1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 28th. This is your special reminder that Thursday is April Fools’ Day. There will be plenty of online shenanigans. Those originating in Oz or APAC countries will reach US users on March 31st. Be a little judicious regarding what you see online midweek.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,358 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”— GIF creator Stephen Wilhite to The New York Times in 2013. Wilhite died last week at the age of 71, but not before fulfilling this word nerd’s fantasy of correcting the OED.

a) Graphics chip company NVIDIA announced last week that it has developed software that can render a 3D scene from a series of 2D photographs in nearly real-time.

b) A data privacy agreement between the U.S. and E.U. will allow American data centers to handle operations in Europe. Stringent data privacy laws there created asymmetry among different divisions in many organizations, especially after the EU’s Court of Justice ruled twice in five years that American laws were insufficient to protect European citizens’ rights. The deal was announced Friday and is still preliminary.

c) Facebook moderation seems to be undergoing some changes. In the last few days we’ve heard from two capable social media posters that they received account restrictions based on memes or sarcastic posts they made two years ago regarding the Trump administration’s handling of COVID-19. Facebook rolled out some new automated tools for group moderation just two weeks ago, which may explain part of the delayed response. Algorithms have a nearly impossible time detecting sarcasm, but there is also a tough toll on human moderators, nearly all of whom are classified as non-employee contractors.

Also last week, attorneys for two former TikTok content moderators announced a class-action suit against that social media network for being required to moderate videos of extreme violence, pornography, and child abuse. Facebook settled a similar suit last year for $85 million. Meanwhile, moderation often remains heavy-handed because of its reliance on automation.

3. Search Engine News — Even The Inside Folks Ask Each Other

It’s not just those of us outside Google.

Earlier this month, former Google Search executive Malte Ubl announced his departure from the company after 11 years.  Just days later he was publicly asking for help or documentation about a Google search index practice. Kudos to Search Engine Roundtable for spotting the tweet. Everyone involved in search needs reference materials, notes, and the ability to strategize. No one memorizes it all.

We also got confirmation last week that Google uses “alt text” on images for image search. And while that very important field is not used for non-image search, it is used by millions of visually impaired people whose assistive devices rely on a website’s written description of the image.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Health Technology Breakthroughs

There have been so many health technology breakthroughs announced in the last month that rounding them up for you fills a whole explainer. Even better: some of them have jumped from tech and science journal coverage to mainstream media, especially the exciting brain-computer interface.

Brain-Computer Interfaces
We last wrote about Neuralink 10 months ago. We were excited then about the opportunity for an interface that could decode signals in the brain related to creating letters to communicate. That project’s researchers insisted at the time that their system was not even close to a prototype.

That’s why it was thrilling last week to learn that a team in Europe has published a journal article on this topic citing experiments with a “locked-in” patient who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). There are plenty of questions and vetting left to happen, but it’s a marvel.

Fabric That Monitors Your Heartbeat
A team from MIT & The Rhode Island School of Design has created fabric that amplifies the imperceptible motion of mechanical vibrations made by sound … like a heartbeat. Those vibrations are then converted to an electric signal that can monitor respiration and heart activity. There are plenty of non-health applications for this technology, but there are also more than 100 million Americans who suffer from heart or lung disease who could benefit from convenient, non-invasive regular monitoring.

While AI Diagnoses Heart Disease In 20 Seconds
The British National Health Service has launched a new AI tool that detects heart disease for patients in an MRI scanner within 20 seconds. A health technology journal reported that a similar diagnosis from a physician averaged 13 minutes. The NHS says that the tool is being used for 140 patients per week in London now and will roll out to 40 more locations.

Face2Gene App Now Diagnoses 1,000 Conditions
Another health technology visualization tool called Face2Gene launched years ago has now tripled the number of conditions it can detect. The algorithm can also reportedly adjust for different ethnic backgrounds between patients. There are more than 7,000 rare diseases (sometimes known as orphan diseases) according to the NIH.

5. Did That Really Happen? — A VA Tech Swimmer Did Not Tweet About Trans Athletes

Faking a tweet is child’s play. There are multiple free fake tweet generators available online. A new fake image accusing a transgender college swimmer of “stealing a competitive slot” was attributed to a Virginia Tech swimmer who never made the post. 

The AP details the false statement that was shared more than 28,000 times.

6. Following Up — Ukraine Using Clearview AI Facial Recognition

We’ve written about Clearview AI and the way that they improperly downloaded facial recognition data from many of the world’s largest social media networks. Now Reuters is reporting that the Ukrainian military is imaging the faces of dead Russian soldiers and contacting their families about their loved ones death.

Tread lightly around this issue because many false positives are possible, to say nothing of the propaganda value of a country fighting for its life giving these stories wide play. Could there be a better way to win the hearts and minds of your enemy’s citizens? This could be happening and would be interesting if it did happen, but it’s impossible to know for certain. 

7. Protip — How To Reopen Closed Tabs in Chrome’s Browser

Not so fast. We mean how to reopen those tabs if your browser crashed and there is no “reopen last session” or “reopen closed tab” option. You, my friend, need to learn about the Chrome browser’s History function.

8. Screening Room — Behr Says Its Time For A Makeover

The paint company behind some great past campaigns wants you to really understand what not repainting says about you.

9. Science Fiction World — Broadband On The Moon

To hear Aquarian Space talk about the issue, there would not just be broadband on Earth’s moon, but between the Earth and moon. The company says that the 13 landers, orbiters, and rovers on and around the moon are projected to grow to 200 vehicles over the next 8 years. You are not alone if you just thought about a streaming movie buffering on your television.

10. Coffee Break — Politician Short Attention Span

You may have noticed plenty of distracted U.S. senators during last week’s televised hearings. Belgian politicians are also on a daily livestream. 

Dries Depoorter wrote software that monitors that livestream to search for politicians using their phone when they should be paying attention to the proceedings. The software then captures the image, uses facial recognition to identify the politician, and then posts the image to Twitter and Instagram with the politician tagged.

Have I mentioned yet how much I adore this? Have a look for yourself.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 21st. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins its hearings at 11 a.m. today on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first female African American justice on the Supreme Court.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,358 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “Children deserve to be protected before they have the ability to consent that their data be shared and sold to third parties.”— Maryland state senator Susan Lee to Government Technology on her sponsorship of new student privacy legislation. We unpack the issue in Maryland and elsewhere in Spotlight Explainer below.

a) Instacart launched Shoppable Recipes with partners TikTok, Tasty, and Hearst Magazines. As content creators share their short video recipes on TikTok or a magazine site, the audience watching the video can easily add the ingredients to an Instacart cart. In addition to TikTok, sites featuring Shoppable Recipes include Good Housekeeping and Country Living.

b) A bipartisan group of House Judiciary committee members have requested that the Justice Department investigate Amazon and its executives for obstruction of Congress. The lawmakers say that the company has refused to answer its questions and has not produced information that committee members say would implicate Amazon in anticompetitive behavior.

c) Columbia University may have gamed the famous U.S. News college rankings according to a tenured math professor at the school. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell surfaced Prof. Michael Thaddeus’ allegations to his newsletter audience last week. If his explanation is accurate, Columbia has done things like use the cost of patient care in its hospital as part of its teaching expenditure. The school also reported that more than 96% of its faculty were full-time and that 100% of the faculty had attained the highest possible degree in their field, data that Columbia reports lower in other surveys.

3. Search Engine News — Google Related Search & New Hotel Searching

Google introduced a new related search feature for advertisers last week. The feature allows websites that monetize using Google’s AdSense program to display a “related searches” widget directly on their site. If a visitor clicks a related search, they remain on the site, but on an embedded Google search results page.

Why is that important? We’ve been telling you since Spotlight started years ago that Google’s mission is to control the entire information research ecosystem. By subsidizing publishers, Google takes the reins from a visitor who may be dissatisfied with the search result and try a competing search engine. 

Google gives the publisher some money for their trouble, but it’s not a lot. The big thing that Google gets is the ability to learn what site it sent a search visitor to and how that person refined their request to get the information that they wanted.

Hotels will see a similar tool that they use get expanded availability soon. Free hotel booking links will now appear directly on Google Maps and Google Search. That inserts Google as a middleman between the hotel and traveler. Restaurants already suffer similar encroachment from Google, Facebook, and delivery apps that provide links to their ordering process instead of the restaurant’s website.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Student Privacy

As education tech and online tracking grow, students of all ages are being observed in ways that were never possible before. Privacy advocates express extreme concern about schools using location monitoring, facial recognition, and device tracking to stay abreast of student behavior. 

The Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act is the law that protects student privacy according to the Education Department. That law took effect in 1974 and was last amended twenty years ago in 2002. Critics understandably say that it is incomplete given technology advances since then.

Device Tracking & Student Privacy
School personnel use software that monitors a student’s behavior online–even if they’re at home–while using a school-issued device. Schools argue that they own the device, and that teachers can only view information during school hours. That’s not always the case. An important distinction remains that teachers cannot access the data, including location coordinates, but that the data is saved and can be viewed by school administrators.

No Student Privacy With Facial Recognition at Lunch
The promise of accurate and contactless school lunch payments led some UK schools to begin using facial recognition last fall. They were quickly warned by a national privacy agency to “consider less intrusive ways” of collecting payments.

A school district in New York had already begun using a similar program before the state government banned facial recognition in its schools. Meanwhile, Colorado legislators last week advanced a bill that would ban all facial recognition in public and charter schools until 2025.

Universities & Facial Recognition
One of the most prominent recent abuses of student privacy became public knowledge last month when interim George Washington University president Mark Wrighton apologized for GW tracking student, faculty, and staff locations during the fall semester. The program had begun before Wrighton arrived and his email to the community was explicit about what was tracked.

When To Sue An Unknown Student
A Chapman University professor has sued a student known so far only as John Doe because that student uploaded copies of questions from his midterm and final exams in a business law course. The company would not identify the person who uploaded the information without a legal proceeding so the professor sued. 

Online cheating is a serious issue. The Markup published an outstanding story last month about a company called Honorlock that uses websites seeded with specific exam questions and tracking software to identify students who look for them.  Honorlock’s critics call the ruse entrapment and are encouraging educators to find different ways to assess student knowledge.

5. Did That Really Happen? — UCLA Posted A Professor’s Job Last Week With No Compensation

UCLA published a job listing last week with a strange provision:

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.

The people who use the internet had some thoughts about that until the job listing vanished. Not before it was captured here, of course, but pretty fast.

Now UCLA is apologizing for “unfortunate wording” for a position that it said required an affiliation with the school, but would be paid for by a grant. But yes, the university did advertise for an unpaid chemistry professor gig. Wait until Columbia hears about this.

6. Following Up — Yale List of Who Left & Who Stayed In Russia

In much the same way that Johns Hopkins leaped to the forefront of COVID-19 data publishing in January of 2020, Yale has developed a list of hundreds of organizations and whether they still do business in Russia. 

Hundreds have left that country after it attacked Ukraine, but 37 remain including Credit Suisse, Koch Industries, Renault, and Subway.

7. Protip — Leaving Photos Behind When You Die

No one wants to plan for this, but if you read Spotlight, we know that you’re most likely a planner. Wired has a nice, short piece on how to best organize the digital photo portion of your legacy. (P.S. Don’t forget to set up access to your digital accounts for email, social media, and banking too. It’s important.)

8. Screening Room — Tattoos & Duolingo

A hysterical promotion and accompanying ad from Duolingo UK is worth your time. 

9. Science Fiction World — AI Speech

Now that the Duolingo spot loosened you up, you must watch this video from AI voice company Sonantic.  You won’t regret giving it two minutes.

 10. Coffee Break — Test Your Reaction Time

JustPark lets you take the wheel in this quick “emergency stop game” to grade your reflexes. I tell you this as a thirty-one year old man who may be a bit older than that.

 11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 14th. Happy π day. Chances are good that you’re enjoying this morning more than the football memorabilia collector who paid $518,000 on Saturday for the football used for Tom Brady’s last career touchdown pass only to learn Sunday night that Brady had un-retired.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“The spread of biometric surveillance tools like palm scans and facial recognition now threatens to [transform] these spaces into hot spots for ICE raids, false arrests, police harassment, and stolen identities.“— An open letter signed by Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave’s Tom Morello to the parent company of Colorado’s Red Rocks. The iconic venue scrapped plans to use Amazon’s palm scanning technology.

a) Autonomous vehicles no longer need human controls such as a steering wheel, according to new regulations from the U.S. government. The request was made by GM subsidiary Cruise which argued that its Origin podlike vehicle going into production next year does not have human-centric operating features.

b) Google announced plans to purchase cybersecurity firm Mandiant for $5.4 billion. The acquisition of the Reston, Virginia, based company is Google’s second largest purchase ever and is expected to become part of the Google Cloud division. Google parent Alphabet began the year with more than $139 billion in cash on hand.

3. Search Engine News — Google & The Importance of Internal Links

No, more than that. Seriously. Build a strategy. Google search exec John Muller confirmed last week that internal linking is “super critical” for search purposes. And he says that your normal navigation linking is fine and all, but doesn’t replace an internal linking strategy.

Part of Mueller’s comments during SEO office hours last week:

“You should really have normal HTML links between the different parts of your website. 

And ideally, you should not just have a basic set of links, but rather you should look at it in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.”

4. Spotlight Explainer — 2022 Social Media Trends


Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

The short form social media channel is the world’s buzziest platform when you account for the fact that journalists hang out on Twitter.  eMarketer summarized their 2022 social media video report this way, “The percentage of young US digital video viewers who watch video on Instagram and TikTok is within shouting distance of YouTube.”  

In a broad sense, YouTube still owns the viewership crown for audiences over the age of 25 with 68% market share, but Instagram and TikTok are now watched by two-thirds of audiences between the ages of 18 and 24.

There is a huge generation gap
Only 6% of Boomers and 18% of Gen X are watching TikTok. More than 60% of Gen Z is on TikTok. 

But that gap cuts both ways because half of kids 12 and under are on YouTube.

Video rules
It’s not just TikTok. Instagram’s Reels was a hit and moved to Facebook even though Facebook truncates many of the videos there. Statista data for the 2022 social media landscape shows that YouTube remains a close second behind Facebook with 2.5 billion active users, but Instagram is 4th and TikTok is 6th with 1 billion monthly active users. That’s more than twice the monthly user base of Pinterest, Twitter, or Reddit.  Business platform LinkedIn doesn’t even make the top 15.

From pariah to prestigious guest
The Trump administration detested TikTok’s presence. The former president signed a now-revoked Executive Order banning it from operating in the U.S. After the company’s assurances that U.S. data is only housed in the U.S., backed up in Singapore, and not shared with China, the company has been allowed to continue operating in America.

The importance of TikTok’s audience reach was highlighted last week when Biden administration officials shared an online video briefing with several dozen popular TikTok creators. This followed similar outreach last year around the administration’s vaccination drives.

Specialists are necessary
Social video is different from other social media. There’s a very different style and flow to those videos. The platforms are not interchangeable. A client last year didn’t budget for different versions of a video and found themselves having to use hastily re-edited video to advertise on TikTok and other video channels.

The TikTok audience is also not a casual one. U.S. Android users are on TikTok nearly 20 hours every month. That’s up from 13 hours per month just the year before. A brand trying to engage that audience should have experts who do the same.

Special resource: here’s a nifty Hootsuite report with optimal video specs updated for 2022 social media for each platform.

5. Did That Really Happen? — Little Girl With Lollipop and Gun

You may have seen an image of a young girl sitting in the window of a dilapidated building. Her clothes are neat. She has a lollipop in her mouth and a gun cradled in her arms. Her hair is tied back with ribbons and her jeans run into boots that nearly extend to her knee.

She looks like a model.

And she is. The photographer is her father, a hobbyist who staged this and other photos to draw attention to the then-impending war in Ukraine. You can read his statement here.

GMU Professor Shaun Dakin and I tried hard to find the origin of this image as it went viral. One tip-off: despite its virality with hundreds of shares on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, not one well known news organization ran the image. 

Here’s the lesson: ignore the photographer and his family. As the image swept throughout the world and trended on many sites, prayers were offered and people were searching for places where a 9-year-old girl might reasonably be expected to defend a place with a gun more than half her own height. 

None of those people meant any harm, but all were guilty of spreading wartime propaganda.

 6. Following Up — The EU & UK Investigating Google and Facebook’s Jedi Blue

We’ve told you before about Jedi Blue, the Google and Facebook agreement to work together on advertising platforms in exchange for preferential rates. A consortium of U.S. states are suing Google over the agreement and now the EU and United Kingdom have announced parallel antitrust investigations into both companies.

7. Protip — Blurring Images Might Not Work Well

Some privacy advocates wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to un-redact an image. And now Unredacter software is available for anyone to download free. Read this to learn how to best remove information from files that you share.

8. Screening Room — Cheetos Hands Free

Frito-Lay leans hard into the rap against Cheetos, that icky orange stuff on your fingers, in a funny, smart way.

9. Science Fiction World — Tricorders for Cars

Who doesn’t dig watching Dr. McCoy wave a salt and pepper shaker over someone while gravely announcing a medical condition? Now Volvo is doing that for cars at U.S. dealerships. The camera-based AI system checks the underbody, tires, and creates 360-degree scans looking for body damage or rust.

10. Coffee Break — Rating Fictional Professors

Now that anyone can see how previous classes have rated instructors from the unofficial but popular Rate My Professor, perhaps we should check in on the creative writing of people who have rated their favorites from movie and TV history. 

Here is Dr. Indiana Jones at Princeton, Professor Xavier, Professor Minerva McGonagall of Hogwarts, and Professor Charles Kingsfield of Harvard Law (Mr. Hart, Mister Hart…)

11. Sign of the Times