Good Monday Morning

In addition to the massacre at a Buffalo supermarket, there were mass shootings this past weekend at a Houston flea market, a California church, and a Milwaukee bar district. Forty-one people were shot in those four incidents, and 13 of them are dead. 

A sobering statistic:  375 American children aged 11 or younger have been shot so far during 2022. That’s an average of nearly three every day. I encourage you to visit the Gun Violence Archive to learn more about how this public health crisis affects your community.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,289 words–about 5 minutes to read.


News To Know Now

Quoted:The indictment’s got Young Thug, and a bunch of other rappers. But there’s one name I was expecting to see, and I didn’t, and that’s Jack Harlow. Can you speak to that?”

A reporter to Fulton County (GA) District Attorney Fani Willis when she announced the arrest of 26 people on gang-related charges, including rapper Young Thug. Twitter users trolled rapper Jack Harlow by asking why he wasn’t also arrested, and one reporter seemingly followed up on the trolling posts. But boy, he sure owned the fake fact when he asked his question.

a) After halting Audible sales on Google Play last month, Amazon has also removed the ability to buy or rent Kindle books using Android. Google recently began enforcing a requirement that all Play Store purchases use Google’s checkout services.

b) Facebook is also turning off services. The company and all its properties, including Instagram and Messenger, have blocked filters, avatars, and augmented reality effects for users in Texas and Illinois. The two states have the nation’s toughest facial recognition laws so Facebook has suspended the functionality until they deploy explicit opt-in processes for people living there. We told you back in 2020 that Facebook had settled an Illinois lawsuit related to facial recognition for $550 million.


c) TikTok usage is expected to pass YouTube usage later this year. eMarketer reports that over 40% of Gen Z spends more than three hours a day on TikTok. Ad revenue at the platform is expected to grow from $2 billion to $6 billion this year and is projected to pass YouTube’s $11 billion annual ad revenue in 2024.


Trends & Spends

Welcome to our newly revamped section showing hot Google searches and the advertisers spending the most — with a little dash of social and search engine news.

Worth noting:He Gets Us is part of a $100 million religious advertising campaign underwritten by anonymous billionaire donors that is managed by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation. Don’t Break What Works is a multimillion dollar campaign being managed by a big tech lobbying group called the Computer and Communications Industry Association. 


Spotlight Explainer: Disability Tech

Google, Microsoft, and the federal government created a dazzling display last week by shining their individual spotlights at how technology influences people with disabilities.

The Federal Government Warns on Hiring Algorithms

The EEOC and Justice Department jointly warned employers that advances in hiring software could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hiring companies can also be found liable for unintentional screening out of applicants or other work done by contractors. 

One example: a chatbot used to screen applicants can eliminate someone with a gap in their work history, which might be illegal if it was a period of time that the applicant was undergoing medical treatment. Others include personality tests that match the answers of the employer’s best employees, but that are given under conditions where reasonable accommodations haven’t yet been made.

There is a lot of information in the document that is written in a conversational style, and it’s worth your time to review if your organization has employees.

California Targeting Unintentional Exclusion

A proposed amendment to California discrimination laws would require employers to retain all machine-learning data and other digital hiring records for four years. As with the federal government, contractors including data suppliers also create liability for the hiring company.

Google Glasses with Live Translation 

Remember those universal translators on Star Trek? Last week at their hardware conference, Google showed a video of a pair of ordinary looking glasses that project subtitles the wearer sees in their frames. The glasses also translate between languages. They’re not yet available, and they don’t even have a name yet, but would be an obvious boon for anyone with impaired hearing.

Microsoft Announces Adaptive Accessories

Ranging from special caps on tablets to a square mouse that can be activated with a touch on top, Microsoft announced that its new Adaptive Accessories line of devices will be available this fall. The peripherals include custom devices that allow users to augment their keyboard, buttons, and switches. The devices will be available for PCs, Surface tablets, and Xbox.


Did That Really Happen?

A well documented analysis by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake detailed a timely bit of misinformation that has been getting significant media coverage: a story that Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito and his family had left their home out of fear for their safety following the disclosure that Alito had authored a draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Blake traced the story to a pair of interviews given by a disgraced Georgetown lecturer named Ilya Shapiro. You may remember that the university suspended him earlier this year after he made comments that Justice Ketnanji Brown Jackson was not the best choice to be nominated to the Court, but that President Joseph R. Biden had selected “a lesser Black woman.”

This same person was apparently interviewed on a Washington, D.C. radio station and said that he had “heard a rumor” that Alito and his family had fled. Shapiro repeated the line on Fox two days later, and suddenly, the story was in the public consciousness and often quoted.


Following Up

We’ve told you for years about Clearview AI, a company that acknowledges that it improperly scraped facial recognition data from social media and search sites. As part of a settlement submitted to a judge for approval, Clearview agreed to be permanently banned from giving free or paid access to any private entity in the U.S., as well as to individual law enforcement officers. 


ProTip

In addition to the opt-out processes we wrote about last week, Google is also allowing people to choose to see fewer ads on YouTube and Google about sensitive topics such as dating, pregnancy, weight loss, and substance abuse. The Verge tells you how to change your settings.


Screening Room

https://youtu.be/-QB2cP2GOAM
OG jobs website Monster.com imagines what it was like to be the lowest ranked scribe in the pecking order.


Science Fiction World

The Mayo Clinic has created an algorithm that interprets single-lead ECG tracings from an Apple Watch to warn patients that they have a weak heart pump. The condition can exist without symptoms and affects 2% to 3% of all people and up to 9% of all people over the age of 60.


Coffee Break

Remember the former NASA engineer who invented a glitter bomb that smelled bad when activated to go after porch pirates who steal packages? He’s after scam tech support centers operating in India now and has published a delightful video showing how he teamed up with a channel that exposes those centers to do the same to them. There are cockroaches, rats, and more glitter. It’s long, but worth your time. Maybe it’s lunch break sized instead.

But there’s an even bigger benefit. One of the four call centers identified in the video was raided by police in India late last week, and fifteen people were arrested.


Sign of The Times

1. Good Monday Morning

We are back from hiatus, and boy, it felt great. Writing Spotlight is a hard habit to break. We didn’t get a chance to acknowledge Mother’s Day last week so thank you to all of the moms out there, especially the non-biological ones. I see you.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:We are pursuing two goals here. First is: We are notifying their relatives, and telling them, basically, that it’s not a very good idea to go to war with Ukraine. So that serves as a cautionary tale. And secondly, it’s a humanitarian purpose — just telling them where their relatives, or friends, or children are so that they don’t try to get this information from the Russian authorities. Because, more often than not, they can’t.” — Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s 31-year-old minister for digital transformation, to Wired on how that country is using facial recognition software on Russian soldiers killed in the country.

a) Google is making free training available to U.S. companies who want to retrain their employees. They’ve partnered with Coursera to offer up to 500 Google Career Certificates free per company in disciplines such as IT, Digital Marketing, Data Analytics, Project Management, and Design. 

b) A federal judge ordered all U.S. internet service providers to block three pirate streaming services in three separate rulings covering all ISPs. The rulings contain lists of 96 companies, but the ruling orders all ISPs to comply, regardless of whether they are on the list. That sounds great, in theory, but remember that what you just read is that a federal district court judge ordered three organizations to be removed from online access by any American. 
c) European policymakers have passed sweeping legislation that will ban tech companies operating on the continent from microtargeting consumers with ads. Companies will also be required to moderate harmful content as if they were a publisher instead of a platform. The complete rules are not yet public, but also include algorithmic transparency requirements and a ban on data harvesting. Member countries must now ratify the new rules, which are expected to take effect in 2024.

3. Search Engine News — Google Analytics Will Require Upgrade

Google Analytics 4 is a more robust platform that requires a bit more configuration than previous versions. It’s still something that most organizations can handle by themselves, especially if they have internal marketing and web development staff.

You should be planning now to switch because Google says all earlier versions will stop receiving new data on July 1, 2023. Here is the migration info to give to your team.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Location Privacy Is a Joke

Location privacy doesn’t exist because data collected by your phone, your computer, your car, and all of your other devices is available to anyone willing to pay for it, not just law enforcement. There are times that this is good. Domestic terrorists who overran the Capitol on Jan. 6 quickly learned that their phones and internet activity provided prosecutors with airtight cases against them.

Those very same programs may soon be used against women if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Thirteen states have already passed so-called trigger laws that immediately ban abortion in the state if Roe is overturned. Many have variants that prohibit traveling out of state for abortion, obtaining over-the-counter Plan B medication, and other severe civil right infringements.

Many of you write and share kind compliments with us about how Spotlight helps you understand complex digital issues. We’re going to do that over the next few hundred words as it relates to location privacy because that is the linchpin that state law enforcement agencies can use to help prosecute women seeking an abortion. And these are not light penalties. In many states, a woman can be charged with manslaughter. Louisiana is among states advancing legislation that would define personhood as the moment of conception and classify abortion as homicide.

Location Data is Already Used to Ruin People

Last July, a Catholic website published an expose accusing a general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference of “serial sexual misconduct.” The monsignor they named was the highest-ranking Catholic clergyman in the U.S. who is not a bishop. He resigned, but the site published his location data along with dates and times although no other proof of wrongdoing.

That data used was from Grindr, a dating app focused on the LGBTQ community. It’s a site many would incorrectly assume had some level of location privacy. The advertising networks used on the site collect data from user devices to target people with appropriate ads. One of the networks then packaged and sold the data to a third party. The Wall Street Journal quoted a spokesperson as saying, “Every single entity in the advertising ecosystem has access to the information shared by Grindr and every other app that uses the real-time bidding system. That means thousands of entities have such access.”

Your Data Is Available Everywhere

About 50 companies in the U.S. sell location data captured by mobile phones. There are entire subsets of information from phones traveling in vehicles, including airplanes, bicycles, and trains. Last year The Markup reported that brokers were selling access to the data from 1.9 billion devices, and last week Vice identified that SafeGraph was selling data from people it identified in Planned Parenthood facilities. Their data, including the address they came from and where they went after, was available for $160. Not per person. That’s the price for the whole data set for one week.

Three days ago, I went to a SafeGraph competitor and did the same thing. After I confirmed that I could look at doctor’s offices or stores, I got creative in my own neighborhood to see what I could actually buy. As I expected, the answer was a lot. People in or near certain stores, bars, or schools, were all data sets that were available.

It’s Not Just Location Data

Sure, if you were someone seeking an abortion where it is illegal, you might be able to leave your phone at home and use public transportation or other means to travel. But any of your other internet activity — at home, work, or elsewhere — can be used against you. That worries lawmakers like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who told Gizmodo about location privacy, “Every digital record — from web searches, to phone records and app data — will be weaponized in Republican states as a way to control women’s bodies.”

That’s how police and prosecutors unravel cases like kidnappings or school shootings. The exact same processes can be used to investigate and charge women. Remember that laws such as the ones already passed in Texas and Oklahoma, allow individuals to sue anyone involved in aiding an abortion. The person filing suit can be a private citizen with no connection to anyone in the matter.

Big tech companies obviously don’t want their data used in this way, but they have very little choice when presented with a law enforcement subpoena.

Period Tracking Apps Are Huge Targets

You can use personal tech for anything health-related whether that’s cycle tracking, CPAP metrics, or even diet, but none of the data you put in that app is protected by health privacy laws, including HIPAA.

Some period tracking apps actually sell the data in so-called anonymized bundles, but all are as susceptible to a law enforcement subpoena as Google or Facebook.

The Bottom Line

The best recommendations I’ve seen so far are at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Remember that a browser’s incognito mode only means that the information isn’t stored on your computer. The service provider selling you internet access and the websites you visit still receive your data. And VPNs are an important piece of security, but the same issues apply. They protect your data between your device and your internet connection. Neither provides you with anonymity.

5. Did That Really Happen? — No, a Pfizer Exec Was Not Arrested

A satire site published a piece last Friday about a Pfizer exec’s arrest after a hoax about its COVID vaccine risks. The story was false and carried a disclaimer, but that didn’t stop it from going viral over the next few hours, including the executive’s real name and position. The viral copies did not include the disclaimer.

The people you know who quote conspiracy theories will tell you that major media sites aren’t covering it because they’re involved in a cover-up. 

 6. Following Up — Intuit TuboTax to Refund Million

We’ve been writing for years about Intuit and their checkered participation in the IRS’ Free File program. The FTC eventually led an effort joined by states that complained that the company misrepresented eligibility to consumers. After finally pulling out of the program last tax season, Intuit agreed last week to reimburse more than 4 million people who bought its TurboTax software between 2016 and 2018. CNET has the info on who is eligible.

7. Protip — Get Your Contact Info Off Google

Google will finally allow you to begin removing your personal information such as telephone number and email address from the search engine. It’s not automatic. Some information from government, news, or professional websites won’t be removed.

But if you’re regular folk like me and just want your home phone number and address removed from search results, they can make that happen.

You have to do the work to supply Google with the URL you want removed. It’s important to note that websites like Internet Archive or other caching systems may already have made copies of the page, and your information is still at the organizations that published it, but you can make searching for you a little less easy.

Start at this Google page that explains how.

8. Screening Room — Nurse’s Week

ConnectRN hit a grand slam with their series of 3 spots on how Nurse’s Week is recognized. But I know who takes care of me when I’m sick, and I love you.

9. Science Fiction World — Chili’s Expands Rita Robot Test

Baby back ribs or not, Chili’s is expanding its Rita Robot program from 10 locations to 61 throughout the chain. The robot seats guests, brings out food, and can even sing Happy Birthday. Have look at Rita and how she is used here.

10. Coffee Break — Public Pianos

Ready to channel your inner Ray Charles?  This searchable database shows you the location and other information about more than 8,000 pianos in public that you can play for free. 

11. Sign of The Times

It’s April 4. Batter up!  Baseball season begins Thursday afternoon after the owners locked out the players in a labor dispute and washed out the original start date.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,245 words — about a 4 1⁄2  minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“Only 10 percent of offices have been equipped with video conferencing software. We expect that more and more will be as … companies will start reopening and allow people to work from home”— HP CEO Enrique Lores on a call with analysts last Monday after HP spent $1.7 billion to acquire conferencing device maker Poly.

a) Wyze home security cameras were finally patched after Bitdefender told the company about an issue nearly three years ago. Wyze effectively said that the whole network had to be compromised to reach the cameras, but it was still an issue. This is also your reminder you should not ignore software patches.

b) Barnes & Noble removed the ability to purchase books and audiobooks via the Google Play Store for its Nook app (but not most devices). The company’s move apparently addresses Google’s revenue sharing model. Users can still purchase directly from B & N.

3. Search Engine News — Meta Descriptions & Domain Authority

We’re always going to tell you that “domain authority” isn’t a metric that Google uses to determine how a page ranks in its search engine regardless of any well meaning industry articles to the contrary that you read. Google has insisted that for years while its proponents insist that there is a correlation. Because we’re humans who understand this field, we can provide context to the search results you might see.

Google search exec John Mueller was quoted as saying on Reddit last week:

I’m kinda torn. On the one hand, you do not need DA for Google Search. Google doesn’t use it *at all*. If you’d like to level your site up in search, you’d need to focus on something else, or at least use other metrics for it. This is mostly why DA as a metric is frowned upon by many SEOs. For context, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up the DA for a site in the 14 years I’ve been doing this.

Please be wary about snake oil posing as a delicious tonic.

We were tickled last week (pre-April Prank Day) to see that one SEO used the new Google Docs summarize feature to create meta descriptions. Upshot: it can write meta descriptions at scale, but it’s really an excellent ideation tool. This is exactly what we see using machine learning techniques for search. You must have a subject matter expert reviewing the work because the people creating the documents and the software summarizing it are imprecise.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Google Search Accuracy Tools

New Google search accuracy tools can be used by searchers to create context around the results they see. The company’s hope is to elevate highly sourced reporting, provide an easy way to review multiple fact checks, and to provide even more tools to evaluate search sources. They apparently didn’t plan to give me an excellent transition between sections three and four, but sometimes you get lucky.

Creating an official looking website with disinformation is easy. Most people in the digital marketing workforce can do that in just an hour or two using free, non-traceable tools. That is why search accuracy tools are so important.

What tools are there?

The one that has me most excited is a brand new label rolling out in the U.S. that shows that a source is “highly cited.” Think of a local news story where national outlets quote a local TV station or newspaper. This enables someone to see a visual cue directly in the search results about which websites are most trusted by others.

What about fact checks?

I love Google’s Fact Check Explorer and regularly review it because it aggregates fact check information from around the world. Using the simple search function, you can see results about a specific topic. The fact check source is identified as part of this tool’s results. There’s also a link to see all of the most recent fact checks.

Other Google search accuracy tools

There’s an expanded version of the “rapidly changing information” flag you may have seen if you’ve searched for news about a still developing issue. The flag says “It looks like these results are changing quickly” and provides tips to help you evaluate the current links. 

There’s also an expanded version of the “About This Result” function that includes what other sites publish about that site as well as how the site describes itself. You can read both directly in Google before you click.

Why is Google doing this?

In some ways, Google fobbing this evaluation off on users is the organization’s continuing attempt to avoid creating rules about the accuracy of websites and the information they publish. This is the publisher vs. platform argument Big Tech companies make, and it’s a tough issue. 

Google (or Facebook or Microsoft) will tell you that it’s their job to organize the world’s information, and that it’s your job to evaluate the veracity of that information. Exceptions are made for public emergencies such as the pandemic or wars, but I recall a conversation with someone who had been arrested and later found not guilty at trial. This person wanted the information removed from search engines, but Google’s stance in such matters is pretty firm. The arrest occurred and was a fact, perhaps even a newsworthy fact. Evaluating the arrest and subsequent trial is a searcher’s task.

5. Did That Really Happen? — Deion Sanders’ Amputation Not COVID-Related

NFL great Deion Sanders had complications from foot surgery last year that led to two toes on his foot being amputated. Some social media users began posting hoaxes that blamed the amputation on the COVID-19 vaccine instead of those complications. Here is the Reuters fact check.

6. Following Up — Facebook Elevated Misinformation Because of System Error

We’ve written often about the algorithms that control Facebook’s news feed. We also told you last year that the company promised to downrank political content and hate speech. Now The Verge reports that a Facebook system error did not demote or throttle issues related to nudity, violence, or disinformation published by Russian state media.

7. Protip — 10 Free Ebooks Reader Apps

You don’t need to buy a Kindle or have Barnes & Noble tell you where you can buy books. PC Mag assembled this lovely list of free ebook reader apps for all sorts of devices.

8. Screening Room — Eva Longoria & The 5D Model to Fight Street Harassment

L’Oréal and spokesperson Eva Longoria collaborated on this excellent long commercial promoting ways that passers-by can help others being harassed and promoting a safety program.

9. Science Fiction World — CrowdBot’s Wheelchair

Some shoppers in Switzerland are getting a sneak peek at the Qolo robotic wheelchair being developed by a nearby team of researchers. The news is exciting because as the lab’s director says, “You hear a lot about self-driving cars, but not about robots that could be moving among pedestrians.” You can read more and see video here.

10. Coffee Break — Forgotify

This program made waves years ago because Spotify had millions of tracks that had never been listened to on the service. That issue still exists so hop on over to Forgotify and let it spin you a tune that will make today a really special day for everyone who created that song.

11. Sign of The Times