Good Monday morning. It’s August 12th.  Eid Mubarak to our readers celebrating Eid Al-Adha!

2. News To Know Now

1.  Amazon robots called Scouts are now delivering in Irvine, California, a well-to-do city in Orange County. The program started in suburban Seattle. Testing continues in both places during weekday daylight hours. Amazon’s announcement.

2.  Image recognition by smart programs from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft still mostly lags human identification of images except when the program is 90% or more confident in its response. That’s when Google’s machine learning programs beat even human results. Read Perficent Digital’s study.

3. Biometric technology is now creating accurate maps of a person’s face from a short audio sample. Identifying deep fakes, helping solve crimes, and using voice prints to identify legitimate callers to banks like Chase and HSBC are some legit use cases. Here’s a great ten minute video.

3.  Security Update as Black Hat, Def Con End

The Def Con and Black Hat hacking conferences held each summer in Las Vegas combine a curious mix of hackers (ethical or otherwise), computer security pros, journalists, and law enforcement. The NSA Director has keynoted Def Con, a broadcast journalist tried to conceal a recording device one year, and usually one presentation is scheduled that causes organizations (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority, Cisco, and ManTech) to file suit to block their information from being shared. That’s apart from the usual antics like Black Hat attendees hacking everything in their hotels including the ATM and hotel TV systems.

Highlights from this year:

  • 2019’s model medical village at Def Con was a simulated hospital room with involvement and sometimes ambivalent participation by the FDA and industry manufacturers. Remember that we told you three weeks ago that hackers had to prove to Medtronic that they could take over an insulin pump and administer a lethal dose. 
  • A now 18-year-old Bill Demirkapi showed attendees that he was able to access millions of records containing grades, passwords, immunizations, and other sensitive data for millions of K-12 students in school districts using Blackboard and Follett software. The companies had worked with him pre-disclosure to plug vulnerabilities. Wired has coverage.
  • The Voting Village featured a voting booth prototype developed by DARPA, the government agency whose early 1970s “Internetting project” became pretty popular. None of the teams had access until the last day so the results were inconclusive although some teams appear to have made good progress cracking the $10 million prototypes.  Read more at CNET.
  • A Whatsapp vulnerability disclosed this spring led to a Google security team discovering that they can break into an iPhone by sending a text. For years, we’ve told people that they need to open an attachment or click something to trigger malicious software. But there are increasing instances when a phone can be compromised without the user taking action. Details at Google’s Project Zero blog. Unless you code, the part you care about is that they found ten problems and all have been fixed.

Before the Black Hat and Def Con conferences started we learned from the field that McAfee researchers found that a 10 year old Avaya phone problem had been patched, but not removed. We also heard from Microsoft that Russian GRU initiatives are targeting organizations that have not changed default passwords for devices like printers or VOIP phones. Why Microsoft? They have a unique view of American offices thanks to the number of Windows machines installed.  More at MIT Technology Review.

4.  SearchWeek: News about finding things online

Sue wrote a sweet Mother’s Day column for her movie website years ago about movies to share on Mother’s Day. And Sue’s really good at search engine optimization so her very sweet article brought in scads of sick people who shouldn’t think that way about mothers. 

Terms like lesbian and “school girl” typed into Google had similar problems. Online activism led by @SEO_lesbienne noted that search results for those terms disproportionately featured pronography. Searches for those terms will now yield news and research articles like, I dunno, all the other words you could search. In other words, Google will stop treating the word “lesbian” like a porn term. (The Next Web)

We told you last week that video results will soon play directly in Google search results. Podcasts are also going to receive their own section on search pages based on what Google says is “[our] understanding of what’s being talked about on a podcast, so you can find even more relevant information about a topic in audio form. Soon, you won’t necessarily need the term “podcast” in your search to see episodes, making podcast discovery simpler across Search.”

Google also announced that hotel owners can now edit their services and amenities in a special section of Google My Business. Here is info on how to do that

5. Debugged: 3 Misinformation Findings After Mass Shootings

The Poynter Institute is out with three things learned about misinformation after the El Paso and Dayton shootings. 

  1. False flag conspiracies are now routine.
  2. Misinformation spreads on messaging apps.
  3. Classic hoaxes still thrive online.

Their short, thorough analysis.

6. Also in the Spotlight

Google is quietly testing a premium Google Play subscription for mobile apps according to Android Police.

Facebook is doing the same for premium video subscriptions from BBC and CollegeHumor among others according to Variety.

Only 17% of the biographies on Wikipedia are about women and the sciences are especially underrepresented according to TNW.

7. Food for Thought: Internet Language

As I said to the doggo before, “OMG, do you even canine?”

Gretchen McCullough, author of Because Internet, would not be surprised. She’s writing about how online communications are making our language even more dynamic.  That’s great, but remember how you can’t understand some 19th century writing? 

What are you and your organization doing to ensure that your communications are understood by multiple audiences scattered at different points along this language spectrum?  

Here’s a Time review of Because Internet to prime the pump.

8. Protip: AR in Google Maps directions

More Google announcements: “Live View” is a new Google Maps beta that uses Augmented Reality (AR) to superimpose huge honking arrows and street signs over a live view of your surroundings.  It’s going to help walking directions SO much.

Have a look here.

9. Great Data: Impossible Burger Live Tracking

Red Robin and Burger King have made it clear that they are selling plant-based burgers, but Steve in Accounting said BK was out so you’ll stick to your usual. 

Or not if you use the whimsical (and super smart use of free consumer generated data) Burger Stalker from Bloomberg. I know, Bloomberg. That blew me away too.

There’s one only 20 minutes away. Crazy.

10. Coffee Break: Last Chance for the Perseid

The Perseid meteor showers peak today but viewing them can sometimes be difficult because of light pollution. Here is how to stream them via,

Good Monday morning. It’s August 5th. A national test of the Emergency Broadcast System is scheduled across television and radio on Wednesday at 2:20 Eastern Time. There will not be push notifications on mobile phones, but don’t worry if there is an emergency message on every station.

2. News To Know Now

1.  We told you last week about Amazon sharing your Alexa recordings with consultants and permanently storing them. Now Amazon says that you can opt out by following the prompts in the Alexa App under “Alexa Account / Alexa Privacy”. 

2. The FCC announced that municipalities may not extend their oversight of cable television providers to include broadband connectivity.  

3. Louisiana declared a state of emergency after ransomware began cropping up in school districts. The move allows state security experts to help local school systems protect their networks. 

3.  Google, Facebook Launch More Visuals

Videos shown in Google search results will now play on the same page without redirecting users to YouTube. The move is part of Google’s ongoing initiative to make visual search results a place that answers fact-based queries without requiring the user to go elsewhere. Google also provides whimsical images of some animals in augmented reality (AR) for viewers on mobile phones. 

Google’s other products also bet big on visuals led by the company’s Google Photos service, which has now been downloaded one billion times. Even with unlimited free storage, that’s a lot of users for a company that botched a photo app with its Picasa service. 

New research shows that the way consumers interact with visual search results is influenced by the number of photos shown in a Google My Business Listing. Those with more photos get more clicks, more requests for directions, and more phone calls. Even Google Chrome’s next version is widely expected to be released with video controls in the omnibox where URLs are typed and displayed.

Facebook is making similar moves that include shrinking the size of ads displayed on mobile and rebranding Instagram and WhatsApp to include the Facebook name. Facebook has also approached Disney and Netflix about partnering on Catalina, a TV chat device Facebook plans to launch this year. (The Information-paywall)

Disturbing videos continue to be a problem across the Internet as this weekend’s mass killings showed. Facebook has taken a great step to combating those visuals by making some of its internal software available free so that graphic and other harmful videos can be detected. The two software projects complement an industry-wide effort including a Microsoft program called PhotoDNA and Google software called “Content Safety API”. (NDTV)

4.  Location Data’s Privacy Nightmare

Enterprising crooks used the early craze around “checking in” to places to check out what could be robbed. Posting to the general public about gathering the family for a week at a theme park defeats the purpose of setting timers to automatically turn the lights on and off. 

Foursquare, an app pioneer in this space, continues to be a major player although its focus these days is on brands like Target, Coca-Cola, and Subway instead of consumer users. The company tells clients that it tracks over 100 million devices in the U.S., which means that it may not publicize your vacation plans to the world, but it will sure tell jetBlue.

Your location data is such big business that New York City is considering legislation that would ban the sale of location data to third parties. That addresses aggregators like Foursquare but doesn’t do much for brands like The Weather Channel, which was caught misusing individual location data it said was only for weather reporting.

Another process–a 911 emergency call–may also soon be fodder for location brokers. Amazon has reportedly asked police departments for access to 911 computerized dispatch feeds so that it can curate crime news for its Ring-based app called Neighbors. Gizmodo got their hands on one of the requests, and it’s a doozy that you can read about here.

Who’s in Town is also a new app that uses your Instagram data to tell you about nearby friends, similar to old Facebook functionality.  Like Facebook, this app updates in realtime, but also allows people to easily see a map of all the times and places from which the person posted to Instagram. Read more at Wired.

5. Debugged: Satire vs. Snopes

The Babylon Bee is one of the more recent publishing companies creating satire disguised as news. This is all ground broken years ago by The Onion, even in print form. 

A recent story in the Bee featured a Georgia legislator claiming that she had been told to go back to her country. To do so he used the code phrase “My pleasure”. The joke wasn’t especially funny, but Snopes debunked it as satire anyway. The two organizations began feuding when Snopes questioned the intent of the Christian-based satire site.

The New York Times unpacks the god-awful mess.

6. Also in the Spotlight

Visual sites not named Google or Facebook had a big week. Pinterest is now up to 300 million users, Snapchat reported a new record of 203 million daily active users (DAU), and visual news aggregator SmartBoard closed a financing round that values the company at $1.1 billion. 

7. Food for Thought: Not reading the article

Annie Reneau has been on my mind for days.

She wrote an Upworthy article nearly two weeks ago that got a lot of comments and shares. Last weekend, the article minus all of its words was published again to Facebook with a phrase saying “Don’t Publish This” before the headline.

Anyone clicking the link on Facebook went to an error page. Again, there was no article.

Annie surmises that someone was testing the website and used her article. (Look, Sue, someone else uses Don’t Publish This besides me.)  

So, there was a headline published with an Upworthy logo but no image. There was no article attached to the headline which read, “Don’t Publish This–Most domestic terrorists come from white supremacists, FBI tells lawmakers.”

More than 2,000 people shared the article-that-wasn’t-an-article. And there were comments. Not nice, helpful comments like “Hey, the link is broken.” These were full-on debates, according to Annie.

Read her article and then contemplate the times you’ve liked, commented, or shared an article that you haven’t read.

8. Protip:  Re-open a closed tab

Don’t worry if you’ve accidentally closed a browser tab. We’ve got you covered.

Chrome desktop: Press Ctrl+Shift+T
Chrome Android: Press the 3-dot menu and select “Recent Tabs”

Firefox desktop: Ctrl+H brings up a sidebar
Firefox Android:  Press the 3-dot menu and open your browser history

Safari: Press and hold the “New tab” button until the recent tabs link shows.

9. Great Data: Ad Spending 

Axios has put together a good looking chart that shows the trend line of radio and the painful looking one in print. The chart also shows the growth of Google and other large tech channels.  Click the chart or this link to read more.

The data is great because it shows time, the trend of different mediums, and then breaks out Internet companies on the same scale. There are multiple stories in this excellent chart that makes clever use of subtly changing colors.

10. Coffee Break: Seeing Color in a Black & White Photo

A thin colored grid will make your mind insist that it sees color in a black and white photo. 

See for yourself.

Good Monday morning. It’s July 29th and a big week for pop culture watchers: Shark Week, the NFL exhibition season, and two nights of Democratic candidate debates are all scheduled for the next 100 hours. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 5 minutes to read.

2. News To Know Now

1. Facebook’s five billion dollar FTC fine over user privacy is the largest ever, but is effectively a slap on the wrist that represents about a month of revenue. Analysts argue about how much Facebook executives will be held accountable for future violations. Zuck’s post.

2.  Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) filed a $50 million lawsuit against Google alleging that the search giant censored her by suspending her advertising account following the first presidential debates. Google claims her account tripped automated systems and was restored. My question after reading the filing is why Gabbard’s advertising team didn’t already have their big campaign planned out with a Google rep. It’s also fair to ask why they are complaining that their fundraising emails are being classified as spam in a totally unrelated action. Court filing here.

3.  A researcher using led to an Axios story Sunday, surmising that Senator Amy Klobuchar, another presidential candidate, might be ambushing fellow candidate Joe Biden with his past positions. Axios determined that a Klobuchar researcher shares a last name with someone on Newspapers who highlighted past Biden positions. After a reporter asked for comment, the account was made private. I’m an avid genealogist and learned about this years ago when my clippings from the service became public. I immediately switched to private, but here’s my 2015 clipping from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle about my grandfather and namesake who was a winner of a student essay contest in 1930.

3.  Alexa, Siri, and Google Record You. Facebook (probably) doesn’t.

Companies offering smart speakers will tell you that engineers continually work on improving the software. We reported last week that Amazon acknowledged storing voice recordings “indefinitely”. Now a whistleblower tells The Guardian that contractors working for Apple “regularly” hear confidential conversations including those with physicians, at workplaces, or even during sex. 

Smart watches, phones, and other devices that listen for a “wake word” are exposed to more conversations than traditional smart speakers. But wake words are notoriously broad and can sometimes be triggered by music or television playing in the background. Or you could also be the young woman named Alexa Seary (pronounced ‘siri’) featured in this article in early 2017.

One theory bandied about online is that Facebook also records user voices although no researcher or engineer has ever found evidence of Facebook doing that outside of smart speakers it sells. Users persist in spreading this conspiracy theory, however, without recognizing that Facebook has their phone data, their chat data, and their own words typed neatly into the system without the need for voice recognition. Throw in our favorite “data-authenticates-data” saying and it’s clear that Facebook doesn’t need to record anyone. More than 15% of the planet’s population is helping Facebook make decisions about what you want to see. Why record people in a world where predictive analytics are so robust? 

Getting your hands on the recordings from the other companies is pretty easy. Keeping smart speakers out of your life, including the people with whom you interact is entirely another thing.

Click to hear your Alexa recordings

Click to hear your Google recordings

Apple doesn’t have a user-friendly way, but this is the oft-agreed path:  
1. Turn off Siri active listening.
2. Turn off Voice Dictation (Settings > General > Keyboard ), swipe down, and turn off the “Enable Dictation” 

4.  Google Helping People with Disabilities; Domino’s Not So Much

Google and The Reeves Foundation launched a program to give 100,000 people living with paralysis a free Google Home mini smart speaker. This is the positive side of smart speakers in our society.  Apply here to learn more and receive one.

Google also announced its free Sound Amplifier app for Android devices. Quoting them, “When you plug in your headphones and use Sound Amplifier, you can customize frequencies to augment important sound, like the voices of the people you are with, and filter out background noise. It can help you hear conversations in noisy restaurants more clearly, amplify the sound coming from TV at personalized frequency levels without bothering others, or boost the voices of presenters at a lecture.” 

You can download the app free at Google Play.

Domino’s is taking heat, meanwhile, for its continued legal fight in what could be a landmark case for website accessibility guidelines. 

“The ADA says nothing about the accessibility of websites or applications on smartphones, whether standing alone or in connection with restaurants, stores, or any other brick-and-mortar establishments that qualify as public accommodations,” wrote a Domino’s attorney quoted by The Washington Post. Thankfully, an appellate court disagreed and referred the case back.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Retail Federation are backing Domino’s. Feel free to complain loudly and often to all three about their involvement. The gist: a blind Domino’s customer could not order online using a computer or mobile device and was ineligible for online-only special discounts.

Our take: we always advise clients about this issue because it’s important. The National Federation for the Blind won a similar suit against Target in 2006. Read about that case here.

5. Debugged: iCivics

Instead of debunking an online conspiracy theory this week, we’re going to let you do the legwork while playing the free and addictive game, Newsfeed Defenders, from iCivics. You’ll play a character who has to investigate and post social media items while balancing the site’s revenue, traffic, and integrity.

Play here. You’re welcome.

6. Also in the Spotlight

Faceapp, the software everyone used to age their pictures, is still (most likely) not a Russian spy program.  We told you that last week as well as telling you that the app had been viral before. The good folks at Statista and Priori Data dug into the whole thing and found about 30 million app downloads. That’s viral.

Read their analysis here.

7. Food for Thought: The fake Presidential Seal

By now, you’ve all heard that someone hustling for a presidential visit pulled the wrong image off the Internet and caused the president to speak in front of a satirical presidential seal.

Stuff happens when you’re rushing. But bad stuff also happens when you use other people’s work without attribution. There are dozens of legitimate, authorized places to get a free download of the U.S. presidential seal. They all take a little bit more time to navigate than Google or Bing’s images, but this person would still have their job today if they had downloaded an image from the White House’s website.

Talk it over: How do you create a culture in your organization that demands that people source information because you need to know if the eagle on your seal is clutching golf clubs?  It’s a serious issue that is getting worse by the day with advances in AI.

8. Protip:  Google Sheets – view cell history

We’ve all overwritten a spreadsheet cell and had to determine whether it was worse loading the backup file and redoing the work or trying to quickly find the cell’s contents again. Google’s taken a better step in creating a live history of anything that was previously in a cell. Right-click on any cell to see the previous values and who changed it. I can’t help you if one of those previous cell values is “Arrgggh, I hate this stupid report.”

9. Great Data: Cinemaps

People have been marveling at Andrew DeGraff’s Cinemaps for years. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, the catchily-named images are maps of movie settings from lots of blockbusters. DeGraff has a new book out with his designs. Enjoy the whimsical ways that this artist conveys information.

The detail on Back to the Future is incredible.

10. Coffee Break: Ford’s Noise Canceling Doghouse

How do you test your soundproofing on a core product? Sure, with science, but also with dogs. 

Check out Ford’s noise canceling kennel project.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week.