results. As those search results begin including more maps, videos, and other content, the user interface will undoubtedly be changed often. Search Engine Roundtable has screenshots.

4. Debugged: Bride Keeping Donated Wedding Costs Isn’t Real

The alleged bride wrote that after reflection and tear-filled conversations with close family members, she has decided to cancel her wedding. The good news is that the $30,000 donated for the ceremony won’t be spent in vain but used for a honeymoon-ish trip in the future.

Yeah, not really though. 

It was a ruse designed to build traffic to a website.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Sacha Baron Cohen

The comedian behind Borat, Ali G, and Who is America made headlines for castigating Facebook and other online platforms in a speech at the Anti-Defamation League in New York on November 20. 

Cambridge-educated Sacha Baron-Cohen spoke after being presented with the ADL’s international leadership award. He described Facebook as “the greatest propaganda machine in history,” said that the company would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda, and quoted a headline, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

The speech is thoughtful, passionate, and a withering criticism of Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Twitter.

Read the remarks or watch the video here.

6. Great Data: Social Media Use by Generation and Location

Now that you’ve read or watched Cohen’s rebuke, let’s set the context with this data-packed infographic showing how social media influences society using brand discovery, product research, and yes, influencer marketing. I learn something more every time I look at this. Consider: 73% of Boomers used Facebook in the last month, but only 28% of them used Instagram. That makes my head hurt.

Visualizing Social Media Use

7. Protip: Your Tattletale Web Browser

When you realize how much information your web browser shares with the world, you will never again wonder how multibillion dollar ad companies posing as tech companies know everything about you. Go ahead and click. It’s safe, and you should know these things.

Signed into Spotify? I don’t even use Spotify any more!

8. Bizarre Bazaar (strange stuff for sale online)

With snow on the ground in much of the country, this is the perfect time to tell you about Animal Tracks, the sandals that make animal prints in snow, sand, or dirt. 

The T-Rex might be pushing it, but see what happens with the wolf.

9. ICYMI – Top links from the past 30 days

100,000 Stars – an awesome visualization

Animated charts showing best selling musicians – on Youtube

Record calls with your smartphone – at Wired

10. Coffee Break:  Street View Fun

There really is a website for everything. This one features the greatest images caught by those Google cars that traverse every road adding to the company’s street view feature in Google Maps. 

Check out the daily photo, the best month, or the top 100 of all time.

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

Good Monday morning. It’s November 25th. I am thankful for you, the people who read this, and thrilled to be a part of your Monday mornings. Please always write or comment when the mood strikes.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 5 minutes to read. Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1. Sir Tim Berners-Lee published an op-ed touting his Contract for the Web project. As Sir Tim says when he needs attention, he invented the web, and this is his proposal to fix it. The Contract is endorsed by 80 signatories and has a key group of 10 stakeholders (think the UN Security Council) including France, Germany, Microsoft, Wikimedia, and Google. Read the NYT op-ed or see the Contract.

2. Loon provides internet connectivity by flying balloons in the stratosphere over an area. Loon signed a deal last week to provide connectivity to remote areas of the Amazon in Peru. The company is owned by Google parent Alphabet and previously provided connectivity to earthquake-ravaged areas in Peru. Read the Mashable story or see the website.

3. Google followed Twitter (yes, I know) into the bumpy world of political advertising. Here’s a quick guide:

  • No politicians may advertise: Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitch
  • Some restrictions: Google (targeting), Snapchat (fact checked), Reddit (federal only)
  • No restrictions as of today: Facebook

2. Facial Recognition Technology Has An Ugly Side

Experts worry that privacy degrades as pervasive technology monitors our ongoing vital signs, measures how fast we are traveling, tracks our location, and uses biometric measures such as fingerprints and face scans to unlock our devices.

Privacy concerns notwithstanding, facial recognition technology has significant societal problems including tensions with data aggregators and algorithmic biases that favor wealthier, whiter populations. Even the technology used in consumer products has notoriously lower reliability in recognizing people with dark skin.

Technologists asked to fix such a problem sometimes do dumb things as ZDNet found this summer when Google stopped people in malls like a survey taker and offered $5 Starbucks or Amazon gift cards in order to have a person spend five minutes with a phone analyzing their face. 

Yes, there was a waiver. No, it’s doubtful many (any?) read it.

Google is not the sole source of problems. Great reporting by the NY Times found that 700,000 images consumers uploaded to Flickr were part of the MegaFace database of millions. The database began at the University of Washington as a test to see how facial recognition algorithms were progressing. More than three hundred research groups downloaded the project. Most were legit. But others were used to monitor sensitive populations in China or identify subway passengers in Russia.

You’re thinking about your old Flickr account now, aren’t you?

The ACLU is suing the FBI, Justice Department, and DEA to learn how the federal government is using facial recognition technology. You can drop in on a podcast with Arielle Duhaime-Ross at Recode that digs deeper into the issue. 

Why would we write about this again after an overview earlier this year? We’ve told you a lot in the past about Amazon’s Ring video cameras on millions of front doors. The AP reported this week that Amazon is considering installing facial recognition software on Ring which means that any person, even those passing by on a public street, can be identified and their images stored in a database. And in the ‘hold my beer’ department, Facebook acknowledged that it had tested internal facial recognition technology for employees in 2016. Employees were allowed to use it on Facebook to identify themselves and the Facebook friends of employees. 

3. Google Search Updates

  • Google may alert Chrome browser users about slow loading websites in an update due after the new year.
  • You’ve undoubtedly seen many websites trying to get more Google traffic by posting mini videos demonstrating a word’s pronunciation. In its endless quest to keep search traffic on its own website, Google will now demonstrate pronunciations directly in the search results. They’ll even slow down the audio if you’re having trouble and toggle between American and British pronunciations.

    Search this way: how do you pronounce [word]? Some seasonal words to try: charcuterie, cornucopia, yams.

  • You’ll also see some titles in your search results that appear truncated or missing words with the name of the business area replacing them. Search Engine Land found that was part of a Google plan to surface more relevant local information in search results. For now there is no way to opt in or opt out. Here’s an example:

4. Debugged: Facebook does not write off donations

You’ve seen Facebook fundraisers for groups fighting for everything from world hunger to climate change. And if you or any of your friends have entered your birthday information on Facebook, you’ve seen many fundraisers.

A viral meme wrongly suggests that Facebook claims the deductions themselves, uses the amount to offset their taxes, and keeps up to 85% of the donated funds.

All of that is wrong. Facebook doesn’t even charge credit card processing fees for birthday fundraisers.

Snopes has more details.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Cosmic Crisp Apples

Americans consume more than 17 pounds of apples each year. While you weren’t looking the Red Delicious and Granny Smith varieties saw their market share plummet. Combined the two varieties now make up less than 20% of apples consumed by Americans.  

About a quarter of the apples we consume now are Honeycrisp, but retailers complain that they’re hard to ship and keep unblemished. Coming this week (probably, but post-Thanksgiving) is the Cosmic Crisp apple created at Washington State University.

The new apple variety is getting buzz that most fruits don’t get thanks to a $10 million advertising campaign. Honeycrisp made its patent holder, the University of Minnesota, millions since its introduction in 1991. Cosmic Crisp with full retail prices in its future and a big ad campaign at launch time should be worth more. 

You’ll sound so smart when the commercials start. Read more at Eater.

6. Great Data: Physicians and Pharma Money

There are plenty of good reasons and training opportunities for physicians to accept pharma money. There are also abuses as detailed by ProPublica’s update of its landmark “Dollars for Doctors” database. More than 2,500 physicians have received at least half a million dollars apiece from drugmakers and medical device companies in the last five years alone. Those payments do not include research or royalties.

Get the data here. And talk with your doctor if you have concerns.

7. Protip: How to record Calls on your smartphone

Do you have the nice tradition in your world where people gather for a holiday and call others who couldn’t be there? Why not record the call and send it to others who couldn’t be on the phone? First responders and service members come to mind. I’m sure that you have other examples.

Make sure you tell everyone that you’re recording.

8. Bizarre Bazaar (strange stuff for sale online)

Do you like mushroom stuffing? Well, this idea is too late for Thanksgiving, but you can enjoy fresh mushrooms for future holidays with your very own “Mushroom Growing Kit”, and who knew that was a thing?

The mushrooms are advertised as edible.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

Gross Domestic Product — Banksy’s online shop

Free Google Digital Wellbeing Apps — proud of y’all for downloading

Blood Pressure Selfie Software Doesn’t Work on Dark Skin — at Quartz

10. Coffee Break: 10,000 Stars

Stunning visuals. Please do yourself a favor and take the short guided tour shown on the home screen. 

My favorite time-waster last week.

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