Good Monday morning to you.  It’s February 24th.

My parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Sunday, March 1. A Leap Day every four years pushes their anniversary celebration back one day. Only five percent of all marriages reach 50 years, and there is no readily available data for longer periods. My wife and I are blessed because her aunt and uncle were married 69 years and now my parents have also reached 60.  May you and your loved ones be so blessed. And happy anniversary with many more to come, Mom and Dad.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,384 words and takes about 5 ½ minutes to read.

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1. News To Know Now

1.  The IRS is cautioning taxpayers to use two-factor authentication on tax preparation software. Those romantic softies issued the warning on Valentine’s Day. The agency said that “nearly two dozen tax practitioner firms” have reported data thefts this year. The agency has also backed away from a stance of considering video game virtual currency taxable, according to CNN reporting.

2. Tens of millions of Chinese students are unable to attend public schools because of COVID-19 virus closures. Officials have switched to online teaching to avoid further scheduling disruptions. As with their approach to fast hospital construction, the government has enlisted telecom firms to create enough bandwidth for 50 million simultaneous connections. News also broke late Sunday that South Korea has postponed the start of its school year by one week. MIT Technology Review has more.

3.  School students in New Mexico, meanwhile, may have a new provider if a lawsuit filed by the state against Google succeeds. The state alleges that Google’s free email and office suite products and discounted computers are used in the school system, allowing Google to unlawfully collect data from children under the age of 13. Get the details at Consumer Reports.

2. YouTube News

Alphabet revealed this month that its YouTube unit generated $15.1 billion in 2019 revenue, up 36% in one year and nearly double its 2017 performance. That makes YouTube’s revenue about 75% of the size of Netflix, a company with a $166 billion market cap. 

YouTube’s 20 million paid subscribers still trails other music services like Spotify (124 million), Apple (60 million), and Amazon Music (55 million), but it’s non-subscribing 1 billion users generate revenues that dwarf the others. As a result, Alphabet reports that it paid music rights holders $3 billion last year, which some industry analysts believe still lags Spotify and the others.

With a big number painted on YouTube’s news, regulators are looking hard at content uploaded by consumers and non-big brand users. The BBC’s Chris Fox filed a fantastic story about “fake kitchen hacks” that generated billions of views but don’t work. His video follows this story.

Andy Parker is experiencing an unimaginable YouTube news trauma. His daughter Allison was a reporter killed with her cameraman during a live television segment more than four years ago. Parker filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last week because YouTube continues to host videos that show her murder. Parker joins Sandy Hook parents and others in complaining about the site’s responsiveness and its requirements to remove content.

There is horrifying content on YouTube, news and entertainment content. The Verge has done stellar reporting in the last year about contracts Accenture has to moderate Internet content and reported last month that Accenture employees were required to sign waivers acknowledging that the work could cause post-traumatic stress disorder. The Verge has details of employees paid $18.50 per hour to view videos flagged for extreme violence.

YouTube is the second most visited website in the world behind only corporate sibling Google and ahead of four Chinese sites and Facebook.

Smart links about YouTube News
 Alphabet Q4 and 2019 earnings (PDF)
How Many Users…” at Music Ally
YouTube Says It Paid…” at Music Business Worldwide
Father of Slain Journalist…” at The Washington Post
YouTube Moderators Are Being Forced…” at The Verge

YouTube News: It’s not you, it’s the food hacks.

3. Google Search Updates

Google announced that it removed 75 million policy-violating reviews and 4 million fake business profiles from Google Maps using automation. Those profiles included 10 million photos and 3 million videos. Map spam has been an issue since before Google Maps was launched, and we applaud any cleanup, but this is unfortunately a never-ending process.And there were undoubtedly false positives so pay attention to your listings.

The company also announced that it will ramp up its efforts to deliver downloads via non-encrypted connections. Beginning in March, Google Chrome users will receive a warning when trying to download a non-encrypted file. Google will begin blocking non-encrypted executable files with the release of Chrome 83 scheduled for June. 

Users accessing unencrypted PDFs, videos, images or music files will receive warnings beginning in March and be completely blocked by October. That means if your entire website isn’t serving completely encrypted files, you are going to start scaring your users with a warning in the next few weeks.  Bleeping Computer has more details

4. Debugged:  No Free Ticket Giveaway

Alaska Air wants you to know that it continues to see “Anniversary Offer” scams about the ariline floating around Facebook. They got concerned enough to post a blog entry with lots of images and tips showing how to tell a real promotion from a fake promotion.

Good advice that translates to other companies.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Twitter Disinformation

Twitter is under increasing pressure to keep misinformation and disinformation (deliberate untruths) clearly labeled as such. And it’s asking users to police the site for election misinformation that can now be reported via  a special area under the “Report an Issue” function.

NBC News reported last week that the company is also experimenting with orange and yellow backgrounds on tweets that have inaccurate information. 

The election information is as worrisome as a Brown University study publicized last week that found 25% of tweets about climate change denial or rejecting climate science were written by automated “bots”. Fewer than 5% of tweets advocating climate change action were posted by bots.

6. Great Data: Watch A Map Sketch

Sometimes you want a map of a town or area’s for purposes other than navigation. There are artistic reasons or logos or all sorts of creative ways to use an isolated street map. It’s a smart use of free geographical data that map providers don’t necessarily make easy to access.

Make your own here.

7. Protip:  Detecting ISP Throttling

Maybe your equipment is slow. Maybe there’s just a slowdown at your ISP. Or maybe your ISP has had it up to here with your data-using ways and has reduced your bandwidth.

CNET takes you on a step-by-step journey to find out if that’s the case.

8. Following Up: Dot Org Domains

We’ve been updating you regularly about the proposed sale of the dot org domain registry to a private firm. We learned last week that Ethos Capital, the private firm, has agreed to cap the .org price for 8 years at 10% per year. That means that the maximum wholesale price for a one year domain name registration in 2028 will be around $21.

Domain Name Wire has more deal news.

9. Great New Ads: Sephora

Watching this journey as a girl ages to maturity is so good that you almost forget that you’re watching a longform advertisement.

10. Coffee Break: Unseen YouTube Videos

Imagine that you can click on a website and view “unnamed, unedited, and previously unseen” videos uploaded to YouTube. 

Have fun on this journey!

Previous Issues:
Internet Manipulation | Disinformation | Facebook Memo Leaked

Good Monday morning to you.  It’s February 10th. Valentine’s Day starts ninety hours after this arrived in your email.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,441 words and takes about 5 ½ minutes to read.

Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

Quick scheduling note: Spotlight is off next week because of the President’s Day holiday. We’ll see you again on Monday, February 24.

1. News To Know Now

1.  An Amazon-Goldman Sachs small business lending program began capturing people’s attention early last week. Our attention is captured whenever Amazon partners with Wall Street. The retail giant is already partnering with JP Morgan on their Amazon Care program covering employee health benefits. Separately, Amazon has moved to trademark Amazon Pharmacy in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and 13 other countries according to CNBC.

2. Researchers received news of a boonvia Bloomberg News that the Trump administration is considering an executive order requiring that research papers be published online without paywalls if they were paid for with federal tax funds. Twitter has also hopped on the research bandwagon with an announcement that academic researchers can access their public data via an API. Get more info about that here.

3.  Alphabet subsidiary Waymo is partnering with UPS in Phoenix to deliver packages between UPS Stores and its area delivery hub in self-driving Chevy Pacifica minivans. The company is also providing self-driving ride hailing services in Phoenix. 

Breaking Sunday night: Facebook’s new desktop beta is rolling out to some users. Here’s what it looks like on my PC. I don’t know when non-beta users will get it, but there’s a new dark mode as well as bigger text  The best functional change: Facebook now remembers where you were in your newsfeed when you navigate away to read something else on the site.

2. Internet Manipulation

Many consumers remain leery of complete automation for tasks like driving. And while many if not most human drivers piloting their vehicles are distracted at least part of the time, there also ways that internet signals can prove troublesome.

One occurred in Berlin last week when artist Simon Wickert posted video of himself pulling a red wagon through deserted streets near Google’s local offices. The wagon was loaded with nearly one hundred Android phones, causing the Google Maps program to show the area had high traffic.  Here is the video of the benign but powerful experiment that he posted.

Teenage Instagram users are using a variant of Wickert’s one phone equals one person exploit by sharing secondary and tertiary accounts among trusted groups of users. They share accounts in a convoluted way that scrambles Instagram’s abilities to identify who interacted with content. The benefit is that nosy parents and pesky college admissions officers can’t track their Instagram use.

Images and videos are another Internet manipulation content type that people are using to confuse algorithms. Photoshopping an image is a cliché that even the president amplifies on social media while so-called deepfakes can be processed and created by hobbyists and graphics specialists. An experiment by Ars Technica resulted in a reporter creating a deepfake video for only about $500. Nearly all deepfakes published online are used to simulate female celebrities in sexual activity, but an experiment by comedian Jordan Peele using Barack Obama as a subject is a cautionary tale for what could happen during elections or critical events.

Big Tech is fighting Internet manipulation, especially doctored images. Photoshop maker Adobe announced last year that it can identify manipulated images of a person’s face. Twitter announced last week that users may not upload manipulated media “likely to cause harm” and said that it may choose to label manipulated media. Alphabet subsidiary Jigsaw also announced last week that journalists can now access a free tool they developed to help them spot doctored images.

We highly recommend the BBC article, “The Hidden Signs that Can Reveal a Fake Photo” for anyone who wants more information.

Smart links: Internet manipulation

Teens have figured out …” at CNET
… How Instagram Determines Hiding Images” at Hypebeast
I Created My Own Deepfake — it took 2 weeks and cost $552” at Ars Technica
Deepfakes are a real political threat” at Vox
Tool to Help Journalists” at The New York Times

3. Google Search Updates

Google’s Chrome browser released a new version last week, and users should make sure they’ve been updated because there are some great advances. The biggest changes include more restrictions on how websites can use cookies to track visitors and blocking website notifications. ZDNet runs down all the changes with all the links here.

Also new to Google search this week is a new capability for iOS users to search Google with the command “Hey Siri, Search Google for [keyword].” Search Engine Journal takes you step-by-step through the setup.

If you’re a criminal, you may want to watch out how you use Google. Miami’s Fox 7 has the story of 18-year-old Amos Shuler who stole a woman’s car. The woman’s mobile phone was inside the car. The thief was using the phone to search for stories about his past robberies. He included his name in the search queries. The fact that we now know his name should connect the rest of the dots for you.

4. Debugged: Iowa, Facebook, and Twitter

There is no shortage of criticism due after last week’s botched Iowa caucuses, but others are more concerned with the amount of misinformation about them that made its way online via Facebook and Twitter.

Wired broke down the misinformation about the caucuses that arose from sources including the president and conspiracy theory websites like Judicial Watch and Epoch Times.

And yes, New Hampshire’s primary is tomorrow.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Business Disclaimers

I attended a funeral Friday at Quantico National Cemetery and was surprised to hear an announcement after the service. “You may visit from sunup to sundown,” the staff member told the mourners. “If you look online, Facebook and others might say we’re closed, but that means the office. If our flag is flying, you can visit.”

The announcement is the sort of workaround done by conscientious employees all over the world. Here is how we really do things, says an employee. Ignore anything else published.

You need to find out if this happens in your organization and fix it. When I examined the cemetery’s Facebook listing, I found an unofficial page with nearly 25,000 visits and 1,195 likes. The official Facebook page run by the cemetery had 759 page likes and 52 visits.  Fifty-two.  

Here’s the kicker: combining the unofficial page into the official is easy. Setting your operating hours is also easy on every platform.  By the time you read this, I’ll have already called Quantico and told them how to fix things. And now I’m doing the same for your organization. 

6. Great Data: Worldwide Sprawl Map

Maps are effective when used to visualize complex data. The fantastic Global Sprawl Map measures connectivity of streets throughout the world and goes down to the street level in many instances. Well connected streets are walkable and served by public transportation. Sprawl is characterized by poor connections–a maze of cul-de-sacs and loops. 

There’s a random zoom that is a fun time-waster.

7. Protip:  Finding Old and Big Email Attachments

If you’re running low on free Gmail space, a simple search command can help you find big attachments that you may not need any more.

Lifehacker will help you do that.

8. Following Up: Clearview AI & Dot Org Domains

1. We told you two weeks ago about Clearview AI and the way that its company scrapes Google, Facebook, and other sites to capture their images of people for use in their facial recognition software. CBS News reported last week that Google, YouTube, Venmo, and Linkedin have all sent cease and desist letters to the company.

2. We’ve also been telling you about the sale of the registry that assigns dot org domain names. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is requiring more information regarding the sale, an action that Domain Name Wire estimates will delay the sale for as long as two months.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

Lady Gaga fans find alleged new song name in her website’s code

How to stop Google Maps from keeping a detailed record of everywhere you go

The Jeopardy game show archive

10. Coffee Break: Explore Space with Neal

One of last year’s most popular coffee breaks was a deep sea interactive graphic by Neal Agarwal. He’s back with a feature called “The Size of Space” that is even better and certainly prettier.

Start with an astronaut and work your way up.

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

Good Monday morning. It’s February 3rd.  A busy political week kicks off today with the Iowa caucuses, the continuing impeachment trial of President Trump, and tomorrow night’s State of the Union address. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,603 words and takes about 6 minutes to read.

Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1. Amazon is fighting charges that it pays no taxes. In a written statement Friday, the company said that it was subject to “over $1 billion in federal income tax” and $4 billion in payroll, property, and state taxes. The company famously avoided paying taxes last year. This year’s statement comes a day after Amazon announced record-breaking revenue of $88 billion in the fourth quarter. Amazon also announced that it now has 150 million Prime customers worldwide.

2. Some users of product management software Trello are in for an unhappy surprise. The collaborative task management software uses a default public setting that search engines index. The exposed data includes performance ratings of hundreds of Regus employees, a second board showing personal identification such as lab coat sizes and passwords, and a third company’s board that includes salary, bonus, and contract information. Naked Security has the details.

3. The coronavirus has captured the world’s attention in a way that much more deadly and commonplace influenza never does. Here is a CDC chart showing influenza in the U.S. since 2010. This year’s data is incomplete but the CDC says that 10,000 Americans have died and 180,000 been hospitalized for now-widespread influenza as of January 25.

Pro tip: you can still get a flu shot. It can’t hurt. It may help.

But if you want to see what the online world is doing about coronavirus, Google launched their SOS alert that flags searches related to coronavirus, Facebook announced it is removing false information about the coronavirus, and BlueDot, which uses an AI algorithm that checks foreign news reports and animal and plant disease networks, identified Coronarivus on December 31 — seven days before the CDC and 9 days before the WHO. Score one for us nerds.

2. Facebook Facial Recognition Suit Settled

Facial recognition continues to occupy regulators and activists. Big news erupted this week when Facebook agreed to settle a five year old class action suit for $550 million after losing on appeal. The federal suit was filed in Illinois on behalf of Illinois users whose faces were used to prompt others to tag them in photographs. Those users may now receive up to “a couple of hundred dollars each”, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Despite the large settlement, Facebook posted $7.3 billion in quarterly net income and $18.5 billion for 2019 on $71 billion in revenue. Grandpappy always used to say, “George get yourself a 26% business with a bigger economy than five states.” 

The EU was considering banning facial recognition technology use in public places, but has said that it will look for “clear criteria” when it is used. Former EU city London seemingly has no such qualms and is deploying live facial recognition throughout the city to look for “wanted individuals” regarding serious crimes. 

The incidence of misidentification especially of nonwhite people continues to be a problem for existing technology. A federal study released in December says that Native American, Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white males. 

The U.S. military already uses facial recognition but has at least two multimillion dollar projects developing long range facial recognition that would also work in the dark. The DoD project guidelines call for a portable device that works up to 500 yards away. Unlabeled output from MRI devices is also being successfully matched in databases of volunteers. 

Smart links: Facebook and facial recognition

Facebook May Pay Illinois Users …” at the Chicago Tribune
EU No Longer Considering …” at Biometric Update
London to Deploy Live Facial Recognition …” at Ars Technica
Federal Study Confirms Racial Bias …” at the Washington Post
The Military is Building Long-Range Facial …” at OneZero
… Identify Patients from MRI Scans” at The Wall Street Journal

3. Google Search Updates

Don’t believe me. Believe Google’s new video, Top 5 Things To Consider For Your Website.” The fifth item in that video is to hire a search engine optimization expert. I think that is terrific advice, and we happen to be looking for a new client to start in February, so forward this to someone you think that we should be working with and suggest that you introduce us. Your friend or colleague will thank you, and  I already do.

Google also updated its best practices documentation for mobile-first indexing with a significant amount of information. Some important things to note are keeping content consistent between mobile and desktop displays, using the same title tags and other meta tags behind the scenes, and a huge troubleshooting section. 

You can read all of the changes at Search Engine Journal or you can introduce yourself to a great search agency

4. Debugged: Coronavirus Misinformation

Remember: U.S. influenza deaths: 10,000 this flu season. Coronavirus deaths: 362, including one outside of China. 

The coronavirus has not been patented, there are many strains of coronavirus, and it wasn’t started by a comedian.

Fact Check has more debunked nonsense.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Lady Gaga

One of my favorite recent stories describes Lady Gaga’s fans sleuthing her new website to find the title of her upcoming song. They had already spotted the title on an Instagram post last October and confirmed it was hidden in the text of her website.

Daily Dot has the story about Gaga’s little monsters.

6. Great Data: Name Guesser

We’ve written before about Nathan Yau at Flowing Data. One of his recent projects involves a “name guesser” that uses the decade a person was born and their gender to begin guessing their first name.

Nathan describes how he uses publicly available first name data from the Social Security Administration to guess the name. Don’t type anything and you’ll see the most popular letters. Add the first letter, and the choices quickly narrow. Add a second letter to get even closer.

The project is a nice look behind the scenes at how something interesting can be pulled together with great data that is often free and readily available.

Check it out here. You don’t even have to buy a vowel.

7. Protip: Translating in Spreadsheets

If you work at an organization where employees use more than one language, you need to know that Google Sheets has a built-in translation function. Now when you get a spreadsheet with non-English data, you can translate close enough right inside the spreadsheet.

Here is the support page at Google Sheets.

8. Following Up: Avast and AVG Antivirus

We’ve told you countless times not to use Avast and AVG Antivirus software. You probably know the saying that you are the product when the product is free.

Motherboard Vice broke the story last week that Avast sold entire clickstream data from its users. The data was billed as “Every search. Every click. Every buy. On every site.” And the buyers were top corporate names including Pepsi and Home Depot as well as tech giants like Google and Microsoft.

Here is what Avast’s subsidiary Jumpshot delivered as part of a package that Vice examined:

Google searches, lookups of locations and GPS coordinates on Google Maps, people visiting companies’ LinkedIn pages, particular YouTube videos, and people visiting porn websites. It is possible to determine from the collected data what date and time the anonymized user visited YouPorn and PornHub, and in some cases what search term they entered into the porn site and which specific video they watched.

There are good uses for this data. Tools used by marketing firms rely on some of this information to see what search results people click on. Ad Age called the company ” … a place to get unparalleled insights into online behavior.” Search marketer Rand Fishkin accurately said that the data helped businesses of all sizes understand what Amazon, Facebook, and Google were actually doing. 

All of this is fair, but only when someone agrees to use the free software in exchange for their information being stripped of obvious identifiers and sold. 

Here is Vice’s story

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

How to Stop Google Maps from Tracking You at CNBC

Coronavirus Mapping by Johns Hopkins University

Microsoft Launches Tool to Identify Child Sex Predators at NBC News

10. Coffee Break: The Jeopardy Archive

Lady Gaga’s fans have nothing on fans of the Big J. 

A crowd sourced site has an archive of Jeopardy clues of this iteration of the show dating back to Alex Trebek’s pilot in 1983 and 44 of the show’s first episodes the next year.

They’re arranged exactly as they appear on the clue board. It’s … overwhelming.

385,000 and counting clues.

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

photo by Axel Bueckert