Good Morning

It’s June 7. Incomparable Simone Biles won a record seventh U.S. gymnastics championship last night. She’s also won eight straight all-around competitions. U.S. Olympic trials begin two weeks from Thursday. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,282 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “We’ve used this model around terrorism before, but never with ransomware.” —John Carlin, acting deputy attorney general to Reuters describing new initiatives to escalate in-progress ransomware cases.

a)  European regulators are continuing their crackdown on American tech companies.  EC and UK regulators announced an antitrust investigation into Facebook regarding its Marketplace service. Meanwhile Google is reportedly near a settlement of a similar case brought by French regulators regarding the company’s advertising marketplace, according to The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by Reuters. The Journal is owned by News Corporation, the company that lodged the complaint against Google in France. Tech revenues are an attractive target for governments. G7 leaders meeting in London this weekend announced that they have reached an agreement to create a global corporate minimum tax to address companies providing services in one country and declaring revenues in another.

b) Twitter announced a premium subscription called Twitter Blue late last week. The service will launch as a pilot program in Australia and Canada. The biggest feature is the ability to revise a Tweet within the first 30 seconds after it is sent. Twitter has famously refused to offer an edit function in the past. (Axios)

c) A new Florida law makes it illegal for tech companies to ban the accounts of political candidates. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill to halt what he calls “censorship of conservatives” although conservative and liberal experts expect the law to be challenged in court. Unsurprisingly for Florida, there are exemptions for theme park operators, which include media companies Disney and Comcast. (Ars Technica)

3. Search Engine News

Google says that your web content stands a better chance of catching its ranking software’s attention if you do something that newspapers have known for generations: put some unique content “above the fold.” That’s the area on a broadsheet newspaper visible to passersby when the newspaper is folded at a newsstand or in a vending machine. Web designers apply the term to mean the first screen a visitor sees without any scrolling.

Search Engine Journal transcribed Google’s most recent video chat with users and quoted executive John Mueller saying, “The important part for us is really that there is some amount of unique content in the above the fold area.” Mueller acknowledged that the unique content could be an image. It’s worthwhile to look at your website with fresh eyes (even better: have it professionally tested) to see what impression new visitors receive.

Google also announced a partnership with e-commerce platform Shopify. That’s great news for Shopify merchants because they will receive enhanced listings in Google Shopping. For those of you who compete against merchants who might use Shopify, have a look at your website data to closely monitor your website’s traffic from Google.

4. In The Spotlight — Amazon Retail News: Automated Registers, Pharma, and Lawsuits

Google seemed quite excited to announce that it would open a store in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. The area is home to 11,000 Google employees. This is their first non-popup store.

So, about Amazon:

You already know about their ridiculous e-commerce lead. eMarketer summarized it this way: Amazon gets 40 cents of every US dollar spent on retail online, Walmart gets 7 cents, and a handful of other companies get 2-3 cents each.

Amazon is reportedly considering a move into retail pharmacy, according to Business Insider. It’s worth remembering that the company ditched partners JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway last year so that all three could go their own way in health initiatives. Amazon quickly began offering pharmacy services on its website and to leverage its purchase of Pill Pack. One potential jump-start: the company’s 500 Whole Food locations.

I’ve been enjoying Amazon Unbound, Brad Stone’s second book quoting company insiders that was just released in May. Readers get an insider’s look at the Whole Foods acquisition and the rollout of various retail initiatives. 

I also enjoyed Morning Brew writer Halie LeSavage’s tour using the new Amazon One payment system that relies on a customer’s biometrics when a customer leaves an Amazon retail store. The system is now being tested in twenty-one locations–the kind of broad rollout afforded to companies with 12 digit market caps.

Amid the physical retail news, Amazon has new challenges related to its bread and butter e-commerce operations. DC Attorney General Karl Racine brought an antitrust suit against the company in late May. The suit alleges that Amazon exerts monopoly control over third party sellers on the site.

5. Debunked — Bing & DDG Don’t Have Protestor Photos (True!)

Image search at Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo inexplicably returned no results last Friday when users searched for “tank man” on the 32nd anniversary of the iconic photo taken during a protest in China’s Tiananmen Square.

Vice and Gizmodo separately confirmed that results were censored in the U.S., France, and Switzerland.

6. Following Up — Insurance Using AI & Email Spearphishing 

Insurance startup Lemonade bragged on Twitter that its tech-oriented service detects fraud by analyzing non-verbal cues in videos of claims filers just like on TV shows. Not so fast, tweeted apparently everyone who works in that field. Motherboard has more on this cautionary tale.

We’re also going to tell you again about developments in the Solar Winds hack. Reminder: Microsoft, Solar Winds, and two other companies make software that was hacked by a Russian government-backed group. More than two hundred organizations and 10 federal agencies were compromised last year.

Microsoft has detected that 3,000 email accounts at 150 organizations in 24 different countries were targeted late last month using faked email from one U.S. agency. Their targets were humanitarian and human rights organizations this time.

7. Protip — Androids Announce Who’s Calling

This can be quite a boon while you’re driving or otherwise occupied so you don’t reach for the phone to check the caller id when it rings. Lifehacker walks through how to enable caller ID announcements.

Screening Room — Heinz, Waze & Burger King Team Up

There were only 400 views of this brand-new Canadian commercial when Spotlight was sent so you’re getting an early peek at a cute new promo. Drivers who use the Waze app score a free Burger King sandwich when summer traffic slows their vehicle to 0.040 KM/H. Heinz says that’s how fast ketchup pours.

9. Science Fiction World — Google Rolls Out Tricorder

That’s the name of a new tool from Google that uses a smartphone to identify skin, hair, and nail conditions to aid a physician’s diagnosis. European regulators have already approved the image recognition program as a medical tool. You can read more at the BBC.

10. Coffee Break — The Today Show Tackles “What Is Internet, Anyway?” Live

Quite possibly the funniest comedy I’ve ever seen lasts 86 seconds and debuted in 1994. That’s when Today show hosts Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric fumble trying to explain the internet to each other and a live national audience. I had already been paid for more than eight years working online by then so I’m feeling very smug right now. Also, very old.

You’re welcome for this trip to Memory Lane.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s May 24th. Here is your long weekend alert for next week. There will be no Spotlight next Monday. We’ll be back on June 7th.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,223 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: “But I want to be careful to say we are not in the business of what should or shouldn’t circulate. We don’t think it’s our role to adjudicate information versus misinformation.” — Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President at Google to Stephen Levy

a) Video game players are helping scientists learn more about COVID-19. More than 300,000 gamers have completed a total of 330 years worth of research by playing a portion of the game that presents real scientific data. EVE Online players get points for a minigame by drawing polygons around clusters that help researchers give human input to algorithms. (IGN)

b) BuzzFeed News found President Joe Biden’s Venmo account after less than 10 minutes of looking for it. The company also founda network of his private social connections. The account has been further locked down since BuzzFeed easily uncovered other accounts linked to the president’s family and senior White House officials. This is what we mean when we suggest that social engineering can be done simply from clues people post in social media games.

c) Lots of product news surfaced during Google’s annual I/O event last week, but the gee-whiz factor was biggest around the company’s “hyper-realistic” 3D video call portal. There is no more staring at a camera and glancing at the screen. Instead, you’ll interact as if the caller was on the other side of a window. Here’s the video.

3. Search Engine News

Google’s search engine news included an update about its natural language processing for search. As we often explain to people, typing a query for “rice” might mean that you’re interested in the food, the university, the politician, or any of its other meanings. Likewise, a search for Paris Hilton may yield information about the hotel or the heiress.

Last week the company announced a new model called MUM that it says is “1,000 times more powerful” than its current system and can pull information from multiple languages into the same results. Remember that we’ve been telling you for several months about three Google AI ethicists who have been fired or unexpectedly resigned over controversies regarding these models.

Google is also allowing website managers to use new codes that help it define what is displayed in a video clip shown on the website — and allow that clip to be played directly on the Google results page without someone visiting the website.

4. In The Spotlight — Driver Privacy and Surveillance

In the age of tech-driven surveillance, there is a growing gap between what people expect and what they endure. Amazon monitors delivery drivers with GPS devices that track their every move. Insurance companies monitor your driving habits to determine rates and coverage eligibility, and in-car cameras focus on your behavior behind the wheel.

Now Congress is considering legislation that would require driver-monitoring tech in every car, with the aim of preventing accidents and saving lives. But would this new technology be a violation of personal driver privacy? And how do we balance that surveillance-privacy gap?

Delivery driver complaints about Amazon have received most of the public’s attention about this issue because the retail tech giant always steals the oxygen from a room. There’s good reason to agree with drivers that the company’s AI-powered cameras and Mentor app is a form of digital surveillance that workers shouldn’t be subjected to.

But Amazon isn’t the only company to have a say in how your personal information is used. Insurance companies monitor driver behavior and rates, too. So does law enforcement with traffic stop cameras, which can capture license plate numbers on thousands of cars every day.

My home state requires vehicles have their emissions checked in some parts of the state. Yet when I pass through a tollbooth, emissions collectors there can send me an automatic waiver of the test. I still have to pay because no state is good at reducing revenue opportunities, but that’s just a simple example of how driver surveillance can create new opportunities for data collection.

Auto safety improvement and technology continue to fuel a decrease in collision fatalities. But because driver behavior is so closely monitored by camera and other means of data collection, when it comes to car accidents, drivers understand that their vehicle’s every move will be scrutinized for fault or liability.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that distracted driving caused 3,142 deaths in 2019. Monitoring devices that help understand issues like this are important, but knowing who can access them and for what purposes remains problematic.

We’re all happy about the improved safety, but may not want to sacrifice driver privacy or at least may want to decide how much driver privacy is sacrificed. Government and workplace mandates about surveillance and driver privacy are something we don’t yet know how to successfully manage.

5. Debunked — Choose Your Vaccine

Snopes has in-depth look at a meme making the rounds that cherry picks negative data about pharmaceutical companies that might make it incorrectly seem that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe. It’s a sophisticated way to try to get past fact checkers. The facts are accurate, but the entire thing is a big logical fallacy that Snopes calls misleading.

6. Following Up — 60 Minutes Misses

Those Google AI ethicists should have been in the news even more last week. CBS’ 60 Minutes ran a long piece about racial bias in facial recognition. The segment’s producers showed interviews with four men, but didn’t interview the three Black women who did the original work on the topic. And yes, one was part of that now famous Google AI ethics team.

7. Protip — Just Press Slash for Google

Great keyboard shortcuts are the best. New in 2021 is using the slash key (probably under the question mark key on your keyboard) to return to the search query box when using Google. No scrolling necessary. How cool is that?

Screening Room – Apple’s Take on Privacy 

Apple is going to ride this privacy horse in every race it runs. This is a really sharp new ad that you will see more of.

9. Science Fiction World — Drones Over Europe

I’ve been fascinated while watching Manna Aero’s drone delivery tests going on in Ireland. There is news this weekend that Irish regulators have signed off on the first light unmanned aircraft operator certificate throughout Europe.

CEO Bobby Healey told Morning Brew that the company was operating in a town with 3,000 homes. Consumers pay $1-$6 per for fast delivery of groceries, food, and even books.

 10. Coffee Break — Breathtaking Pictures

As more Americans begin traveling during the upcoming Memorial Day gateway to summer, here are The Atlantic’s winners for Best International Landscape Photos awarded just before the pandemic.

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s May 17th. Eurovision is the largest live music event in Europe. It’s a week of festivities that culminates with Saturday night finals, where multiple countries compete for musical glory and bragging rights. This year’s event starts Tuesday and builds all week until the final round on Saturday in Rotterdam. Last year’s contest was canceled due to the pandemic. Check out their YouTube playlist because there won’t be US broadcast or cable coverage this weekend.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,122 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted: ““If we receive €200 worth of Bitcoin within 24 hours, your information will be permanently deleted from our servers … [or] your information will be published for all to see.” — ransomware email sent to a therapy patient in Finland late last year as related in Wired’s “They Told Their Therapists Everything, Hackers Leaked It All.”

a) The Wall Street Journal reports that attorneys general from 44 states have written Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to halt plans for a version of Instagram created exclusively for children. Zuck previously discussed those plans while testifying before a House committee earlier this year, prompting Democratic lawmakers to also call for a halt.

b) It’s no secret that Gen Z is obsessed with Snapchat and TikTok. A new study from eMarketer shows these users are going to be spending more time on an app than they ever have before. This year, there will be over four million more active GenZers using TikTok as opposed to Instagram- and by 2023, TikTok might pass Snapchat.

c)  Amazon, Apple, and Google are joining forces to support a new connected home initiative called Matter that will create standards for third parties to certify their devices for use with Alexa, Siri or Google Home Assistant. The standard is brand-new although the concept was first tried in 2019 under the name CHIP. CNET has details.

3. Search Engine News

Prominent MSNBC news anchor Rachel Maddow posted on Twitter that Google search does not label ads. Google search liaison Danny Sullivan quickly responded that ads are “always labeled” and then released an informative video (below) in response to her confusion.

It is important for business leaders to understand that even smart users, like the Oxford-educated Maddow, can easily misunderstand the nuances involved in search and make very broad assumptions.  

4. In The Spotlight — Facial Emotion Recognition

While society grapples with facial recognition use by law enforcement, private companies are applying this technology for novel and convenient uses.

Disney World is currently testing face-scanning at park events even when people wear face masks. Universal Studios in Beijing announced in 2019 that they will also have a touchless entry system where guests scan their faces instead of swiping an ID card. Multiple entertainment venues in Abu Dhabi are also using the technology to provide hands free access into facilities. 

Not everyone is happy with this concept. Portland was the first U.S. city to ban private companies from using facial recognition, but the Electronic Freedom Foundation actually opposes a complete ban on private companies using the technology. “It does not follow [police department use] that all private use of face recognition technology undermines human rights,” the organization wrote several months ago. 

And much like imaging systems can often be fooled by the slightest changes in an image file, people have developed many ways to fool facial recognition, including makeup. Protests in Hong Kong and the U.S. last year accelerated the desire to counter facial recognition used to surveil citizens. One method builds on an old World War Two naval camouflage technique. Vogue has more information about how people are using that concept seventy years later to stymie efforts to track people.

Facial recognition isn’t only about the size of your nose or the shape of your mouth. New facial emotion recognition scans individuals in stores, during entertainment testing, and even during job interviews. Imagine that all of your micro-expressions are tracked throughout an interaction on a friendliness scale or used to gauge your true feelings about a topic.

The Financial Times has created a special, free interactive feature that uses your face and your expressions to create facial emotion recognition. Make sure that you’re using a device with a camera, and click below to experience this new technology firsthand. 

 5. Debunked — Bags of Gasoline

No one ever went broke overestimating how ridiculous some people can be when faced with inconvenience, but at least one widely publicized image of bags used to store gasoline was from 2019 in Mexico, according to Reuters. No, they don’t know why either.

 6. Following Up — Amazon Wins $300 Million Appeal

We’ve told you about how different countries have targeted tech company earnings as a potential tax revenue source. Australia, Germany, and France have all tried to bill American tech companies, but at least one precedent was set this week when an EU court overturned a $250 million euro tax penalty against Amazon in Luxembourg.

7. Protip — Stop Website Notifications

We don’t want to send you notifications when you’re busy doing other things, but it seems like every third website you visit asks for that permission. There is a simple way to block even those permission requests from displaying if you’re using a Chrome web browser.

Screening Room –  FedEx Delivering for Earth

Former FedEx product management exec Shaun Dakin flagged this new FedEx commercial about the company’s pledge to go carbon neutral. Special bonus: Willie Nelson music and cameo.

9. Science Fiction World — Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Person to Write

We’ve written about neural implants before. They’re not ready, but wow, are they closer than ever. You have to read this article about testing going on now that allowed a person to create handwriting on a screen while imagining that he was writing the letters. There are lots of caveats. It’s not even a prototype yet, but you need to read this uplifting Ars Technica piece.

10. Coffee Break — Which Way Did He Go?

It’s called “a clever combination of reflection, perspective, and viewing.” No wonder none of us could agree what color that dress was. This arrow on a swivel is turned 180 degrees, yet always points to the right. Except if you use a mirror and then it points to the left. I dunno either, but it’s cool

11. Sign of the Times