1. Good Monday Morning

It’s May 10. This is George about to hit the send button shortly after President Biden declared a state of emergency regarding the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New Jersey. According to the BBC, Dark Side, an organized crime group, has infiltrated the pipeline’s computer network and caused its shutdown. About half of the fuel used in the eastern U.S. is transported through that pipeline.

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer, ends this week.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,380 words — about a 5 minute read.

 2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “The majority (60%) of school apps were sending student data to a variety of third parties … On average, each app sent data to 10.6 third-party data channels.” — a new report by business group Me2B Alliance about K-12 data privacy.

a) As of Q2 2022, all Android app developers operating on the Google Play Store will be required to publish what data is collected and stored by their apps, as well as how that data is used. The new policy was announced at a time when tech companies are under increased scrutiny for mishandling customer information. (Google announcement)

b) WhatsApp will not delete your account if you don’t opt-in to its latest privacy rules that require sharing data with Facebook companies; however, customers who refuse will face account limitations such as decreased video call services and reduced notifications. The company is stressing a May 15 deadline to opt-in to data sharing. (Bleeding Computer)
c) In an attempt to show the power of Facebook’s targeting, privacy messaging app Signal published detailed ads describing a user’s medical conditions and sexual orientation. They claimed that their campaign was halted by Facebook, but later admitted that they never submitted the ads. Worse, those ads couldn’t even be created using Facebook. (Inc.)

Our take: The loudest voice influences public perception regardless of the truth — a problem we’re afraid will happen again as these creative ads resurface in the future as proof of something that never happened.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data — Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths — 706
US Hospitalizations — 37,644
US Vaccinated — 34.4%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
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 trend: Doomscrolling Moved to DesktopAxios

Google Backtracks, Allows Employees to Work Remotely – CNN

How to Apply for $50 Monthly Emergency Broadband Benefit ProgramUSA Today

4. Search Engine News

A new Google search test includes emoji embedded deep in the results page. For example, a recipe shows tiny emoji next to each option, and these eye-catching visual cues do a nice job distinguishing each separate link.

Search Engine Roundtable points out that even though Google has had both love and hate for this type of communication, this is something organization leaders should understand as more visuals replace text. It’s not just emoji. Remember that only about half of U.S. states require that cursive is taught so it’s not unique to see communication styles change within a person’s lifetime.

Microsoft Bing also announced last week that its Content Submission program is now available to the public although in beta mode. Content Submission allows websites to “notify Bing directly about URL and content changes” without having to wait for the search engine to visit and note the changes on its own.

Don’t entirely write off Microsoft Bing and its importance. The company still serves more than one billion search visitors every month.

5. In The Spotlight — Fake Reviews

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a report last week claiming that more than eight million fake comments regarding net neutrality were sent to the Federal Communication Commission and funded by the nation’s largest internet providers. Her report says that a trade group called Broadband for America coordinated the campaign. That company’s biggest members are Comcast, Charter, and AT&T although the report said that there was no evidence of coordination by any of those companies.

According to James, the Trump administration failed to cooperate with her investigation, and former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai refused requests for evidence. The report published by her office last week said that nearly 18 million of 22 million comments had been falsified.

Net neutrality is a principle that requires internet providers to treat all traffic the same way regardless of its source. That means an internet provider that also owns entertainment channels cannot slow down or impede traffic from Netflix or another competitor. Pai oversaw the repeal of net neutrality in the United States more than three years ago.

Amazon is another organization often accused of having fake reviews and comments about its products, especially in its third party marketplace. Researchers discovered a treasure trove of data last week that contains millions of records implicating third party sellers on Amazon who paid for fake reviews. 

Safety Detective found a server online with no encryption or passwords. The data included email addresses, WhatsApp and Telegram phone numbers, payment data, and links to 75,000 Amazon accounts of seemingly fake review sellers.

The company estimates that between 200,000 and 250,000 people worldwide were involved in the fake review scam.

6. Debunked — Those Carter Biden Photos

By now you’ve read that the images of the Bidens and Carters published last week that looked disproportionate were possibly the result of using a wide-angle lens in a smaller space. 

For your debunking purposes, though, be aware that a zoom lens can have an opposite effect. Photographer friends were quick to show me some misidentified photos during the pandemic that appeared to show crowds where none existed. 

There are several great examples in The Guardian that you’ll want to look at.

7. Following Up — Apple’s Tracking Opt-Out

We’ve been writing about the new iOS 14.5 update and its requirement that users explicitly opt-in to being tracked by apps. Facebook has waged a monthslong campaign against Apple and this feature. Industry observers were concerned that as much as 80% or more of the Apple user base would opt out.

We frankly didn’t know why anyone would opt-in and were therefore not surprised to learn that 96% of US users have opted out so far. We think that number is high and will decrease over time, and we love data.

8. Protip — New iOS 14.5 Features

This was a big upgrade. Lifehacker has a feature they’ve helpfully called “How to Set Up Every iOS 14.5 Feature Worth Knowing About,” including the new Siri voices and how to take screenshots without a pop-up.

Read it here.

9. Screening Room – Saucony & Moms

If you’re a Silver Beacon advertising client, you already know that we love ads with obscured faces or shot from the subject’s perspective so that the audience more easily relates. Saucony debuted this 45 second gem that had me relating to the mom. Also, moms rock, so thanks to all of you.

10. Science Fiction World — West Cost Earthquake Warnings

ShakeAlert is an early earthquake warning system that as of last week covers 50 million people living in California, Oregon, and Washington. All mobile devices will receive a warning with up to 10 seconds advance notice of an earthquake of at least magnitude 5.

Read more at NPR.

 11. Coffee Break — Top Music by Town

The Pudding may be the best data visualization website online. One of their latest projects geocodes music listened to on YouTube and then maps the top song in each area. The data can even differ in adjacent communities. There is a different top song in the community where my son and his wife live only 15 miles away.

It’s remarkable work that you’ll want to spend time with.

12. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s May 3. This is George writing to you on the Sunday when 220 million Orthodox Christians worldwide celebrate Easter.

Many of us have non-biological moms so to those women as well as the women who gave us life, Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,474 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “I often think of this Roger Black quote, which says that fonts are basically like clothing for your ideas. So what we’re saying is that Calibri has gone out of fashion.” — Microsoft exec Simon Daniels announcing that the company is moving to a new default font after fourteen years.

a) A changing economy triggered by a novel coronavirus pandemic led to record quarterly earning announcements from Big Tech companies last week. Ad revenue was a leading driver for Google and Amazon, while Apple reported hardware growth and Microsoft improved earnings in gaming and cloud-based services.

Alphabet reported higher earnings and $3 billion more revenue than expected. YouTube ad sales for the quarter came in at $6 billion — over $300 million higher than estimates. Google’s travel and entertainment expenses were also down $268 million for the quarter — an annual run rate of more than $1 billion in savings.

Amazon announced that they now have over 200 million Prime subscribers and are moving Prime Day from July to June this year. That move pushes revenue from the big promotion into Q2 results.

Apple reported profits that were 40% higher than analysts expected thanks to strong iPhone 12 sales.

Microsoft reported that they are experiencing more cloud service demand. The company is also a major online gaming player, and the Internet was buzzing with rumors about a significant revenue sharing move Microsoft may soon make.

These four companies posted combined quarterly profits of nearly $70 billion. Apple announced it would increase its stock buyback program by $90 billion. Microsoft and Alphabet each announced $50 billion in buybacks.

b) Automattic, the company run by WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, announced on Wednesday that it acquired Creative Commons’ free image search service, CC Search. Mullenweg said Creative Commons warned that it might stop offering the free service due to a lack of funding.
c) Security journalist Brian Krebs reports Experianexposed consumer data online. A college sophomore was able to see credit scores of other individuals using only a person’s name, date of birth and address.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data — Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths — 692
US Hospitalizations — 41,198
US Vaccinated — 31.6%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
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

Google Adding COVID-19 Info to Travel SearchesThe Verge

New Law Discounts Internet for Active Duty, Vets, & SurvivorsMilitary.com

4. Search Engine News

Spam is a major problem for businesses, and it’s only getting worse. Google reports finding 40 billion pages of spam daily, which means that there are enough new spam sites created each day to fill the Library of Congress if they were printed. The company’s annual web spam report was published this week and underscores how criminals can easily automate the process of creating fake websites.

Google exec John Mueller acknowledges that the company’s view of all web content includes trying to deduce information that isn’t explicitly stated, like who wrote the piece. They do this by cross referencing all pages. Muller says he recommends that authors “.. link to a common or kind of like a central place … like a social network profile page.”

Another way Google creates data is by understanding how fast people are traveling between destinations. That allows the company to understand issues like fuel economy. They’ll put that knowledge to good use later this year by defaulting Google Map directions to the most fuel-efficient route, even if that isn’t the fastest route.

5. In The Spotlight — Apple and Facebook Fight

It has become the largest company in history, having generated hundreds of billions of dollars from the use of your data for advertising. Now Facebook is facing a threat from an Apple software update that appears likely to halt data collection from Apple device owners.

After an Apple operating system update last week, companies are required to obtain explicit consent from Apple device owners before tracking them across the internet. Facebook and Google both opposed the impending change, but their opposition took different paths. For months, Facebook has been priming its advertisers with data that suggests that advertising results may not be as comprehensive or clear after the update.

Almost every Big Tech company faces privacy concerns, but few are as reliant upon the sale of consumer data for profit as Facebook. Last year, Facebook asked for a Supreme Court ruling on its practice of tracking logged out users across the internet by embedding Facebook buttons on websites.

Earlier this year, the Court declined to hear that motion and further rebuffed Facebook’s attempt to reduce a $15 billion class action lawsuit involving this matter. Facebook is also facing similar legal pressures in Australia.

The Google way out of this has been to develop groups it assigns to users. Advertisers don’t know the specific people being targeted, but will pay for the behavior such as “car shoppers” or “parents of teens.” Although Google says individual privacy is protected, critics argue that discriminatory advertisements will be easier to run and that association of labels with browsing activity hurts everyone.

At least for now, other tech companies seem to agree that Google’s groups are a bad idea. Rival search engine DuckDuckGo says it will ban the data used in the labels. They’ll be joined by WordPress and the Brave privacy browser.

Our take: Apple continues to claim the high ground in privacy, while driving profits by charging premium prices for its devices. A new iPhone 12 costs about $1,000. Options can raise the price considerably. Google and Facebook are going to find a way to access private information based on consumer data because together they generated well over $220 billion (with a b) in advertising revenue last year. If they can’t get individual user data, they’ll use projections. Don’t forget that all three companies are facing significant regulatory actions.

6. Debunked — Viral Article about Domestic Violence

A viral article wrongly claimed that there were 163 million Google searches for the phrase “how to hit a woman so no one knows” during the pandemic. That’s not even remotely true.

Daily Dot explains.

7. Following Up — NYPD Robot Dog

We told you last week about the NYPD’s robot police dog with the dumb name Digidog. We had suggested RoboBark and stick with our choice. Last week, the pilot program was ended months early. New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio said that Digidog is “creepy, alienating, and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers.”

More at The Guardian.

8. Protip — Export Facebook Posts to Google Drive

If you’re ready to immortalize your Facebook posts, you can now export them directly into a Google Doc or WordPress or Blogger installation. This Lifehacker primer will guide you.

Please do not export your Facebook posts into a blog because that will not be a pleasant reading experience for anyone.

Screening Room –  Doritos Mexico & LGBT Moms

As I pressed send, this brand new video has fewer than 900 views. It rolls out in Mexico this week to celebrate LGBT moms. Doritos is still one of the best at extending its brand voice into matters not traditionally associated with its products.

10. Science Fiction World — Trombia

Helsinki just ended a test of the Trombia Free municipal cleaning robot. It’s a street sweeper that runs autonomously and looks like a huge Roomba. Did I mention this thing drives itself and is emissions free?

The Next Web has details.

 11. Coffee Break — Oval Office Over Time

We were all too burned out on politics to look at this fascinating gallery of the Oval Office layout and decorating through history, but it’s probably time now.  And bravo to American Home Shield for extending themselves with a piece of viral content that wasn’t directly on-brand and went viral.

I like the blue President Biden picked.

12. Sign of the Times

“How Europe is dealing with online privacy” by SaFoXy is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s April 26th. This is George writing to you Sunday as the Oscars roll and the new West Side Story trailer hits. We have to talk this week about how machine learning algorithms are messing with people and their ideas about AI beauty.

This week, every tech giant is reporting earnings, so there is sure to be a lot of information this week regarding Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter. We’ll help distill the data for you next week.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,268 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI. If they’re simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns.” — Rachel Levinson-Waldman of the Brenan Center for Justice commenting about a Yahoo News expose regarding the U.S. Postal Service monitoring and reporting on social media use by citizens.

a)  Amazon has announced that it will open a hair salon in London to test augmented reality technology. The move is yet another example of the company’s recent push into physical retail spaces. Also, Amazon announced it will implement contactless payment in seven Whole Foods stores near Seattle via devices that scan the palm of the customer’s hand. (Amazon)

b)  Apple wants you to buy, but it’s not that simple. There are two lawsuits pending against it from people who terminated their accounts after paying for products on the platform. Consumers frequently download music they’ve purchased, but movies are often unavailable for download. Despite Apple’s claims, a California judge ruled recently that there is plausible reason to believe content bought through iTunes cannot be revoked. (THR)

c)  In a Facebook hack video that has been circulating since Tuesday, a researcher showed how he can link up to 5 million email addresses to the users’ profiles. The researcher claims that he is demonstrating this vulnerability in Facebook, which could have abused users’ privacy and data. After Facebook rejected his claim for a software bug bounty, the man shows how he linked 6,000 accounts within three minutes. (Ars Technica)


Apple to Reinstate Parler — Wall Street Journal

Snap Beats Estimates, Has 280 Million Daily Users — CNBC

Consumer Reports: Tesla Works With No Driver — Ars Technica

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Data — Daily Average (7 day trailing)

US Deaths — 722
US Hospitalizations — 44,367
US Vaccinated — 28.5%

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
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

Facebook Allows Staff To Continue WFH (Business Insider)

GM Announces Remote Work Plan (CNN)

India Orders Facebook, Twitter To Remove Posts – TechCrunch

4. Search Engine News

Google has delayed the implementation of their new signals that use page engagement metrics to determine rankings a full month into this summer. Called “Core Web Vitals,” Google announced that the page experience update will begin gradually in mid-June and continue into August. 

Google is also making changes to ads that appear in search results. The biggest change is concerning health insurance providers. “We will only allow ads from government exchanges, first-party providers and licensed third-party brokers,” said Google executive Terri Ozorowski-Ghen. G2 and Google have partnered to run the new health insurance advertiser certification program, modeled after similar programs for pharmacies and social advocacy groups.

Users may also see a new type of advertisement soon, because Google is also experimenting with using dealer inventories directly in search engine results. SEO Roundtable published a screenshot of new and used car listings in suburban Boston.

5. In The Spotlight — AI Beauty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is no different for artificial intelligence. The more companies develop machine learning and other AI advances, the more they turn to assessing human appearance. They are offering software to score beauty rather than match identical faces. Critics say these products are flawed — ageist, racist, unrealistic expectations setting — but that’s not stopping them from launching many new products.

First, there was the airbrushing and the Photoshopping. Now artificial intelligence is here to critique appearances. Since 2017, technology company Face++ has offered a product called Beauty Score. The company says the software’s use cases include matchmaking and cosmetic sales.

It can change the way people shop for cosmetics and beauty products since it predicts one’s skin tone, age, gender, height and weight. Proponents say it is no different from using images to select tailored clothing.

Journalist Tate Ryan-Mosley at MIT Technology Review has written multiple articles that look hard at how industry leverages AI and Beauty. Recently, she tried an AI beauty service that identified 10 possible flaws, even smile lines which the audit said might require medical attention.

Companies like Amazon moving into augmented reality can have detrimental real-world repercussions. In 2016, The Guardian reported that an algorithm judged a beauty contest with 6,000 entries. Forty-four winners were declared and only one had dark skin. Several months later, Cover Girl launched “Custom Blend,” a direct-to-consumer sales app that used similar algorithms.

There are many examples of companies like Cover Girl that take advantage of the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world use social media AI beauty filters, harming people’s self-esteem via algorithms that have their own sense of beauty.

Be vigilant. And check out the brand-new Dove commercial below.

6. Debunked — President Biden Still Allowed at Pentagon

One of the hoax news sites we’ve written about before is getting social media attention for a made-up story that alleges President Biden was denied entry to the Pentagon.

Reuters has the fact check about a news site that often prints tabloid-like stories and clams to be satire.

7. Following Up — Autonomous Vehicles

We’ve written extensively (including last week) about autonomous vehicles. The Harris Poll people were right there with us. Their latest survey on the topic suggests Americans are intrigued but badly misinformed about the current state of these vehicles.

8. Protip — Zoom Adds Vanishing Pen & All Emoji

Toms Guide is out with details about cool new features including a “vanishing pen” that allows annotations to disappear in a few seconds. That sounds amazing for scribblers like me. Zoom has also freed the emoji. Any of the chat-based emoji can now be used in the meeting–although hosts can turn that off.

9. Screening Room –  Dove’s Reverse Selfie

This 60 second spot really did its job because now I’m telling many people about this AI beauty concept. Please take care of each other as even more tech dollars flow into this area.

10. Science Fiction World — RoboBark, the NYPD Police Robot Dog

I’ll be really upset if the New York Police Department messes up this opportunity to creatively name their police robot dog. I’m already refusing to link to maker Boston Dynamics who calls it Spot.  Here’s coverage that includes video in Gothamist.

11. Coffee Break — Macro Video

The Reuters Science News Twitter feed published the amazing macro videos of Ole Bielfeldt as he zooms into pencils, a leaf, and other ordinary items. There are six videos to enjoy.

12. Sign of the Times – Zoom Cat