1. Good Monday Morning

It’s January 25th. We are back after observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week and will be on our regular schedule until Presidents Day. 

Microsoft reports earnings after tomorrow’s bell. Apple and Facebook do the same Wednesday.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,027 words — about a 4 minute read.

  2. News To Know Now

a. TikTok is averaging more user time than Facebook for the first time ever. TikTok is also projected to reach one billion monthly active users during 2021. (Search Engine Journal)

b. Alphabet is closing Project Loon, a seven year old project that created internet access points from a balloon piloted in the stratosphere. The service proved useful during natural disasters, but project leader Alastair Westgarth said that the company had not found a way to get costs low enough to build a sustainable long-time business. (Company announcement)

c. Facebook has referred its indefinite suspension of former president Donald Trump to its independent Oversight Board that includes the former prime minister of Denmark, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and many academics, attorneys, and advocates. (Company announcement)

  3.  COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

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

Coronavirus & Tech News

Apple Watch Can Detect Early COVID-19 – 9 to 5 Mac
Facebook, NYU Partner on Algorithm for X-rays – Facebook
Google Funding Effort to Stop Vaccine Misinfo – Forbes
Hackers Steal & Alter Vaccine Data – Ars Technica
UK Hospitals Using Blockchain to Track Vaccine – CNBC

4. Search Engine News

Privacy-focused search engine Duck Duck Go continues to see volume increases as people look for Google alternatives. Statcounter reports that DDG is now the second most popular search engine for US mobile users, edging out Yahoo and nearly doubling Microsoft Bing’s market share. DDG reached 100 million daily searches for the first time this month according to analysis from Search Engine Journal

Google likely isn’t worried since its market share in most countries is ninety percent or better. That still includes Australia although the company has said it will remove its search engine from Australia if it is forced to agree to pay media outlets for news content. French regulators ruled last year that the company must pay news agencies in that country. Google announced last Thursday that it would begin negotiating individual agreements with French publishers.

What’s the difference? The Australian law is proposed. The French law was on the books, and regulators there said Google’s operations violated it.

5. In The Spotlight — 5 Things I Learned From Parler

The period following Princess Diana’s death in an auto accident twenty-three years ago became a case study in communications. People sought to feel connected to the event and overwhelmed the British government’s digital resources.

Conservative social media network Parler is overwhelmed in a similar way for very different reasons. We told you back in November that two-year old Parler was funded by one-time Breitbart investors David Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. While Breitbart is a discredited, deceptive website, it is a business success thanks to tapping the same emotions as the grief over the British royal.

Today, Parler is hosted on Russian servers due to a judge’s decision to not order Amazon Web Services to reinstate Parler. The site’s poor coding and lack of security allowed a researcher to download 80 terabytes of public Parler posts and videos legally. Even the mobile application remains down as of this writing, yet the company remains defiant.

The data scraped from the site allowed Gizmodo to track user locations of Parler posts. The work they did during the investigation showed that terrorists advanced farther into the Capitol than had been previously known. In addition, they identified individuals who posted to the site while in police stations or from U.S. military bases.ProPublica went a step further and posted a stunning series of minute-by-minute videos from in and outside the Capitol during the attack. Mediaite created what may be the best headline of Parler’s role in the event: “Selfie-Happy insurrectionists have created over 140,000 pieces of evidence for FBI — and counting.”

What I Learned From Parler

1. Prepare for your best case scenario to work out.
2. Don’t allow criminals or legally dubious customers in your business.
3. Security and privacy are the table stakes in the online world.
4. Closing is sometimes the best option. Don’t fall prey to sunk costs.
5. Don’t believe your own press clippings.

  6. Debunked — National Guard in D.C.

At the inauguration of President Joe Biden, conspiracy theories spread when some National Guard members were viewed on video facing away from the road.

According to Snopes, some service members were ordered to observe from that direction.

7. Following Up — Facebook Payouts

We mentioned Dr. Anthony Fauci’s appearance two weeks ago on The Try Guys YouTube channel and mistakenly replaced YouTube channel subscribers with video views Old friend Bob Kovacs reached out and reminded me of the difference. Bob has more than a dozen videos with at least 100,000 views each, but plenty of others with much smaller numbers despite his 13,000 subscribers. Here’s the link to Bob and his creative wife Mary Ellen’s 2020 Christmas tree video card on YouTube.

We reported last July that Facebook was planning to pay Illinois users for violating their facial recognition laws. This week, we found out that each Illinois user will receive a $338 check — less than a third of the state’s recommended payment, but $550 million in actual payout. Ars Technica has details.

8. Protip – Zoom’s Hidden Watermarks

You may not be surprised to learn that people can figure out who has leaked a videoconference recording. Lifehacker describes some of the watermarking tools at your organization’s disposal.

9. Screening Room – Draw Ketchup

Heinz Canada came up with this winner of seemingly random people equating their brand with the word “ketchup”. Likely not shown: any other brand.

   10. Coffee Break

Jimmy Buffet fans are known as Parrotheads, but real parrots apparently sing along when their human plays Led Zeppelin. Man, we’ve all had a lot of extra time at home. Rock out on Twitter.

11. Sign of the Times

Good Monday morning. It’s January 11th. SpaceX Dragon undocks from the International Space Station today and will splash down near Florida tonight. Details, including tracking information, at NASA.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,209 words–about a 4  1/2 minute read.

Reminder: there’s no Spotlight next week as we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

1. News to Know Now

a. Haven, the health care startup formed by Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway has closed. The companies reported that they continue to work on their own health initiatives although Amazon did not comment on a report that it plans to offer medical care to non-employees. Amazon Pharmacy opened in the U.S. in mid-November.

b. Amazon’s delivery systems, booming during the pandemic, will be augmented by its purchase of 11 planes and changing drone requirements. The Wall Street Journal reported during the weekend that Amazon and Walmart are using new algorithms to determine whether it makes economic sense to process a return for cheaper items or whether to refund some customers and allow them to keep or donate an item.

c. Consumers who filed their taxes with TurboTax are having their stimulus checks routed to them now after a delay. H & R Block and TurboTax maker Intuit use temporary bank accounts to process payments, and the federal government attempted to use those account numbers for stimulus payments. This Lifehacker article can help if you use those products and believe that you’re missing a payment.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
Google County-Level Mobility Reports

NEW:State-by-state vaccine distribution tracker
NEW:Johns Hopkins & Maryland Personal Mortality Risk Calculator
NEW:Brown Medical School’s COVID Risk Calculator

COVID-19 Tech News

Amazon Eases New Seller Delivery Requirements  – CNBC
Amazon To Vaccinate Warehouse, Whole Foods Staff – Seattle Times
COVID Misinfo Superspreaders Thriving on Facebook – The Hill
Google Offering Free Weekly COVID Tests to Employees – The Verge
Microsoft Gives $110 Million More to Nonprofits, Schools – Microsoft
Newest COVID Weapon: AI That Speed-Reads Faxes – Wired

This November video uses crochet to show how the COVID infection rate can drastically change the pandemic’s course.

3. Search Engine News

Two new nontraditional search resources are being tested in Google search results.

The first is a short-form video carousel that will allow people searching on mobile to play Instagram or TikTok videos without leaving Google. Google also owns a pretty big video site called YouTube, and they already show those videos in search results.

There is also news of a homework module in Google search results using information repurposed from homework software companies. Search Engine Land was able to find samples that showed test questions, hints, and help. 

Our take: You must be aware of this trend if you are involved in creating any sort of content. Google will eventually try to parse the information into its own search results. That means that creating value-added content is more important than ever. Consider fact aggregation a dead end if it can be replicated with time or money.

3. Search Engine News

Two new nontraditional search resources are being tested in Google search results.

The first is a short-form video carousel that will allow people searching on mobile to play Instagram or TikTok videos without leaving Google. Google also owns a pretty big video site called YouTube, and they already show those videos in search results.

There is also news of a homework module in Google search results using information repurposed from homework software companies. Search Engine Land was able to find samples that showed test questions, hints, and help. 

Our take: You must be aware of this trend if you are involved in creating any sort of content. Google will eventually try to parse the information into its own search results. That means that creating value-added content is more important than ever. Consider fact aggregation a dead end if it can be replicated with time or money.

4. In the Spotlight — SolarWinds Hack Explained

The SolarWinds hack is a really big deal. Let us highlight what happened and what could happen so you can ask the proper questions in your organization.

We now know that the Russian government hacked three companies that make network software: SolarWinds, Microsoft, and VMware. Russian agents planted malware in the software, and it was spread to hundreds of federal and private sector networks throughout most of 2020. 

We learn more each day about the networks that were compromised. The Justice Department acknowledged last week that the hackers have breached its email system and read emails. We also learned that sealed court records were also at risk.

In addition to DOJ, parts of the Defense, State, Treasury, and Homeland Security networks were compromised. Direct agencies affected include the Pentagon, NIH, and the Nuclear Security Administration. State and local agencies including Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located, and Austin, Texas, were also hit as was hardware maker Cisco Systems, Cox Communications, and Equifax.

Although his administration has said otherwise, President Donald Trump blames China, not Russia, for the attack, and has inaccurately said that the hack is under control. We will not understand the extent of the systems and functions compromised for years if not longer. One example: Microsoft acknowledges that the Russian government now has the source code for its industry standard Office 365 software including Outlook email software.

Our take: Designate someone in your organization to be your point person on the SolarWinds hack or you’ll run the risk of multiple people only understanding parts of the issue. Have them work with your IT people to understand your vulnerability and to monitor news.

5. Debunked — Fun with Dr. Fauci

The Try Guys is a YouTube based show that grew from a popular BuzzFeed feature. Consider them adorkable — four guys in their early 30s who do goofy things together.

On Friday they released a 15 minute interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci. They have more than 7 million subscribers so Fauci talking with them is no different from him talking with a network news show. Plus he laughs a lot because they’re goofballs.

This is the perfect thing to watch with tweens and teens or just to get a refresher on how the vaccines work while shutting down any disinformation about it.

6. Following Up — Capitol IT Security Mess

In addition to coping with the SolarWinds hack, the IT team at the Capitol is dealing with unknown IT issues resulting from the terror attack there last week by supporters of President Donald Trump.

At least one laptop is known to be missing, and any devices or logged in equipment have to be thoroughly checked. The staff also has to look now for hidden microphones and cameras. 

Wired has a fantastic piece examining the issue.

7. Protip — Tips Worth Your Time

Catchall tip columns are often hit-or-miss, but this lovely USA Today piece has a little something for everyone. I had no idea that the symbol on USB cables guide you into correctly plugging them in.

You’ll also learn about back taps on iPhones and where Zoom keeps its “Touch Up My Appearance” option. Yes, that’s really a thing. 

Read it here.

Screening Room — Sibling Trade

This delightful spot is a 15 second master class that shows how great ad giants like McDonald’s nail their spots. They got the laugh, the branding, and the sale — with time to spare.

9. Coffee Break — A Fifteen Foot Tall Piano

Again, fifteen feet tall, not wide.

Have a listen here, and watch its inventor show you around.

We can help your organization online. Learn how we promote your message, build your audience, and track data and optimize the results.

Good Monday morning. It’s December 21st.  This is the last issue of Spotlight this year. We will see you back here after all the celebrating. Wear a mask if you’re out and about. Get the vaccine if you can. I want you around for a very long time.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,368 words — about a 5 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Facebook restarted some political advertising, but they are limited to the U.S. Senate elections in Georgia. This is a continuing problem for non profit organizations during their biggest fundraising season. Facebook defines organizations working in civil rights, the environment, health care, security, gun violence prevention, and education as political advertisers. They have not been able to advertise — even for fundraising purposes — since the polls closed on Election Day. 

b. Adult website Pornhub removed all content from its website that was not uploaded by one of its partners or models. The company scrambled fast after New York Times columnist Nick Kristof published an essay on December 4 about nonconsensual content that might be on the site. The company denied the charge, but quickly instituted a policy change when Mastercard and Visa began investigating whether they would continue to accept payments on the site. Pornhub and its competitors have some of the largest volume of web traffic in the world. They get more monthly visitors than PayPal, Spotify, Wikipedia, and every major bank and media enterprise. The website logged 42 billion visits last year, a daily rate of 115 million. 

c. Amazon’s Alexa assistant is now a real-time translator for people speaking English and one of these languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and  Hindi. A user can ask Alexa to begin translating, and the device (including the phone app) will translate both sides of the conversation. 

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker
NPR’s County-Level Hospital Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

Clever Strategy: Distribute Covid Aid With Satellite Data – Wired
Debunked Covid Myths Survive Online Despite Facts – The Associated Press
SimpliSafe Offers Social Distancing Sweater – MediaPost
Social Media Already Losing Vaccine Misinfo Fight – Recode

3. Search Engine News

Data Google Provided

  • Google confirmed last Wednesday that its Core Update rollout finished. That’s a big update that Google makes several times a year. You should annotate your search reports now to indicate that Google rolled out a major update between December 3 and December 16.
  • Search Engine Land reported that Google is now testing a website results section on Google Maps. That’s big news for all and huge for retail.
  • Google announced that its Augmented Reality features in search now allow you to project Baby Yoda into images of your room or to test different cosmetics on your face. Not one to wear makeup, I was more interested in Baby Yoda, but Google is regularly updating its AR capabilities so be thinking about how your organization can leverage that.

What Google Debunked

  • Responding to a user question on Twitter, Googler John Mueller said that Google does not prioritize any particular publishing platform for indexing. He continued, “It’s not uncommon to see some pages from new sites get crawled quickly, and old sites to get crawled slowly (say if we haven’t seen useful changes there in a long time). It’s not the rule, but it can happen.” (h/t SEO Roundtable)

4. In the Spotlight — Google Advertising Lawsuit Filed

If you’re playing the home version of the “Let’s Break Up The World’s Largest Search Engine Game,” regulators sued Google twice last week, including filing a highly anticipated Google advertising lawsuit.

Here’s what’s going on:

The first suit: Distribution and Access — October.

The Department of Justice joined with multiple states in alleging that Google pays billions of dollars each year to ensure that it functions as the internet’s gatekeeper. Google was accused of behaving in an anticompetitive manner because it acted in a way that denied competitors access to mobile devices and other online placements.

The second suit: Advertising — December 2020

This Google advertising lawsuit was filed by nine Republican state attorneys general with Texas’ Ken Paxton in the lead. The suit in Texas alleges that Google’s advertising reach harms consumers by raising costs for companies promoting their goods and services. The advertising suit also claims that Google and Facebook colluded to control the digital advertising market.

The third suit: Preferential Search Results — December 2020

Thirty-eight states and territories filed a complaint alleging that Google’s search results unfairly show the company’s products that compete with advertisers. The suit accuses the company of creating entry barriers that require companies providing similar services to pay Google for advertising to be shown higher in the search results.

Everyone Else — Now & 2021

The FTC notified nine Big Tech companies that it wants specific information regarding collection and use of user data, advertising targeting, algorithms that determine what content is shown, market and analytics research regarding user engagement, and business practices related to children and teens. The nine companies that must furnish the data within 45 days are Amazon, TikTok, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube. 

Our Take: The Google advertising lawsuit is the big one because advertising generates the revenue that pays for nearly everything else. This is also the suit alleging Google and Facebook collusion. That explosive revelation defines the narrative for all actions against either company. The FTC is also conducting a pretty broad fishing expedition. Remember that the FTC is independent and bipartisan. Their activity will not change much if at all in a new Biden administration.

5. Debunked — Surgeon General on Vaccines

Outgoing Surgeon General Jerome Adams was interviewed by Yahoo Finance on Wednesday and did a good job acknowledging concerns about the vaccine with this statement:

“I keep saying it’s OK to have questions. Because there are some real harms that have been done to people of color in the past in the name of science by the government, by medical officials, the Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks who got her cells taken without her permission. And so people rightly have some distrust based on what’s happened historically.”

Read the short but worthwhile interview here.

6. Following Up — Walmart Tests Driverless Trucks

We’ve been telling you about Walmart’s aggressive plans to keep up with Amazon on delivery. Last week the company announced that it is using a multi-temperature truck to move items between a fulfillment center and store two miles apart. The trucks have been operating with a supervising human driver and logged 70,000 miles. Now they’ll be testing the route without a driver.

Walmart’s Announcement

7. Protip — Easiest Video Chat Services for Families

Yeah, sure, you’re a Zoom expert, but you’ll undoubtedly be talking with people who aren’t as well versed at video conferencing.

Review Geek breaks down Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft options.

Screening Room – Beerman

We’ve watched a lot of poignant ads together this year.
This is not one of them. Merry Christmas.

9. Coffee Break — The Tops in 2020

You apparently love our animal-themed coffee breaks more than any others. After crunching the data, it was our furry friends (along with one slimy one) that you clicked on the most. Here are the most popular 2020 Coffee Breaks:

1. We looked into moose licking road salt from cars, and it’s true. This great Canadian segment shows one of the very large creatures in action. It’s on YouTube.

2. Brod, the adorable Bernese Mountain Dog who lives with Irish President Michael D. Higgins, crashed an early March International Women’s Day event and looked for his human. Once he found him, he plopped down and demanded belly rubs. Of course there is video.

3. Back to Canada we go for a recent CBC documentary showing an octopus interacting with a human handler. See a one minute long clip on Twitter here.

4. Sometimes you just have to let loose and do what you love. That’s the lesson from Leny the Golden Retriever as he runs up a hill to slide down and then dashes up again. Watch Leny here on a short loop.

I’ll let myself out. Enjoy.