Good Monday morning. It’s October 29th. Daylight savings time ends in 6 days. Change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read


    • Macros and executables aren’t the only dangers in your email. One group is trying to trick people into using PDFs that load malicious online resources. We’ll explain how to be safer below.


    • Snapchat and Twitter both lost users this quarter. That’s not surprising for Twitter but a little surprising for Snap. Keep reading for details.


    • Google Maps has shiny new upgrades including easier sharing of your ETAs, new accessibility information at 40 million locations, and the ability to follow businesses. Have a look below.

Google Maps Readies for the Road


Nearly 50 million Americans travel by car during the November-December holidays. For those traveling with a newer car in unfamiliar territory, Google Maps will highlight electric vehicle charging stations. Also new on Google Maps is crowd sourced information related to accessibility. Google has received 500 million responses from 7 million people when asking questions like, “Is there a wheelchair accessible entrance?” The information from those answers now appears on 40 million location listings.

Google users on Android (iOS updates coming) will also start seeing business listings up to 3 months before a business opens. Users will be able to “follow” any business–a term made familiar by social media listings. This will allow people to see information about special events and sales.

If you’re on the road to Grandmother’s house for some Thanksgiving turkey, Google Maps has also made it easier to share your progress and ETA, including posting it to third party platforms like Facebook. Their announcement is here.

Google earlier this month launched a Commuter tab that allows people to check on traffic with a single click or to see real-time information about buses and trains.

Be smart: Almost 90% of users who search for local information on a smartphone are then “likely to use driving directions”.  Your organization needs to pay attention if people ever visit your office. (Search Engine Land)

Staying Safe with Apps & Email


Smartphone apps may track behavior users are unaware of or create subscriptions that are not clearly disclosed. Forbes and Buzzfeed have investigated separate cases and broke their stories within 6 days of each other. Buzzfeed’s is great reading for anyone who wants to understand how scammers bought legit apps and then defauded advertising networks.

The Forbes expose has much less detail but a huge consumer impact. Using tricky “Free Trial” buttons and not openly disclosing terms allowed some application developers to charge as much as $4/week for basic functioning apps like flashlights and barcode scanners.

There were big examples of fraud, too: a web translator app for Apple Safari that cost $89 weekly and something called “Life Tricks Ace” that cost $59.99 each week and which billed itself as “…the leading source of practical and adaptable knowledge dedicated to improving Productivity, Happiness, Health and more.”

We also learned this week that some bank employees received good phishing emails that didn’t include malicious code. Instead an attached “simple but authentic-looking” PDF tries to get the target to download a malicious macro to complete the form. Cyberscoop has the details.

The bottom line: Don’t click or open any file that you weren’t expecting even if you think you know the person’s identity.


What We Learned from Earnings Week


Well, we learned that guidance still remains a short play nightmare for all companies after Amazon posted record profits but missed its guidance and has been hammered since. Don’t cry yet. The company still controls half of e-commerce in North America and its market cap is still up $260 million during 2018.

But we also learned this week:

  •  Amazon didn’t just set record profits. That profit was nearly double what experts expected.
  • Overall search volume is up 6%, and Google’s dominance in U.S. market share now matches its dominance in Europe. Yahoo! and Bing combine for about 8% of search. Google gets 90%.
  • Search volume is down on desktops and tablets, but skyrocketing on mobile devices. This is the part where you’re reminded again that your website needs to be designed for mobile.
  • Google (and Microsoft) continue coming for Amazon’s Web Services division.
  • Breaking news Sunday has IBM paying $34 billion for Red Hat so they’re in the cloud game to win it, too.
  • Snapchat lost users, but in the good citizen division, managed to help register 400,000 people to vote.

It’s Facebook’s turn under the microscope Tuesday afternoon when it reports third quarter earnings.


Great Data


Companies like Spotify and Netflix are masterful at understanding how customers interact with them and predicting what will interest those customers next.

Your organization doesn’t have to be a tech giant to find data that people will enjoy. You already have amazing data that will engage your customers and prospects. Here’s a test that will prove that at your next meeting.

Show people the irresistible Merriam-Webster Time Traveler web page.

The kicker: the dictionary company already tracks when words first show in print. And they already track new words. They understood that they could make words personal for people.

Question: What’s the difference between the Oxford family of dictionaries, Random House, or Merriam-Webster?
Answer: I’m telling you about Merriam-Webster today.

And that’s how you differentiate in mature markets.

P.S. I want to hear your stories if you take my advice and test this page on people at your company. What are you brainstorming about as a result?


News You Need to Know Now


Good Monday morning. It’s October 22nd. Strap in. The busy week ahead has Microsoft reporting earnings on Wednesday while Amazon and Alphabet (Google’s parent) announce results Thursday.


    • More people are reporting a feeling of being overwhelmed by the ever-encompassing web. We’ll look at some stressors and how your words might tell a future algorithm that you’re depressed.


    • Nearly 10 million comments about net neutrality were made using stolen identities according to a new report


    • And the type of movie or television poster you see on Netflix is different based on your viewing habits. Some are asking if there is a potential for racism. We don’t think this is true, but there are some lessons to be learned about personalizing data–even an email like this.


Tech Depression



Being overwhelmed by new technology isn’t unique to our time according to writings from those alive when cars took over from horses and television from radio.

Each development brings new, faster capabilities to our society, and some industry insiders believe that society hasn’t created mores and coping mechanisms to handle those changes. The Atlantic has a fantastic feature on the hate-filled messages Instagram users are receiving–the famous and not famous.

Some report death threats. Others report non stop telephone harassment and even “swatting”, which occurs when someone makes a fake distress call about active shooters at a person’s home. The name derives from the SWAT units police send to those calls. The fact that a nickname for this aberrant behavior exists shows its prevalence.

Those users aren’t alone. Environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote a New York Times op-ed Saturday that included these chilling sentences, “I was used to social media abuse. Then someone suggested shooting me.” McKibben makes a request that should be a low hurdle for most people: “Let’s stop threatening to kill each other.”

Politics also causes tech depression. A new study called “Hidden Tribes” suggests that liberal activists make up about 8% of the U.S. population while another 25% are traditional or devoted conservatives. The study calls the remaining 67% “the Exhausted Majority”, and its authors suggest that much of the battle among the politically engaged happens online. Here’s a download link to the PDF.

Foreign propaganda targeting U.S. voters is also taking a toll on frazzled nerves. We learned this week about a treasure trove of 10 million messages sent as part of an Iranian disinformation campaign targeting Americans. Facebook and Twitter each deleted hundreds of accounts for political spam and misinformation. Executives at major online platforms express concern that these activities by foreign governments are being copied–and misused–domestically.

Data privacy is another cause of dissatisfaction and tech avoidance. We constantly learn about new breaches as more of our lives become downloadable instead of being squirreled away in private corporate databases. Reports surfaced this weekend about data breaches at a network of 8 adult websites. Among the reported haul were the IP addresses of how people connected to the sites and 1.2 million email addresses. Oh, and the content that they shared–text or pictures–on those sites.

That was a breach, but problems with data security bedevil many companies. TechCrunch reported early in the week that Donald Daters–a website for Trump supporters looking for love–leaked its entire user database. An unaffiliated French security researcher downloaded everything including private messages and access tokens, the same type of data breached on Facebook earlier this month.

No comprehensive solutions exist for these problems. Researchers at Penn announced a preliminary study that suggests semantic analysis–studying the words we use online–can detect depression early. The work is promising and interesting, but still unproven and using only an urban audience that opted in to the study. Their results are here.

Until then, you can take some measures. We’ve told you before about the Center for Humane Technology led by Tristan Harris, a former Google ethicist. They’ve got links to apps that can help you and some great suggestions about ways to make tech time well spent.


Net Neutrality Update


Creating net neutrality protections was a multiyear battle.  Restoring them looks to be just as tricky despite efforts in California, Vermont, and other states.

The New York Attorney General’s office has widened its probe regarding the comment process at the FCC after finding that as many as 2 million comments were filed in people’s names without their knowledge.

That number is now nearly 10 million according to the AG’s office, which issued a flurry of subpoenas to entities opposing net neutrality. Separately, a Stanford study says that 99.7% of commenters who weren’t part of an automated campaign opposed net neutrality’s repealArsTechnica remains a great source of information about this critical issue.

Ars also has coverage about Comcast’s October 3rd court filing in California that described the company’s potential for lost revenue under net neutrality. Here’s that filing.  One notable line: “The loss in revenues and other monetary damages that the law will cause to Comcast will also be significant and are difficult to calculate.”


Lessons About Personalizing


Take a look at this Netflix screen capture tweeted by writer and audio producer Stacia Brown.



As Stacia points out, the movie’s cast is listed as Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, and Seth Rogen, none of whom are shown in this image.

Remember that a Netflix exec was fired early this year for using racial slurs. The company hired a new VP for Inclusion Strategy this summer, and this is a big test for the company.

Netflix has issued a statement that says only a user’s viewing history dictates what image is used to promote a show or movie. That seems like a smart idea when you flip through photo galleries showing romantic scenes or action scenes from the same movie based on what a viewer chooses to watch.

The issue isn’t whether Netflix is practicing racism. The issue is that an executive said dumb, hateful things that put the company in a bad light. And while showing one of several customized posters based on viewing habits might even increase overall viewership, having someone more sensitive to diversity issues in the graphics creation process would have been smart.

If nothing else, Netflix misses in setting expectations by showing two people of color on the poster without them having a significant role in the movie. I watched the 2 minute trailer. The man appeared, but didn’t speak, for under three seconds. Neither the man nor the woman’s name appear in the movie trailer.

Being able to segment people and market to the highest degree of specificity is an awesome capability. Doing so without a lot of hard thinking about the audience’s reactions from many points of view is bad business.

Good Monday morning. It’s September 24th. This week’s other Senate hearings feature Google, Apple and Amazon executives testifying about data practices before the Senate Commerce Committee. That will be at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday. Not on the list: Facebook. Hearing details

Today’s Spotlight takes about 3 minutes to read.




  • Data privacy is going to be on everyone’s radar this week after reports about third party companies still able to scan Gmail for keywords.


  • The White House is considering an executive order instructing agencies to open probes into Google and Facebook practices, including those related to antitrust, according to Bloomberg reporting this weekend.


  • Digital (online) advertising now accounts for half of all advertising revenue according to a report from Magna, a market research arm of Big Four agency Interpublic.


Alexa’s Trojan Horse


Amazon cut prices on existing models of its home product lines as it launched a somewhat stealthy group of new appliances. Shoppers can now buy portable Echo speakers, an Alexa-equipped microwave, security system, and DVR.


  • Calling it a “Trojan horse”, The Verge smartly points out that the Amazon Basics microwave selling for $60 is “effectively a demo for Connect Kit in the form of a real microwave you can buy.” It’s a smart way to introduce Alexa into homes. Read more here.


  • If those smart devices aren’t to your liking, you might want to order an Amazon Christmas tree. The company promises to ship 7 foot Christmas trees within 10 days of them being cut down according to reporting from AP.


  • Amazon is continuing to decline to comment on reports that its third cashier-less convenience store is a harbinger of 2,000-3,000 more to open in the next three years.  Called Amazon Go stores, Supermarket News says there will be 7 more openings in the next three months.





  • Microsoft’s Windows 10 may soon tell users not to install Chrome or Firefox. The company is testing a “warning message” which consumers are free to ignore. They’re just not told that.


  • We told you in May about Facebook’s dating service. It’s now live in Colombia–its first test market.


  • A Harris Poll done for Pearson Education confirms that Gen Z (born 1995-2012) prefers visual social media (Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat) over traditional channels like Facebook and Twitter. It’s an excellent report for anyone who teaches, trains, or learns. PDF here.


Thanks for starting your week with Spotlight. Have a fantastic week. Don’t forget to send this to a friend or colleague so they can subscribe too.