Good Monday Morning

 It’s July 25. This will be a full week of financial news. Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft report earnings Tuesday, followed by Facebook parent Meta on Wednesday, and Apple and Amazon on Thursday. The Fed is also meeting on Wednesday and is widely expected to increase the federal funds rate by another 75 basis points. Over two months, that would be a 1.5 point increase, a historic rate.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,054 words — about 4 minutes to read.

News To Know Now

Quoted:“This type of fraudulent activity [on LinkedIn] is significant, and there are many potential victims, and there are many past and current victims.”

— FBI special agent Sean Ragan during a CNBC interview in which he called cryptocurrency investment scams on LinkedIn “a significant threat.”

Driving the news: Earnings reports abound. Look for Big Tech companies to uncharacteristically address expenses and layoffs. 

a)Working remotely could become a legal right in the Netherlands. Dutch lawmakers approved a bill that would require employers to provide an explanation when rejecting an employee’s request to work remotely. That bill is now being considered by that country’s senate. About 28% of Dutch people work remotely according to Euronews.

b)Media attention will be focused on Amazon’s $3.9 billion acquisition of One Medical, a primary care practice with 180 offices in 25 cities, the Wall Street Journal reports. In addition to providing remote telemedicine services, AmazonCare entered pharmacy services two years ago by purchasing online pharmacy PillPack. The company also owns 500 Whole Food stores and 33 Amazon Fresh stores, all of which could provide pharmacy services to the public.

c) Misinformation about abortion proliferates online, and Alphabet and Meta are tackling it in different ways. On Thursday, YouTube announced that it will no longer allow misinformation related to abortion on its platform. CNN reports that TikTok has also begun removing abortion videos containing inaccurate information. 

Despite this, Facebook is allowing companies to continue to use an unapproved process they falsely claim can “reverse” an RU-486 dose. The Markup found 17 ads placed by two advertisers between October and May on Facebook. When Facebook users clicked on the links in those ads, they could connect with a physician online to receive what is described as scientifically unsound prescriptions. 

Trends & Spends

Spotlight Explainer — Facebook Feed Changes

Your Facebook feed is changing in ways that might have seemed off-brand only a year ago. Using Instagram videos as material for its Reels product, video will take on an even bigger role. There are also new audio options and a new sidebar for Groups. In Instagram chat, you will also be able to buy products directly.

The Facebook Feed Changes
Home is the new name for the tab you see when you first open the app. There will still be personalization, but you’ll also start seeing videos that Meta’s algorithm expects you to engage with. Observers say that’s a direct influence of TikTok’s usage metrics. US TikTok users averaged 25 hours per month on that app last year, far above Facebook’s engagement.

The new Facebook feed (below) is categorized by your designated favorites or by content from friends, groups, or pages. Toggling between the categories is the equivalent of TikTok choosing your content or you choosing to only see creators that you follow.

Friends Feed
One of the most popular requests on Facebook has been “just let me see my friends.” You may want to revisit that choice, but here is a short explainer showing how you can fine-tune your Facebook feed to show only posts from  your friends.

What’s This About Reels and Instagram?
Instagram’s Remix functions are expanding to include more stitching options including chronological and different split screens, remixing public photos, and Reels templates. The big news, though, is that all new public Instagram posts that are under 15 minutes will be repurposed as Reels. (Yes, minutes.)

Instagram Buying Via Chat
Meta is also offering merchants the opportunity to interact with customers using e-commerce widgets directly in chat. Here’s a look at how that might function when sales close in five seconds.

Did That Really Happen? — COVID Vaccine Data Misinterpreted

Multiple social media posts are mispresenting a Swedish organization’s study about COVID-19 vaccines and inaccurately claiming that they alter the recipient’s DNA. The Associated Press explains how this isn’t accurate. It seems that lay people aren’t very good at comprehending scientific studies about genetics.

Following Up — Lawmakers Complain About VPN Advertising

We wrote last week about VPNs, incognito mode, and passwords (and thanks for the many comments!). Now, two members of Congress have written the FTC and requested that the agency crack down on deceptive VPN advertising that purports to offer complete anonymity. We’re not saying that Congress reads Spotlight, but I dunno, they sure cited a lot of the issues we told you about first.

P.S. The total anonymity claim is garbage. Our article tells you which software and services we use.

Protip — Blur Faces & Remove Metadata From Pictures

You know that your images for the last 25 years have been stored with EXIF data that specifies the date and time, location, and other info about the file. Here is how you can remove that data as well as effectively blur faces. Then you can upload it to Instagram where Meta will convert it to a reel and share it with up to two billion people, but that’s showbiz, baby.

Screening Room — Mattress Firm

Science Fiction World — Dedicated Drone Space

It’s not quite at the level of The Jetsons, but the UK government is creating a dedicated drone corridor spanning 165 miles that is centered on the town of Reading.

Coffee Break — Blue Peter’s 1976 Computer Demo 

BBC1 once aired a geeky feature called Blue Peter. Here is a glimpse back at 45 year old technology showing maps and directory information summoned via a phone line. 

Sign of the Times 

Good Monday Morning

It’s July 18. The federal government is advising people that their COVID-19 immunity may be significantly lowered if they haven’t had a booster shot this calendar year as a new surge is starting to drive up hospitalization and death rates. Adults over 50 and those with certain medical conditions are eligible for a fourth booster. About 3-in-4 eligible people have not yet received that booster. Learn more at the official vaccination website.

News To Know Now

Quoted:“We do not use [third party seller] individual data when we’re making decisions to launch private brands.”

— Amazon executive Nate Sutton to the House Judiciary Committee in 2019. His claims were confirmed to the same committee a year later by Jeff Bezos. The Wall St. Journal reported last Friday afternoon that Amazon has made a non-monetary offer to European regulators to settle an antitrust action over the same issue.

Driving the news: One week before they report on second quarter earnings, Big Tech companies are looking to clear up lingering issues.

a) Meta companies Facebook and Instagram are removing posts offering abortion pills to women. In the first reporting on the topic, a Motherboard reporter successfully repeated the experience related by a person whose post was canceled. They shared the messages they received from Meta explaining that they had violated “community standards.” The account was also unable to post or comment on the sites for 24 hours.

b) Google has asked the Federal Elections Commission to approve their plan to make political email exempt from spam detection, reports Axios. It’s especially noteworthy given that robocalls received a similar exemption for political calls that commercial calls weren’t offered.

c) The UK Daily Mail had more engagement than any other publisher on Facebook, according to News Whip’s Q2 data. NBC News came in second and Nigerian publisher Legit was third. The most engaged piece of content was by Fox News about a high school coach winning a case at the Supreme Court allowing him to offer postgame prayer.

Trends & SpendsTrends & Spends

Spotlight Explainer — About VPNs

Prompted by my friends, Jamie and Heather, who were prompted by a Washington Post article this week, I did some thinking about VPNs. I have some definitions and recommendations for you, as well as describing what a VPN can and can’t do.

What a VPN Does
Think about a VPN as a private connection between your phone or computer and a private server somewhere else. Imagine that a private tunnel connects your device with the server so that anyone in between you two can’t see what you’re doing online.

That includes the company providing you an internet connection. While the VPN is on, everything between you and that other server is encrypted.

You Are Not Anonymous
For starters, everything you do is known to the VPN company. Everything. 

But just as importantly, every place you visit using that VPN connection still has an opportunity to add tracking cookies or other ways of monitoring you.

I’m using a VPN right now that bypasses my internet provider, Verizon. As far as they are concerned, I’m accessing a site in Atlanta. But the company that provides that service to me knows that I am really in the metro Washington area and using their Atlanta connection to access an email software company called MailChimp.

And MailChimp knows who I am because I accessed the system using my account credentials.

Why Use A VPN Then?
The most important thing a VPN does is protect the transmission between your device and the VPN server. I’m not trying to screen out Verizon per se. I want to ensure that a nosy but skilled neighbor isn’t able to see my work nor is someone parked on the street outside. 

A VPN is excellent for times when you are away from home and accessing your bank or credit card, or even email. Places like hotels have long been targets for bad people trying to use software to spy on someone’s Wi-Fi signal. That goes for anyplace offering free public Wi-Fi — airports, coffee shops, or malls.

A VPN also confuses basic software analytics programs that companies use to track us. Remember, as far as my internet carrier knows, I’ve been connected to Atlanta this whole time. And any site that hasn’t put cookies on my browser or requires a login probably thinks that I’m in Atlanta too. That’s helpful in my line of work where I do a lot of competitor research for clients.

Security experts will tell you to never use public Wi-Fi to access sensitive information or websites. That includes any financial sites (banks, credit cards, etc.), health information, and sites with private information. Having a VPN to use while traveling and on your mobile device is smart.

Your Browser Might Have Free VPN
And this is where you have to start doing solid research to figure out your risk profile. Opera, a popular browser offshoot from the same code as Chrome and other popular browsers, started in Norway, but is now primarily owned by a Chinese organization. 

And the Avast browser made by the antivirus software company of the same name was the subject of withering criticism regarding its privacy practices just a few short years ago.

Our recommendation is to stick with a private VPN service offering.

But I Use Incognito Mode
Incognito mode’s best feature is not saving your information to the browser that you’re using. In other words, you’re incognito from people using that browser on that device in the future. Everyone else is still tracking you.

A Word About Password Managers
You need one, now more than ever. As part of our work, we have access to client software and accounts. Some have decent password protocols, but most don’t, and that trend hasn’t changed in nearly 15 years. Security experts will correctly tell you that passwords are an issue because they’re a hassle that people avoid. You need a strong one with a mix of numbers, characters, and letters, and the ability to change it on the fly, save it to all your devices, and use two-factor authentication with your phone or another device.

Here’s Everything We Recommend
This is what we use. You should look into these to see if they fit your needs.

Virtual Private Networks for being on public connections or research
We use Mullvad, a Swedish company that only offers VPN services and charges 5 euros per month to install software on up to 5 devices. You pay without disclosing your name or address to them. They’ve been operating without incident since 2009. You’ll need to toggle it off to use a local printer or log into Google or Facebook, but you can go right back to it once you’ve logged in.

1 Password as a password manager
This robust Canadian software company has a product that has been in the market since 2006 without incident. You’ll pay $36/year for a personal account or $60 for a family membership. Business accounts start at $8/month and include free family accounts. If you don’t want to pay for password management, look into highly recommended BitWarden.

We use and love Brave’s privacy browser. Mozilla Firefox is also very, very good. Its Firefox Focus browser for iOS and Android devices is outstanding.

Did That Really Happen? — PA Still Has Mail-In Voting

Disinformation about elections can be devastatingly effective, which is why we were pleased to see Reuters disprove a viral tweet that falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would not be accepted in Pennsylvania.

 Following Up — Amazon Released Doorbell Video To Police 11 Times

Responding to a request from Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Amazon acknowledged that it had shared private customer videos with police agencies 11 times this year. The company said that it did so while complying with its disclosures that allow for the videos to be released in the event of a warrant or emergency situation.

Miss our 3rd annual look at police technology that affects you?  Check it out here.

Protip — Find Out Your Missing Wi-Fi Password

I need to remind you that your password manager is a great place to store your Wi-Fi password, but let’s assume that you are trying to do just that right now. You’re covered with this handy how-to explainer that won’t require you install software.

Screening Room — Meta Portal

This 30 second spot does a nice job of showing off the smart Meta Portal videoconferencing device that gets rave reviews. 

Science Fiction World — Amazon Drones Fly in Texas

If you remember Jeff Bezos getting laughed at in 2013 for predicting that Amazon would deliver packages by drone, I’m sure that he would like you to read this article about the company following Walmart into testing drone delivery in Texas. 

Coffee Break — Banned Books

Researchers have compiled this public spreadsheet that offers a sobering look at censorship by parents groups and school boards. Sort by author, title, or plenty of geographic markers among the thousands of records. Authors on the list include Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, John Steinbeck, S.E. Hinton, James Patterson, and Margaret Atwood as well as books by actors George Takei, Trevor Noah, and Neil Patrick Harris.

Sign of the Times

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Good Monday Morning

It’s July 11. The new shorter national suicide prevention hotline number launches Saturday. All carriers are required to route calls made to 988 to that service run by HHS. The helpline receives more than 5,000 calls daily. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,136 words — about 4 minutes to read.

News To Know Now

Quoted:“Right now, one of the most common forms of governance in virtual worlds is a reactive and punitive form of moderation based on reporting users who may then be warned, suspended, or banned. Given the sheer size of virtual communities, these processes are often automated.”

— Ethicist Lucy Sparrow writing in Wired about how companies providing metaverse products can guard against hate speech,  race and gender bias, and other community problems.

Driving the news: European regulators took American tech giants to task last week. Here are the the news stories you need to know.

a) Italy warned websites operating there that Google Analytics 4 requires additional modification to comply with GDPR privacy regulations. Among that country’s concerns: “US-based governmental and intelligence agencies may access the personal data being [collected].”

b) Canceling Amazon Prime in Europe will now require only two mouse clicks after the company settled complaints brought by EU regulators. The Norwegian Consumer Council’s report on difficulty canceling Prime services said that the cancelation process included “complicated navigation menus, skewed wording, confusing choices, and repeated nudging… that seems designed to be obscure and manipulative, in order to keep consumers bound to the paid service.”

c) U.S. legislators and watchdog agencies are alleging that Google allowed a Russian advertising agency to buy ads and receive data about consumers in multiple countries, including Ukraine.  A Pro Publica expose alleges that Google was continuing to supply data to the company as late as June 23 despite it appearing on a sanctions list on April 6.

Trends & Spends

Spotlight Explainer — The Metaverse Explained

Remember when you finally grokked that “The Cloud” was simply a bunch of computing resources owned by a company and accessible online?


The Metaverse is simply a different way to interact online. Instead of email and spreadsheets, you’ll see a visual representation of the information. You might access that via a virtual reality headset where your point-of-view becomes what is projected in the headset instead of your physical surroundings.

I hear you muttering now. Surely there’s more. And there is, sort of, but also sort of not.

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg got a lot of publicity last week for introducing designer clothing for the cartoon-like figures that represent real people in many metaverse projects. The Meta Avatar store will charge users real money for different looks to represent themselves. Here’s the graphic his company published last week.

Meta's avatar store for the metaverse

The internet and media promptly scoffed at the idea that anyone would pay money for designer duds to represent a cartoon version of themselves. But I know that they’re wrong because my wife (okay, then-future wife) and I worked on a national project for this more than thirty years ago featuring big names like George Lucas and Steve Case.

The metaverse was first realized in 1985, two years after the final movie in the original Star Wars trilogy debuted. The state of the art then was either a Commodore 64 or Macintosh. Both had rudimentary color monitors that could handle a cartoon world. The speeds were glacially slow, essentially measured in hundreds of characters transmitted per second. At those rates, it would take several days to download a song.

Lucasfilm and Quantum Link (which later became AOL) developed a way to do all the cartoon-like metaverse designs locally on the user’s disk drive. The program lasted several years under different names: Habitat, Club Caribe, and Worlds Away, and on different platforms including CompuServe and Fujitsu. Here’s a look at that 35 year old world.

Those users paid for the service by spending 6-8 cents per minute for access time. The goals for content creators and moderators like us were to build user minutes and increase retention. It wasn’t unusual to see users spend an hour or more per day in that universe at around five dollars an hour.

Metaverse spending is expected to reach $5 trillion by 2030 according to McKinsey. They project that the metaverse will be a dominant player in gaming, remote learning, socializing, and ecommerce. Games like Roblox and Fortnite are already making real money there and every significant consumer brand  you can think of from McDonalds to Mercedes is already advertising or investing.

Our take: be aware of it, understand conceptually how you’ll interact for customer service and in other ways, but don’t launch your own initiatives yet unless you’re in R&D, in which case you’re already late.

Did That Really Happen? — Rep. Greene Posts Doctored Photos

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted photos of alleged Highland Park murderer Robert Crimo III that purportedly showed him in “jail, rehab, or a psychiatric center,” according to the congresswoman.

The photos were obviously doctored, say experts. Poynter has details.

Following Up — GM Vehicles Causing SF Traffic Jams

They’re really allowed to go driverless. GM Cruise’s automated vehicle division has lost contact with as many as 60 driverless vehicles at the same time, according to Wired. The cars stop in traffic when that occurs, including crosswalks and intersections.

Protip — Amazon Prime Day Discounts

You’re going to hear a lot about Prime Day for the next couple of days. To get you ready to spend, Lifehacker’s Stephen Johnson compiled a list of offers that can give you store credit at the big sale.

Screening Room — Ally Bank

Ally touts its decision to provide equal investments in sports media for each gender. It’s a creative way to reinforce the brand and practice social good.

Science Fiction World — EU Preps Self-Driving Cars Legislation

Maybe they believe that San Francisco’s hilly roadways are too much for driverless cars, but Politico reports that the EU is about to approve the sale and registration of up to 1,500 automated vehicles per carmaker per year.  The laudable goal: eliminate road deaths. Up to 95% of vehicle accidents are caused by human error.

Coffee Break — Fireworks vs. Family

If you haven’t yet seen it, here is an Independence Day gathering gone horribly wrong. First, a group of several families scatters when fireworks zoom towards them. Then the devices head straight for the cars, and it’s not a pleasant scene for anyone there.