1. Good Monday Morning

It’s Sept. 27th. Facebook executive Antigone Davis is due to appear before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Thursday following the recent Facebook Files debacle we wrote about last week. She is Facebook’s Head of Safety and will undoubtedly be the target of senators attempting to dunk on the social media company. The Wall Street Journal’s five part expose included revelations that the company knew it was credibly linked to teen suicide ideation, allowing public figures to flout rules, and active use of the platform by drug cartels and other criminals.

A new AP report this weekend about Neo-Nazis in Europe thriving and selling merchandise on Facebook will also undoubtedly draw questions. And Facebook’s own Oversight Board says it is also looking into the recent disclosures.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,271 words — about a 4 1/2 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:”We have always thought that the Mafia is violent, that it does beatdowns and homicides … We had never seen the Mafia focusing on these cybercrimes. Clearly they are undergoing a transformation to the digital era.” — Beatriz Gomez Hermosilla, head of the Cybercrime Unit of Spain’s Policia Nacional to Vice.

a) Restaurant tech company Toast went public last week and now has a $33 billion valuation — more than 4 times greater than last year. In addition to its point-of-sale software for restaurants, Toast also competes with DoorDash and Grubhub in online ordering.

b) More startup billionaires: Bloomberg reports that 34-year-old Melanie Perkins is now worth $5.9 billion, making her the richest self-made female billionaire under 40. Perkins and her 35-year-old husband Cliff Oberecht founded web-based graphic company Canva.

c) Twitter has opened its Tips services for all account holders. Anyone can now easily add links to Patreon, GoFundMe, Venmo, and similar services. 

3. Search Engine News — Sorting Out Duplicate Content Issues

The concept of duplicate content on multiple websites arose again this week. As is often the case, Google’s statements are precise and nuanced. The business press often doesn’t use that level of nuance nor do readers often know or care. Breaking it down:

1. There is no duplicate content penalty.

Google’s statement appears correct. A website that publishes identical content won’t be penalized, but it also will almost certainly not be displayed for identical content. You’ve probably seen this statement:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to …”

That’s where the identical copy goes to hide.

2. What about manufacturer product descriptions?

That’s the question that started Google’s latest comments on this issue. Search exec John Mueller says it’s fine. Google checks to see if “the whole page” is the same. That’s truly identical copying. He elaborated that the descriptions used to form snippets are an important part of that process because Google doesn’t want to display the same snippets in multiple parts of the same page.

3. How do you avoid a page with manufacturer specs and descriptions ending up in omitted results?

We’ve run into this with clients, and you won’t like that the answer is adding original content to that page. That’s one reason why user reviews are often found as part of product descriptions. One strategy we’ve practiced: high margin items protected at all costs with very original, well-written content and appropriate links to related and add-on products.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Amazon Shopping Evolution

We’ve seen a lot of news about the latest Amazon shopping and retail initiatives as we reach 60 days before Black Friday (sorry). Here is what we’re tracking:

Department Stores: The Wall Street Journal followed its August scoop about Amazon opening department stores with a report last week that fleshes out the concept. Look for shoppers to use automation including QR code scanning and fitting rooms with touch screens. Also on tap: Amazon’s private label clothing brands sold side-by-side with third party clothing. The first locations are slated for San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio.

Grocery Delivery: The company finally got its arms around the five retail brands it once marketed for groceries. Now its making Whole Foods a little more expensive for its Amazon Prime members. Grocery delivery from Whole Foods will now cost $9.95 each time — a rate that the company tested in Chicago and Boston. Amazon Fresh delivery remains fee-free as do Whole Foods pickup orders.

Warehouse Conditions: Long an Achilles heel of the company, California stepped in with new legislation to protect workers in large warehouses. A new law that takes effect in January forbids companies from imposing quotas that prevent workers from using a bathroom or what Amazon calls “time off task”. Workers who believe the productivity rate is unsafe can request details including three months of their personal metrics.

Amazon Prime Growth: eMarketer projects that 63% of U.S. households now have Prime — up from 35% just five years ago. That’s important because Prime members spend more than twice what non-Prime members spend each year at Amazon shopping.

5. Did That Really Happen? — VP Posed at Same Monument As McCain 

Vice President Kamala Harris has been castigated online for weeks following her trip to Vietnam. While in Hanoi, she appeared at a monument that former Senator John McCain and other Republican senators had also visited. The vice president spoke at length about McCain and his heroism after placing flowers there.

Despite memes to the contrary, the visit was not a mistake and not anti-American. Snopes has all the data, including then Sen. McCain’s words and pictures from his visit to the same monument nine years ago.

6. Following Up — Apple Keeps Fortnite Ban Intact

You may remember that Apple banned hit game Fortnite from its app store after software maker Epic allowed users to pay fees directly. Apple executives went public last week in saying that Fortnite would not be allowed back in the store “until the district court’s judgment becomes final and non-appealable.”

7. Protip — Microsoft World Without Passwords

PC and Xbox users will undoubtedly be interested in a world without passwords for Microsoft Office or Windows. This Wired how-to shows you the different ways that you can transition to using phone codes and security keys to replace your Microsoft password.

Screening Room — Argia B’s Mumbo Sauce

Epicurious writes about mumbo sauce: “the bright-red, spicy, sweet sauce is as essential as napkins and to-go boxes at many of D.C.’s carry-out Chinese and soul food restaurants.” This DC local commercial is a treat. And yes, 60 days to Black Friday means 59 until that other holiday.

9. Science Fiction World — Ticketless Entry

Those nifty palm scanners you’ve seen when we write about Amazon Fresh and Whole Food stores will now be used at Colorado’s famous concert venue Red Rocks. It’s the first major installation for this Amazon technology outside the company and will allow registered concertgoers entry without a physical ticket.

10. Coffee Break — Mount Everest 3D

See real images of the different paths to conquer Everest and follow treks with live tracking. I’ve been watching guide Jon Gupta climb Manaslu for a couple of days. As I hit the send key on this issue, he’s at 7,505 meters, 600 meters from his goal.

Check out Everest 3D here.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s Sept. 20th. Canada’s national elections are today, a mere 36 days after they were called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  You are not alone if you think that a five week election campaign season sounds heavenly.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,339 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:”Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.” — an internal Facebook presentation quoted by The Wall Street Journal in The Facebook Files.

a) By uploading a photograph and clicking one button, users of an unnamed application can create deepfake porn videos featuring that person. MIT Technology Review wrote about the horrific program this week and wisely concealed the company’s name. Calling the service “incredibly easy to use,” the publication later said that the program is no longer available from its creators.

b) MIT Tech also confirmed last week that an American company called Acuvant developed and sold an iPhone hacking tool in 2016. That tool was purchased by American mercenaries and sold by them to the United Arab Emirates for $1.3 million. The Americans then reportedly directed hacking campaigns on behalf of the UAE government.

c) As the COVID-19 pandemic surges for the fourth time in the U.S., Amazon announced that it will open an additional 100 locations after opening more than 250 this year. Amazon plans to hire an additional 125,000 employees, which will bring its total to nearly 1.5 million. The company recently announced that it will pay employee education costs for GED certificates, English language training, or college tuition.

3. Search Engine News — Don’t Share Content With Other Sites If You Want Traffic

There are plenty of ways to appropriately share content between websites, but Google emphatically posted that “If your goal is to reach a broader audience, go for it. If your goal is that only your site ranks for those queries, then syndicating / republishing is a bad idea. Pick your goals & select the work that helps you reach them.” 

And if you’re republishing, please make sure you understand how to have all the sites inform Google that your website is the originator.

We also learned last week that Mozilla is testing Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine for 1% of its users. Google pays Mozilla more than $400 million annually to be the default search engine. 

Search Pro Corner: Moz’s Peter Meyers analyzed search results and found 9 different ways that Google is rewriting title tags. Separately, SEOWL has published a free tool that compares title tags to SERPs.

4. Spotlight Explainer — The Facebook Files

You will hear about The Facebook Files from now through the company’s future Congressional testimony and long into the antitrust actions it is facing.

What are The Facebook Files?

The Facebook Files are a five-part expose that The Wall Street Journal published every business day last week. 

What was exposed that was so bad?

The worst for many tech watchers was a March 2020 internal presentation about Instagram that read, “We make body issues worse for one in three teen girls.” This was the company’s acknowledgment that it had heard its critics and independently verified their complaints.

The horrific detail was that one Facebook presentation showed that amongteens reporting suicidal thoughts that 13% of British users and 6% of U.S. teens traced those thoughts back to Instagram

But that’s not their fault, is it? They don’t control how people feel.

True. But Facebook’s leaders are documented multiple times rejecting their own employee suggestions on ways to make Facebook’s environment less toxic for everyone, not just teenagers. Facebook is under pressure for knowing this issue existed and not implementing recommendations, asking for help, or alerting parents.

Facebook was singled out?

This series is all about Facebook. Their own data shows that the same negative effects are somewhat mitigated by the different forms of content posted on TikTok and Snapchat.

What else was found?

Each day was a new barrage of information. The series kicked off with a statement from a damning Facebook document: “We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly.” The Facebook Files revealed that millions of high profile accounts were shielded from repercussions when they violated the company’s terms and conditions. 

With a focus on reshared material, the company was trying to build higher levels of engagement and refused to stop even when its own employees noted that “misinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares.”

Among that information was content posting misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Facebook’s data showed users saw negative information about vaccines on 41% of comments.

So, it sounds bad, but not criminal except …

Well, it did except that employees also flagged human traffickers in the Middle East, armed groups in Ethiopia, and Mexican drug cartels using Facebook. Remember that most Facebook users are not in the U.S. and have nothing to do with America, but America often protests the loudest.

Facebook’s data shows that last year the company spent 3.2 million hours labeling or removing that sort of information on the site, but 87% of that time was spent on U.S. content. In one case, Apple threatened to remove the Facebook app from its store, and Facebook’s documentation showed that the company was already aware of the issue.

Read the whole series here.

5. Did That Really Happen? — Refugees Receiving Ivermectin

Reports flooded social media that the CDC recommended that arriving refugees receive the human form of ivermectin to treat parasitic infections. Some conservative commentators and anti-vaccine proponents have twisted that to say that the government is secretly treating refugees instead of Americans for COVID-19, despite the FDA warning that ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19. You can read the full fact check at The Annenberg Public Policy Center.

6. Following Up — Amazon Bans Hundreds of Companies

We’ve been writing a lot about companies allegedly paying to post fake positive reviews on Amazon. Sean Hollister at The Verge has been covering this for a long time and has been a significant force in exposing the practice. 

Now he has posted news that Amazon has permanently banned 600 Chinese brands and 3,000 seller accounts, including well known names like RavPower and Aukey.

7. Protip — How to Sell Your iPhone

If Apple’s latest product launch day last week excited you, trading in your iPhone can be much easier with this checklist from PC magazine.

8. Screening Room — Daniel Craig & Heineken

The new James Bond is finally due out at the end of the month, leading to this wink-wink, nudge-nudge spot from Heineken featuring Daniel Craig that uses a twist on the Guinness slogan and features audio from Portishead.

9. Science Fiction World — Robot Border Patrols

Remember in that movie (OK, all the movies) where the one person tells the others that there are armed robots guarding the outside of the place? State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries is making that a reality with remote-controlled armed robots that can patrol, track bad guys, and shoot.

Days after that story broke, The New York Times published images and details of an Israeli operation that assassinated Iran’s top nuclear scientist using a remote controlled rifle fired by its operator one thousand miles away.

10. Coffee Break — Animals at the Castle

Baron of Dunsany Randal Plunkett looks as if he wandered off the Game of Thrones set in contemporary clothes. Plunkett says he has offered 1,600 acres of land surrounding his castle to Ireland’s only wildlife hospital to reacclimatize recovering and rescued animals. Already there: otters, fox cubs, and buzzards, oh my.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s Sept. 13th. Apple unveils its new devices tomorrow at 1 EDT / 10 PDT. The iPhone 13 is widely expected to be introduced. You can watch here.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,219 words — about a 4 1/2 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:”Google has paid these workers at 100 percent of their prior wage, by definition. So it’s not like they can’t afford to pay their workers who choose to work remotely the same that they are used to receiving.” — Prof. Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University after Google said employees choosing to work from home could receive pay cuts of up to 15%.

a) Google is also defending itself in an employment action brought by four employees it terminated. The company says employees have no legal right to protest who the company chooses to work with, reports Business Insider.

b) Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats are also in court as they fight against caps on restaurant fees imposed by New York City. The food delivery companies say that consumers will pay more if New York’s cap of 23% per order is allowed to remain permanent. The companies are fighting a similar cap in San Francisco.

c) TikTok users on Android devices are now watching that platform’s videos more each month than video giant YouTube. Analytics firm App Annie reported that U.S. users watched 24 hours of TikTok in June versus 22 hours of YouTube. The UK TikTok numbers were even higher, proving that the platform is mainstream.

3. Search Engine News — Google vs. Apple (?) In Search

We’re really watching Apple this week to learn if more news is forthcoming regarding the device maker’s search offering.

Apple potentially launching a search function would be daring. Current estimates are that Google paid Apple more than $10 billion during its last fiscal year to be its default search engine. Those fees could reach $15 billion next year. Coywolf’s Jon Henshaw, a search entrepreneur, describes how Apple can take significant market share from Google by introducing a Neeva-like search experience.

Meanwhile Google has clarified its previous position on content titles that it has been replacing in its results. Google now says that the submitted title will be used to create the content’s ranking, but that the company may still substitute other titles that its algorithms deem superior.

Google Map users may have noticed that the company is now requiring users to opt-in to sharing data if they want to receive turn-by-turn directions. The data from Google Maps goes back into the product, creating an insurmountable lead over competitive mapping services. 

4. Spotlight Explainer — Facebook Research

Data first:

  • Fewer than 10% of Facebook users are American. 
  • 36% of adults search for news on Facebook
  • Lawmakers’ posts get 8% love reactions and 6% anger reactions.
  • Misinformation posted on Facebook gets more engagement than true items.
  • Bottom line: it’s huge, it’s global, and it’s inconsistent.

What happened with them throwing researchers off the platform?

A trio of NYU researchers have been working with Facebook since last year.They created a browser extension called Ad Observer to understand what political advertising people saw on Facebook and YouTube. Facebook said that their program violated its agreement with the FTC regarding user privacy. The FTC and industry advocates dispute that explanation, but Facebook suspended the researchers and blocked their software. The researchers say that even the White House can’t get straight answers from Facebook research executives about COVID misinformation on the site.

What about other researchers?

Facebook held a call with 47 researchers three days ago. During that call, they told researchers that the company had made a mistake and excluded about half the data from U.S. accounts that researchers had been promised. 

So now what?

Some Facebook research projects have lost months of work. Facebook research executives say that they don’t know what else was missing and that recreating the data sets will take weeks.

What is Facebook doing?

There is no evidence that the company has done anything nefarious. There is no requirement that they agree to work with outsiders, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook research a priority after the 2016 election and Cambridge Analytica scandals. 

What’s next?

Look for Facebook to face questions from the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capitol. Politico reported two weeks ago that thousands of posts made on Facebook about that attack have been removed from the site.

Our take: Facebook’s scope and scale make these data projects the largest of their kind. We tell our clients that the platform is huge, global, and inconsistent just like we told you above, but no one, not even Facebook, is quite sure how to harness the data generated by the 25% of the planet’s population that logs on daily.

5. Did That Really Happen? — US Pilots Did Not Resign En Masse

More than one million people have viewed a video released last Friday that featured a man saying that “his dad just let him know” that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent a text to all active military service members demanding they receive a COVID-19 vaccination immediately or face court martial. The video also claimed that twelve F-22 pilots and sixteen B-52 crew members resigned in protest.

Daniel Dale debunks the entire story. None of it happened. There was no text from Defense, there were no mass walk-offs, and military personnel have until Nov. 2 to be vaccinated.

6. Following Up — Criminals Finding Cybersecurity Easy to Defeat

“I was panicking because I had access to something big,” said John Binnins, who claimed credit for the most recent T-Mobile hack. “Their security is awful,” The Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying.

We also learned that REvil, the Russian gang believed responsible for hacking Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods with ransomware, has established a new online presence after going dark. We told you in July that REvil seemed to have ceased operating. They’re back now and active on the dark web.

7. Protip — Limit Spotify Tracking 

Did you know that music streaming company Spotify tracks your Facebook information (including likes), your location, and other device information? They also know your age, gender, address, and well, lots of stuff. Lifehacker has a primer on how to reduce the amount of private data that you share with Spotify.

8. Screening Room — Pepsi Remakes Grease Scene With Doja Cat

Pespi followed its tradition of bringing the hottest young musical artists to its commercials by airing a new spot last night during the MTV Video Music Awards featuring Doja Cat performing a Grease number.

 9. Science Fiction World — Croatian Restaurant Using Cooking Robots

Five Gamma Chef cooking robots are the stars at Bots & Pots, a restaurant in Zagreb. They can prepare one-pot dishes such as risottos and pastas.  This ain’t your grandpa’s Automat so have a look at some of this unique restaurant’s nuts and bolts offerings.

10. Coffee Break — Retrieving Monday

Yes, you were off last Monday. So were we and (whew) thanks! But now that we’re back, let this pupper show you how I might look on some Spotlight Mondays.

11. Sign of the Times