Good Monday Morning

It’s March 20th. The Fed Open Market Committee meets Wednesday. Since their March 17, 2022 meeting, they’ve increased the fed funds rate 8 times, from a very low 0.25% to the current 4.75%.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,030 words — about 4 minutes to read.

Spotlight On … a TikTok Ban

The Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese owner to sell the company. Americans’ data may be accessible to Chinese officials, so politicians worry that the app may be used for propaganda and censorship or in service of a nebulous “national security” reason. Talk of a TikTok ban is increasing again.

TikTok creators take the threat of a ban seriously. Many have recommended alternative social media channels to their followers over the last week as the political heat increases.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday. He will reportedly tell committee members that 150 million Americans over 13 now have TikTok accounts. Data collection and moderation practices are expected to be discussed in the hearing. He will likely also discuss Oracle’s recent billion dollar hosting deal. Tech execs including Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have previously testified before the same committee.

Approximately half of all states already ban TikTok on state-owned devices. Indiana AG Todd Rokita will lead a lawsuit over the app’s privacy and mature content policies, he announced.

Among federal officials, FBI Director Christopher Wray called the app dangerous. News also broke last week that the Justice Department is investigating the app’s surveillance of American journalists as it tries to learn how they obtained leaked data.

Where People Visit Often … like really a lot

A TikTok ban would be highly unpopular with young voters.

  • Two-thirds of TikTok users in the U.S. are under 30.
  • TikTok usage among Gen Z exceeds Instagram usage.
  • 40% of TikTok users don’t use Facebook and 63% don’t use Twitter.

Pew Research reported last year that 10% of U.S. adults regularly get news from TikTok, up from 3% just two years ago. The average TikTok user spends a startling 95 minutes per day on the app, three times Facebook’s average.

Our Take On A TikTok Ban

We tell clients TikTok is a broadcast channel, not social media. Commenting and sharing are available, but TikTok’s engagement rates are 15% and dropping as users watch the videos sorted by an incredibly effective algorithm. Secondly, Netflix — that other big video viewing app — is TikTok’s biggest brand account.

Politicians will have to make a compelling argument to ban such a ubiquitous product enjoyed by so many voters between 18-30. The app has not been sold, despite Microsoft, Walmart, and Oracle’s past interest in an acquisition. And so far there’s no smoking gun worth antagonizing half of voters under 30 as the 2024 presidential campaign begins in earnest.

3 More Stories to Know

1) A California appeals court said gig workers at Uber, Lyft, and similar companies can continue working as independent contractors. California officials have been seeking to reclassify drivers as employees, a move that industry says will increase prices.

2) Having secured his accounts on Twitter and Facebook, former President Donald Trump had access to his YouTube account restored last Friday. In 2020, the Trump campaign spent $89 million on Facebook and $56 million on Google properties. For now, the restored accounts will allow his campaign to advertise there again.3) In a powerful show of how bots work, Rolling Stone broke news that Twitter users who used the N-word or other terms were tweeted at by a bot offering cheap guns for sale.

 Waiting in the Wings

  • Our 3rd annual look at law enforcement technology
  • Protecting yourself from location data
  • What you can really do with those chatbots

Put your email address in the form at this link and you’ll get a free copy of Spotlight each Monday morning to start your week in the know.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — Viral “PYREX” Post Is Untrue

This is usually where Politifact, the Associated Press, and media outlets address conspiracy theories, but the latest consumer story is worthy of your time. It seems that users on multiple networks have spread the story that “PYREX” cookware is better than “pyrex” branded cookware. Lifehacker debunks the claim complete with their wonderful snarkiness.

 Following Up — Another Bad Facial Recognition Arrest

We’ve written before about police misusing facial recognition software and obtaining arrest warrants for people who have never been in their jurisdiction. Now there’s word from Maryland that a man was arrested last year for assaulting a bus driver and stealing a phone on the basis of a facial recognition match. 

The man police mistakenly arrested is twenty years older and seven inches taller than the criminal.

Protip — TikTok Account Reset

Maybe you lingered too long over clips from a show or recipes and now TikTok serves up too much similar content for your liking. Here’s how to use the new reset button to see new content. 

Screening Room New This Girl Can With You

Science Fiction World — Marines Hide Under Box To Fool Robot

Robo-shaped dogs and cyborgs that can fire guns are scary sights, but a recent book describes how eight different Marines were able to fool a robot sentry by hiding under a cardboard box or somersaulting toward the robot using techniques the author called “straight out of a Looney Tunes episode.”

Coffee Break —  25 Tweets That Changed Things

This beautiful NYT interactive (no paywall for this piece) highlights good and bad tweets that helped shape our times: the pandemic, war, storms, birtherism, and more.

Sign of the Times

Good Monday Morning

It’s March 13th. Friday is St. Patrick’s Day and also falls during Lent. Because observant Catholics often eat meatless dishes on Lenten Fridays, The Catholic News Agency has compiled a map showing which diocesan bishops have granted dispensation to allow their faithful to indulge in corned beef. So far, 80 bishops of 137 who answered are allowing the traditional holiday meal.

Today’s Spotlight is 986 words — about 4 minutes to read.

Spotlight On …  Airbnb

In February, Airbnb reported its first-ever profit with 2022 net income of $1.89 billion. The company says it has 6.6 million active property listings, but continues to face negative attention over fees, safety, and privacy. Municipal officials in multiple cities are also concerned about lost tax revenues and housing shortages.

New York City Landlords Want Bans

New city regulations limit short-term rentals and tax landlords who rent out their properties. City officials also pushed for more enforcement of existing regulations, including fines for landlords. Reports indicate that the owners of 1,500 NYC buildings have signed up for a short-term rental ban on properties that they own.

Airbnb Screening Out Visitors

Airbnb “sometimes” bans guests associated with people it considers a safety threat, Motherboard reported last week. One woman was flagged by Airbnb’s 3rd party verification service late last year for an unresolved leash law and dog license violation a decade earlier. She lost her first appeal, but media attention led to her reinstatement.

Ratings Inflation

On a 5-star scale, Airbnb’s average rating was 4.74 in 2022, perhaps owing to Airbnb removing poorly performing hosts and properties and no longer counting those low ratings. One Airbnb host now sells refrigerator magnets on Etsy that explain to guests that hosts averaging 4.7 stars risk being delisted. 

Cameras On Premises

Hosts laud the ability to monitor their property while it’s vacant or has new guests. Others say guests appreciate knowing the property’s exterior can be monitored, but hidden cameras or those in bedrooms and bathrooms are not allowed. Those disclosures cover a lot of surveillance. One renter told Business Insider she uses her camera to watch out for unaccompanied minors and parties. Her camera also lets her charge guests extra for early arrivals and late departures.

Roami Closes Another Financing Round

The short-term rental market is crowded, including Expedia unit Vrbo, but newly-rebranded Roami is catching attention for its business model. Formerly Sextant Stays, the company owns 500 units in South Florida and New Orleans and manages the customer’s entire experience like a hotel while also offering short-term rental listings. Last week, Roami raised $14 million in equity to invest in new properties.

3 More Stories to Know

1) Some well-known tech companies may face big losses after Silicon Valley Bank crashed on Friday. Streaming service Roku holds nearly $500 million in deposits, while Roblox holds $150 million. Both companies have reported that they are not expecting significant difficulties as a result of the bank’s failure.

Friday was probably not a good day for Wells Fargo to also suffer what it called technical issues that caused some customers’ direct deposits to not be credited to their accounts. The bank said it would ensure customers were not charged any fees as a result of the problem.2)  After hearing enough about GPT-3, get ready for GPT-4. The new version of the software will be released this week, according to Microsoft Germany CTO Andreas Braun. The software was developed by Open AI, which Microsoft has invested more than $10 billion in.

3) Facebook parent Meta is preparing for more layoffs, according to WSJ reporting this weekend. Meta laid off 11,000 people last year and plans to cut a similar number. These are the company’s first broad layoffs ever, and so far workers have received at least four months’ severance, with some receiving more based on tenure.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — Falsehoods Spread Faster Online

Three MIT researchers have completed the largest longitudinal study of falsehoods online and say that untruths reach people up to six times faster than the truth. They also report that the spread of false information online is increasing.

Following Up — LastPass Hack Was At Employee’s Home

After sharing stories of multiple incursions and hacks of password manager LastPass, we learned some truly awful news last week.  After the most recent hack, criminals targeted four DevOps employees at home. One of them was using an unpatched media server at home that hackers managed to infiltrate. They then used the employee’s credentials to gain entrance to LastPass and steal millions of encrypted password records. The employee’s unpatched software was almost three years out of date.

PSA: Stop skipping your software updates. 

Protip — USA Today’s Four Flags To Check Airbnb Listings

Even USA Today piled on to Airbnb last week. The paper shares four flags to check listings for scams — including the very smart reverse image search.

Screening Room New This Girl Can With You

Science Fiction World — Chocolate 3D Printers Come Home

They’re not quite Star Trek replicators yet, but Cocoa Press is selling home and commercial 3D printers that use chocolate instead of plastic as a base. An assembly kit is $1,500 and prebuilt commercial units are $4,000.

Coffee Break —  Check Air Pollution in Your Neighborhood

The Guardian has published an amazing interactive map that lets you see the amount of fine particulate air pollution in each of the 85,000 census tracts in the US. It’s an important measure of air pollution that causes and exacerbates health conditions.

Top 3 worst areas: Bakersfield, South Los Angeles, and Chicago’s South & West Sides.

Explore here.

Sign of the Times

Good Monday Morning

It’s February 27th. Stop using your air fryer if you own one of the two million that have been sold by Cosori. Their website has details.

Today’s Spotlight is 960 words — about 3 1/2 minutes to read.

Spotlight On …  AI Cheating

As technology advances, AI cheating – making false documents, taking tests, or manipulating video footage – is a growing concern. The potential for AI to be misused grows as it gets more sophisticated, and society is ill-prepared.

Not Photographs, But Still Art

Most focus is on tools such as ChatGPT and Bing’s new chatbot search engine, but this month Jos Avery’s photography secret emerged. He maintained an Instagram following based on his unique portrait photography. But instead of a camera, he used Midjourney, a publicly accessible image model and edited the results. Avery claims he typically creates 85 images per editable image he then manipulates in software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Many photographers are furious, but as one observer pointed out, he is simply another artist.

Yet Avery was perpetuating AI cheating, potentially taking someone else’s work and using it to create his own art. Many photographers consider that copyright infringement. Stock image giant Getty Images has accused Stability A.I. of using more than 12 million Getty photographs to train its artificial intelligence image generator, Stable Diffusion.

Video Challenges Include Porn 

AI generative models can create realistic-looking video of someone doing or saying something they never did, or manipulate an existing video to change its meaning. That can be a boon for a movie or television project with the actor’s approval. Harrison Ford, 80, told Variety that his upcoming fifth Indiana Jones movie includes footage of him manipulated to make it appear as though he hadn’t aged since he last played the role decades ago.

Deepfakes and AI-generated videos continue to challenge fact checkers and historians. With deepfakes, videos appear real but are actually manipulated to show something that didn’t happen. The technology has been used to create misleading videos of politicians, celebrities, and ordinary people.

Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of deepfake porn. Through technology, porn producers can create videos apparently featuring celebrities and other public figures, but increasingly also abusing women who aren’t in the spotlight.

This technology, according to activist Mia Landsem, has made it easier for content creators to integrate the faces of non-consenting women into pornography. Those videos further objectify and dehumanize women, often causing psychological distress and reputational damage. One rare government agency that helps, The UK Revenge Porn Helpline, logs thousands of calls each year.

Tricking a Bank’s Voice Authentication

Even audio fakes are causing AI cheating problems. Voice authentication systems are not as secure as other biometrics, leaving criminals an opening using synthesized voices. Writing in Vice last week, Joseph Cox demonstrated how he tricked his bank, which uses voice authentication, to gain access to his account using a synthesized version of his voice. Cox says he needed only five minutes of audio and some software.

3 More Stories to Know

1)  TikTok parent company ByteDance has launched Lemon8 in the US and UK.  The app is a mix of Pinterest and early-Instagram. Videos aren’t allowed, and there’s still plenty of empty categories. The app was downloaded one million times when it was released in Japan last summer.

2) The Justice Department accused Google of destroying records in the government’s antitrust suit against the company. Google employees routinely used an instant-messaging app that deleted chats after 24 hours while discussing sensitive company information. 

3) 14% of Gen Z (aged tweens to mid-20s) are getting their news information from TikTok according to a new analysis by Morning Consult. Nearly half of Baby Boomers and Gen X said they get most news information online from YouTube.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — Ted Cruz & the Xbox

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stoked more culture wars by saying that “they” were gunning for gas stoves, coffee, and your Xbox. The short version is that Microsoft when the game console updates to be more eco-friendly. Poynter does a fabulous job demonstrating how they fact-checked this misleading statement. I can’t recommend it enough to you.

 Following Up — Prompt Engineers

We’ve written so much about generative AI for a couple of years now that it’s sometimes hard to remember that half of adults don’t know (or maybe care) what it is. Meanwhile, the hot new trend in tech job circles might be “prompt engineers”–people who have the skills to devise unique, effective prompts that coax generative AI models to output something close to what was hoped for or planned.

Protip — Don’t Accidentally Share Your Location

Not sharing your location with every app maker and their marketing partner can be inexplicably difficult. Wired gives some great advice about how to protect yourself.

Screening Room —  Canada’s Humanitarian Coalition

Science Fiction World — Starlink’s Satellite Broadband

It’s touted as broadband anywhere on land for about $200 per month. That’s the price of SpaceX’s Starlink service. The company also has maritime products starting at $5,000 monthly and aviation products at $25,000 monthly.

Coffee Break —  What Historical Icons Might Look Like Today

This artist disclosed that the images are doctored with software. See Al Capone, Ben Franklin, and Babe Ruth among other historical icons reimagined in today’s time. 

Sign of the Times