Good Monday Morning

It’s April 10. Expect more turmoil this week as the country grapples with conflicting court rulings over Plan B, Florida looks to ban abortions after six weeks, and fallout continues over undeclared luxurious gifts and travel received by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from a billionaire benefactor who also collects and displays Nazi memorabilia.

Today’s expanded Spotlight is 1,018 words — about 4 minutes to read.

Spotlight On … Social Media Pranks

Pranks posted on YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat may be the technological descendant of shows like Candid Camera or America’s Funniest Home Videos, but they are often produced by untrained, average users with no network or legal support.

Tanner Cook, 21, started a YouTube channel called Classified Goons last year. Cook’s videos were aggressive, even in a no-holds-barred prank world with titles like “Faking Vomit on Uber Drivers” and “Taking Rackets from Tennis Players.” Recently, he posted a 9-minute video pretending to be a Target employee.

On April 2, Cook was shot and wounded while filming a prank in a mall food court. Cook and the man who shot him may both be charged by Loudoun County (VA) prosecutors. Cook’s YouTube channel which averages about 100 new subscriptions each day has averaged about 1,000 new daily subscriptions since the shooting.

The week before, a California mom was hospitalized for a social media prank gone wrong. Public health economist Lana Clay-Monaghan, 35, is a mother of twins. While shopping at Target near her home, she became disoriented and fainted when a bucket was placed over her head. A leukemia survivor who also suffers from epilepsy, Clay-Monaghan was hospitalized following the incident, which police are investigating as an assault.

This happens more frequently than you might expect. Two years ago, OnlyFans creator Briatney Portillo, 20, suffered a heart attack after competing in an online challenge that led her to ingest about 350 mgs of pre-workout powder containing caffeine and supplements without water.

Extreme social media pranks happen elsewhere as well. Japanese social media users licked and touched food before it was served last month in an act of “sushi terrorism.” It brought to mind videos posted in 2019 by a Texas juvenile who licked ice cream before replacing it on the shelf. There were copycats, including Lenise Martin, 36, who was charged in Louisiana with a similar crime.

Six juveniles were arrested in Centereach, New York, last February, for performing the Kool-Aid Man challenge, which is allegedly based on the product’s old commercial where a mascot runs through walls. They broke fences outside four homes by running into them before police charged them with criminal mischief.

Each generation pushes boundaries with pranks, but with 400 million guns in private citizens’ hands and movie-quality cameras on phones, doorways, and businesses, viral videos entice increasingly dangerous activities.

3 More Stories to Know

1) Microsoft and Cobalt Strike software maker Fortra can cripple software used by hackers to attack hospitals under a unique court order. It’s the first time a court has ordered malicious software disabled. In the meantime, Oakland officials continue to battle a cyberattack that’s lasted two months. Last week, hackers published confidential police and medical records. It’s believed that the hackers attacking Oakland were also behind attacks on Antwerp and hosting company Rackspace.

2) Conservative legal professor Jonathan Turley claimed that ChatGPT created a sexual abuse scandal involving him and students he was traveling with. The chatbot shared a nonexistent link to the Washington Post to support its claim. This newspaper says it has never published an article like that.3) Tesla employees shared photos and videos recorded by cameras inside the company’s vehicles, according to an explosive new report. The images included nudity, accidents involving children, and scenes inside owners’ garages or from their properties even when cars were turned off.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — Trump Ads Return, So Do False Social Media Reports

For the first time in years, Donald Trump’s advertising appeared in the Top 10 on Facebook and Google, but social media sites also dealt with false posts from the former president. In addition to fabricating the number of police officers involved in Donald Trump’s arrest and arraignment, Eric and Donald Trump also falsely claimed the arrest and arraignment cost the city $200 million. Despite the Manhattan District Attorney’s 900 employees, the office’s budget for an entire year is much lower.

Following Up —  Using ChatGPT to Summarize YouTube or Long Text

New creative ways to harness generative AI are constantly being released. I’m enthralled while using the Glarity browser extension to provide summaries of YouTube videos. I’ve successfully used it on interview segments, news stories, and even a church service where it identified the readings and music without that information included in the descriptions.

Protip —  Making Your Calendar Private

After the WSJ published a cute reminder piece about some company calendars being defaulted to public, it’s time to revisit how to ensure your data is private on Google or Outlook

Screening Room — Optic 2000 – AI Draws What Visually Impaired People Describe

Science Fiction World — NASA To Track Air Pollution at Neighborhood Level

Despite the climate denial catcalls from online pundits who may not have ever studied science as an adult, NASA has begun tracking hourly air pollutions readings at the neighborhood level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported two weeks ago that previous warming targets are no longer attainable.

Coffee Break —  Finally, a Light Moment

I needed this video of a Belgian Shepherd copying his owner doing squats at the gym.

Sign of the Times

It’s April 3. Ramadan continues, Passover begins Wednesday, Easter is Sunday. Our best to everyone celebrating significant holidays this week.

Today’s expanded Spotlight is 1,021 words — about 4 minutes to read.

Spotlight On … Retail Food Tech

Retail food technology continues to change in 2023. Grocery stores are automating checkouts and using AI to personalize shopping. More local and organic food is available through online delivery services. Robotic food preparation and contactless payments are transforming restaurants.

Retail Food Tech … at Supermarkets

Enhanced inventory and checkout options include price scanners that recognize fresh produce automatically, weigh it, and price it. Stocks on store shelves will be monitored using Google AI image recognition. That improves availability, cycle time, and increases profitability.

… in Restaurants

Amazon touchless technology will allow Panera Bread to offer optional custom experiences, including ordering and paying without a cashier. Customers are greeted by name and menu items are suggested based on their previous orders.

McDonald’s is implementing artificial intelligence in some drive-thrus. The software is more reliable at upselling and can handle higher volumes more efficiently. The company also boosts profitability by reducing its workforce. Startup costs and customer reaction are understandably concerns for franchisees.

… ordering delivery

A massive purge of virtual brands is underway on Uber Eats to winnow down restaurant options. These brands are an offshoot of the ghost kitchen concept where the same food is sold by the same kitchen under different brand names. There are now over 40,000 virtual storefronts on Uber Eats, and 5,000 will be removed soon. The company pointed out abuses that included a NY deli selling the same food under 14 brand names and a Colorado sports bar doing the same using 12 brands.

… anywhere biometric data is collected

A New York consumer has filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon, alleging the company collected biometric data at its convenience stores for a year before complying with disclosure laws. In response to the lawsuit, Amazon says it does not use facial recognition inside its Go stores and that the storage of palm print data provided by customers is disclosed when they opt-in.

Amazon Go has 29 retail stores in the United States, 10 of them in New York.

 3 More Stories to Know

1) Shopping app Pinduoduo is a substantial cybersecurity risk and should not be used on your Android phones, according to experts. Google Play has already banned the app because the owner can take over parts of a user’s phone. The software can also reportedly protect itself from being uninstalled. Pinduoduo is owned by the same company that owns Chinese shopping app Temu, which is one of the most downloaded shopping apps in the U.S.

2 BuzzFeed surprised industry observers when it announced that it would use AI software to author quizzes on its site. The company has taken another step and has published dozens of AI-written travel guides it attributes to Buzzy the Robot.3) ChatGPT 4.0 improved its grade on an economics exam to an A, according to George Mason University professor Bryan Caplan. ChatGPT 3.5 only earned a D when Caplan first administered the exam three months ago.

 Waiting in the Wings

  • Protecting yourself from location data
  • What you can really do with those chatbots
  • How algorithms are automatically denying medical claims

Put your email address in the form at this link and you’ll get a free copy of Spotlight each Monday morning to start your week in the know.

If you’re already a free subscriber, would you please forward this to a friend who could use a little Spotlight in their Monday mornings? It would really help us out, and you know they’ll love it too.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — WHO Did Not Say Kids & Teens Don’t Need COVID-19 Vaccine

After the World Health Organization announced new vaccine guidance last week, disinformation flooded online and wrongly claimed that the agency no longer recommended healthy children and teens receive COVID-19 vaccines. What the agency said was that in places where the option was to have a vaccine for rotavirus or measles, that those vaccine should be given first. The agency also said that countries should prioritize COVID-19 vaccines to at-risk patients. More than 1,500 Americans have died from COVID-19 in the last seven days.

 Following Up —  Philly Goes After Short-Term Rentals

We wrote about Airbnb three weeks ago and told you that multiple cities were unhappy with lost tax revenues and housing shortages created by the company’s hosts. A Philadelphia councilman has said that there is virtually no followup on the hotel licensing that some Airbnb hosts in the city must have or about complaints filed against those properties. The city is now cracking down on both issues.

Protip — File Taxes for Free

After years of contentious squabbles between the IRS and Intuit TurboTax, that program is no longer part of the IRS Free File Program. Federal taxes are due this month, and ProPublica has a guided walkthrough for people who earn no more than $73,000 to file their taxes online for free.

Screening Room Northwell Health’s Ferocious Tiger

Science Fiction World — Mammoth Meatball

Lab-grown meat is already a thing, but an Australian company went full Jurassic Park. They spliced in a genetic sequence for a wooly mammoth to make a meatball while creating some buzzy headlines, and look, it worked. The product isn’t for human consumption because our immune systems haven’t been exposed to those proteins for thousands of years.

Coffee Break —  Hurl An Asteroid At Bakersfield

Hurl multiple kinds and sizes of space debris at any location you choose. Play with Asteroid Launcher to choose the type of asteroid, its size and speed, and get the full effect of who and what you wiped out.

Good Monday Morning

It’s March 27th. Sport fans are watching the start of baseball season on Thursday and the NCAA Final Four on Saturday.

Today’s expanded Spotlight is 1,328 words — about 7 minutes to read.

Spotlight On … Law Enforcement Technology

In our fifth annual report on police technology, we examine how U.S. law enforcement agencies are increasingly using sophisticated police surveillance tools.

Last year, we wrote about the insidious tracking by toll booths, vehicles, cellphones, and location data brokers. In prior years, we addressed facial recognition misuse by police and the use of unproven algorithms to identify individuals the software predicts are “likely to break the law.”

Most of those programs are still in effect. For example, facial recognition abuse has led to police arresting people and jailing them for as long as a week even when they were nowhere near a crime scene.

Doorbells and dash cameras are generating more police surveillance. There are also new ways police use cellphone records and data, and some very specific DNA tools without the judicial protections most people expect.

Doorbell and Consumer Cameras

American homes have an estimated 12 million doorbell cameras. Tesla and BMW vehicles can record from four cameras simultaneously in addition to the millions of vehicles that have installed third-party dashcams. America’s homes and cars are covered by a vast, often unregulated, camera network.

Police often have access to these millions of cameras without a warrant. San Francisco, an early pioneer of facial recognition protection, approved a one-year pilot program for monitoring those cameras’ footage. The network of cameras can be used for large public events, even if no crime has occurred.

During a controversial program in Florida, police installed Ring cameras on domestic victims’ doors in exchange for authorization to review the footage. Cameras deter crimes according to police, but some victims rights groups disagree.

According to Google and Amazon, police usually need a warrant or subpoena to access camera footage. They admit, however, that police have emergency processes in place with their companies to release footage without homeowners’ consent.

A company called Flock Safety, which works directly with police and homeowners associations, installs license plate readers, which are a startling use of cameras by law enforcement. These associations have been able to install the readers on their common grounds and allow data to be uploaded to police–without the local government’s knowledge or consent. In Lake County, Florida, nearly 100 cameras were installed overnight without government knowledge or permits.

Officials acknowledge that the surveillance devices can be used for everything from stolen vehicles to immigration enforcement. Activists are concerned that other behaviors will be targeted.


The Jan. 6 insurrection was famously tracked by cellphone data through the Capitol. Apple and Google’s ability to constantly track your phone’s location has made location data a treasure trove of information about your behavior.

Police have software calledFog Reveal” that they can use to identify individual phones and match those devices to commercially available data without needing Google or Apple’s cooperation. This is important because police can use commercially available data without a warrant. This month, FBI director Christopher Wray acknowledged the agency had purchased location data.

Law enforcement uses another software package called GrayKey. Even though Apple began encrypting phone data nearly 10 years ago, GrayKey can hack Android and iOS devices. Local law enforcement as well as the State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration are customers or prospects for the device, according to Motherboard.

DNA Databases

Using commercially available DNA results to find criminals has long intrigued law enforcement, and we’ve written extensively about how partial matches have led to arrests in long-dormant or high-profile cases.

A new service called DNA Justice collects the same results generated by companies such as Ancestry, 23 and Me, and My Heritage, so that police have access to a completely opt-in database. The service is brand-new and measures its database in hundreds of records rather than millions. Users who donate their DNA records will be notified if their record is used to help solve a case, which is something commercial labs do not currently offer.

Not Just the U.S.

Law enforcement officials are making the most of available technology in countries throughout the world. During Punjab authorities’ search for antigovernmental activists last month, police blocked mobile phone service and filtered websites to 27 million people in India.

Paris is installing AI-powered cameras to protect crowds expected to flood the city during the Olympics next year. The cameras will look for suspicious behavior, and critics are concerned that their installation will remain long after The Games end.

That’s not a far-fetched concern given the increasing rate of law enforcement using technology to proactively surveil individuals.

 3 More Stories to Know

1) Since adding GPT-4 to its search results, Microsoft Bing traffic has grown 16% and passed 100 million active users for the first time.

2Musicians Ne-Yo, Akon, and Lil’ Yachty, actress Lindsay Lohan, and influencer Jake Paul were among the celebrities fined by the SEC last week for failing to properly disclose their relationship to cryptocurrency issues that they promoted. 

3) North Korean hackers are targeting government officials, journalists, and academics a variety of ways, including a Chrome-based (or Edge, Brave, etc.) extension that remains hidden. Bleeping Computer has details on how to detect that program.

Waiting in the Wings

  • Protecting yourself from location data
  • What you can really do with those chatbots
  • How algorithms are automatically denying medical claims

Put your email address in the form at this link and you’ll get a free copy of Spotlight each Monday morning to start your week in the know.

If you’re already a free subscriber, would you please forward this to a friend who could use a little Spotlight in their Monday mornings? It would really help us out, and you know they’ll love it too.

Trends & Spends

Did That Really Happen? — TSA Rules Peanut Butter Is Liquid

The great social media debate over the state of peanut butter began when a podcaster tweeted that the TSA had confiscated a jar of peanut butter at an airport security checkpoint because he couldn’t fly with more than 3.4 ounces of a liquid.  Yes, it’s legit, and TSA posted their definition of a liquid

Following Up —  Google Chatbot Sides with Justice Dept. in Antitrust Case

Jane Manchun Wong, who we regularly quote, got the Google Bard chatbot to post a response siding with the Justice Department against Google in its digital advertising antitrust case. Not surprisingly, Google Bard wouldn’t comment about the same issue several days later. Read the exchange.

Protip — Enable 10-bit Color on Your Android Camera

A very cool walkthrough from Tom’s Guide shows you how to increase the bit depth on your camera from the default 8-bit to 10-bit. That increases the “tonal range” from 16.7 million shades of color to 1.07 billion, which is a lot more.

Screening Room Northwell Health’s Ferocious Tiger

Science Fiction World — UK Backs Rolls-Royce Nukes 

After funding a study last year, the UK Space Agency announced last week that it will sponsor a Rolls-Royce project to build a nuclear reactor on the moon. That is the most science-fiction sentence I’ve ever written here.

Coffee Break —  Radio Time Machine

Want to hear a song from Angola’s radio in 1930 or one of dozens of countries from any decade since 1900?  The radio time machine allows you to select a decade and then tune to a country. It’s great fun.

Sign of the Times