Good Monday morning. It’s February 11th. Valentine’s Day is Thursday, and the federal government faces its next shutdown crisis on Friday. These both occur right before the 3 day President’s Day holiday next Monday. We won’t be publishing next week unless something extraordinary happens.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.

News to Know Now


  • Germany told Facebook its data collection practices, specifically sharing data between the platforms it owns: Whats App, Instagram, and Facebook, violate the EU’s GDPR privacy regulations. Facebook is appealing.
  • Three new numbers worth knowing:
  1. Google’s Gsuite (gmail, calendars, etc.) has 5 million paying customers.
  2. Twitter has 126 million ‘daily active users’–far less than competitors and even Snapchat
  3. Duck Duck Go served 1 billion searches in January. That’s 1% of the U.S. search market, and as we always say, “One billion of anything is worth knowing about.”

Spotlighting Google


Google’s parent Alphabet reported better than expected revenues that still didn’t please Wall Street. Like Amazon, analysts cited higher spending concerns as a reason to drub the stock.  Also like Amazon, the company’s future growth is in cloud computing services. Industry leading Amazon Web Services (AWS) created $7.4 billion in cloud revenue last quarter.  Watch the tension between Google and Amazon in 2019–especially as Amazon’s ad revenue keeps growing.

Google continues cozying up to small businesses, the last bastion of mostly untapped digital marketing dollars Their latest effort to control local advertising included letters sent to small businesses that said Google would begin automating their advertising unless the business opted out. The solicitation did not fare well at the small and medium sized businesses we spoke with or in the digital agency world, and yes, that’s us. Let us know if you got one of those emails and want to understand your options.

Keeping nonprofits happy remains a Google business practice. Most nonprofits can receive free advertising, GSuite services, and other freebies on Google after a qualification process (we can help). Prominent nonprofits like the Wikimedia Foundation that offer complementary programs receive millions in cash and licenses.

Privacy experts continue to cite Google’s far ranging reach as problematic. The company now has global search market share of 90%, which means that Alphabet knows the things that consumers want to know more about and often things that are not even disclosed between couples. As Bing and other services have experienced decreasing market share, privacy-centric Duck Duck Go is enjoying its highest volume ever. The industry is also buzzing about Google Assistant launching facial recognition in 2019.


Also in the Spotlight


  • Spotify will suspend or cancel accounts if free users block ads with an ad blocker.  Spotify also rolled out an option to block artists after furor over recent R. Kelly sexual abuse revelations
  • Apple fixed the FaceTime bug called FacePalm. That’s a good reason to update now.
  • Facebook is closing the LOL Memes section we told you about and announced new options that allow Page owners to join groups as the page. Facebook is also rolling out a petition program.

Great Data

Google Earth has released Timelapse, a free program that allows users to see a changing aerial view of an address over 32 years. It’s addictive and comes with some already preconfigured views in Las Vegas, Alberta, and others. (Our hint: pause the video and drag the slider as slow or fast as you like



News You Need to Know Now


Good Monday morning. It’s February 4th. Google parent company Alphabet announces earnings when the markets close this afternoon.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.

Breaking Sunday night: Family Tree DNA is vehemently denying media reports that it has given the FBI access to its database of more than one million genetic profiles. Family Tree says that the FBI has the same permissions that any consumer has and that law enforcement has used the free-to-all service fewer than ten times.




  • Amazon and Facebook posted record financials last week. Analysts liked Facebook’s story and rewarded the company’s stock. Amazon warned that it would invest more in 2019, and its stock took a hit despite record holiday earnings. Remember that the execs involved most often are compensated based on stock performance, not earnings.


  • The FCC was in court before a three judge panel Friday to present oral arguments regarding its rollback of net neutrality consumer protections. Among the FCC’s arguments was the contention that broadband is not a telecommunications service. The FCC also faced questions about Verizon throttling service used by the Santa Clara Fire Department as they fought deadly wildfires last year.


  • Hackers uploaded password and email combinations in more files last week, bringing the total to 2.2 billion password records that researchers say have now been downloaded more than 1,000 times. Please stop right now if you’re using your old passwords “now that time has passed”.

Wild Online Data Days Continue


Apple users, pay attention to the Group FaceTime bug called Face Palm. The company confirmed that users could add a third person to a FaceTime call, creating a Group, and eavesdrop on the person who was being added even if that person didn’t answer. Apple disabled group video chatting last week and is due to push out an update to users this week.

Apple was also on the dishing out side of things after it learned that Google and Facebook had both violated their App Store agreements and promoted programs that captured lots of data. Facebook’s case was egregious because Apple had already made Facebook remove a similar program. Instead, Facebook launched an online data program targeting people between the ages of 13 (with parental consent) and 35. They paid each person $20 per month to load a program on their phone that allowed Facebook to see virtually everything that was done on the phone. Plenty of survey companies do exactly this, but Facebook bypassed Apple’s App Store, and Apple responded by revoking Facebook’s developer access permission for nearly three days.

When Apple discovered that Google was doing something similar, they also revoked Google’s access even though this was their first offense.

The control that Apple places on its App store far outweighs anything that Google does for Android apps. And Apple is ruthless about protecting this advantage. We learned during Apple’s financial reports that its revenue sharing from Netflix alone is $130 million per year. For accounts smaller than Netflix, Apple’s revenue sharing costs publishers 15-20 percent of total revenue. And you thought that only their phones were expensive.

Children and teens are also spending millions on Facebook apps and games that parents are often unaware of, according to reporting by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The organization reported that Facebook’s chargeback rate for contested credit card charges made by children is more than 9 percent–18 times the regular rate.

Even municipalities are getting involved. New York City will begin receiving data from Uber and Lyft as part of its agreements allowing them to operate. Among the data being received is date, time, locations, and the route driven. The city says that its goal is traffic planning and new programs, but skeptics have already pointed out that the database when combined with cameras and taxicab data provide the city with a database of non-private vehicle travel.

Some Help Is Coming

Google’s Chrome browser will warn users when it is visiting a spoofed website. It’s still in an early beta, but I’ve tested it, and it’s got promise.

What’s App–one of Facebook’s most popular programs–will start limiting the number of times that a message can be forwarded in an effort to cut down on disinformation.

New York’s Attorney General reached a settlement last week that it says is “…the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to include in online activity is illegal.” Gizmodo has an excellent summary of what it means and how it came to be.

EU regulators also continue pursuing tech data issues. Polish and UK authorities last week began taking action to limit an online advertiser’s ability to identify and target a consumer who has been the victim of sexual abuse, substance abuse, or medical conditions. This has fallen into the “we know how to do it technically, but it’s not permitted and it’s evil” bucket. Regulators would like to put that into the “make it impossible to do” bucket.

Reporter Kashmir Hill–one of our favorites and one whose work we’ve referred to you before–is publishing a fantastic series called “Life Without the Tech Giants”.  She is a data privacy expert who is enlisting great tech resources to help her block companies like Google and Amazon from her life. And as she writes, it’s not always working. Start with her intro to the series here.



Worth your time this week:

  • Google is finally removing Google+ data from the publicly-accessible Internet. Your stuff–if there was any there-will be deleted April 2.
  • Snopes is ending its fact-checking partnership with Facebook.
  • Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body? It’s not a Snickers commercial. It’s a well done 75 second Deep Fake video that reporter Mikael Thalen posted to Twitter.



Good Monday morning. It’s January 28th. Happy Tech Earnings Week. Apple and telecoms report Tuesday, Microsoft and Facebook are reporting Wednesday, and Amazon is up Thursday. Count on lots of news all week.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.


  • Fifteen U.S. Senators have written the FTC and FCC to urge an investigation of the “sale of Americans’ location data by wireless carriers, location aggregators, and other third parties.” (PDF of the letter)


  • Facebook announced plans to combine Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. It’s a gamble. All 3 are on every list of the most popular mobile apps.


  • U.S. regulators are considering whether and how to fine Facebook for its role in the Cambridge Analytical data scandal. This is on the heels of the EU fining Google $57 million for violations of its GDPR data privacy law.


Your Data Is Out There

 Have I Been Pawnd (HIBP) founder Troy Hunt wrote a “post for the masses” instead of the techies and detailed “Collection 1”–a data file that combines 1.1 billion combinations of email addresses and passwords. The article is easy to understand with links to more info for the data curious. Troy’s HIBP service is free and should be part of your data routines, along with a password manager and a physical key like the ones sold by Yubico.

We learned about other data out there this week. More than 24 million financial records, including mortgage and tax information from the country’s biggest banks, were found online by security analyst Bob Diachenko, according to TechCrunch. Luckily Bob is a responsible researcher and discloses only after notifying affected organizations. The third parties managing the personal data didn’t even have current relationships with the banks in some cases, but still had to maintain the records.

No matter what search, social media, and other data privacy targets do, the data breaches that have caused the most trouble have been at the federal government or companies like Equifax and Marriott. In short, data security is a bigger issue than Google or Facebook although they certainly play a role.

If all of this was Greek to you and you’re unsure about what to do next, you should email George since he’s Greek and can help.

What’s With All The Fines?

Seven months after the EU passed its GDPR, a set of stringent personal data regulations, French regulators have fined Google $56.8 million. The main infringements were related to “transparency, information, and consent”, specifically Google requiring users to accept new privacy policies.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ is another troubling EU concept for Google and search engines. A Dutch surgeon who was disciplined for medical negligence has won her suit against Google in an Amsterdam court to have that information removed from the search engine according to The Guardian.

This is an important concept that we’ve helped U.S. entities navigate. European courts have established that search engines must adhere to a European citizen’s ‘right to be forgotten’, which allows inadequate, excessive, or irrelevant content to be ignored. The guidelines are often considered vague. This is not U.S. law, which generally provides for truth as a defense against removing data from a search engine.

Facebook is also dealing with the possibility of regulatory fines in the U.S. for its role in privacy violations. The FTC is the lead agency considering “a record-setting fine” for Facebook according to the Washington Post. A prior consent decree Facebook entered into with the FTC and the lingering effects of the government shutdown are complicating the final resolution.

Google and Facebook may also create future liabilities in Europe under the continent’s Copyright Directive, which permits companies to demand money when fragments of their articles appear on third party sites. Google is considering blocking access to Google News throughout Europe as a result, reports Bloomberg.

This negative activity has led to some predictable actions. The five biggest tech companies, including Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, joined Facebook and Google in accounting for nearly $60 million in federal lobbying during 2017 according to a study in The Hill.  Facebook is also receiving increasingly negative attention from the media, according to a Recode analysis of consumer sentiment about Facebook articles in The New York



Worth your time this week:

  • More than 11,000 Microsoft employees are caught up in a Reply-All fiasco that is equal parts amusing and sad. (Business Insider)
  • Gmail’s mobile interface is adding strikethroughs, undo and redo, more. (TechCrunch)
  • Netflix now has 139 million subscribers worldwide. And in line with our entertainment article last issue, raised prices. Who knew they read Spotlight? (CNN)


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