Good Monday morning. It’s September 30th. Shanah tova. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday, began at sundown local time yesterday and ends tomorrow.
Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read. Here is a contact form if you want to talk about anything here.
2. News To Know Now
1. MIT researchers say that limiting WhatsApp’s distribution reduces the amount of disinformation publicized. The Facebook owned company limited accounts to forwarding messages from 256 groups to 20 groups and again to 5 groups. That’s important because an Oxford social media study released last week found that 70 countries are using computational propaganda to influence public opinion with 25 of them partnering with private firms to publish disinformation.
2. Facebook will neutralize some fear-based advertising on Facebook and Instagram by creating rules to block certain weight loss products and cosmetic procedures from being displayed to users under the age of 18.
3. An ability to preserve thousands of languages spoken by small numbers of people is one overlooked benefit of social media according to a thoughtful essay by Dr. Raphael T. Garcia. He writes that YouTube’s reach and capabilities allow activists to preserve languages that may only be spoken by thousands of people.
3. Government Data Mining, Part 3: The Algorithms
Our government data mining analysis covers four areas over four weeks.
1. Facial recognition’s growth – two weeks ago
2. Ancillary data from applications – last week
3. National and local algorithms to make sense of all the data – below
4. Extensions into areas like personal health records and trackers – next week
DNA testing at home led to big databases stuffed with results—and helped police solve multiple cold case crimes, including a 52 year old murder case in Seattle. GEDmatch, one of the larger aggregators of uploaded DNA data, is the database police most often use. That old Seattle case and the Golden State Killer case received headline attention, but law enforcement agencies are solving dormant cases every week using this unique collaboration between the public and law enforcement.
Users can opt-in to allow police genealogy experts to work with crime scene DNA results, genealogy hobbyist results, and create family trees for people who are still living.
Technology is also fueling the New York Police Department’s real life exampleofa detective movie staple. Using software they developed and then made public for free, the NYPD uses Patternizr to find similarities between crimes. Like the genealogy situation, Patternizr requires human analysts to sort through the program’s output and decide which results to send to detectives.
Police are also finding new ways to use older technology like cameras and scanners. In London, the BBC reported that police tested rail passengers for hidden explosives or knives using new scanners that providing imaging from up to thirty feet away. Cameras are more widely used in other countries to surveil cities according to Comparitech. Their overview shows that London and Atlanta are the only non-Chinese cities on a list of the ten most surveilled cities, but plenty of western cities made the top 20, including Chicago, Sydney, and Berlin.
Benign social media use exists throughout law enforcement. We’ve all read tweets and social media updates about events in our communities as well as efforts to humanize officers. For example, the Gloucester (NJ) Police post images of recovered bicycles on Pinterest. But for every wholesome use of technology, we also see complaints like a 2016 ACLU of California warning about some police departments tracking activists and their movements on social media.
Next week: learn about the wild ways some law enforcement technologists hope to fight future crime.
4. Google Updates Core Search Algorithm
This chart shows a website that Sue and I have been optimizing for a long time. We tried some new things recently and were happy to see daily traffic go from around 1,400 to 1,700. That’s a big jump. We were feeling pretty cocky about it until Google rolled out a core search algorithm update on September 24. You can see September 24th on the chart., It’s marked with a 2,700.
So what is a core search update and how do you get one?
- Google’s search results are in constant flux.
- More than 3,000 changes are made each year.
- Every few months, there is a big adjustment called a Google core search update.
- Industry searchers can see the impact across many sites.
- About half of all search marketers say that this update had no effect.
- But for individual websites like the one shown here, traffic can grow 50% overnight.
When we tell people that Google essentially sets the parameters for search, we mean that over the long haul most sites that do the right things prosper. Those who don’t (or even those who cheat) may see temporary improvements, but they always end up penalized or worse.
Google advises organizations that good search engine optimization (SEO) is iterative and improves over time. They also tell people that months can elapse before results are seen. That was our experience with this site. We managed a website relaunch that improved the site’s mobile speed and usability in late May. We saw early improvements, and by August, we were seeing dramatic improvement even without the huge increase in late September.
And yes, another site can absolutely be prioritized over this one in the future when there is another Google core update. Good search is an ongoing process. Google tells people that, and we assure you of that after working in search for more than ten years.
But the view from the deck is awfully nice when your ship comes in.
5. Debugged: Lottery Winners
Lottery winners also have a ship come in, but “conventional wisdom” said that they felt that they were worse off despite having won the money.
A study for a new economics textbook makes a compelling case that a 1978 academic paper on the subject only had twenty-two respondents. That is certainly not a lot of people. Another study in 2007 only had 137 responses. That’s also too small a sample.
6. Also in the Spotlight
Facebook is testing hiding like counts like we told you they would last week. The test began in Australia on September 27th, according to Techcrunch.
Attractive singles in your area may not be waiting suggested the FTC when it sued Match.com for deceptive advertising, Engadget reports.
Fake domain renewal invoices are commonplace, but Domain News Wire is showing one that uses a real PayPal invoice. Bottom line from us: if we’re not already managing your domain, you should only renew it or pay anything directly at the domain registrar’s site you used.
7. Great Data: See What Members of Congress Really Tweet About
The best looking data project I’ve ever seen for Twitter is also the newest. The Pudding has created awesome visualizations for issues and individual members with lots of easy-to-use options including time.
8. Protip: Your Clipboard History
One of the fun and useful things that Microsoft added to Windows 10 is the ability to see past clipboard entries.
9. Bizarre Bazaar (strange stuff for sale online)
Unique holiday gift alert. Emerald Heritage puts a spin on those buy a square foot of a country for fifty bucks offers. They’re using a location that Game of Thrones filmed at, knocked the price down to about $35 and include upgrades like maps and choose your own plot. Want some more space? You and a special friend can buy adjoining 9 square foot plots, fly to Ireland, and practice standing in them.
10. Coffee Break: The Typewriter Simulator
For those who learned how to type on a machine with clicks, clacks, and bells, this online simulator mimics carriage returns, correction paper, and prove how much of your speed on modern keyboards will not translate back to typewriters.