Good Monday morning. It’s May 20th. Memorial Day is next Monday. The next issue of Spotlight will be in two weeks on Monday, June 3rd. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 3 minutes to read.

1. News to Know Now

  • Breaking news on Sunday that Google has cut ties with Huawei according to Reuters. That means existing Huawei devices lose access to updates of Google applications and new devices cannot use officially licensed versions of Android. The move was reportedly made after the Trump administration added Huawei to a technology blacklist.
     
  • Intuit continues reeling from the fallout over claims that it redirected taxpayers earning less than $66,000 a year away from the free service it partners with the IRS to provide. At least one class-action lawsuit has been filed.
     
  • Google, Facebook, and Twitter have signed on to The Christchurch Call to Action. Nine countries have also adopted the document, although the United States is not one. You can read more about the initiative designed to curtail extreme online posting at The New Zealand Herald.

2.  Big Security Issues Looming

Microsoft released a patch for Windows XP last week. But wait, I can hear you thinking. Microsoft stopped supporting XP back in 2014. It’s 18 years old! And yes, you’re correct, which should suggest how bad an unpatched system can get hammered by this ransomware virus. If you don’t have IT specialists, get some. If you simply can’t, make sure that any systems that are running old legacy software aren’t also running Windows XP or Windows 7. If they are, you need to patch them. Windows 8.x and 10.x are not affected. Crazy stat of the day: 1.5% of PCs still run Windows XP according to StatCounter. Others suggest more. That’s millions of computers, folks. 

Google’s Titan physical security key also was found to have an exploitable flaw. The problem stems from its connection to a system via Bluetooth instead of being inserted into a USB port. Google says that someone within 30 feet of the security key can communicate with the key itself or the device that it’s protecting. That limits attacks to close physical proximity but still. Google is replacing the keys for free. If you bought one, head to this replacement page.

Google’s more surprising news was that any receipts emailed to your Gmail-based account have been used to create a page on your Google account that lists all of the details for everything you’ve bought online.

I spent some time last week reviewing seven years of my purchases and twelve years of travel information–everything from pizza toppings and the time the pie was ordered to my family’s groceries, our clothing (complete with colors and sizes) to over-the-counter medicines and books about health conditions or other things that I normally wouldn’t want gathered in one place. This was all courtesy of Google purchase tracking–a program that creates a page based on data extracted from any receipt that arrives via Gmail. Conservatively, there are around 400 orders with several thousand items.

Click this link to view your purchase history tied to your Google account.

The data even populates if you forward multiple emails into one big email account. The only time that I found it didn’t populate is if an order was placed on my work email, which is commercial-grade Gmail and probably blocked from overtly gathering that data.

The only way to delete the information is to delete the receipts in your email. Then you can go to your account preferences (click here) and under “Private Results” select the option that reads “Do not use private results”. Even if you delete the data from your account, you must understand that you likely won’t remove Google’s access to that data which is undoubtedly stored on their systems.

Before you do all that, have a look at Google using your private search data with these search query commands. Simply log into Google’s main search page at Google.com, make sure you’re signed in to your account, and type one of these commands.

  • my packages
  • my reservations
  • my events
  • my flights
  • my photos
  • oh yes, and my bills

3. Also In the Spotlight

  • Amazon started selling tiny homes–little $7K sheds with a bedroom (no bath) and outside area for your backyard. Then they sold out.  (Real Deal Real Estate News)
     
  • Quora, the annoying question-and-answer bazaar, is closing a $60 million round that values the company at $2 billion, and I just can’t anymore. (Vox)
     
  • MailChimp finally unveiled their integrated marketing platform that includes a lot of what has been offered piecemeal: landing pages, Facebook advertising, postcards, etc. Existing customer pricing stays intact (thanks!). Their revenue projection is $700 million from 11 million active customers. (TechCrunch)

4. Protip: Google Sheets New Features

Google Sheets, their Suites spreadsheet entrant, has two nifty new functions:  remove duplicates and trim white space.  Both put Sheets’ usability back into rough parity with Excel. 

Find them in the menu bar under “Data” and just below the always-helpful “Split Text into Columns”.

5. Great Data

Netflix data viz engineer Susie Lu has updated the humble grocery store receipt.  Fast Company covered how she used a mix of bar graphs and bubbles to create better visualizations of what you spent $213 on after running in to the store for bread and two cans of dog food. 

You know this is hardcore when you read, “… the printer could not draw horizontal lines, which meant she had to use various visual tricks at the pixel level to create her bar charts, along with the tiny icons of bread, dairy, and meat that she designed, too.” 

Check the tale of the tape here.

6. Coffee Break

That’s a picture of Sean Tighe, Bernie Waldron, and John Devanney from Bellyhaunis in County Mayo. They were in Times Square recently and asked a lass to take a picture for them. “We’ll find it someday,” they told her.

And so they did after she posted this image on Twitter. Read CNN’s fun story on how it took Irish Twitter all of an hour to identify the men and link them with the person who did a good deed in taking their picture.

Good Monday morning. It’s May 13th. Look for a highly publicized op-ed by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to continue attracting attention this week. Hughes is calling for a Facebook breakup…by the FTC. He also wants a new federal agency to be formed to regulate online industry. A video of the op-ed’s highlights is below.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read

Hughes proposes a Facebook breakup in this op-ed video

1. News to Know Now

  • Google Search and Maps will soon offer an incognito mode that blocks Google from receiving information about searches and locations you look for. That’s nice, but that information is still available to your Internet provider if you’re at home or on your phone or to your employer. Remember that anyone providing you Internet service can see what you access using that service.

  • A coalition of privacy groups have filed an FTC complaint over Amazon’s privacy practices regarding the Echo Dot smart speaker for kids. Consumer Reports confirmed that parents could not delete information their children provided to the device. Read their excellent coverage.

2.  Passwords, Facial Recognition & Privacy

One step closer to a world without passwords is what Microsoft Group Manager Yogesh Mehta wrote last week describing how Microsoft Windows 10 users can now use Windows Hello, a mobile phone, or security key when signing into sites and apps that previously required a password. 

Plenty of computing devices accept biometric information instead of passwords. My phone and probably yours will unlock via iris recognition, face recognition or a fingerprint match. And I’ve set things up online to require a separate physical security key (mine is from Yubico—there are others) before accessing sensitive sites or apps.

A big problem with biometrics is that they exist as data throughout the digital world. That seems unsafe  But it’s more secure than the same passwords researchers tell us keep showing up in data breaches. Cyber security researcher Troy Hunt says after each breach that he sees the “same old passwords” like 123456 and password. An index fingerprint match is much more secure for those people.

Journalist MacKenzie Fegan called attention to biometric data already being used in everyday transactions when she boarded a JetBlue flight by looking into a camera instead of her boarding pass scanned or her passport viewed. She engaged in a Twitter conversation with JetBlue where the company admitted that biometric data was sent by the federal government to a Customs and Border Protection database controlling access to the flight. Fegan didn’t separately consent to any of this, and as she wrote.

Digital privacy and security confounds experts too. ArsTechnica is reporting that a hacker collective with ties to the U.S. and Russia is selling source code and network access to three antivirus companies. The group published “strong evidence of the validity of its claims.”  You’re likely not being individually targeted by an international hacker collective, but any organization or individual can be compromised when enough resources are arrayed against it.

3.  Facebook  (Video), Google (Audio) Ranking News

Following their individual developer conferences, Google and Facebook announced new algorithm guidance for anyone whose organization publishes information online.

Hailing “a step toward making audio a first-class citizen across Google“, the company announced that users could search for and play podcasts directly in Google Search.  Google later agreed that it would be playing the audio file as uploaded by the podcaster without edits or excerpts.

Facebook, meanwhile, said that they will update algorithms to “further prioritize” original videos. They stressed past guidance such as successful videos that are at least three minutes long and average more than one minute of viewing. They also continue stressing the notion of original video. 

You’ve undoubtedly seen purported videos on Facebook that are only still images with a tiny bit of motion or short videos that loops several times. Those are likely posted by people trying to game the algorithm, and Facebook promises swift retribution for pages and providers who do this. 

4. Also in the Spotlight

  • Streamer Roku announced blockbuster financial results. The company now has nearly 30 million accounts (!) with average-revenue-per-user (ARPU) of $19.06. Year-over-year account growth was 40% and gross profit was up 60%.  Do not ignore Roku’s platform.

  • Hertz sued Accenture for $32 million in website and mobile app development fees. Ever had a tech project get out of hand? So did Hertz, and it’s a scary object lesson.  Read the mind-boggling story at The Register.

  • Facebook is tightening up ad policies for financial services, specifically blockchain, cryptocurrency, and contracts-for-difference devices. (Search Engine Journal)

5. Great Data

Creating reports about topical trends that include scientific data is tough because the presentation, not the footnotes, should convey the data. Data visualization specialist Lindsay Betzendahl created a nifty infographic that makes sense out of the current measles crisis related to vaccinations. 

She managed to incorporate definitions and facts in an engaging way next to trends and a timeline. It’s a great piece of work that helps explain the situation in today’s news and provides important context.

See The Comeback of a Supposedly Eradicated Virus

6. Coffee Break

One of the winners being honored at today’s Webby Awards are the creators of Below the Surface. A ten year metro line project in Amsterdam allowed archaeologists  to excavate the River Amstel. They cataloged and then displayed online more than 700,000 items. Some were decades old and some were centuries old.

Go exploring in the riverbed.

Good Monday morning. It’s May 6th. Sunday is Mother’s Day, which is a day we choose to celebrate all mothers, including the mothers without children. NPR’s Michel Martin called them “special envoy mothers” 10 years ago. These women are not childless or child free, she wrote, but mothers without portfolio, mothers at heart who help raise everyone’s children.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 3 minutes to read.

1. News to Know Now

Google reporting last week experienced multiple problems. At one point on May 2nd, the data from the past two days was suspect. As of late Saturday night, Google’s latest comment was “we are actively working working on correcting data from 12:01 a.m. on May 1 to 4:00 a.m. on May 2 [PDT].” 

We always use two analytics packages for exactly these reasons. This particular issue deals with Google Ads reporting, but we’ve seen Google Analytics issues in the past too. More commonplace is an internal error or typo at an organization that stops an analytics program from collecting data.

CLIENTS: Your Monday morning reports were sent. We will distribute an update this week when Google reports the ad data has been fixed.

Facebook has banned people who post extreme content or hate-related material to large audiences. The ban was already in effect for several people, but this action also removed their accounts from Facebook-owned Instagram. Whether anyone agrees with the people who were banned is irrelevant since companies like Facebook aren’t required to provide free speech protections to users. 

2.  Twitter, Amazon Rolling Out Spanish Resources

Five percent of the world’s largest websites are published in Spanish–more than any other language except English, Russian, and German. Here in the U.S., nearly 50% of Americans speak Spanish, and some states like New Mexico are rapidly approaching 50% Latinx population. In fact, 47 million U.S. citizens are Hispanic.

Twitter announced a partnership this week with Univision to better serve that community.  Twitter has been available in a Spanish interface for more than 10 years, but this programming allows the social media platform to specifically cover the community’s culture.  Univision’s Spanish-language news, sports, and entertainment content will be available as will some video programming. 

Speaking in Spanish (and German and Japanese) is old hat for Amazon’s Alexa, but there was a catch to changing her native language. Unless you also spoke that language or even in that accent, the device might have trouble understanding you.

Now Amazon is testing a U.S. Spanish-language interface for Alexa before rolling out Spanish language support in the U.S. later this year. You can read the announcement at Amazon’s developer website if you know how to read Spanish.

Your organization should be having conversations about whether Spanish resources like a website or social media channels are appropriate. Professional translators are needed for this type of initiative to work. Automated translation is a marvelous way to capture the gist of what is someone is saying, but there are too many nuances involved in language to rely on automation.

We pay careful attention to language in search engine optimization efforts. Consider issues like these in our native language:

  1. A bat is what a baseball player uses to hit a ball or that flying creature you sometimes see at night.
  2. If you do see one of those flying bats, your dog may bark at the sky even if your dog is standing next to a tree covered in bark.
  3. Don’t get us started on homophones like two, too, and to or the Internet grammarian’s favorite: your and you’re.

Hire a translator or people with real fluency.

3. In the Spotlight

  • Web ticketing service Eventbrite had revenue growth but tripled its operating loss in Q1. Financials and analysis at Music Business Worldwide.

  • Google has introduced auto-delete controls for Location History and your Google data. You get to Google Activity Controls at this link. Carefully read before making changes.

  • Four U.S. Senators are asking the IRS and Federal Trade Commission to investigate H&R Block and Turbo Tax-maker Intuit after reports surfaced that the companies hid their free options for low-income people.  We told you about this last week, and you can get caught up with CNBC’s Friday coverage.