Good Monday morning. It’s December 14th.  Electors gather today in state capitals to cast the final votes for president, the FDA meets on Thursday to authorize the Moderna vaccine, and the federal government runs out of money on Friday night. Hanukkah started last week, and Christmas is next week.  


Today’s Spotlight is 1,305 words — about a 5 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

What to know about the Facebook antitrust lawsuits:

1. The Federal Trade Commission filed suit.
2  Nearly all state governments also filed a parallel suit.
3. They accuse the company of being a monopolist. 
4. They want Facebook to spin off Instagram and WhatsApp.
5. They also want Facebook to seek approval for any future acquisitions valued at more than $10 million (which is a pretty tiny acquisition).
6. One big complaint is that Facebook acquires or buries competition.
7. Another is that Facebook user privacy has been eroded.

Facebook’s defense: We haven’t done anything wrong, and these acquisitions were already approved.  You don’t get to challenge them later.  Facebook is free to use and no one has to use the service, so where is the harm to consumers?   

Facebook also says that its competition remains Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple. They also cite services like Netflix that compete with Facebook Watch and smaller but still huge social media companies like Pinterest, Snap, Twitter, and TikTok.

Our take:  This surprised no one. Facebook has been publicly maneuvering for more than a year to shield Instagram and WhatsApp. Whatever happens will take years to occur. Large monopoly cases have been brought against AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft when they controlled the industry. Facebook has an argument to make, but nothing will change for a very long time.  

There also needs to be a reckoning on consumer privacy, but a big part of that starts with education. Most people still don’t understand internet privacy.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

NEW: NPR’s County-Level Hospital Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

Anti-Vaxxer Books Top Search at Amazon, B&N – Bloomberg
CA: 10% Have Opted In To Covid Exposure Alerts – CNBC
Contact Tracing Apps Promised Big & Didn’t Deliver – The Verge
COVID-19: Has technology killed snow days? – Cincinnati Enquirer
Facebook Won’t Require Employees to Get Vaccine – The Verge
Google Search Results Tackle Vaccine Misinfo – CNBC
Vaccinated? Show Us Your App – The New York Times

3. Search Engine News

Data Google Provided

  • Mobile website load times were 19 seconds in 2015. That’s why Google collaborated with companies including Yahoo, Microsoft  on the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative. And all content heavy websites should be using or testing AMP.
  • “Near Me” searches by consumers more than doubled again last year, reveals Googler Reena Nadkarni in this good interview with Greg Sterling.
  • Google Maps is rolling out a “Community News Feed” for consumers that will display recent updates business have made in that area. Twenty million daily updates are done in Google Maps.

What Google Debunked

  • Using an alternative to a dot com domain like dot blog or dot dentist conveys no ratings boost. That matches past guidance regarding dot edu or dot mil domains. One but: geographic domains (CA in Canada or MX in Mexico) will likely get preference on local searches.
  • Keeping your domain registration information private has no effect on how Google ranks the website’s pages. That privacy was frowned upon twenty years ago, but it’s nearly 2021. 

Tweet of the Week from Google’s John Mueller: “If we know a text used to be on a page, we might continue to show the page even if the text has been removed. For example, if a company changes its name, you’d still want to find the website if you searched for the old name.”

4. In the Spotlight — Ransomware Surges

Baltimore’s network was hammered with ransomware eighteen months ago in a widely covered event. We wrote about it for a couple of weeks running. 

Baltimore County public schools were also struck with ransomware right before Thanksgiving, leading to arguments between the school system and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.  On Friday, the county accused the school system executives of refusing to cooperate with them.

The City of Texarkana also disclosed that its water utility was also attacked.

Ransomware cases are rapidly growing. Recent attacks include the Vancouver transit system, Independence, KS (pop. 10,000), Rand McNally, and U.S. Fertility, a chain of 55 clinics in 10 states.  Some organizations, like Danish news agency Ritzau, refuse to pay and rely on workarounds.

A security expert told The New York Times that he was aware of more than 100 organizations fighting ransomware attacks during September. Last week, CISA and the FBI issued a joint security alert about ransomware for K-12 schools. 

This is an issue that your organization needs to understand and plan for in a clear-eyed manner.

Ransomware Smart Links

Baltimore County executive says school officials… – Baltimore Sun 
Baltimore students must trade in device – CBS Baltimore
CISA, FBI warn of ransomware in K-12 Schools – ZD Net
How did ransomware get so bad? – The New York Times
KC suburb spent millions on protection, but… – Kansas City Star
Rand McNally hit by cyber attack – Bleeping Computer
Ransomware attack causing system outages – KTAL / KSHV
Ritzau did not pay ransom – Security Affairs
Vancouver’s transit system hit by ransomware – Bleeping Computer

5. Debunked — Bill Gates and Vaccines

A video of Bill Gates claiming that the vaccine will “change our DNA forever”  circulating on social media is misleading and inaccurate.

Read Reuters debunking it here.

6. Following Up — Google Fires Ethicist

We told you last week about Google firing AI ethicist Timnit Gebru. More of the story came to light last week, and we’ve rarely seen technology company employees react so viscerally to personnel moves. This one has them angry.

Dr. Gebru was the lead researcher on a conference paper her team submitted regarding the bias in very large machine learning algorithmsbased on language. Google demanded she remove her affiliation and the names of colleagues from the paper. She refused and was later fired.

Remember that Dr. Gebru is an ethicist. Firing an ethicist over ethical issues is never a good look. Also not a good look is the Google BERT algorithm we told you about before that uses very large machine learning algorithms based on language to provide search results.

Before this even happened, I was avidly (albeit slowly) reading “Algorithms of Oppression” in part to understand the SEO implications. And it’s a significant problem. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has apologized for Gebru’s dismissal and promised to review the matter.

Catch up: fantastic Venture Beat interview with Gebru.

7. Protip — Export Your Google Drive Files

For those of you moving on after Google announced limits on its file storage, you can easily take all your stuff with you. 

Here’s the step-by-step for Google Takeout.

8. Screening Room – Take Care of Yourself

9. Coffee Break — New Google Animals… in your home

We’ve told you before about Google’s augmented reality search results that superimpose video of animals near you.  Google added 50 animals on Friday. 

Learn how to do it here, and no, a giraffe does not fit in my office, so it needs to be scaled down. 

Good Monday morning. It’s December 7th. Hanukkah begins Thursday night.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,205 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Facebook will be sued for antitrust violations by nearly all states this week according to Reuters. Separately, the Department of Justice sued Facebook Thursday claiming that it discriminated against Americans by giving preference to foreign workers through the H-1B visa program. ArsTechnica has coverage of this counterintuitive claim.

b. Facebook’s Oversight Board announced that it will hear its first six cases. The group is sponsored by but operates independently of Facebook. Its membership includes Nobel Prize laureates, former heads of state, legal scholars, and human rights experts. As the board reviews specific cases among the more than 200,000 that were filed, they hope to establish precedents that Facebook and its moderators can use as guidance. (Official announcement)

c. Reddit averaged 52 million daily active users in October, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s a fraction of the traffic internet giants get, but is also 52 million people every day on a network where users self-segment themselves into interest groups.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

Covid & Cybsersecurity Catastrophic Attack on Ed Tech — Ed Week
Delta first U.S. airline to launch contact tracing — Axios
Facebook will remove vaccine misinformation — The New York Times
More than 1 million enabled WA COVID exposure tech — KXLY Spokane
New Test Uses Smartphone Camera & CRISPR — SciTechDaily
Study examines mobile health tech for Covid-19 — MIT
Wickliffe students, faculty wear COVID tracking tech — CBS Cleveland 19

3. Search Engine News

Google’s new page experience metrics for websites will only count as a ranking signal based on how they render on mobile.

The company’s announcement late last week bears repeating. Only. Mobile. Metrics. Matter.

Refresher on the three “Core Web Vitals” metrics and their funny names:

1. Largest Contentful Paint — how quickly users see content.
2. First Input Delay — how responsive a site is when something is clicked.
3. Cumulative Layout Shift — how the page moves on-screen during interaction.

Remember when Google first said that your website’s pages had to be mobile friendly? Then they said the pages had to be fast. These are the next three items.

Separately Google announced on Thursday that it launched a core update. While Google constantly updates these days, core updates are much broader and take a week or two to update throughout Google. Websites will see rankings and traffic fluctuate, but we won’t know for at least several more days which industries and types of sites were affected the most. The last core update was in May so it’s not a regular occurrence.

4. In the Spotlight — Election Misinformation Continues

No one is happy with the way that big technology platforms are manipulated by bad people to spread misinformation. We’ve told you before how videos depicting suicide or even murder show up online, are quickly removed, and then changed by others to evade detection. What a world, but it’s ours, this part is broken, and we need to be clear-eyed about this.

The co-founder of a civil rights coalition is raising awareness that election misinformation targeting Spanish speakers in the U.S. is often not as well policed as posts in English. Her concerns were echoed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) when he questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during hearings last month.

Avaaz analyzed 10 posts from President Donald Trump’s attorneys and found that 5 of them were flagged for election misinformation, but that only one of the Spanish translations were flagged.

Video content is also hard to police and categorize. Transparency Tube is addressing the categorization and analysis part by creating an easy-to-use library of political YouTube content organized by date, time, category, and even whether it is conservative or progressive. Think QAnon isn’t a problem? There were 7.9 million views of QAnon channels on English language YouTube in the last 7 days.

This problem won’t go away with a new president. In fact, it may get worse. Facebook said that it attached fact check warnings to 180 million pieces of content between March 1 and Election Day. Granted, that’s a long time, but let’s consider the number: 180,000,000 pieces of content. Another 265,000 were entirely removed from the site for voter interference.

More recently Avaaz looked at the Georgia Senate races and reported that Facebook missed as much as 60% of the election misinformation targeting those voters.

Professors at the University of California’s Culture Analytics Group say they’ve developed an automated approach to determine when social media conversations reflect conspiracy theory distribution. They are using a combination of entity analysis and network effects to compare past conspiracy theories to current ones like QAnon.

Our take: That is a great idea, but it’s not ready for prime time yet and wouldn’t be the sole solution. Stay vigilant and use credible fact-checking sites.

Election Misinformation Smartlinks

An AI tool to identify conspiracy theories — Nieman Lab
Election misinformation often evaded YouTube — The New York Times
Facebook failed to flag Georgia election misinformation — Daily Dot
Facebook labeled 180 million debunked posts — The Washington Post
Tech firms fall short on Spanish language — The Hill
Transparency Tube

5. Debunked — “Thugshot Christmas tree”

The Mobile County (AL) Sheriff’s Office posted an image of a Christmas tree decorated with images of people it said had been arrested or were wanted for crimes.

The people in those images were not necessarily found guilty of those crimes. And the office didn’t actually display the tree, but doctored a photo.

Read the truth from the AP via Snopes.

6. Following Up — Amazon Fresh, Google Fires Ethicist

We’ve written about Amazon’s march to grocery dominance. They take another step this week by opening an Amazon Fresh store in Chicago suburb Naperville, their first location not on the west coast. (Chicago Tribune)

We’ve also told you before about work done by Google AI ethicist Dr. Timnit Gebru in showing how facial recognition software often misidentified darker skinned women. After she recently refused Google’s request to retract a research paper on a different topic, her employment was terminated. The industry press is livid over the matter. A second Google ethicist, Tristan Harris, is now one of Big Tech’s most outspoken critics and was recently featured in “The Social Dilemma.”

7. Protip — Android Live Wallpaper & Google Photos

If your Android phone supports Live Wallpaper, you can now let Google Photos use rotating images from your gallery as your wallpaper.

Here’s how.

Screening Room— Belonging

Belonging Begins With Us is a new campaign dedicated to fostering a more welcoming nation where everyone – regardless of their background – can belong. This new work features exclusive new music from Lake Street Dive, covering Joe South’s 1968 hit “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”

9. Coffee Break — From Gingerbread House to Gingerbread Höme

Ikea nailed a feel good moment with free, downloadable stencils to make gingerbread furniture for gingerbread houses.

How do you connect them? Well, with warm sugar or icing. Duh.

Good Monday morning. It’s November 30th. The National Christmas Tree Lighting cermony is Thursday night. Here’s the official link where you can watch the livestream or play it on demand at any time.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,171 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Walmart will fulfill some online orders via its 4,700 stores instead of distribution centers. You’re correct if you remember Walmart delivery news about drones and self-driving cars. They’re doing everything possible in their e-commerce battle with Amazon. And just like that, they’ve reinvigorated the concept of a local store’s delivery driver. (Official announcement)

b. Uganda used facial recognition technology from Huawei in the violent beginning to its presidential election season that has left nearly fifty people dead. And yes, that sentence could easily have been written about Dallas or Atlanta. The Ugandan government has 83 facial recognition monitoring centers and employs nearly 500 people. (Quartz)

c. U.S. presidential candidates spent $53K+ on advertising per electoral vote during the campaign’s final week. Yes, week. That number swelled to $554K and $505K in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin. The presidential campaign accounted for nearly $1.8 billion while all races accounted for $8.5 billion. (Ad Age-paywall)

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

3 Ways Tech Can Help the World Weather COVID-19 – World Econ Forum
Ad Council’s Challenge: Persuade Vaccine Skeptics – New York Times
AI Can Run Your Meetings Now – Wired
Facebook Group Connects Long Haulers – Bay News 9 
Facebook Group for Victim Puts Name to Number – Sun Journal
MN Co. Using Viral Sign Technology for Detection – KSTP Minneapolis
People Weak Link for Apps Tracking Exposure – US News & World Report
Universities tracking COVID through Facebook surveys – Denver 7

EXTRA: What I Told George Mason University Students

I recently had an opportunity to judge the capstone business case competition at my alma mater, George Mason University. I’ve been a coach and a judge often over the last twenty years, but this year’s virtual competition was different because of the pandemic. 

We know that the semester starting in January will be tough for all educators. Check in with yours to see if there are some ways you can give a little bit of time to help the students get through this strange time to learn.

Here are the final comments I sent for the students after the presentations.

About Presenting to Others

  1. Case studies aren’t about checking off a requirements list. Show us that you thought hard.
  2. Stay smart, creative, and reasonable.
  3. Follow the rules. We didn’t bother debating about a team we disqualified for using new info in the case.
  4. The most important outcome is profit. Your boss should tell you otherwise if necessary. Better: confirm by asking.

About Video & Slides

  1. Tech happens. Watch every second of your presentation again even if you’re bored.
  2. We hate typos. One is okay. Three will discredit your ideas.
  3. Don’t use full sentences in slides. 
  4. Show your face like streamers do.
  5. Don’t force things. A list with nine items is fine.

3. Search Engine News

You knew that Google could provide information on how to care for a Christmas tree. Now it is helping Los Angeles municipal staff care for an area’s tree canopy. 

The Google Tree Canopy Lab combines aerial images with machine learning to display maps of trees as part of its Environmental Insights Explorer. Why trees? They help fight urban heat island effects and provide more sustainable living in an area. You can see the live data here. Think back twenty years ago and imagine someone telling you that there would be maps of trees accessible to anyone anywhere in the world.

Google Maps is also testing a display of street address numbers directly on Google Maps. Sterling Sky’s Joy Hawkins tweeted a screencap of a map showing the test on the day before Thanksgiving.

4. In the Spotlight — Holiday Cybersecurity Tips

“Due to the pandemic, this holiday season may look and feel a bit different …”

— The federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency demonstrating their gift for understatement in an otherwise great Holiday Cybersecurity tip sheet.

On this Cyber Monday, the usual warnings seem intuitive and old hat, but they bear repeating. CISA’s holiday tip sheet includes important reminders about not using unsecured public Wi-Fi, how to identify legitimate websites, and using a credit card instead of a debit card.

Access all the holiday cybersecurity tips here, and don’t forget the additional resources section. 

5. Debunked — Election Videos

There is a staggering amount of election disinformation coming from the administration and some Republican members of Congress. As of this writing, President Donald Trump’s campaign has lost 39 out of 40 lawsuits that it has filed since the election.

Reuters sorted out the ongoing social media blitz of disinformation in this fact check that it titled, “Dominion is not linked to Smartmatic, Antifa or Venezuela, did not switch U.S. 2020 election votes in Virginia and was not subject to a U.S. Army raid in Germany.”

It’s OK to have doubts or wonder if there’s some truth to the falsehoods.

Read the fact check here.

6. Following Up — Amazon Sidewalk

We told you about Amazon Sidewalk back in September. This new Amazon function uses Echo and Ring devices to extend the range of your home network so that it works in a backyard, driveway, or elsewhere around your home.

Privacy experts immediately hated the idea. Now security experts are joining them. 

How-To Geek shows you how to opt-out of the automatic function.

7. Protip — Google Chrome’s New Features

There are two new features in the latest Google Chrome upgrade for you to consider.

Upgraded PDF viewing is now available, but optional. Tech Radar shows you how to turn on the feature for your browser.

Search all open tabs at once is also available in extreme beta. You can use the function in Google Chrome’s Canary build or see images and read about it here in Bleeping Computer.

Screening Room— No, You’re Crying

You’ll want to spend two minutes with this sentimental holiday commercial for Portuguese mobile company NOS. There are no spoken parts so you’ll be fine without a translator.

9. Coffee Break — Hidden Biden Employment Ad

Anyone snooping in the source code of the Biden Build Back Better website found an intriguing offer from his team. According to the person I first saw post it online, it hearkens back to the days of spy agencies recruiting via puzzle competitions.

See the image for yourself.