1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 1st. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available at some sites beginning as early as tomorrow–a new weapon to fight the coronavirus. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, here is a handy tool published by the CDC showing where you can get vaccinated free in your area.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,406 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) “I want a declaration from Google on what information they’re collecting on users to the court’s website, and what that’s used for,” Judge Lucy Koh told the company’s lawyers last week according to Bloomberg

Judge Koh also expressed dismay about users being tracked in “incognito mode,” which is unfortunate. Spotlight readers know that any browser’s incognito mode means only that the information isn’t saved on YOUR device. It does not block your internet provider, the browser company, or the software of sites you visit. Incognito mode is not now nor has it even been private.

b) People with speech disabilities may soon find it easier to use voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home.A Wall Street Journal report states that the companies are working with specialized companies to build databases of atypical speech and train their products on those speech patterns.

c) A court in California has ruled that the state’s net neutrality law can become effective. The ruling follows the Biden administration’s Department of Justice informing the court that it no longer supports the Trump administration’s position. (Washington Post)

Net neutrality refresher: Businesses can’t speed up, slow down, or block content because of commercial arrangements.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Community Mobility — Google
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Vaccine Finder – CDC Project
Risk Calculator — Brown

New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here to configure.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Chicago Thinks Zocdoc Can Help Its Vaccine Chaos – MIT Tech Review
Millions of COVID-19 Test Results in India Leaked – Bleeping Computer
Spotify Joins Salesforce in Adopting Work From Anywhere – Quartz
The 27 Year Old COVID-19 Data Superstar – Bloomberg
Want to Buy A Mask Online? Forget About That N95 – New York Times

4. Search Engine News

We often write about the predator-prey relationship between Google and marketers. Our perfect information view: if the rules were known to all, the best content would rise to the top. Google … does not agree.

We saw a great example of this last week when Google exec John Mueller stated that the company doesn’t make a practice of saying when it no longer uses a ranking signal. Google’s position that all organizations should simply create the best content they can and let the chips fall where they may was obsolete twenty years ago when search optimization began, and is even more outdated today.

Google also said this week that while links from others sites are important that the total number of links is irrelevant. That’s something we know from extensive testing. A link from a site like Wikipedia or a news organization is worth exponentially more in terms of ranking signals than a link from a local business. Counting links hasn’t been a valid strategy in years.

This level of control is crucial to Google’s future plans as it becomes a third party insulating users from organizations. The most recent example is the convenient way Google now allows people using its Google Maps application to pay directly for their parking. ZD Net explains, “After finding a location, users enter the meter number, the time desired for parking, and then tap Pay.” 

That’s convenient for everyone until Google insists on a tiny convenience fee. There are four to five million parking meters in the U.S. Managing their cashless transactions is a nice side business. 

The service is now available for Android phone users (coming soon to iOS) in 400 cities.

5. In The Spotlight — Safe Surfing Roundup

There are enough specific problems inhibiting safe surfing that we’re doing another Safe Surfing Roundup.

Identity Theft

  • The FTC received 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2020, double the number reported two years ago. (Dark Reading)
  • Stop showing your vaccine card on social media, the BBB warns. Fake vaccination cards are appearing for sale on eBay and TikTok. Also, you really don’t need to be sharing your full name and birth date to be scraped.

Hacks and Browser Issues

  • Google Chrome had three serious issues that were repaired during February. If you’ve stopped your browser’s automatic updates, you can update manually following these instructions
  • China is also implicated with Russia in the Solar Winds hack and other tools were affected. The startling number via Ars Technica: 30% of organizations compromised in the Solar Winds hack don’t use Solar Winds. They got hit from other tools it infected.

Consumer Products

  • Apple is reminding consumers that its iPhone 12 lineup can interfere with medical devices like pacemakers and MagSafe charge products. (Gizmodo)
  • Tesla is recalling more than 130,000 of its Model S and Model X cars over failing touch screen displays. The recall agency reported that Tesla confirmed “that all units will inevitably fail given the memory device’s finite storage capacity.” (Automotive News)
  • A UK consumer organization published a fascinating report on fake Amazon reviews for sale and how businesses are avoiding online checks. Packages for sale include 50 fake reviews for $10-$20 each.

Social Media Challenges

  • Thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube five years ago during the viral “Mannequin Challenge” have been used by AI researchers to train neural networks on visualization. The videos were easily downloaded and used because they were put online. You can’t revoke that permission. It’s out there once you type or upload. (MIT Tech Review)
  • The Red Silhouette challenge is something similar, but on TikTok. It involves posing naked or with minimal clothes with only a red light creating your silhouette. While some people felt empowered by participating, instructions soon were posted explaining how people could neutralize that red light and see the actual image. (BuzzFeed News)

  6. Debunked — Fake Vaccine Ingredient Lists

Disinformation about COVID-19 vaccine ingredients continues swarming social media.

Reuters fact check with ingredient debunking here.

7. Following Up — Australian News 

We told you last week about Facebook cutting off the sharing of any link from an Australian media company, A deal midweek between Facebook and the Australian government has restored the functionality.

NPR has one of the better overviews.

8. Protip — What Parents Should Know About Discord

This is the perfect topic for the safe surfing roundup. Lifehacker explains the basics that you need to know including how to restrict some functions.

9. Screening Room – Frida Mom

Frida Mom finally got a major award show to air its commercial after the Oscars refused last year. Here’s the full piece for what was shown during the Golden Globes.

10. Science Fiction World — Robots

We wrote more than two years ago about the little Starship Technologies delivery robots that debuted on George Mason University’s campus. Since then they’ve branched out to other schools including UCLA and have made more than one million deliveries. The company notes that they have brought 100,000 bottles of milk and more than 60,000 pizzas to people.

We can all agree that robots are cool and helping us fight climate change, but there’s also news from Boston Dynamics that its new robotic dogs can now charge themselves. They’ve sold 400 units of the 4 legged robot that includes an arm that can carry things, turn handles and knobs, and pull levers.

Now some scary people who are trying to hustle dystopian times upon us have outfitted one of the robots dogs with a paintball gun. And they made that robot dog controllable from a smartphone. I’m sure that the world’s militaries have never fantasized about an armed robot.

You can see Spot hustle in humanity’s dark times here.

11. Coffee Break — My 8-year-old Hero

Mike Piccolo took to Twitter recently to brag on his 8-year-old niece who found a way to confound parents, teachers, and Zoom employees. After reading the story, I would like her on our side during the upcoming robot apocalypse.

You should read the hysterical story of how she got out of Zoom school.

12. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s February 22nd. NASA holds a briefing today at 2 p.m. ET to share new images and video from Mars. Watch live here.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,150 words — about a 4 minute read.

  2. News To Know Now

a) “How long can we get away with the reach overestimation?” asks a Facebook employee in an newly unsealed email in a class action suit against the company. The documents allege that COO Sheryl Sandberg knew about the problems for years. (TechCrunch)

b) After extensive media coverage regarding Gorilla Glue’s misuse, searches on Amazon and Google for this adhesive jumped dramatically. Tessica Brown mistakenly used Gorilla Glue as a hair styling product after assuming she could simply wash it out. A cosmetic surgeon donated  a procedure worth $12,000 to remove the product from her scalp–the sort of living experiment the brand would never dare attempt. Gorilla Glue spent $411 on advertising in the first half of February (Ad Age-paywall)

c) Google has removed The Great Suspender browser memory management program from its Chrome Extensions store after learning that it spread malware following its acquisition by an unknown company. That malware tracked user behavior and executed code from remote servers. If you have not uninstalled it yet, you should. A free alternative with good transparency is “The Marvellous Suspender.” (Bleeping Computer)

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Community Mobility — Google
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Risk Calculator — Brown

NEW: New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple cities and towns that you’re monitoring: Click here for more.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Alexa Can Find Closest COVID-19 Test Site — CNBC
How to Buy a Real N95 mask Online — The New York Times
Misleading COVID Vaccine Posts Easy to Find on Facebook — CNN
Researchers Use AI to Repurpose Drugs for COVID-19 — Healthcare IT News
Vaccine Scams Spread Under Facebook and Telegram — Wired
Zip line Delivering COVID Vaccines by Drone In Nigeria — Reuters

4. Search Engine News

Google is warning that it will take action against websites that make bait and switch pricing claims for its shopping ads. That sounds unremarkable, but becomes more intriguing as Google continues to create and enhance your website’s Google My Business listings with your website’s data. Don’t forget that Google My Business has long been positioned as additional search information that the website provides. SEO Roundtable has coverage

Google will display the origin of this information. Data from Wikipedia will be used, but Google says it will also use information such as how long ago the company first began indexing the website. The “About This Result” menu item can be chosen from the search results menu. Here is an example from our website.

5. In The Spotlight — Facebook’s Australia Ban

Last month, we told you that Google threatened to remove its search engiine from Australia over proposed legislation that would require payment to news publishers when their stories appeared in search results. The European Union has also advocated that technology companies pay for information that its services rely upon.

Google reached a deal this month with Australian content publisher News Corp for the use of its content in Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. The deal runs for three years and is the culmination of a series of smaller deals Google completed with other Australian media companies.

Facebook blocked all links to Australian news media sources within one day. Below is the message Facebook posts when an Australian news source is linked from the U.S.

In Australia, the ban also covers the other way. That means Australian Facebook users can’t share international or Australian news links. The content on the Facebook pages of those entities are essentially erased. That includes Murdoch-owned News Corp as well as local weekly newspapers and radio stations.

Google’s model is likely to be embraced by other national governments. Google is developing a prototype in France that will pay $76 million over three years to 121 French news organizations. One difference is the French law was already on the books. Another very significant difference is the French government’s threat that delisting French news sites would be considered anti-competitive behavior.

Both companies will now face the repercussions of these sudden announcements. France’s population is roughly equal to that of Texas and California combined. Australia’s population is a little bigger than New York’s. How will both companies react if publishers start to line up for their payments in populous countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and India?

Bigger still: This is for news media. Both sites incorporate content from a variety of sources, and a lot of businesses will want to be compensated. That was a far-fetched notion just one month ago.

6. Debunked — There’s Been No Tax Increase

Advocacy groups have been criticized for spreading inflammatory language that incorrectly suggests that President Biden has unilaterally increased capital gains and inheritance taxes.

Things got bad enough for Poynter’s PolitiFact to write about it.

7. Following Up — Google Ethicists

After Google fired one of the two leads of its Ethical AI team, news broke that Google has now fired Meg Mitchell, the second lead that it had suspended. Google executives will join Facebook and Twitter executives in testifying at a House Commerce committee hearing next month.  Expect plenty of questions about this topic.

We’ve also told you about the Solar Winds campaign that has a threat profile too big to overstate. A Biden administration cybersecurity official confirmed last week that the networks of nine federal agencies and one hundred private organizations have been compromised. Dark Reading has great continuing coverage.

8. Protip — The iPhone’s hidden menus

CNBC has a handy feature about using different iPhone menus and gestures like an Apple pro. It’s a great refresher for features you may not use or if one of those new phones found their way home to you during the holidays.

Screening Room – Strong Roots

Strong Roots has assembled one of the funniest diet commercials in quite some time. Bonus: they did it all with stock video footage.

10. Coffee Break – Metallica Interruptus (by lullabies!)

Here’s your quick primer: Metallica sued Napster over allowing file sharing of music files about one million years ago in the year 2000. The case was huge and delayed the advent of legal streaming services for years. One result was that streaming services like YouTube and Twitch have automated systems in place to ensure copyrighted material is not played live.

Imagine Metallica’s surprise this weekend when their livestreamed concert was quickly overridden by Twitch’s automated systems and replaced with stock audio bell sounds. You have to see it to believe it.

11. Sign of the Times – More Australian News

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s February 1st. An order requiring the wearing of face masks by mass transit users goes into effect at midnight. Passengers traveling via bus, train, taxi, or plane could be charged criminal penalties if they refuse.

Today’s Spotlight is 904 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

a) Facebook’s Oversight Board overturned four of the first five cases it considered. These cases concerned Uyghur Muslims in China, breast cancer images in context, an erroneous quote attributed to Joseph Goebbels, and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. (Board announcement)

b) The Oversight Board is also seeking public comment as it considers the company’s suspension of former president Donald Trump’s account, after he encouraged terrorists to gather in Washington and attack the U.S. Capitol. Click through to leave your comments

c) Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft all reported strong quarterly financials. Apple climbed closer to $200 billion in cash on hand and reached $100 billion in quarterly revenues for the first time. Amazon and Alphabet report after tomorrow’s bell.

3. COVID-19 Tech News

Great Trackers

Overview — Johns Hopkins
Community Mobility — Google
Vaccine Distribution — Washington Post
Risk Calculator — Brown

NEW: New York Times tracker that allows you to customize a daily email with multiple places that you’re monitoring: Click here for more.

Coronavirus & Tech News

Amazon Algos Can Reinforce Vax Misinfo — Seattle Times
Anti-Vaxxers Mounting Internet Campaigns — US News & World Report
COVID Apps Get Second Chance Under Biden — MIT Technology Review
Facebook Still Making Money From Anti-Vax Sites — The Guardian
How We’re Helping Vaccination Efforts — Google

4. Search Engine News

Google will now allow websites to use rich data to announce that they have a product on sale. The effort is through the internet standard Schema.org and its “Offer” code. You’ve seen the rich results created by Schema when you see star ratings or images within a search engine listing. 

Google also said that embedding a video from another site instead of hosting it on your own site creates no SEO penalty. 

Yes, but you should always store a local copy of videos pertaining to your organization or brand. You are dependent on YouTube or another platform when you rely on a video uploaded elsewhere. You should absolutely embed videos from YouTube to speed up your site, but you should also monitor your pages to make sure the videos are working.

5. In The Spotlight — Apple & Facebook Continue Advertising Cookies War

This is a big deal coming down the pike, and we need to be specific about our vocabulary:

Advertising cookies help a website remember personal information like your password or items that are in your shopping cart.

Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is similar to cookies, but it is Apple’s way of identifying users. It’s a very long and unique number assigned only to Apple iOS devices.Apple introduced IDFA about five years ago, allowing Apple device owners to completely opt out, which about twenty percent do. Apple recently announced it would make advertising opt-in rather than opt-out. It’s a big deal since you can imagine consumers not flocking to activate a feature that makes online tracking easier.

Facebook warned advertisers during the winter holidays, saying targeting users would be more difficult and result in lower conversion rates. Apple countered by announcing IDFA would be made opt-in during “early spring.” Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about the issue during a privacy conference last week. Cook did not mention Facebook directly, but criticized companies that exploit users’ data, mislead users, and promote extremist content to them. The speech was important, albeit easy for a non-advertising executive to make.

Now Google, still using advertising cookies and Apple’s IDFA, says it has invented a way to organize users into cohorts with similar interests. The company announced last week that its FLoC system is superior to cookie-based tracking because it also protects individuals’ privacy.

Advertising cookies won’t go away, but they may be replaced by other technical solutions. The online advertising industry is worth more than $300 billion in the United States each year, and that buys lots of innovation and influence.

6. Debunked — UK Nurses 

A viral Facebook video claims that five UK nurses have died after receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. Reuters debunks this nonsense.

7. Following Up — Google Suspends Second Ethicist

We’ve written about Google firing AI ethicist Timnit Gebru after she refused to remove the company’s name from a research paper submitted to a peer-review journal. Now a second senior ethicist has been locked out of her accounts. CNBC has coverage.

8. Protip — Were Your Flickr Photos Used To Build Facial Recognition?

Exposing.AI is a great new website which searches six large facial recognition databases to see if your Flickr photos appear in them to help train the algorithm. MegaFace, the largest database, has 3.5 million images downloaded from Flickr.

9. Screening Room – Leica’s Witnesses

Leica is back in the video ad game with this montage of stunning images.

 10. Coffee Break – Playing Music on (Yes) Watermelon Slices

To be fair, the musician also uses kiwi for percussion. You can do the same with this music controller that creates a circuit between your body and the fruit. Read, watch, and listen.

11. Sign of the Times