1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 8th. On Wednesday, all retail establishments in Texas can join Mississippi in opening at full capacity and without people wearing facemasks. This is counter to CDC and public health best practices. At least 220 Texans have died every day from COVID-19 during the last two weeks.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,392 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) “Skeptics derided the notion of Amazon Prime, the $75 add-on that provides free two day shipping and low cost 1 day shipping for a $75 annual membership fee.”I wrote that in 2010 for what was then the Spotlight blog. I offer it today as context for Walmart’s announcement that anyone in their delivery areas can pay a flat $10 fee once and get up to 65 items delivered within two hours. Walmart’s latest promotion may not work, but Amazon now makes billions each year in Amazon Prime subscription revenue. (TechCrunch)

b) Microsoft’s LinkedIn is developing a new service that will allow users to find and retain freelancers. That pits Microsoft firmly against Upwork and Fiverr and is a nice way to leverage LinkedIn’s networking motif. (The Information)

c) Recipeasly caused a furor, apologized, and killed the app it built. The back story: a common joke online addresses how food bloggers often write a lot of text (stories, further cooking information, etc.). That text is often met with a cry of “Just get to the recipe!” which is what some apps including Recipeasly do, stripping the content so that only the recipe is displayed. This time, the food writers fought back — and got people’s attention. This is how many of them make their living. Besides that, it was the height of selfishness to behave in a way that suggests, “Shut up and give me the free stuff I came here for.”

Recipeasly is gone. A plain, humble apology is all that remains of their website. But they weren’t the first or the biggest that offered this type of software. And in the spirit of caring about content creators, I’ll admit that I’ve publicly shared programs that leave only the recipes online. It’s not fair, and I won’t do it anymore. We need more examples of looking out for others online, not less.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Community Mobility — Google
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder – CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Covid Vaccine Websites Violate Disability Laws, Create Inequity for the Blind – read at Kaiser Health News

Ghana Becomes First Country to Deliver Coronavirus Vaccines by Drone – read at Business Insider South Africa

4. Search Engine News

Google’s announcement that it will end the sale of advertising using individual tracking data is huge and important to understand in terms of how it deals with online privacy.

Inaccurate headlines dominated online conversation. “Google to no longer track the specific websites you visit,” proclaimed one very wrong headline. “Google says it won’t track you directly …” began another. 

What you need to know is that Google’s announcement last week only deals with advertising. And Google will indeed track your behavior online. Google is saying that they will begin to cluster like-minded consumers into cohorts, or groups, that advertisers can target. And only third party data is affected. Google collects scads of information about people from Gmail, Search, Maps, Android, YouTube, and similar products. None of that is ending.

Relying only on first party data is an important step, but the major Internet players are also the entities who collect that data. A shakeout on U.S. consumer privacy is coming in the next several years. Google is under investigation in the U.S. and other countries over antitrust and privacy issues.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice reportedly asked Google for search and advertising results in 2015 and 2020. Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a data privacy law, the second state to do so.

Google is smart to get ahead of these coming changes, but don’t fall for the hype about not being tracked online. That part isn’t going away anytime soon and certainly not in search.

 5. In The Spotlight — The NFT Craze Explained

NFT stands for non-fungible token. Since you won’t let me get away with only that, description, let’s break it down this way: the token is stored on blockchain like Bitcoin and represents some piece of digital intellectual property.

Here is an example: the NBA is selling a digital certificate for specific video highlights. The buyer doesn’t own the video. They own a certificate that CNBC smartly likened to a basketball trading card.

Don’t yawn. It’s not just the NBA, although there has been more than $200 million worth of transactions on pro basketball NFTs.  Musicians and other creators are getting involved. Pop artist Grimes sold NFT digital certificates worth $6 million representing her artwork in a single week.

The thing confusing most of us: the people are not buying the artwork. Their purchase may include a digital representation, but they’re buying a certificate, or like CNBC suggested, a trading card with a picture or song. In January, animator Justin Roilland sold 16 “crypto-art” sketches for $2.3 million. The buyers did not receive framed sketches. They got a long alphanumeric code that says they were the collector of the ephemeral work. 

But George, there is no there there. 

Indeed, that why they’re called non-fungible. They can’t be swapped for something of a like value because each certificate is unique and there is no market except supply and demand for a specific item.

You need to understand this form of market hysteria because it continues to explode. According to Forbes, musician 3LAU sold $11.7 million worth of certificates in one day. An artist named Beeple sold a $6.6 million piece last week, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold an NFT of the first tweet on the system for $2.5 million.

When we meet here next Monday, I expect you’ll be thinking, “wow, I couldn’t get away from news about this crazy NFT stuff all week.” The good news is that the Dutch tulip bulb market craze of 1636 only lasted a few months before collapsing so maybe NFTs will only be a 2021 thing.

6. Debunked — Deepfakes

Deepfakes are videos that swap in a person’s face into a video. You’ve seen terrible examples of them for years and maybe some pretty good ones over the last couple of years. We’ve even linked to some in past Coffee Breaks.

After some Tom Cruise deepfake videos went viral last week, Lifehacker created a handy checklist for spotting deepfakes.  

7. Following Up — Four Flaws in Microsoft Exchange Server

In addition to the ongoing fallout from the Solar Winds hack, Microsoft announced last week that Chinese hackers have leveraged four flaws in Microsoft’s Exchange server to access emails. Microsoft issued emergency patches, but some organizations have not yet installed them. Up to 30,000 organizations were hacked via these holes.

Top security journalist Brian Krebs broke the story and has coverage here.

8. Protip — Share Text & Links Across Your Devices

You don’t have to email yourself links or text if you’re using a Windows computer and smartphone to share data. TNW demonstrates how to use a free small program called Share TXT that allows you to send links from your phone to a Windows computer and vice versa.

Yes, iPhones and Macs already do this. The rest of you need to click.

Screening Room – Five Drinks

Cocktail-in-a-can maker Five Drinks has a pretty funny appeal for any celebrity to buy their company since Ryan Reynolds (gin), Michael Jordan (tequila), and Post Malone (wine, yes, wine) are among the celebs with their own alcohol brands.

10. Science Fiction World — Garbage

Dublin already had some pretty cool trash cans that connected online to notify the company when they were full. Now the city is piloting 350 of those cans to house additional cellular infrastructure. And 20 of those also record how busy foot traffic is in the surrounding area.

The can does not wheel itself to the curb yet, but it’s still pretty cool.

11. Coffee Break — CDC & Zombies

The CDC has to tell Americans about horrible things like gun violence and COVID-19 deaths. They’ve also expanded their online resources to instruct people on how to keep safe during a zombie apocalypse.

Yes, really. Because preparedness is similar whether for zombies or other hazards.

Free resources here, including graphic novels and posters for educators.

12. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 1st. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available at some sites beginning as early as tomorrow–a new weapon to fight the coronavirus. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, here is a handy tool published by the CDC showing where you can get vaccinated free in your area.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,406 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) “I want a declaration from Google on what information they’re collecting on users to the court’s website, and what that’s used for,” Judge Lucy Koh told the company’s lawyers last week according to Bloomberg

Judge Koh also expressed dismay about users being tracked in “incognito mode,” which is unfortunate. Spotlight readers know that any browser’s incognito mode means only that the information isn’t saved on YOUR device. It does not block your internet provider, the browser company, or the software of sites you visit. Incognito mode is not now nor has it even been private.

b) People with speech disabilities may soon find it easier to use voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home.A Wall Street Journal report states that the companies are working with specialized companies to build databases of atypical speech and train their products on those speech patterns.

c) A court in California has ruled that the state’s net neutrality law can become effective. The ruling follows the Biden administration’s Department of Justice informing the court that it no longer supports the Trump administration’s position. (Washington Post)

Net neutrality refresher: Businesses can’t speed up, slow down, or block content because of commercial arrangements.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Community Mobility — Google
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder – CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Chicago Thinks Zocdoc Can Help Its Vaccine Chaos – MIT Tech Review
Millions of COVID-19 Test Results in India Leaked – Bleeping Computer
Spotify Joins Salesforce in Adopting Work From Anywhere – Quartz
The 27 Year Old COVID-19 Data Superstar – Bloomberg
Want to Buy A Mask Online? Forget About That N95 – New York Times

4. Search Engine News

We often write about the predator-prey relationship between Google and marketers. Our perfect information view: if the rules were known to all, the best content would rise to the top. Google … does not agree.

We saw a great example of this last week when Google exec John Mueller stated that the company doesn’t make a practice of saying when it no longer uses a ranking signal. Google’s position that all organizations should simply create the best content they can and let the chips fall where they may was obsolete twenty years ago when search optimization began, and is even more outdated today.

Google also said this week that while links from others sites are important that the total number of links is irrelevant. That’s something we know from extensive testing. A link from a site like Wikipedia or a news organization is worth exponentially more in terms of ranking signals than a link from a local business. Counting links hasn’t been a valid strategy in years.

This level of control is crucial to Google’s future plans as it becomes a third party insulating users from organizations. The most recent example is the convenient way Google now allows people using its Google Maps application to pay directly for their parking. ZD Net explains, “After finding a location, users enter the meter number, the time desired for parking, and then tap Pay.” 

That’s convenient for everyone until Google insists on a tiny convenience fee. There are four to five million parking meters in the U.S. Managing their cashless transactions is a nice side business. 

The service is now available for Android phone users (coming soon to iOS) in 400 cities.

5. In The Spotlight — Safe Surfing Roundup

There are enough specific problems inhibiting safe surfing that we’re doing another Safe Surfing Roundup.

Identity Theft

  • The FTC received 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2020, double the number reported two years ago. (Dark Reading)
  • Stop showing your vaccine card on social media, the BBB warns. Fake vaccination cards are appearing for sale on eBay and TikTok. Also, you really don’t need to be sharing your full name and birth date to be scraped.

Hacks and Browser Issues

  • Google Chrome had three serious issues that were repaired during February. If you’ve stopped your browser’s automatic updates, you can update manually following these instructions
  • China is also implicated with Russia in the Solar Winds hack and other tools were affected. The startling number via Ars Technica: 30% of organizations compromised in the Solar Winds hack don’t use Solar Winds. They got hit from other tools it infected.

Consumer Products

  • Apple is reminding consumers that its iPhone 12 lineup can interfere with medical devices like pacemakers and MagSafe charge products. (Gizmodo)
  • Tesla is recalling more than 130,000 of its Model S and Model X cars over failing touch screen displays. The recall agency reported that Tesla confirmed “that all units will inevitably fail given the memory device’s finite storage capacity.” (Automotive News)
  • A UK consumer organization published a fascinating report on fake Amazon reviews for sale and how businesses are avoiding online checks. Packages for sale include 50 fake reviews for $10-$20 each.

Social Media Challenges

  • Thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube five years ago during the viral “Mannequin Challenge” have been used by AI researchers to train neural networks on visualization. The videos were easily downloaded and used because they were put online. You can’t revoke that permission. It’s out there once you type or upload. (MIT Tech Review)
  • The Red Silhouette challenge is something similar, but on TikTok. It involves posing naked or with minimal clothes with only a red light creating your silhouette. While some people felt empowered by participating, instructions soon were posted explaining how people could neutralize that red light and see the actual image. (BuzzFeed News)

  6. Debunked — Fake Vaccine Ingredient Lists

Disinformation about COVID-19 vaccine ingredients continues swarming social media.

Reuters fact check with ingredient debunking here.

7. Following Up — Australian News 

We told you last week about Facebook cutting off the sharing of any link from an Australian media company, A deal midweek between Facebook and the Australian government has restored the functionality.

NPR has one of the better overviews.

8. Protip — What Parents Should Know About Discord

This is the perfect topic for the safe surfing roundup. Lifehacker explains the basics that you need to know including how to restrict some functions.

9. Screening Room – Frida Mom

Frida Mom finally got a major award show to air its commercial after the Oscars refused last year. Here’s the full piece for what was shown during the Golden Globes.

10. Science Fiction World — Robots

We wrote more than two years ago about the little Starship Technologies delivery robots that debuted on George Mason University’s campus. Since then they’ve branched out to other schools including UCLA and have made more than one million deliveries. The company notes that they have brought 100,000 bottles of milk and more than 60,000 pizzas to people.

We can all agree that robots are cool and helping us fight climate change, but there’s also news from Boston Dynamics that its new robotic dogs can now charge themselves. They’ve sold 400 units of the 4 legged robot that includes an arm that can carry things, turn handles and knobs, and pull levers.

Now some scary people who are trying to hustle dystopian times upon us have outfitted one of the robots dogs with a paintball gun. And they made that robot dog controllable from a smartphone. I’m sure that the world’s militaries have never fantasized about an armed robot.

You can see Spot hustle in humanity’s dark times here.

11. Coffee Break — My 8-year-old Hero

Mike Piccolo took to Twitter recently to brag on his 8-year-old niece who found a way to confound parents, teachers, and Zoom employees. After reading the story, I would like her on our side during the upcoming robot apocalypse.

You should read the hysterical story of how she got out of Zoom school.

12. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s February 22nd. NASA holds a briefing today at 2 p.m. ET to share new images and video from Mars. Watch live here.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,150 words — about a 4 minute read.

  2. News To Know Now

a) “How long can we get away with the reach overestimation?” asks a Facebook employee in an newly unsealed email in a class action suit against the company. The documents allege that COO Sheryl Sandberg knew about the problems for years. (TechCrunch)

b) After extensive media coverage regarding Gorilla Glue’s misuse, searches on Amazon and Google for this adhesive jumped dramatically. Tessica Brown mistakenly used Gorilla Glue as a hair styling product after assuming she could simply wash it out. A cosmetic surgeon donated  a procedure worth $12,000 to remove the product from her scalp–the sort of living experiment the brand would never dare attempt. Gorilla Glue spent $411 on advertising in the first half of February (Ad Age-paywall)

c) Google has removed The Great Suspender browser memory management program from its Chrome Extensions store after learning that it spread malware following its acquisition by an unknown company. That malware tracked user behavior and executed code from remote servers. If you have not uninstalled it yet, you should. A free alternative with good transparency is “The Marvellous Suspender.” (Bleeping Computer)

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Community Mobility — Google
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Risk Calculator — Brown

NEW: New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here for more.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Alexa Can Find Closest COVID-19 Test Site — CNBC
How to Buy a Real N95 mask Online — The New York Times
Misleading COVID Vaccine Posts Easy to Find on Facebook — CNN
Researchers Use AI to Repurpose Drugs for COVID-19 — Healthcare IT News
Vaccine Scams Spread Under Facebook and Telegram — Wired
Zip line Delivering COVID Vaccines by Drone In Nigeria — Reuters

4. Search Engine News

Google is warning that it will take action against websites that make bait and switch pricing claims for its shopping ads. That sounds unremarkable, but becomes more intriguing as Google continues to create and enhance your website’s Google My Business listings with your website’s data. Don’t forget that Google My Business has long been positioned as additional search information that the website provides. SEO Roundtable has coverage

Google will display the origin of this information. Data from Wikipedia will be used, but Google says it will also use information such as how long ago the company first began indexing the website. The “About This Result” menu item can be chosen from the search results menu. Here is an example from our website.

5. In The Spotlight — Facebook’s Australia Ban

Last month, we told you that Google threatened to remove its search engiine from Australia over proposed legislation that would require payment to news publishers when their stories appeared in search results. The European Union has also advocated that technology companies pay for information that its services rely upon.

Google reached a deal this month with Australian content publisher News Corp for the use of its content in Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. The deal runs for three years and is the culmination of a series of smaller deals Google completed with other Australian media companies.

Facebook blocked all links to Australian news media sources within one day. Below is the message Facebook posts when an Australian news source is linked from the U.S.

In Australia, the ban also covers the other way. That means Australian Facebook users can’t share international or Australian news links. The content on the Facebook pages of those entities are essentially erased. That includes Murdoch-owned News Corp as well as local weekly newspapers and radio stations.

Google’s model is likely to be embraced by other national governments. Google is developing a prototype in France that will pay $76 million over three years to 121 French news organizations. One difference is the French law was already on the books. Another very significant difference is the French government’s threat that delisting French news sites would be considered anti-competitive behavior.

Both companies will now face the repercussions of these sudden announcements. France’s population is roughly equal to that of Texas and California combined. Australia’s population is a little bigger than New York’s. How will both companies react if publishers start to line up for their payments in populous countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and India?

Bigger still: This is for news media. Both sites incorporate content from a variety of sources, and a lot of businesses will want to be compensated. That was a far-fetched notion just one month ago.

6. Debunked — There’s Been No Tax Increase

Advocacy groups have been criticized for spreading inflammatory language that incorrectly suggests that President Biden has unilaterally increased capital gains and inheritance taxes.

Things got bad enough for Poynter’s PolitiFact to write about it.

7. Following Up — Google Ethicists

After Google fired one of the two leads of its Ethical AI team, news broke that Google has now fired Meg Mitchell, the second lead that it had suspended. Google executives will join Facebook and Twitter executives in testifying at a House Commerce committee hearing next month.  Expect plenty of questions about this topic.

We’ve also told you about the Solar Winds campaign that has a threat profile too big to overstate. A Biden administration cybersecurity official confirmed last week that the networks of nine federal agencies and one hundred private organizations have been compromised. Dark Reading has great continuing coverage.

8. Protip — The iPhone’s hidden menus

CNBC has a handy feature about using different iPhone menus and gestures like an Apple pro. It’s a great refresher for features you may not use or if one of those new phones found their way home to you during the holidays.

Screening Room – Strong Roots

Strong Roots has assembled one of the funniest diet commercials in quite some time. Bonus: they did it all with stock video footage.

10. Coffee Break – Metallica Interruptus (by lullabies!)

Here’s your quick primer: Metallica sued Napster over allowing file sharing of music files about one million years ago in the year 2000. The case was huge and delayed the advent of legal streaming services for years. One result was that streaming services like YouTube and Twitch have automated systems in place to ensure copyrighted material is not played live.

Imagine Metallica’s surprise this weekend when their livestreamed concert was quickly overridden by Twitch’s automated systems and replaced with stock audio bell sounds. You have to see it to believe it.

11. Sign of the Times – More Australian News