Good Monday morning. It’s September 9th. Apple has a product rollout tomorrow at 1 p.m. Analysts expect the iPhone 11 announcement plus other product news.

Fun fact: Apple has $210 billion in cash, a hoard that would allow the company to buy Netflix or PayPal outright and still have about half. Or it could spin off a holding company that would be the 28th largest U.S. company by market cap. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 3 minutes to read.

2. News To Know Now

1.  YouTube owner Alphabet agreed to pay a $170 million fine to the FTC and New York state after regulators faulted YouTube privacy and data collection practices for children under the age of 13. YouTube privacy rules required users to be 13 or older, but regulators showed that the company knew the service was used by nearly all “tweens” who are 10-12 years old.

2.  Back in December we told you about then 7-year-old Ryan Kaji, whose YouTube videos as “Ryan ToyReviews” generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue. The channel added more than four million subscribers since and is now the subject of a Truth in Advertising ( complaint with the FTC alleging that the videos do not provide clear disclosure of compensation. 

3. YouTube reported this week that it’s making great progress on its 4Rs: 

  • removing harmful content
  •  raising authoritative voices for breaking news
  • rewarding creators and artists
  • reducing inappropriate content.

Since last year, YouTube has removed more than 100,000 videos, canceled 17,000 channels, and removed more than 500 million comments. Governments and propagandists aren’t the only ones spreading false information. So is someone at the office, three people you see on your commute, and that fifth grade buddy you had to go find on Facebook. 

4. Android 10 was released. Following 8 (Oreo) and 9 (Pie), there should be a cute version name beginning with the letter Q, but Google apparently didn’t want quince or (my choice) queso. Instead they’re choosing boring old Android 10. While you stick to your own preferred sweets, here is when manufacturers are rolling out Android 10 to their phones.

3.  Facebook Dating is Live & Other Social News

“Not everyone on Facebook is interested in dating,” writes the company in its announcement of its dating app-within-an-app starting up in the U.S.

You know that’s not true, and not just because the word “Facebook’ appeared in one-third of divorce filings in one study. Savvy parents watch over their children’s social media, but parents oftentimes need chaperones. 

Facebook’s dating app is mobile only and anyone who claims their age is 18 or older can create a profile in minutes. When I tested the service (honest, sweetheart, it was for the newsletter), my profile was created from my Facebook profile in seconds. Had I gone ahead with my first name, job, town, and employment history, I could’ve been trolling for dates in seconds. 

No one knows yet whether this will stop unsolicited pictures of people’s genitals from appearing in your messages but that seems doubtful. Also doubtful is that anyone looking up old flames will simply choose to use the dating app. But Facebook Dating has rolled out to more than one dozen countries in its first year so this is part of our world.

Much more promising for humanity is Facebook’s test to hide the number of likes a post receives. Researcher Jane Wong (who broke news of the Facebook dating app last year) surfaced that tidbit after first discovering Instagram was doing the same test. The notion is that seeing the high or low reaction counts will bias future visitors. That’s something Sue and I experienced firsthand when we worked with online reviews at Epinions more than a decade ago. The current test will allow only the original poster to see the number and types of reactions.

Facebook also took two big steps to combat misinformation on the site. First, they announced a tightening of requirements necessary to advertise social advocacy and political issues. Then they made a surprise announcement about tightening up information regarding vaccination misinformation.

Users searching for vaccination information will be referred to the specific page at the World Health Organization. Facebook has also said that it will reduce the overall visibility of groups and pages sharing misinformation, including their advertising, and may stop them from using fundraising tools.

4.  Google My Business Showing Competition

Google My Business listings may now show advertising for competing businesses. This screenshot from Twitter shows a Toyota dealership’s ad inside a Chrysler dealership’s listing.

Search Engine Land reporting suggests that the ads can’t be removed which could set up a bidding war for space in free business listings.

Google My Business also announced that the list of “distance based services” has been phased out and place names substituted. Think of services that come to your home or office. You’ll search for them now using place names.

Website sitemaps (the kind computers read) also got a big boost from Google this week when Googler Gary Ilyes confirmed a years-old statement that the sitemaps are the second biggest source of a page’s visibility after Google’s own automated programs.  

Talk with us if you are responsible for an organization’s web presence and don’t know what that means.

5. Debugged: The Private Delta Jet

Vincent Peone got a lot of attention when he posted a video that said that he was the only person on a Delta flight. Gizmodo reports that the plane developed “mechanical problems” and never took off.

Sorry, Vinny. Read the story here.

6. Also in the Spotlight

Google’s differential privacy software that analyzes big data but can cloak identities has been made free by the search giant, according to The Verge.

Someone stole $240,000 by calling a British energy company using software that mimicked the CEO’s voice, according to the Washington Post.

7. Food for Thought:  Misinformation

Publishing inaccurate or misleading information online isn’t going to go away any time soon. Security firms are worried about ransomware striking election offices, power grid susceptibilities and other sabotage, but nothing can cause damage like plausible misinformation.

Where is your organization vulnerable to conspiracy theories that can show up online and damage your operations? And how can you develop resources held in reserve now in case that day comes?

8. Protip: Reporting Misinformation on Instagram

You can report individual Instagram posts that have misinformation through a new feature the company recently rolled out.  From your phone, access the post’s menu in the top right. From there, select:   REPORT –> It’s Inappropriate –> False Information.

9. Great Data: An $86 Trillion Economy

It’s hard for humans to conceptualize the differences between one million, billion, and trillion. One tool we use to help leaders visualize the stark difference is this example:

  • 1 million seconds is 12 days ago—when you were looking forward to Labor Day.
  • 1 billion seconds is 31 years ago—when Ronald Reagan was president and The Cosby Show topped the Nielsen ratings.
  • 1 trillion seconds is 31,000 years ago—when humans first began gathering in settlements.

With those differences in mind, here is an infographic of the world’s $86 trillion economy.

10. Coffee Break:  Strange Emoji Doings

ACLU data scientist Brooke Watson made my day when she posted “just learned with horror that deleting any of the “family” emojis in google slides does not remove the emoji, but rather kills off each individual family member one by one, starting with the children.

See it for yourself, amaze your friends later  (okay, it’s cute.)

Good Monday morning. It’s August 26th.  Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist, is due to arrive Tuesday in New York. She is traveling on a zero-emissions sailboat. You can read more about her trip at Moms Clean Air Force.

Reminder: next Monday is Labor Day in the U.S. and there won’t be a Spotlight.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read. Want to chat about something you see here? Leave a reply.

2. News To Know Now

1.  Police increasingly use social media, we told you last week, and now we’re reading details of police discounts for Amazon’s Ring service, free training, and police recommending the product to citizens through official channels.  Ars Technica has a good overview.

2.  Open AI is releasing its 774 million parameter AI language program just six months after releasing the 124M model. The organization continues to advocate for more protections as models with 10 times the number of parameters are being tested now.

3. Knowing what is appropriate is vexing researchers. The University of Washington released a study that shows AI can incorrectly flag hate speech almost half the time and appears at times to be racially biased.

4. Human content moderation takes a painful toll. The Intercept reports that Facebook contractors view up to 800 pieces of “disturbing content” each hour and “routinely turn to on-site counselors to help cope”. Accenture, the employer that has the Facebook contract, has attempted to learn the content of therapy sessions according to a whistleblower’s letter.

3.  Old Passwords Still Being Used

Passwords are a pain. They seem unnecessary and everything would be great if digital systems could simply identify us. But since we live in this world, and this world still requires good passwords, please note some scary goings-on.

Data first.  We told you this winter about a Google Chrome extension that checks the password you are using against a database of hacked passwords. Google reported this week that the extension detected 315,000 compromised passwords being used. The good news is that 26% of those who were warned took the opportunity to get a new password which makes me question whether we want the other 74% to continue to have access to passwords.

Doing your best, like using VPN software to secure your communications isn’t a simple fix.  Ars is reporting that Fortigate and Pulse Secure have vulnerabilities that hackers are actively exploiting to steal passwords. In their words, “Now would be a good time to make sure they’re patched.”

Poor data hygiene has bedeviled government agencies for years. Three events this week underscore how much government relies on outdated equipment or the self-discipline of thousands of users.

Hackers coordinated an attack that breached 23 municipal networks in Texas. We’ve told you about ransomware in some small Florida cities and larger attacks in Atlanta and Baltimore, but security experts were surprised at the coordination and speed of these attacks. (Texas state government page)

Wisconsin election offices are also vulnerable according to the Elections Commission’s top cybersecurity official. Tony Bridges says that 527 local elections officials use Windows XP or Windows 7. XP has not received security updates since 2014. Those updates end in January for Windows 7. 

Maine is spending $1 million because of the same issues that affect 10,000 of their computers. The state’s CIO says that Maine is spending the money because Microsoft won’t continue free support of the software it released ten years ago. (Bangor Daily News)

Our take: Stay safe(r) by using multiple protection methods. Use a password manager (we like LastPass), a physical security key (Yubico is what we use), and allow your software, especially your operating system, to be regularly updated. Once that’s done, install a good antivirus program with malware scanning. Finally, use two-factor authentication (2FA) for everything you can, but especially your email, access to work networks, and social media. 

4.  SearchWeek: News about finding things online

You’re not the only one who sometimes can’t find a backup.

Google acknowledged this month that it “temporarily lost part of the Search index” in April. It was a computer engineering nightmare that they’ve helpfully documented the way your kid claimed that the paper was emailed to the teacher. It would be a weird issue but for the fact that they did it or something similar in July and then again on August 20th. Quoting Google’s Danny Sullivan in SEO Roundtable’s coverage, “Yes, I believe there might be some issues” in response to Roundtable’s editor posting that some sites were having trouble getting new content into Google’s index.

We also learned from SparkToro that less than half of Google searches now result in a click. We’ve been telling you about all the video, audio, and other rich media Google is publishing on its search pages. Google says that organizing the world’s information, not publicizing websites, remains its goal.

5. Debugged: Freshman Orientation

Snopes is out with a special article debunking college legends like the library sinking from the weight of its books.

How long must students wait for an absent professor?

6. Also in the Spotlight

Estee Lauder’s CEO says that half its marketing budget is going to influencers, reports Ad Week (and wow!)

Kohls is going the other way with a clothing collection influenced by Facebook data it receives. Don’t forget that Kohls also cut a deal with Amazon to accept returns. How ironic would it be if Kohls becomes a retail winner in the tech age?

Joseph Tartaro bought a vanity license plate: NULL. That’s a condition computer programs often use when no data is present. The result is a madcap story of more than $12,000 owed in fines he didn’t actually get ticketed for.  Read more at Wired.

7. Food for Thought:  Email Jargon

From vacation, Shaun sent me this new data he was perusing in Statista as one does when they’re on vacation. These are the phrases your co-workers hate.

Not sure if you saw my last email, but per our conversation…

8. Protip: Spam in your Google Calendar

I started hearing some people complain about spam in their Google Calendar and figured they had copied the email link to the wrong place. Then a lot of people began complaining.  Yep, spammers figured it out.

How-To Geek has a remedy, but only if you’ve been hit

9. Great Data: A New Look at the Top 100 Websites

This is the best treatment I’ve ever seen for the top 100 websites. Traffic volume is included as is color-coding for the owners of the sites. Porn and scam websites are also included as are sites in China, Japan, Indonesia, and Russia. For example, MicrosoftOnline dot com is the 52nd largest site in terms of traffic, but is a phishing scam that is not affiliated with Microsoft.

In other words, this is the real world wide web that puts the porn sites in their actual places, including the top ten, and associates LinkedIn with Microsoft and #30 Twitch with Amazon.

Top 100 Websites by Visual Capitalist

10. Coffee Break:  Google Goes to Oz

On this 80th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, Google has made a fun Easter Egg tribute to the beloved movie. Here’s how to activate it.

1. Search for The Wizard of Oz on Google.
2. Click the image of Dorothy’s slippers on the right side of the page.
3. Wheee… you’re back in black-and-white days in Kansas. 
4. To go back to color, click the tornado image now in the spot where you found the slippers. 
5. Whee again!

In This Email

Social media, China, Amazon Ring, ICE, Palantir, Pentagon, Instagram, WordPress, Tumblr, What3Words, Facebook, facial recognition, Calm, Amazon, YouTube, PayPal, Panda cheese

2. News To Know Now

1.  Facebook contractors listened to and transcribed recordings of Facebook Messenger and Chat audio. The company said it used the transcriptions to improve voice recognition services “much like Google and Amazon”. Bloomberg broke the story.

2.  WordPress’ parent company Automattic bought Tumblr from Verizon for $3 million. Tumblr had been purchased by Verizon acquiree Yahoo just six years ago for more than $1 billion.  Yahoo famously turned down buying Google twice and Facebook once. They also turned down a $44 billion offer from Microsoft in 2008 and were acquired by Verizon nine years later for only $4.5 billion.

3. What3Words is a UK-based app whose developers have divided the world into 57 trillion discrete areas measuring 3 square meters. The app was the subject of a glowing BBC story about pinpointing locations for meetups or emergencies and spent the weekend going viral on Facebook. Read the article.

4. ctrl shift face has been wowing people with deep fakes of movie scenes and interviews for months. Their latest is a sequence featuring a Bill Hader interview where he quotes and his face morphs into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen’s appearances.  Check it out below.

3.  How Police Use Social Media

Law enforcement organizations continue making news by using consumer technology to buttress enforcement and analysis. 

Cozy relationships between Amazon and more than 200 U.S. agencies are under attack. We’ve told you before that Amazon asks for access to live emergency dispatch feeds for the Ring network. We’re also learning via an explosive Vice expose that Amazon has exerted control over online police statements regarding Ring data.

Amazon distributes 46 standardized responses including some in which police officers advocate the purchase of a Ring system according to heavily sourced reporting from Vice regarding police in Topeka and northern New Jersey.

New York City Police, meanwhile, are under fire for uploading mugshots of juveniles as young as eleven years old into facial recognition databases despite facial recognition algorithms not performing as well with younger faces.

Technology companies and law enforcement can also be on opposite sides of an issue. Apple famously refused to cooperate with the FBI in unlocking a mass shooter’s iPhone. And police in Hong Kong are reportedly “prying open protestors’ shut eyes” to unlock their phones according to MIT Technology Review. Experts say that the issue of unlocking phones via biometrics instead of a passcode is not adequately addressed by case law, which makes the exposure of over one million fingerprint records in Europe two weeks ago especially problematic.

Federal agencies are also involved in high tech monitoring. A Mijente study reported by TNW showed that the military, Border Patrol, ICE, and Homeland Security are spending $1.5 billion with Palantir to create vast databases combining local government records like fishing license applications, bank information, and social media.

The FBI is also building a social media database according to a Wall Street Journal story last week. Facebook is obviously an important part of that database which sets up an interesting issue for regulators: how much does the government want to rein in Facebook’s algorithmic probing of people when federal law enforcement wants the data?

The Pentagon is at least planning some unique surveillance. A Guardian story quotes from documents filed with the FCC and claims that the Pentagon launched 25 unmanned balloons traveling at 65,000 feet over the Midwest. The “persistent surveillance” includes tracking radar that can monitor individual vehicles including boats during any time and through any weather. The mesh networking technology linking the balloons is similar to what your home wifi uses.

4.  SearchWeek: News about finding things online

Back-to-school time is in full swing all over the country which means that new upperclassmen are turning their thoughts to colleges. Google announced that it has expanded college search features to include two year schools. The search engine is also using data from the Department of Education to provide grids comparing costs, graduation rates, and similar data between schools.

Beware of Instagram image embedding on websites, said Googler John Mueller  during his weekly SEO chat. The way Instagram images are shared on websites can cause the sites to lose visibility. Don’t just add a plugin and start embedding images without understanding this issue.

5. Debugged: Dorothy Didn’t Tweet from the Fridge.

Sorry, Ferris Bueller fans. The tech world got together to puncture several huge holes in the story of Dorothy, a teen supposedly in trouble with her mother and tweeting from the family’s smart refrigerator.

Sorry, Dorothy, debunked here

6. Also in the Spotlight

YouTube is testing paid online meet-and-greets with its influencers, according to Engadget.

A hacker took $40,000 from a company and was caught after he verified his PayPal account for the money transfer, reports Quartz.

Amazon has prevailed in an appeal by the government over a $1.5 billion tax liability per Reuters.

7. Food for Thought:  Strategic Acquisitions

Yahoo is not the only organization to make multiple poor acquisition decisions although they did manage to make three world changing ones in the space of ten years. 

AOL is also owned now by Verizon and one of its former CEOs spilled to CNBC last week that AOL held talks to buy Facebook and YouTube in 2006 as well as Chinese tech holding company Tencent in 2004.

Read about those potential acquisitions and consider a tech landscape where AOL bought YouTube instead of Google or managed to combine its massive chat rooms with a nascent Facebook.

8. Protip: Free Calm for Teachers

Calm makes a fantastic mindfulness app in a freemium model. They’ve announced a plan to give “every teacher in the world free access to Calm”.  They describe the requirements as having a K-12 classroom.

Their announcement.

9. Great Data: Pain Pills at the Local Drugstore Level

The Washington Post continued its cutting edge data journalism by creating a feature last month show the movement of opioid pain pills to different towns. Now comes an even bigger graphical interface that shows the number of pills dispensed per pharmacy for every pharmacy.

The local data is remarkable. At the shopping center closest to my house, the Giant Food pharmacy received 432,360 narcotic pills. That’s less than 1 pill for the people who live within 5 miles of the pharmacy. But the CVS Pharmacy next to it received 2.9 million pills during the same time. You can even download the individual data for each. 

Pain pill database

10. Coffee Break: Panda Cheese

Egyptian cheese maker Panda came out with a set of unique television spots back in 2010. After law enforcement and pain pill stories today, you need this.

Never say no to Panda.