Good Monday morning. It’s January 13th. We’re off next Monday in observance of Dr. King’s birthday so we will take this opportunity to share a digital collection of his papers at Stanford. Among them: Dr. King’s birth certificate, a mushy telegram to Mrs. King on Valentine’s Day ’57, and an early draft of Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Today’s Spotlight is 1,784 words and takes about 7 minutes to read.
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1. News To Know Now
1. The Department of Homeland Security issued a critical announcement last Wednesday about a Firefox vulnerability. Most users receive automatic updates, but some of you have turned that option off. You need to update your browser right now if you’re one of them because Mozilla says this exploit can lead to someone taking over your computer. Here’s a link showing you how to update.
2. “A Cook County judge has ordered Google to turn over Jussie Smollett’s emails, photos, location data and private messages for an entire year.” That is the lede of a stunning Chicago Tribune story published late Wednesday. The order also covers Smollett’s manager and includes “.. drafted and deleted text messages, Google Drive files, Google Voice texts, calls and contacts, search and web browsing history; and location data.” That’s the kind of dossier Big Tech builds on us all. Read Megan Crepeau and Jeremy Gorner’s story here.
3. Microsoft launched Project Artemis, free software that detects a predator grooming a child in an online chat room. The software rates chat histories based on previous predator behavior and can flag suspicious ones to be reviewed by humans. Microsoft has already deployed the software on Xbox and is considering adding it to Skype.
2. Facebook Starts 2020 Like 2018
The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal is two years old, but continues to affect the company. A leaked Facebook memo to The New York Times claims that Facebook knew Cambridge’s business model “was pure snake oil.” The executive in charge of advertising wrote that he personally regrets letting CA remain members of the Facebook Marketing Program. The memo claims that “the tools they used didn’t work, and the scale they used them at wasn’t meaningful.”
We view this Facebook memo with wary eyes. There is a lot of explanation and a definite sense that advertising executive Andrew Bosworth wrote the memo to detail Facebook’s stance rather than as some internal soul-searching update. But there are statements in the document that make it worthy of your attention.
“Facebook got Donald Trump elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.” That’s Bosworth’s big reveal, and he provides context by saying that he donated the maximum possible to the 2016 Clinton campaign. Trump’s campaign didn’t create anything unique, but they spent a lot of money hammering fresh content at people. You won’t be surprised to read the Facebook ad guy’s statement that advertisers should spend lots of money.
“The Russians may have used misinformation alongside real partisan messaging in their campaigns, but the primary source of misinformation was economically motivated.” Bosworth’s words ring true here, and we have some proof of that in a story below about donations to Australia wildfire relief that underscores this trend.
“The Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public … people who showed up to those events were real even if the event coordinator was not. Likewise the groups of Americans being fed partisan content was real even if those feeding them were not.” Bosworth ends this section with a complaint that people can’t contextualize big numbers. That’s true, but ten people protesting outside your office would raise a heckuva ruckus and change the conversation for many more.
This bit of public relations and message control seems very late to be anything other than window dressing for regulators.
Bosworth’s Facebook memo might have also been distraction from the company’s announcement that Facebook users at some unspecified point this summer will get controls that allow them to see fewer political and social issue ads on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook’s social issue ad categories include social and civil rights, crime, economy, education, environment, guns, health, security and foreign policy, and immigration. Our clients in those spaces are not thrilled to be lumped in with political advertising.
With so many moving parts, controlling the message remains difficult for Facebook. As all of this was going on midweek, a flattering article about Facebook’s 2020 election efforts appeared in Teen Vogue. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Twitter account even tweeted the link. The article was later edited to include a statement that it was “sponsored editorial content” (aka an advertisement) before it was completely removed.
Lord of the Rings, 2020, and Stuffed Oreos (Facebook memo) at the NY Times
Memo news coverage at The New York Times
Social Issues advertising categories at Facebook
Teen Vogue and Facebook coverage at Business Insider
3. Google Search Updates
We’ve written about voice search a lot in the past because it’s clearly a new opportunity for every organization. Consider that any change of that magnitude, be it mobile proliferation, multiple home computers, or voice offers the possibility of getting new traffic in the digital equivalent of a land rush.
Google now reports that it has 500 million worldwide Google Assistant users. Some have only tested the function. Others use it constantly for simple search lookups like a calculator or dictionary. Plenty use it to avoid typing. The news is doubly interesting because Google has never revealed the number before. And also because one out of every 15 people on the planet is a lot. Read Search Engine Journal’s coverage.
Google also offered guidance last week about changing dates on a website’s content. The simple advice from Google’s John Mueller was tweeted as, “If it’s evergreen, then by definition you don’t need to change it. No need to do anything special. Keep your dates, make it great.”
Our advice instead: don’t date evergreen content. Google already knows when they first crawled the content.
4. Debugged: Australian Fire Claims
Disasters bring out rogue charities hiding among those doing the work of the angels, and the Australian fire catastrophe is not different. The Washington Post has a great explanation of how some are using misinformation, like Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth explained above, to drive revenue. .
Misinformation and hoaxes are also a regular occurrence during tragedies. Last week Donald Trump, Jr. and Sean Hannity were among the people spreading a lie that close to 200 people in Australia have charged with arson for creating that country’s fires. That’s not what happened, and Vox does a great job explaining how they twisted the facts to make them fit a political agenda.
The Post on “Hoaxes are using the Australia wildfires …“
Vox on “The viral false claim …”
5. Also in the Spotlight: Amazon & the Honey Extension
Honey is a web browser extension that searches for lower prices at other sites when a user is shopping online. It’s not entirely benevolent and it certainly isn’t unique in the market, but it is the biggest in its class. The extension clearly has commercial upside in PayPal’s estimation because they bought it for FOUR BILLION DOLLARS in November.
Fast forward to this year’s holiday buying season when Amazon stunned some analysts by claiming that the software poses a security risk.
6. Great Data: Always Updated Wikipedia Articles of the Week
Movies, music, and current events collide when Wikipedia shares its Top 25 articles every week along with a little snarky commentary. It’s another version of trending topics, but from a website that counts everyone as its audience.
7. Protip: Google Sheets Templates
Our years-old coverage of Google spreadsheet templates still gets dozens of visitors each week. George was going to update it and show people how to create their own spreadsheet template (teach a person to fish …) but thankfully, How To Geek did it instead.
8. Following Up: YouTube Kid Rules
YouTube has been emphatic that its service is not for use by children under the age of 13. If you’re the parent who lets a kid watch YouTube, you’re responsible for what they watch. The FTC still fined the company $170 million and then announced that channel creators could be held accountable in the future.
YouTube announced last Monday that it created new rules that are governed by a fascinating assumption: “any viewer of child friendly content is underage.”
In many ways, society failed the marketplace because that assumption shouldn’t be necessary but since we’re humans, it is, and it’s a GIANT STEP. There are also some new rules about data collection, comments, and related videos, but the operating assumption about underage viewers is the story here.
9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days
No Virginia Gun Confiscation at PolitiFact
You Can Still Get Windows 10 For Free at How To Geek
10. Coffee Break: Popeyes Newsjacks Family Feud
Eve Dubois was proud of her answer in a sudden death round of Family Feud.
Except Eve was wrong. Virally, funny wrong.
And then an interesting thing happened. Popeyes saw the news coverage and social media virality and stole the spotlight with a timely gift for Eve and her family. We call it newsjacking. You’ll probably call it funny.