Good Monday morning. It’s November 23rd. Happy Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law and her family are big fans of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade, which is still happening this year. The parade’s official site shows the performers, the floats, the TV schedule — everything you need to know to curl up on the couch with a cup of nostalgia.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,106 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Amazon Pharmacy launched Tuesday. Regular readers have followed its methodical Galactic Empire march through acquisitions, intellectual property, and pre-positioning. Amazon says they’ll even call your pharmacy to transfer your meds over because they’re helpful like that. And yes, Prime members get two day delivery.

b. Digital media companies Vox and HuffPo had interesting weeks. The three co-founders of Vox announced separately that they were leaving. Meanwhile, Verizon sold HuffPo to BuzzFeed, where one of its co-founders is now editor-in-chief. 

c. Apple is paying another $100 million plus over Batterygate. The company began using its software to slow down its iPhone 6 and 7 devices with dated batteries because the devices might unexpectedly stop working. The company has previously paid more than $500 million in fines to European regulators and to settle a class action suit in the U.S. (NPR)

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

4 Ways Virtual Meetings Can Cause Legal Problems – Law 360
A COVID-fighting tool is buried in your phone. Turn it on – Washington Post
COVID-19’s new twist to Internet romance scams – Tampa Bay Times
Google updates COVID-19 forecasting models – Venture Beat
New York Fines Sellers for Hand Sanitizer Price Gouging – CNBC
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter fight vaccine conspiracies – BBC

A new autonomous vehicle is taking to city streets. Kar-Go will be tested delivering medicine in London. The futuristic looking vehicle plots out efficient delivery schedules and sorts the packages inside, giving the recipient access to only their items. 

3. Search Engine News

Leisure travel’s annual peak is during Thanksgiving Week. Media reports are covering a travel surge this year despite warnings from the CDC and other public health experts that gathering with people outside your household is dangerous.

Google Maps is rolling out enhancements that will hopefully mitigate some of the danger by showing data that only a company with Google’s scale can capture. 

If you’re driving, you can look at Google Maps for information on COVID-19 infection rates, local guidelines, and information on testing sites and restrictions. People on buses and trains will be able to see real-time information on how crowded stations and routes are as well as delays.

Please stay home if you can.

4. In the Spotlight — Facial Recognition Bias

“Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies.”

— Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief John McMahon, banning the department’s use of Clearview AI

We’ve written before about facial recognition bias and about Clearview AI, a company that scraped non-public data from Facebook and other sites to build a database of people who would not otherwise be included in law enforcement databases. More than two thousand public agencies and companies have used Clearview’s data.

It is important to understand that Clearview even downloaded photos of you posted by others. The sites prohibit that activity, and Clearview’s actions may still cause the company significant legal harm. But the database exists.

Machine learning and rudimentary AI are exciting and will undoubtedly help solve problems in the future, but today’s software amplifies human foibles at scale. One example: a paper collaborated on by researchers at multiple universities found that images analyzed by software at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon identified women by describing their physical appearance three times more often then men. The top descriptors for men were “official” and “businessperson,” but were “smile” and “chin” for women.

We’ve known for a long time that facial recognition software is racially biased. That was a big part of the decision making process executives at IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft cited when they stopped selling those services to law enforcement agencies earlier this year.

Research dating back to 2018 found that facial recognition bias exists on both gender and race. Darker skinned females were misidentified more than 33% of the time while the error rate for light skinned males was only 1%. And if you’re mistakenly detained or arrested for a crime as part of that one percent, you will undoubtedly think that rate is too high.

The data-driven technologists who create the software that accomplishes the miracle of facial recognition acknowledge the bias. But too many decisions continue to be made that place women and people of color into inappropriate circumstances because of facial recognition bias.

5. Debunked:  Moose Licking Cars

Here is your Thanksgiving Day trivia. Memes claiming that moose lick cars have been circulating online for days. 

That’s because they do!

The moose are apparently attracted by the road salt on cars, but human-moose close proximity can be dangerous because, well, just let this 2016 CTV report that Snopes dug up explain things.

6. Following Up: Twitter Fleets

It was only last week when we told you about Facebook Messenger’s ephemeral function called Vanish that causes messages to disappear after being read.

Twitter launched the same function last week with the horribly punny name of “fleets”.  The message stays on your timeline for 24 hours before, err, vanishing.  

See the announcement and short video here.

7. Protip: Move files from Phone to Computer

Black Friday sales will undoubtedly beckon to some of you and you’ll want to move files between computer and phone because you bought one or the other.  One is easy, ten is a pain, and more than that requires special help.

Digital Trends has you covered whether your favorite flavor is PC or Mac.

It’s Samuel L starring as himself and John Travolta as Santa in a credit card commercial that couldn’t feature Sam’s trademark phrase but alludes to it. Also, Travolta dances again, but it’s not a Saturday Night Fever look.

9. Coffee Break: Still Tasty

Thanksgiving ain’t Thanksgiving without leftovers so the good folks at Still Tasty tell you when they can be safely eaten.

As a special holiday gift to my youngest son, the USDA debunks a story about refrigerating hot food. Seems it’s perfectly safe to do so. You’re welcome, son.

Stuffing is only safe 3-4 days. Don’t make too much!

Good Monday morning. It’s November 16th. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appear (yes, again)  before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday to testify about their companies’ handling of the 2020 election.

One item sure to be discussed: Facebook has extended its ban on political advertising for another month. That ban includes social issues as diverse as the environment, taxes, and gun rights for any advertiser.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,034 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Amazon breached European antitrust rules according to an action filed by the EC. A second probe is also underway regarding how Amazon chooses sellers to offer products via Prime. (CNBC)

b. Disinformation continues flowing on social media even with a political and advocacy ad blackout. Facebook removed pages and groups linked to former Trump administration official Steve Bannon for falsely claiming the presidential election was fraudulent.

Bannon isn’t alone. Shaun Dakin flagged a group for us that is posing as an environmentally friendly page focused on sustainability. The group claims to be a Delaware-based LLC managed by a firm in California, but Facebook has labeled it as Russian state media. Bad actors often build large audiences around other topics before sending disinformation to them.

c. Russian and North Korean hackers are also targeting COVID-19 vaccine research according to an important announcement from Microsoft on Friday. The post is an open call for the world’s governments to act with NGOs to protect this infrastructure. Read it here.

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

5 Key Errors Undermine COVID-19 Data Shared on Twitter — Informatics
DeSantis data hire: Uber-driving, COVID-conspiracy sports blogger — Miami Herald
Facebook Shares Insights into COVID Impacts on SMBs — Social Media Today
Hot New COVID Tech is Wearable And Tracks You — New York Times
How Ticketmaster Plans to Check Your Vaccine Status — Billboard
NZ to adopt Apple and Google’s automated tracing — New Zealand Herald

3. Search Engine News

We’ve told you a lot about what Google has been calling “Core Vital Statistics”–metrics describing how a visitor experiences a webpage. Google warned earlier this year that these page experience metrics would be used as a ranking signal. Google announced last week that these factors will influence ranking beginning in May. That’s 165 days from now.

Your organization will need to pay attention to how fast a page’s main content loads and the way that it renders. No-nos include loading things after the page loads so that the display shifts, which is Google’s technical terms for everything on the page moving up or down after it loads.

Your search team is going to want to strip your website’s pages of many of its pretty and cool things. Remember that Charles Lindbergh famously left a parachute and radio behind in order to conserve fuel on his record-breaking flight. You won’t have to trim the edges from your maps like he did, but consider if you really need a map showing your location or whether an address and a map link are sufficient.

We know that Google warns about issues like encryption, page speed, and mobile-friendliness well in advance of making significant ranking changes. And while they sometimes delay those ranking changes, they do eventually launch.

4. In the Spotlight — Facebook Vanish Arrives

“Some people are going to get into trouble with this.”

— my wife, after I practiced using Facebook Messenger Vanish with her.

Disappearing messages have been around for years and are most prevalent on Snapchat. Facebook is again facing a clamor of copying Snap’s functionality with its launch of Facebook Vanish. The feature is live on Facebook Messenger in the U.S. and coming to Instagram.

This is very different from secret conversation mode. Each person in Vanish Mode must agree to start a Vanish Mode chat with each other. The conversation is separate from any existing conversation with that person. The ephemeral magic happens when you view another screen on your device and return to the Vanish Mode chat to find everything gone.

All messages are deleted after the person has seen them and switched to another screen although you will get an alert message if the other person uses their device to take a screenshot. Reminder: they can always take a screenshot with another device.

None of this applies to group chats today. There’s plenty of misinformation floating around online so here is the official Facebook Vanish announcement.

5. Debunked: Parler

A meme making the rounds claims that George Soros owns the conservative social media site Parler (pronounced: parlor).

This is getting conflated with documented news that shows David Mercer and his daughter Rebekah are investors in the site. The Mercers previously sponsored Breitbart News and have provided funds for other Steve Bannon ventures.

The Associated Press included the hoax in its weekly roundup.

6. Following Up: Walmart & Cruise Partner for Self-Driving Car Delivery

We’ve told you in the past about GM’s Cruise unit receiving authorization to test its vehicles in San Francisco. The company announced last week that it is partnering with Walmart in Scottsdale to deliver groceries and packages with self-driving vehicles monitored by a human.

Morning Brew has news and analysis.

7. Protip: Moving from or Organizing Google Photos

People are not happy with Google’s announcement that images uploaded to Google Photos count against a user’s free storage limits. Lifehacker has you covered if you want to reduce the space you’re using there or if you decide to move entirely.

Do not delete photos until you know they’re safe elsewhere.

Screening Room: Jackman & Reynolds Christmas

One of the internet’s best loved “feuds” is back as actors Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds partner with Sam’s Club for charity. I can’t wait for their reboot in 15 years of “Grumpy (But Buff) Old Men.”

9. Coffee Break: Octopus Play

Great, now the octopi are sentient. That’ll change ordering at restaurants.

Have a look at this 75 second excerpt from a CBC documentary about an octopus initiating a game with its human handler.

And so a game was born …

Good Monday morning. It’s November 9th. Wednesday is Veterans Day. A heartfelt thank you to all who served, their families, and their other loved ones.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,039 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. A $1 billion withdrawal of bitcoin captured the world’s attention last week. The bitcoin wallet was quickly linked to the dark web’s Silk Road market for illegal drugs and weapons. Federal officials confirmed Thursday that the funds had been hacked and forfeited to U.S. government custody. (ArsTechnica)

b. Scammers are using Google Drive to lure unsuspecting victims with phishing links. Remember that a Google Drive request comes from Google, but displays the name of the Google account that contacted you. (Wired UK)

c. Google Photos may charge consumers for premium features based on analysis by one-time Silver Beacon client XDA Developers. They found messages within the software about unlocking premium features and a Google One membership providing benefits. The third paragraph starts with code fragments, and if that doesn’t scare you off, then you can read the whole thing here.

Our Take: Nothing is formally announced, but Google is wise if they charge separately for advanced features. For example, the company gives 5 gigabytes of storage to all accounts, but we have a small account that increases storage to a terabyte. 

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

Bus Provides Internet Access for Students – WCIA
Calls to Online Child Sex Abuse Watchdog Up – The Guardian 
Pandemic Fuels Global Decline in Internet Freedom – US News
Permanent Remote Workers Doubling in 2021 – Reuters
Ransomware Hits Hospitals as Coronavirus Spikes – MIT Tech
Telemedicine Takes Center Stage in Pandemic – Science
Utah Exploring Google/Apple Contact Tracing – Fox Salt Lake City

3. Search Engine News

We write a lot about keyword research because understanding the words people use to search is important. Understanding where those people are and then being able to predict future trends are the necessary next steps.

A mashup of Google Trends and data visualization at Waves of Interest provides a look at this investigation process in a beautiful display.

Unfortunately, Google search data is becoming more difficult to source each month. We’ve told you that Google is not including as much keyword information in its advertiser reports. A new report measures the decrease in data at more than 20% between August and September. 

4. In the Spotlight — Online Disinformation in Unique Places 

“One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts. What the Russians exploited, but it was already here, is we are operating in completely different information universes.”

—Barack Obama, January 2018

America somehow moved to being unable to even agree on science. Vice President Mike Pence and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows actively disclaim evolution. The administration sidelined public health experts during the pandemic and began listening to a radiologist who lacked epidemiology or immunology experience. 

Obama’s observation was accurate. Exploiting fissures between belief systems is an easy and inexpensive way to harm a group dynamic even if that group is a country.

Online disinformation experts were therefore unsurprised to learn that indoor bike maker Peloton had to remove QAnon conspiracy information from public areas of its website. 

A study by The Conversation, peer reviewed and published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that a typical U.S. Twitter user is exposed to 26 messages critical of vaccines over a three-year period. That ongoing repetition is dangerous.

This isn’t solely an American issue. Last month, more than 130,000 people watched the execution of a protester in Nigeria. Army sources there embarked on a mission to label coverage by Reuters and The New York Times as “fake news” despite a global audience.

There are horrible ramifications to influencing emotionally charged stories with online disinformation. Facebook and all social media has a role in this. Reporters found that domestic terrorist militia information was rampant on Facebook even after the arrest of men plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Facebook publishes a detailed monthly report about “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Last month, they removed nearly 8,000 pages and 100 different groups. There are similar big numbers every month. Facebook is an effective media for disinformation, but not its cause.

How to combat online disinformation: Keep a list of fact-checking sites handy, and remember to double source information from known authorities or news organizations. You undoubtedly would prefer to get vaccine information from the Mayo Clinic and NIH instead of the fake Facebook page “US Vaccination Approval Registry” run by someone who watched three YouTube videos.

5. Debunked: Harmony Square

Two University of Cambridge psychology professors have collaborated with academic and private partners to create a free interactive social impact game about election misinformation.

You can play Harmony Square in about 10 minutes.

6. Following Up: Amazon Grocery Pickup

We wrote extensively about Amazon’s grocery initiatives in September. Now with Walmart’s challenge to Amazon Prime, the e-commerce giant has said that it will provide free one-hour grocery pickup for Prime members at Whole Food locations nationwide.

CNBC has the details here.

7. Protip: Too Many Tabs

As I write this, I have 17 tabs open on browser sessions in two monitors. My name is George, and that’s too darn many.

Wired takes you through browser and extension options for this problem. 

Find your intervention here.

Screening Room: Amazon Ballerina

We’re doing heartstrings, not humor, this week. Here is the longform version of Amazon UK’s Christmas ballerina spot.

9. Coffee Break: Salt Labyrinth

You may need to stay home again soon. You are absolutely safer at home now, but finding a pastime might prove difficult. You’ve binged television, baked bread, and done all the jigsaw puzzles.

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto spent five days in 2016 creating exquisite and huge salt labyrinths on the floor of a thirteenth century French castle as one does with time on their hands, a creative streak, and a lot of salt.

Have a look here.