Good Monday morning. It’s June 29th. Baseball resumes on Wednesday as training camps reopen for three weeks before a shortened 2020 season starts. One big issue: training camps are in the COVID-19 hotbeds of Florida and Arizona.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,148 words, about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Three Republican senators have introduced legislation that would force tech companies to create a special backdoor for law enforcement agencies into encrypted communications. This would allow police operating under a warrant to decipher any information without needing the tech company’s support. (Gizmodo)

b. The Facebook ad boycott keeps growing, and we analyze it below for you, but you should also know that Facebook has overturned decisions made by independent fact checkers regarding climate change. After industry lobbyists contacted the company, Facebook agreed to publish the false data as “opinion” and without a fact check despite the presence of inaccurate information. (E & E News)
c. Amazon purchased self-driving startup Zoox on Friday for $1.2 billion. That’s quite a discount for a company valued two years ago at more than $3 billion. The company’s goal is a self-driving taxi service. New parent company Amazon is also known to deliver many packages. (Ars Technica)

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins — the gold standard
Florida data — Unofficial, but the best I’ve seen for any state.
New York Times Vaccine Tracker — meticulously sourced
Info is Beautiful COVID datapack –> this data viz site gets it right

Tech News
Coronavirus Has Ushered In the Airport of the Future – Popular Mechanics
How the Virus Won – The New York Times
Millions of Americans Depend on Closed Libraries for Internet. – The Markup
Norway halts coronavirus app over privacy concerns – MIT Tech Review
Vaccine Makers Turn to Microchip Tech to Beat Glass Shortages – Wired

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Let’s confirm two things we thought we knew about search.

Smart use of anchor text is confirmed to be a search ranking signal for Google. You’ve seen plenty of underlined phrases like “Click Here” that point to a link. That is anchor text that Google’s John Mueller confirms can help your website’s SEO. He also cautions about reasonableness — which is the watchword for all search tactics. Your search marketers just said “duh,” but we maintain a library of these official statements. Then when we recommend something, we can share with a client when it was confirmed by Google and Bing. (Search Engine Journal)

Takeaway: use descriptive anchor text that helps the search engine understand the link.

Reasonableness also shows up in Mueller’s tweets this week about how stock photos affect search. Using stock to illustrate your team or something not directly relevant is a bad idea, but there is no penalty for using an image that appears on other websites. The image likely won’t rank well, but unless you’re competing directly on image search, using stock photography carries no penalty. Just make it accurate. (SEJ)

Takeaway: using stock photography won’t hurt you in Google’s algorithms, but don’t show your CEO as a 17-year-old buff beach bum unless you happen to work for a 17-year-old.

This week we also received news about the biggest subjects in social media and in advertising during May. 

Facebook says that in May 2020 more people were looking for bentonite for use as a beauty supplement, bodyweight exercise, cycling shorts, frozen food, vermouth, and virtual art. 

Wordstream reports that the eight industries with the best search advertising performance during the pandemic are: apparel, beauty and personal care, hobbies, arts, computers, gifts, health, and real estate (!). The hardest hit industries so far are internet, family, and travel. 

4. Also in the Spotlight — Facebook Ad Boycott

We told you last week about the Facebook ad boycott started by human rights groups seeking equality that include the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP. At this time last week, socially conscious brands like Patagonia and The North Face had joined the boycott. 

Much bigger brands are now joining the movement. The first in was $50 billion Unilever whose brands include Vaseline, Lipton, Dove, and Hellman’s. They were followed by Coca-Cola, Verizon, and Honda. Starbucks announced Sunday that they too are joining. Some brands included YouTube and other social media in their boycott announcement, and some are boycotting beyond July.

The big news wasn’t just the boycott, but its timing. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg livestreamed some corrective actions Facebook would make, but Coke, Pepsi, and Starbucks all joined the boycott after hearing Facebook’s plans.

“Stop Hate For Profit,” the coalition heading the boycott, is looking for permanent infrastructure changes, independent audits, and refunds for brands whose advertisements appeared next to hate speech that was later removed. There are more actions that are on the group’s list, and they’re worth your time to read.

Takeaway: This is nowhere near over. There are still massive advertisers who will undoubtedly make announcements today and tomorrow. We think that  small and medium sized brands can join in the Facebook ad boycott without fear of recrimination.

5. Following Up: Chrome Extension Malware

We told you last week about malware hiding in more than one hundred extensions in the Chrome Web Store. I reviewed the affected files and reported that most were extensions to manipulate search or convert document types. Lifehacker has done a step-by-step overview so that you can see if you downloaded one.

Worth doing today if you can.

6. Debugging:  Racial Equality Protesters and a Vietnam Memorial

Fact checkers were alarmed last week when a years-old story about vandalism at a Vietnam Memorial in California incorrectly identified the damage as new and inaccurately attributed it to racial equality protesters. The hoax story gained traction and was shared thousands of times.

Poynter’s Politifact has the truth here.

7. ProTip: Get Safari-Level Privacy in Chrome and Firefox

Apple announced new privacy features for the company’s flagship Safari browser that include password checks, privacy reports, and limits for websites using your browsing data.

Here is how to emulate those privacy features on Chrome and Firefox using extensions.

8. Great Data: The Rapper Whose Music Changes Stocks

In the data too good to be true department is this story about the theory of rapper Lil Yachty’s music releases being a harbinger of stock market declines.

Your refresher on correlation and causation:

Correlation means that two things seemingly have a relationship or connection. The classic humorous (and non-math) example of correlation is that an area’s murder rate increases when its ice cream sales increase. You know what’s coming, right? Yep, ice cream sales and violent crime rates increase with warm air temperatures.

Causation means that one of the variables is the result of the other. Most of us have been burned by causation vs. correlation issues at least once in our career. I just had flashbacks to my experience a couple of decades ago.

Lil Yachty’s music releases don’t affect the stock market, but it’s a cute read.

Screening Room: Sprite & the Black American Dream

Sprite took a chance with this 30 second spot that debuted at the BET Awards on Sunday. Its respectful tone and fair look at the issue seem to have paid off judging by social media reaction.

10. Coffee Break:  The Game in Your Browser Tab

Megabytes and gigabytes?  Kids, we used to have to code without personal storage. That’s what makes this game so amazing. It’s a little time waster to capture the flag, but the entire experience occurs in a title bar. 

Play Title Run for some 70s era nostalgia.

Good Monday morning. It’s June 22nd. Watch Congress this week after dire warnings from the Fed and trade groups that small business recovery is still lagging. Here is Politico’s coverage of potential legislation that would allow businesses with a 50% revenue decrease to seek additional federal loan funds.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,588 words, about a 6 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

Events converge every few months to create multiple big digital marketing stories. Bear with us this week. There is a lot going on. You’re now reading a Spotlight edition that had three different lead stories this week.

a. Twitter labeled content that the president retweeted as “manipulated content” again last week. The president retweeted a faked video of two toddlers that were originally shown running to each other and hugging. The children’s parents are enraged that their children were depicted this way. The White House calls it “clever satire” and has not yet apologized for the doctored video that labels one child as “racist baby” and another as “terrified toddler.” (Mediate)

b. Facebook removed advertising for the president’s reelection campaign that used a symbol to describe the president’s opponents as what the Anti-Defamation League said “is practically identical to that used by the Nazi regime to classify political prisoners in concentration camps.” The campaign has argued that it should be allowed to use the symbol and spent more than one million dollars on those ads before Facebook pulled them. (CNN)
c. Spyware was hidden in more than 100 Google Chrome browser extensions, Reuters reported. The extensions were capable of creating screenshots and relaying passwords and files. I’ve gone through the list of extensions and found the overwhelming majority were used to create multiple simultaneous searches (for example, searching Bing and Google at the same time) or unofficial (non-Adobe) PDF viewers and editors. 

Smartlinks: Reuters, Awake Security, ZDNet, Threat Post

d. Items “shipped from and sold by Amazon” may not adhere to the company’s own standards. A riveting expose at The Markup found Amazon prohibited items including pill presses used to counterfeit drugs, an AR-15 vise block masquerading as a paperweight, and kits used to extract and concentrate other drugs. How? Much of Amazon’s buying processes are automated. Markup’s reporters found nearly 100 listings for products that Amazon’s rules prohibit selling. (The Markup)

e. Amazon is also under internal fire after employees of its Chicago warehouses hung signs advising employees that they would be “honoring the Black community by supporting local Black businesses” with an “authentic” chicken and waffles lunch on Juneteenth, according to CNBC

Not to be outdone, Snapchat released a photo filter on Friday that showed the subject in images of chains that could be broken by smiling. No, that is not a joke. Snapchat disabled the filter after a few hours on Friday and as of Sunday evening is still apologizing to people. You can read coverage at The Verge and also read the letter from (not making this up) Snapchat’s Vice President of Diversity. I’m guessing that her weekend was not very restful.

f. Facebook is facing backlash from civil rights groups and brand advertisers over the way in which hate speech and disinformation is moderated on the site.  The groups, including the NAACP, ADL, and Color of Change, are leading a Facebook ad boycott called “Stop Hate for Profit.” Retailer REI and apparel maker The North Face were joined late Sunday by Patagonia, which issued the following announcement on Twitter.

Patagonia tweet announcing Facebook ad boycott, 2020

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins — the gold standard
Florida data — Unofficial, but the best I’ve seen for any state.
New York Times Vaccine Tracker — meticulously sourced
Info is Beautiful COVID datapack –> this data viz site gets it right

Tech News
Apple Watch, Fitbit May Help Spot Coronavirus Outbreaks – at Bloomberg
Fujitsu brings hand washing AI to COVID-19 fight — at Reuters UK
Global tide has turned against centralized contact tracing apps – at Quartz
N.Y. 3,000 Workers for Contact Tracing Off to a Slow Start – at NY Times
UK is abandoning contact tracing app for Google and Apple – at MIT Tech

Special Attention
Bloomberg’s acquisition of CityLab pays huge dividends with remarkable data like this set of interactive graphics that would be the top pick any week for our Great Data feature.

Pandemic Travel Patterns Hint at Our Urban Future – read at Bloomberg

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Google has launched its new text fragment link extension. The software allows people to create a direct link to a highlighted sentence or paragraph on a web page. The feature is useful, especially for groups, and has been around in third party apps for years. 

If you’re using Chrome, here’s a link to a fragment on our website and here is a link to Ars Technica coverage.

This is important because Google continues to refine search results. The search engine regularly now goes right to the spot in a video that addresses a searcher’s query. This is a natural progression in that area.

Google may also be facing new search competition. We ordinarily don’t pay a lot of attention to new search companies because of the seemingly insurmountable advantage that Google and Bing have. A new search engine now accepting beta tester applications may change that. Neeva will be private and subscription-based. The concept sounds like a tough sell even for its two co-founders, the former Senior Vice President of Ads and Commerce at Google and the former Vice President of Monetization at YouTube.

Google also jumped into the intersection of search and social last week with a stealth startup called Keen that seems to fuse Pinterest and search with a dash of Instagram. Google is notorious for launching products simply to learn so don’t start investing a lot of time in the community there.

Here is Google’s video explanation of the service:

4. Also in the Spotlight — eBay Executives Did Crazy, Unbelievable Stuff

There is no good headline for this story. Wired gave up with “Allegedly Made Life Hell for Critics” but that’s not descriptive enough. Their subhead is “Surveillance. Harassment. A live cockroach delivery. US attorneys have charged six former eBay workers in association with an outrageous cyber stalking campaign.”

Except workers is a mild phrase for what the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office says involved the company’s Senior Director of Safety and Security and the Director of Global Resiliency. The former CEO and the former Chief Communications Officer are not charged with any crimes, but eBay has confirmed that they had knowledge of the harassment campaign.

It reads like half Beavis and Butthead & half Godfather.

5. Following Up: Zoom & Door Dash

We told you last week that Zoom was ready to release a new encryption upgrade for its video conference product, but would only make it available to paying customers. The company reversed its position and announced Wednesday that all customers would have access to the encryption. (MarketWatch)

We also told you about the acquisition of Grubhub, the third largest U.S. food delivery service. Industry leader Door Dash announced a $400 million funding round that values the company at $16 billion. That’s about the pre-COVID-19 size of Delta Air Lines, Quest Diagnostics or ConAgra Brands (Axios)

6. Debugging: The AP on Soros Conspiracy Theories

Lately I’ve seen a lot of conspiracy theories on social media and even in email regarding billionaire George Soros. He’s alternately been accused of releasing the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and creating protests for racial justice.

It’s not just me. This weekend the Associated Press wrote, “Amplified by a growing number of people on the far right, including some Republican leaders, online posts about Soros have skyrocketed in recent weeks.”

Here’s their article debunking the disinformation.

7. ProTip: Recall Emails in Gmail

You know the feeling when you’ve hit send and have a startling realization that you shouldn’t have yet? Google’s Gmail allows you up to 30 seconds to recall that email, but you have to configure it from the default 5 seconds.

Here’s how, via How-To Geek

8. Great Data: My Favorite Data of All Time

The Pudding entertained me for days with their project about what music is remembered by people in different generations. It’s fascinating and to see the data, you get to go through 10 short clips yourself.

It’s SO MUCH fun!

The marketers at Corona were dealt a harsh professional blow like few others. Here’s the spot they’re running that uses well known user generated content.

10. Coffee Break:  Justice in June

This website was born of a list put together by two young women who wanted to help guide people who were asking them how they could be better allies for people of color.

You can select 10, 25 or 45 minute blocks to begin educating yourself on how to be an active ally of the black community. Each activity to read or watch is organized in a calendar with links. 

I think is a great resource for everyone and urge you to have a look. 

Justice in June

Good Monday morning. It’s June 15th. Friday is Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. Adobe, Nike, and Twitter are among the companies that have added Juneteenth to their permanent holiday calendars.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,235 words, about a 4 1/2 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Twitter is testing a prompt for users who retweet a link that they didn’t open on Twitter in a bid to cut down on news being amplified based only on the headline. 

Twitter read before retweet announcement

b.  Food delivery service Grubhub, whose aggressive tactics we’ve written about before, spurned an offer from Uber and will be acquired by European service Just Eat in a stock swap worth more than $7 billion. Just Eat handled 122 million orders in the UK in 2018 and also has a significant presence in Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Grubhub holds 22% of  U.S. food delivery market share behind industry leader DoorDash and Uber.  Coverage at TechCrunch and data at Statista.

c. Google Meet is adding noise cancellation as it looks to gain share in the growing video conference market. The new software removes sounds like ringing telephones, clicking pens, dog barks, and rustling papers.

G Suite Director of Product Managements demonstrates Google Meet’s noise cancellation.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins — the gold standard
Florida data — Unofficial, but the best I’ve seen for any state.
New York Times Vaccine Tracker — meticulously sourced
Info is Beautiful COVID datapack –> this data viz site gets it right

Tech News
3M sues Amazon storefront that allegedly sold fake N95 masks for $23  –> at The Verge
Internet Archive Will End Its Program for Free E-Books –> at The New York Times
Smart factories fall prey to hackers during remote work –> at Nikkei Asian Review
Why did the “Flatten the Curve” chart work so well? –> at Mother Jones

3. Search News & Google Maps Accessibility Data

Google is continuing its all-out war against showing users the full URL of a site in search results. The newest test version of Chrome 85 includes two ways for Google to do this. Quoting Android Police’s coverage: ” .. the company has said in the past that it believes showing the full address can make it harder to tell if the current site is legitimate.” 

They’re wrong.

Google also warned website managers not to create their own sitemaps manually. In this case, a company was wrangling 37 spreadsheets of 50,000 URLs each for a site with two million URLs. Your SEO agency should be able to easily work with any developer to provide a Google-approved solution.

Google followed Facebook this week and announced that they are removing the technical capability for advertisers to restrict employment, housing, or credit ads based on categories like race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, and disability. Advertising that way is illegal in many cases, but was technically possible. Facebook recently sealed that technical capability and Google will have the same technical block in place by the end of the year.

Google Maps accessibility information is a new feature that allows users to see wheelchair accessible locations. Engineer Sasha Blair-Goldenshohn who uses a wheelchair recounts, “Imagine making plans to go somewhere new, taking the journey to get there and arriving — only to be stuck outside, prevented from sitting with family or being unable to access the restroom.”

Your search marketers can create the appropriate codes so that Google Maps accessibility displays are updated with parking, restrooms, and entrance information. Here’s the demo.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Police Apps Get Popular

Using an app to listen to local emergency transmissions is as simple as a few clicks at your device’s app store. Many are free.

The president recently posted a conspiracy theory that alleged these apps would allow “agitators” to scan and block police communications, which is false and was originally posted on a private blog, amplified by conservative media, and then tweeted by the president.

The apps function just like an emergency weather radio or the police scanner your grandpa bought at Radio Shack for $49. Now they’re free or cost only a few dollars and  are downloaded by millions of people.

CBS News has coverage.

5. Following Up: Facial Recognition & Open AI

Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon have all agreed to halt sales of facial recognition technology to US police departments because of race biases in the algorithms that we’ve written about before. IBM specifically notified Congress of its intent to stop R&D and sales of existing technology. Amazon, which deals with more than 1,300 police departments, issued a one year sales moratorium.  Microsoft has called for human rights provisions in any legislation Congress considers, according to reporting from CNN.

We also told you about Open AI and their advanced text generator. The organization did not release their software last year because they said it was too advanced. It was reverse-engineered anyway and now the organization is looking for corporate customers to buy the new version, according to Wired.  The research institute was founded five years ago by Elon Musk, Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, and others who pledged a total of $1 billion.

6. Debugging: You Still Need to Wear a Mask

An old interview where public health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci eschewed the use of face masks for the general public is being recirculated and falsely positioned as new.

Fauci agrees with current CDC guidance that masks are necessary in addition to social distancing. There are no circumstances where masks are unnecessary unless you are alone or only with and around people you live with.

Snopes has more information.

7. ProTip: Delete Old Tweets without Canceling

We’ve shown you how to selectively delete Facebook posts in bulk. As part of your social media cleanup, you might also want to look at your Twitter activity. There is no official bulk delete tool so Lifehacker’s Abu Zafar shows you how to use third party tools to handle the job.

See his Quick Fix video here.

8. Great Data: Using only black and white

Data scientist Mike Cisenros writes that he was taught as a beginning designer to create sketches and layouts in black and white. The philosophy was that a strong black and white design is even stronger with color.

In his monthly challenge, he asks readers to present their best in black and white, but I want all of you–even the non designers and data viz people–to look at the story telling his three examples creates from the boring dataset in history.

This is what Spotlight’s Great Data feature is all about.

Screening Room: Viola Davis Is Worth It

Oscar and Emmy winner Viola Davis channels her incredible award acceptance speeches into this new L’Oreal spot about being worth it.

10. Coffee Break:  Orb Farm

Times are chaotic. Family members, colleagues, strangers I’ve met in meetings tell me that they are overwhelmed. I understand and want to recommend Orb Farm to you for some mindless clicking. 

You control a little orb in which you can add fish, algae, water, stone, wood, and more. Play it right in your browser, watch the critters a while, and stop when you’re ready. Everything gets saved automatically and is there when you’re ready for some more down time.

Play it here.

Here are three ways that we can help you:

1. Get a free SEO audit on our website.

2.  Have a simple, fact-based question about digital marketing? Reply & ask George for free.

3. If your organization needs help with website maintenance, search, social media, or advertising, have a look at what we do.

See you next week. Don’t forget to update your Google Maps accessibility information!