1. Good Monday Morning

It’s July 26th. Jury selection begins today in the federal civil rights trial of Derek Chauvin and three other former police officers. Chauvin was convicted on state-level murder charges earlier this year.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,024 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“This is a big deal. For so long, the tide has been going the other way, with companies adding arbitration clauses to their contracts.”

— NYU Law Professor Florencia Marotta-Wurgler about Amazon dropping mandatory arbitration from its terms of sale in favor of federal courts. (NY Times)

a) Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced a bill on Thursday that would remove liability protections from social media platforms when their users spread misinformation related to public health emergencies. The bill calls for Health and Human Services officials to determine what qualifies as misinformation. (Wall Street Journal)

b) Windows 11 upgrades will be free for Windows 10 users when the new program rolls out later this year. CNET suggests that the rollout could begin in October. 

c) Amazon has canceled NSO Group’s hosting services after the spyware company’s software was found on tens of thousands of phones, including those of activists, journalists, and 14 heads of state. (Gizmodo)

 3. Search Engine News — New Labels on Search Results

There are new technical guidelines to let Google know that videos on a website have key moments that can be shown separately in Google’s search results.

The company also announced new best practices for websites that have content about discounts on their websites. One big change: a separate page for each sales event, but reusing the same URL each year for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. In other words, Google doesn’t want URLs ending in blackfriday2019, blackfriday2020, etc. 

Google has also expanded the explanation area on its search results to provide more information about why it provided a specific result. You won’t be getting a key to Google’s secret algorithms, but you will see which words in your search query triggered the specific result. There will also be an indication if your search query was answered by a local result. 

Here is what that expanded section will look like.

 4. Spotlight Explainer — Getting Sued For A Review / SLAPP News

A favorite line among attorneys who have spoken with me over the years is that anyone can sue anyone else over anything. That includes online behavior as many have found out.

You Spelled SLAP wrong: SLAPP is an acronym stands for (S) trategic (L) awsuit (A) gainst (P) ublic (P) articipation. It’s a way the legal profession identifies lawsuits meant to intimidate and silence a defendant. It’s such a serious problem that many states and countries have passed anti-SLAPP laws. Unfortunately, anti-SLAPP laws in the U.S. vary widely between states.

Uh-Oh. Someone Got Sued, Huh? Yep. A Vancouver couple wrote a negative review about a roofing company that worked on a house they rent. The company demanded it be removed and eventually sued them for $112,000 plus $28,000 per week. 

Does This Happen A Lot?  More often than you might expect. You can read about many cases at the Public Participation Project. A well known case from two years ago involved a retiree complaining online about a vet practice following the death of his 10-year-old poodle.

Other famous cases involve Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filing a lawsuit against the unidentified owner of a Twitter parody account. The content need not be negative. A mini amusement park in Branson, Missouri, sued a man over a 3 star review on Trip Advisor.

Help Me, Spotlight! How Can I Protect Myself? You know that we have you covered. The folks at Community Action Works have assembled a nifty infographic called The Truth About SLAPP Suits that you’ll want to read.

5. Debunked — Anti-Vaxxers Now Hiding

NBC News reported last week that anti-vaccination groups are using coded language on Facebook and Instagram to evade bans on their activities. One group has 40,000 members online with a backup group of 20,000.

The groups are reportedly calling themselves “Dance Parties” or “Dinner Parties” and refer to vaccinated people as “swimmers” who have joined “a swim club.”

6. Following Up — Amazon Reviews and Missing Merchants

We’ve written a lot about how some companies sell fake Amazon reviews. Oft-cited brands Aukey and Mpow were banned by Amazon, reportedly for that practice, although The Verge has found both companies still selling via Amazon.

The Verge is also reporting that a sixth Chinese electronics company, Choetech, is now missing from Amazon. Their review found only listings from third-party sellers.

 7. Protip — Hotel Wi-Fi

With so many more people traveling this summer, it’s worth remembering that hotel Wi-Fi services are unsafe to use. You should absolutely avoid them if at all possible, and certainly never login to your bank or other private information services.

For now, you should read “I’m Begging You To Use A VPN At Hotels.” The VPN services we see recommended most often are Mullvad and IVPN.

Both have plans for only a few dollars each week or month. Please don’t use a free VPN service. 

8. Screening Room – Cow Pedometers

These zany people are back, and I adore this long-form commercial to create branding around cow’s milk. Watch this ridiculous faux event featuring Magic Hooves Mabel and Daisy the Hammer complete with stats updates. (Y’all, they’re branding milk. That is indeed a marketing challenge.)

9. Science Fiction World — Charging on the Go

Some of you are still stuck on the notion that electric and hybrid vehicles are science fiction enough for you, and I absolutely understand that. Now there’s word from Indiana that work is beginning this summer on pavement that will charge electric vehicles in motion.

 10. Coffee Break — Is It Prime?

Let’s find out how well you remember your multiplication tables. Remember that a prime number is one that can only be evenly divided by itself and the number one.

This browser game gives you 60 seconds to sort prime numbers from non-prime numbers. It’s ridiculously addictive. You have to restart if you get one wrong. 

11. Sign of The Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s July 19th. Jeff Bezos will be the famous passenger aboard the Blue Origin rocket lifting off at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday.  You can watch it here or see the petition one guy started last month to bar his return to Earth.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,575 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“We have written confirmation from [the Ministry of Defence] that this document remains classified.. Every time you post this, you place us, especially any UK citizens, in hot water as the warning so helpfully states that unauthorized retention of a protected document is an offense.” 

— A Gaijin Entertainment moderator’s response to a video game player who kept sending confidential documents suggesting that the game company had erred in its game’s portrayal of the UK’s Challenger 2 tank.   (IGN)

a) Quicken and TurboTax maker Intuit has taken the road less traveled. The company told QuickBooks and Intuit Online payroll customers that it will begin sharing payroll data with the Equifax credit bureau if those customers didn’t opt out by July 31.

Inuit also announced last Thursday that it would leave an industry consortium that works with the IRS to offer free tax filing to low income taxpayers. Before the pandemic, we wrote about IRS criticism of Intuit and H&R Block hiding free tax filing options on their websites.

b) Fakespot is an app that launched this summer that helps shoppers detect fake reviews on Amazon. The ecommerce giant said that they were concerned about the upstart using an overlay over their own app. Apple agreed and pulled the plug. The app was still live on Google’s Android store this weekend.

c) News broke this weekend about widespread use of a military grade spying app called Pegasus found on the phones of more than 1,000 people on four continents. Those phones belonged to activists, politicians, journalists, and several heads of state. The data first appeared at a French nonprofit and at Amnesty International before a coalition of 16 media partners helped investigate the hacks.

Here are links to coverage at the Washington Post and The Guardian.

3. Search Engine News — Ranking Help From WordPress

We’ve previously told you about Google and WordPress partnering more. Now it appears that the next major WordPress revision due in December may include a way to streamline how images are loaded on a website. An analysis in Search Engine Journal suggests that using that version of WordPress can improve a major Google ranking indicator by 7%-33%. Website managers will benefit as will users accessing their sites. 

Google also announced that it has partnered with GoDaddy to offer streamlined services for e-commerce websites as it did earlier this year for Shopify customers.

TL; DR: WordPress 5.9 is scheduled to have lazy-loading images native in December. Google also is promoting free Google Shopping listings to GoDaddy e-commerce customers.

4. Spotlight Explainer — New Search Engines

You’ll likely hear soon about a couple of new search engines. I’ve been test driving Brave and Neeva plus looking at Search Atlas and can break them down for you.

Why more search engines? It’s a natural market force, not only something unique to Google’s virtual monopoly. There were always multiple directories and later search engines. People tend to pick a search engine and stick with it forever. Even professional researchers make that mistake, but Microsoft and Yahoo! still combine for about one-third of all US searches.

What’s different? In large part, the difference is how the competitive search engines portray themselves. DuckDuckGo has promoted itself as a privacy-oriented search service for a dozen years, but now newcomers Brave and Neeva are adding their voices to that song. It’s a big deal if you focus on just their numbers. DDG had more than 100 million daily searches in January and February.

How do you start a search engine? The new companies have very capable executives. Neeva was launched by Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s former head of Ad Sales. Brave is led by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. No one is starting those search engines from their dorm room and scaling up in a garage.

How are the results? Different. Not great yet, but different, and that’s important. When we analyzed the results across Google, Bing, Neeva, and Brave, we always saw different results, but we also saw entirely different sites appearing on page one for the new companies. If I were researching something without a lot of public information or facts behind it, I would absolutely use all four plus DuckDuckGo and some others.

Can I Use Them? You bet. Find them here:

Brave: https://search.brave.com/
Neeva: https://neeva.com/

What’s This About Search Atlas? This is a new service in beta that is not yet open to the public. It’s also one of the exciting search engines on the horizon. It’s a new take on meta search engines that use results from more than one place. Search Atlas lets you compare results on one screen from multiple countries. This will be an exciting tool to use as countries begin imposing laws on what can be found via search. Example below:

5. Debunked — The Big 12 Is True

We wrote in April about a then-new study that showed that 65% of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter can be traced back to twelve people. Yes, the number after eleven.

Spotlight readers already knew all about this, but the White House and several big media organizations are having quite the scrape this week over that data.

“On Facebook alone, the dozen are responsible for 73% of all anti-vaccine content, though the vaccines have been deemed safe and effective by the US government and its regulatory agencies. And 95% of the Covid misinformation reported on these platforms were not removed,” wrote The Guardian this weekend.

6. Following Up — REvil Disappears & Google Fined in Australia

Last week’s Spotlight Explainer was all about REvil, a Russian hacker gang that has successfully targeted more than 1,000 organizations including meat processor JBS and Acer Computers. The glare of a Spotlight Explainer was apparently too much for the gang, which disappeared from the dark web early Tuesday according to Threat Post. Some fella named Biden also complained to the president of Russia, but whoever was responsible, you’re all welcome. I’m sure Mr. Biden would say that to you too. But honestly, no one knows where they are or why their sites went dark.

You might remember that we’ve also written about Google and Facebook facing regulatory action in other countries for allowing or posting news articles on their platforms without compensating the media companies. The French government said last week that Google was not negotiating in good faith and fined the search company nearly $600 million. Don’t be surprised if you read this week that Google News has vanished from French browsers as fast as a Russian ransomware gang.

7. Protip — New Emoji

The consortium that coordinates emoji standards is due to vote on the next group, which will be released in two months. There’s a saluting emoji, another that is holding back tears and a melting face that has apparently been outside lately. Here’s the full coverage with images.

8. Screening Room — Paralympians

The UK’s Channel 4 outdoes its previous great spots about paralympians with a motivating and heartwarming commercial for the delayed games that start August 24.

 9. Science Fiction World — Typing by Thought

We’ve told you before about the exciting work being done with brain implants for people with disabilities. We’ve always cautioned that these were extremely early days and reports are sometimes based on news releases.

Now there’s a paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine that’s touting the work of UCSF researchers who report that they’ve been able to use a brain implant successfully up to 76% of the time. The implant is used by a man in his 30s who lost his ability to speak after a severe stroke.

Caveats: This is not yet scalable. It’s only one person. The vocabulary is limited to 50 words, but it is amazing.

Wall Street Journal coverage (paywall)

University of California, San Francisco news release 

10. Coffee Break — Joy Generator

Even The Grinch likes to feel joy. NPR has put together a wonderful set of interactive videos called the Joy Generator.  They’re short, informative, and make the happy chemicals in your brain, which is good enough for me. At the end of short session is a button to get some more joy. Start your dopamine journey here.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s July 12th and still brutally hot throughout most of the country. The unofficial temperatures in Death Valley reported on Sunday were around 130 degrees. That’s still a few degrees short of the world record and very dangerous. Our friends at Moms Clean Air Force have lots of free extreme weather resources that address women’s health, children’s health, and wildfires.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,197 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: ” … the Infringement increased traffic to the Account, and, in turn, caused Defendant to realize an increase its [sic] advertising revenues and/or merchandise sales.” — a copyright infringement suit filed against pop star Dua Lipa who posted a picture of herself on Instagram that was taken by a paparazzi photographer. Musicians Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande have faced similar suits.

a) Google and Amazon are also facing legal action over entertainment. We learned Friday that the Federal Trade Commission is launching a probe over Amazon’s purchase of MGM. That deal was announced in May, but Amazon critic and new FTC chair Lina Khan recently received Senate approval for her position. That move came only two days after a group of nearly forty states led by Utah filed an antitrust suit against the Google Play Store used to distribute Android apps.

b) Amazon is also facing criticism for conditioning supplier approval based on whether the company will allow Amazon the option of purchasing equity at below market rates. The Wall Street Journal broke the news and reported that Amazon has done “more than 75 such deals.” Those equity arrangements were with diverse companies such as grocery distributors, energy companies, and air transportation firms.

c) TikTok is blaming a programming error for allegations raised by an influencer that the company flagged as inappropriate phrases such as “Black Lives Matter” and “black success,” but allowed phrases like “white supremacy” to be posted. Recode reports that TikTok claimed its “hate speech detector is triggered by a combination of words involving the words “Black” and “audience” — because “audience” contains the word “die” in it.”

3. Search Engine News — Site Appearance Can Hurt Rankings

Google search executive John Mueller doubled down on a 2019 post the company made that suggested a website’s appearance can harm its overall rankings. Search Engine Journal quoted Muller in a recent webinar as saying, “If, for example, you have something that is on a financial topic and people come to you and say “well your information is okay but it’s presented in a way that looks very amateurish,” — then that could reflect how your website is perceived. And in the long run could reflect something that is visible in search as well.”

Google announced last week that business owners can now create posts about events — including details like when and where they are happening — in their business profile. That event information will now be shown in Search and on Google Maps.

4. Spotlight Explainer — REvil Ransomware

REvil Ransomware Explainer: Ransomware is the name for a program that locks up computers and their files. REvil is the name of a Russian crime syndicate that launched a ransomware attack right before the Independence Day long weekend that targeted software that IT companies use. About 50 of those IT companies were compromised. Their customers are mostly small organizations, and about 1,500 were reportedly victims.

How Much Did This Cost?: Initial reportssuggested that the IT companies would have to pay $5 million each and their end customers pay up to $45,000 each to retrieve their encrypted files. That price would double after July 9. Not helping matters: opportunistic scammers who posed as the REvil hackers and tried to steal the ransom.

Who Was Affected?:  A handful of schools in New Zealand, a Swedish supermarket chain, a Norwegian financial services company, and the network of Leonardtown, Maryland, were all reported victims of this REvil ransomware attack.

What’s The Status?:  Many of the affected companies are using backups and workaround systems to operate. By last Friday, fewer than 100 organizations were still affected, which is great, unless you’re involved with one of those hundred. 

Who Are These REvil Ransomware People? Operating under the collective name REvil, this group first made headlines by attacking a law firm with high profile clients that included Madonna. In May, they attacked meat processor JBS S.A. and disrupted food supply chains in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Their other targets this year include Apple and computer manufacturer Acer.

5. Debunked — SBA Grants May Be Real

The Small Business Administration still has COVID relief funds to grant to small businesses operating in low income areas. The money can be up to $15,000 and does not have to be repaid. 

To learn more about the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan, you’ll want to start at the SBA’s website instead of some random email.

 6. Following Up — NFTs Still Selling Well

We told you about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) way back in March. They are digital certificates tied to some sort of ephemera like a video highlight or song. They don’t signify ownership. Instead, they’re like a digital trading card.

Celebrities and sports leagues sold a bunch of them for a lot of money. Even toymaker Mattel got involved with auctions around its Hot Wheels cars.

Separately, world wide web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee auctioned an NFT that represented the source code of the web. Berners-Lee insisted that the values of the web were being followed because the underlying structure remains free, and yeah, he’s probably right. An undisclosed buyer spent more than $5 million at Sotheby’s on an image of the code, but techies enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude afterwards when they noted that the code contained an error. 

7. Protip — Recover Cloud Based Documents–Even Edits

Even if you’re working solo, you may be using collaborative software like Google Docs or Microsoft Word that includes a history of all edits. Follow the easy-to-use Gizmodo guide to easily restore previous versions of files stored online.

Screening Room — Air Bubble Playground

I am in love with this spot from nasal spray Otrivin. Along with partner ecoLogicStudio, they created a playground that cleans the air as kids play. 

9. Science Fiction World — The First Virtual Student

Hua Zhibing is a virtual student powered by a one trillion scale model known as Wudao 2.0. We’ve written a lot about Open AI’s GPT-3 model and its scope, which is reportedly less powerful than Wudao by a couple of orders of magnitude. 

Hua is a deep learning model expected to get closer to passing a Turing test than any other previous attempt. The 70 year old Turing test is a measure of a computer’s ability to pass for human when interacting with a human.

10. Coffee Break — Open Puppies

Sometimes you just need to see a bunch of good puppers and doggos who aren’t trying to use deep learning models to pass for human. That’s the whole point of Open Puppies, which you should indeed open whenever you need a lift this week. 

11. Sign of The Times