Good Monday morning. Welcome to April. Be careful online today because the Internet loves April Fool’s Day. You’re a Spotlight reader. Don’t let ’em get you.

News to Know Now 

  • Facebook has banned white nationalism and white supremacy. Yes, they can. Support for or posts about either are grounds for Facebook action, including account cancelation. Read their announcement, Standing Against Hate
     
  • Personal data including bank info improperly shared to contractors by FEMA we told you about last week will test the Trump Administration’s resolution to hold government officials liable according to new Washington Post analysis.
     
  • The federal government also charged Facebook with housing discrimination by allowing advertisers to select the demographics of people who can view ads. We’ve written extensively about this including last week. Other tech companies remain under investigation.

Breaking Sunday night
Facebook announces a “Why Am I Seeing This Post” feature.
Here’s the announcement complete with screenshots and video.

Google Product Changes

Expect to see longer content online. Google has told webmasters that it doesn’t use that helpful prev/next link you see to paginate long web content. That was a guideline they published more than 7 years ago and rescinded–but never told the tech community about rescinding.

The SEO world wanted to know when Google made that decision. Industry liaison John Mueller confirmed that it was “years ago”. The best line we read was from Edwin Toonen at WordPress SEO dev shop Yoast. “Sometimes you wonder if Google even knows how Google works.”

Indeed. And the bigger issue is Mueller’s admonition that “each page on a website should stand on its own.” We’ve always been fanatical about including internal links for context all over long-form content. That’s something your organization should be looking at soon because when asked if Google still captured the information to create a page sequence for long content, Mueller admitted that Google hadn’t used the data in years.

Also note Google’s official stance: studies show that users love single-page content.

Google’s hotel listings will also get a bit more crowded. The newly redesigned feature will now include vacation rentals, the company announced Tuesday.  The new listings appear now on mobile and will begin appearing on desktop searches during April. Check out the new interface.

If you remember or still use Patch’s  hyperlocal news websites, you’re going to love Google’s announcements about its investment in a new project called the Local Experiments Initiative. News publisher McClatchy will operate digital-only news websites in markets of fewer than 500,000 people. Google’s role is monetary – investing what it says will be millions of dollars. Google and WordPress are also collaborating on a customized version of WordPress for local media. If all that sounds familiar, AOL bought Patch from its founders for $7 million ten years ago before pumping tens of millions more into the venture before selling it in 2014.

Local news interests everyone. We saw that in a great Slate feature this weekend that examined the most shared news story on Facebook this YTD. It’s a 119 word story (really) posted to the Facebook page of a  Temple, Texas radio station. Read the Slate analysis of this fun story.
 

2. Numbers to Know

Now add up YouTube, Netflix and Facebook video to reach 41.9%. Also consider that Snapchat (8.3%) and Instagram (5.7%) are visual channels, and it’s easy to project that more than half of the world’s mobile traffic is image-based.

We often write about Big Data although not usually McDonald’s. The massive restaurant chain is embracing analytics and business intelligence to the tune of a $300 million acquisition of analytics firm Dynamic Yield. On tap: drive through displays customized on the fly, ordering and supply chain improvements, and even recognition of repeat customers based on license plate readers. The company will continue operating separately, a move analysts are quick to point out only enhances the decision making abilities of the firm that has dozens of brand-name clients including AutoNation, American Greetings, Ikea, Cabela’s, and Weber.

Describing this last bit of Internet number data won’t do it justice. Click to see a comparison of what happens in each minute on the Internet this year compared to one year ago. A quick sample:

  • 4.5 million YouTube videos viewed (up from 4.3)
  • $996K in revenue (up from $862K)
  • 3.8 million Google search queries

See the inforgraphic here

Good Monday morning. It’s March 18th. Spring allegedly begins this week.

Google makes a mystery announcement on Tuesday that they’ve teased will “unveil its vision for the future of gaming.” The current state of gaming is around $140 billion annually so their take would be interesting. Just like search and advertising, about half of that amount comes from mobile.

News to Know Now

  • Facebook’s outage on Thursday included Instagram and other Facebook properties. It’s the biggest outage the company endured since allowing widespread public access in 2006.  
  • Social media was criticized by many in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s gun massacre in New Zealand. But we’ll look at the facts of what people can reasonably expect in situations with fast breaking news.
  • Google confirmed a “core algorithm change” took place March 1. Core updates occur only a couple of times each year and affect Google’s main search engine algorithms rather than the specific, more focused changes that happen daily.
This is part of  Silver Beacon’s live website traffic display.

We can toggle them to different metrics and watch multiple clients throughout the day.  But it’s important to remember issues like seasonality (which caused the growth in the second site shown) and different externalities. 

Knowing the history helps us understand any shifts.

1.  Murder Videos Online

Facebook stopped 1.2 million copies of the video streamed during the New Zealand massacre from being uploaded. Another 300,000 were taken down after they were uploaded. The white supremacist who murdered people at worship seemed to have a good working knowledge of how social media works online.

  • This had nothing to do with Facebook or YouTube any more than the post office is involved with an illegal scam or the phone company when someone calls in a bomb threat.
  • Stop and ask this question: who tried to upload the video 1.5 million times to Facebook? Those are the people deserving of your anger.
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren was upset when Facebook automatically removed ads her campaign posted calling for its breakup. Facebook replied this week that ads using its logo are blocked. 
    • Uploads happened all over the Internet, not just Facebook and Youtube. 
    • A Reddit channel called r/watchpeopledie showed images of people hit by cars and other deaths for 7 years. There are 300,000 subscribers.
    • Where does Facebook draw the line between recognizing problem imagery?
    • Are trailers for R-rated movies okay? What about news coverage of wars?

YouTube has the same problem. So does every website. There were still copies of the video available on Sunday on many different websites in New Zealand. YouTube told The Verge that they can stop child pornography well, but their systems aren’t designed for “urgent situations”. That’s fair. No one is going to catch a murder or suicide being live-streamed. And the company deliberately errs on the side of having news-related videos stay online. Think the Arab Spring, riots in Venezuela, and war throughout the world.  

YouTube Kids exists for children under the age of 13. The company is explicit that children under the age of 13 are not permitted to use the main service. That’s reasonable although we’ve all seen parents and others plop a kid in front of videos.  I’m sympathetic. After once grounding one of my children from the Internet, the then-enterprising student used his game console to access a neighbor’s WiFi signal and went about whatever it was he did online then.

Humanity has shown that we are not good at putting genies back in bottles. We are hopeful Big Tech will solve this problem, but let’s not forget that 1.5 million attempts were made to upload this horrific video to Facebook in only 24 hours.

2.  Facebook’s Troubling Carousel


Facebook is an easy target. No one seems to really like it except for the couple of billion people who access it as much as several times a day. Much was made of 15 million U.S. users quitting last year.  The company deserves to be pilloried for some of the ways it has handled data in the last decade, but it’s certainly not alone. 

Last week was especially bad for the social media giant besides the ridiculously long outage on Thursday  that TechCrunch reported caused 3 million people to sign up for new Telegram accounts. Besides the outage, the Christchurch videos, and temporarily blocking Senator Warren’s ads, these things happened:

  • Chris Cox, the company’s #3 exec, announced Thursday that he was leaving. So did another executive who was running Whats App after that company’s founders left. Their moves are widely regarded to be a response to the idea of combining Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. But it’s a big shakeup because Cox was an early Facebook tech voice.
  • Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp and received nearly $4 billion in Facebook money when it was sold to them, repeated his advice that users should “delete Facebook now”.  Acton left the company in November of 2017 after Facebook monetized WhatsApp traffic by placing ads inside the app.
  • Data deals that Facebook signed with more than 150 companies are under criminal  investigation by a grand jury according to The New York Times.
    • It’s not just data causing trouble at Facebook. A Fast Company article in February reported that “a shockingly large majority of health news shared on Facebook is fake or misleading.”  Read it here.
    • The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard links many problems back to Facebook’s de-emphasis of news sites. Their analysis published this week is “One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated-and very engaged!-News Feed.


The bottom line: Facebook will survive and continue thriving despite fines and legal brickbats until people find a substitute for the communication need the site currently fulfills.

Also in the Spotlight

Worth your time this week:

  • More than 600,000 people in Michigan may have had their health records compromised by a data breach affecting a company that works with providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and McLaren Health Care. Attorney General Dana Nessel’s announcement.
  • Google introduced Be My Eyes last year. The free app connects visually impaired people with sighted volunteers for assistance describing an area or situation. Now the company has announced that it will work with Be My Eyes to set up free help from Google Disability Specialists each weekday. Their announcement.
  • Firefox Send is a new free service. The service allows people to send an encrypted file safely from a browser. And it will even be available on Android later this year. Files up to 1GB can be sent free by anyone while files up to 2.5GB require a free registration. Neither the sender nor the recipient need to use a Firefox browser to access the file. Details.

Good Monday morning. It’s March 11th. The Youth Climate Strike is this Friday. Expect tens of thousands of young adults and children marching to call attention to climate change.  Read their platform.

 

News You Need To Know Now

 

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren is now the most prominent politician to call for breaking up Big Tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, after a policy announcement Friday.

 

  • The California Consumer Privacy Act may be getting even tougher. State leaders have introduced an amendment to include protections for biometric and passport data. The bill takes effect January 1.

 

  • France takes another turn at revenue generation via tech with a bill that will tax 3% of revenue created by the 30 largest companies that do not sell products online. This includes Facebook and Google.

 

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook would change to temporary, private messages was met with resounding yawns in the digital marketing industry. No one we’ve spoken with knows how or when such an initiative would take place. Our take is that things could change tomorrow and not dissuade Senator Warren or the French government.

 

Hidden Nest Surprise


Rumors about your devices listening
 to you may not be as far-fetched as you think. Google now admits that its Nest Secure home security device includes a microphone that wasn’t previously disclosed.

Google says that the plan had always been to enable Nest Secure to work with voice commands via Google Assistant. They just didn’t disclose that future plan and built the mic in. My thermostat says that’s pretty standard.

iPhone apps also had a nasty surprise for users, who learned last month that their screens were being recorded without their knowledge.  Apple demanded that app developers remove or disclose the functionality or be removed from the App Store.

Facebook’s security teams got a lot of attention this week for their cool-sounding executive security work that includes rumors of a “panic chute” to get Mark Zuckerberg out of the building in an emergency, but the company’s use of a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) list of security threats worries some privacy advocates. CNBC reporting tells of a global list that can include people who simply send an irate email with threats or expletives to Facebook.

The people on that list can be tracked if Facebook is on their mobile device OR if they are using an app that reports data to Facebook. We told you about those apps–some of the world’s biggest–weeks ago.

  • There are undoubtedly credible threats to the only organization we know with nearly 3 billion accounts. But the ability to create a quasi-law enforcement agency with undisclosed surveillance capabilities is something that lawmakers will have to wrestle with in the coming months.

Also In The Spotlight

 

Worth your time this week:

  • “Verified Licenses” on Yelp are a new paid service, writes local expert Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land. They’re available for state-issued licenses in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas, and Washington.
    • Google announced local changes that highlight budget options on its map display.  That’s just in time for spring vacations. Read the announcement.

 

  • Which TeleTubby are you? Facebook filed suit against two Ukrainian men who created quizzes that injected malware on user computers. The quizzes went by the names “SuperTest” and “Megatest” although not the one I’m most familiar with: Stop Sending Me This Garbage, Uncle Ralph!
    • Bottom line: if you take a quiz or survey and need to allow the system to access your Facebook account, your most recent info is almost certainly harvested.

 

  • Another 150 Facebook accounts were deleted last week for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” coming from Romania and the UK. That follows a suit Facebook announced that it  filed the previous week against companies “selling fake accounts, likes, and followers“.
    • But if you remember that a committee in the UK’s Parliament has a trove of Facebook documents, you’ll be interested in learning that Facebook “promised politicians investments and incentives while seeking to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook’s behalf against data privacy legislation.”