News You Need to Know Now


Good Monday morning. It’s February 4th. Google parent company Alphabet announces earnings when the markets close this afternoon.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.

Breaking Sunday night: Family Tree DNA is vehemently denying media reports that it has given the FBI access to its database of more than one million genetic profiles. Family Tree says that the FBI has the same permissions that any consumer has and that law enforcement has used the free-to-all service fewer than ten times.




  • Amazon and Facebook posted record financials last week. Analysts liked Facebook’s story and rewarded the company’s stock. Amazon warned that it would invest more in 2019, and its stock took a hit despite record holiday earnings. Remember that the execs involved most often are compensated based on stock performance, not earnings.


  • The FCC was in court before a three judge panel Friday to present oral arguments regarding its rollback of net neutrality consumer protections. Among the FCC’s arguments was the contention that broadband is not a telecommunications service. The FCC also faced questions about Verizon throttling service used by the Santa Clara Fire Department as they fought deadly wildfires last year.


  • Hackers uploaded password and email combinations in more files last week, bringing the total to 2.2 billion password records that researchers say have now been downloaded more than 1,000 times. Please stop right now if you’re using your old passwords “now that time has passed”.

Wild Online Data Days Continue


Apple users, pay attention to the Group FaceTime bug called Face Palm. The company confirmed that users could add a third person to a FaceTime call, creating a Group, and eavesdrop on the person who was being added even if that person didn’t answer. Apple disabled group video chatting last week and is due to push out an update to users this week.

Apple was also on the dishing out side of things after it learned that Google and Facebook had both violated their App Store agreements and promoted programs that captured lots of data. Facebook’s case was egregious because Apple had already made Facebook remove a similar program. Instead, Facebook launched an online data program targeting people between the ages of 13 (with parental consent) and 35. They paid each person $20 per month to load a program on their phone that allowed Facebook to see virtually everything that was done on the phone. Plenty of survey companies do exactly this, but Facebook bypassed Apple’s App Store, and Apple responded by revoking Facebook’s developer access permission for nearly three days.

When Apple discovered that Google was doing something similar, they also revoked Google’s access even though this was their first offense.

The control that Apple places on its App store far outweighs anything that Google does for Android apps. And Apple is ruthless about protecting this advantage. We learned during Apple’s financial reports that its revenue sharing from Netflix alone is $130 million per year. For accounts smaller than Netflix, Apple’s revenue sharing costs publishers 15-20 percent of total revenue. And you thought that only their phones were expensive.

Children and teens are also spending millions on Facebook apps and games that parents are often unaware of, according to reporting by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The organization reported that Facebook’s chargeback rate for contested credit card charges made by children is more than 9 percent–18 times the regular rate.

Even municipalities are getting involved. New York City will begin receiving data from Uber and Lyft as part of its agreements allowing them to operate. Among the data being received is date, time, locations, and the route driven. The city says that its goal is traffic planning and new programs, but skeptics have already pointed out that the database when combined with cameras and taxicab data provide the city with a database of non-private vehicle travel.

Some Help Is Coming

Google’s Chrome browser will warn users when it is visiting a spoofed website. It’s still in an early beta, but I’ve tested it, and it’s got promise.

What’s App–one of Facebook’s most popular programs–will start limiting the number of times that a message can be forwarded in an effort to cut down on disinformation.

New York’s Attorney General reached a settlement last week that it says is “…the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to include in online activity is illegal.” Gizmodo has an excellent summary of what it means and how it came to be.

EU regulators also continue pursuing tech data issues. Polish and UK authorities last week began taking action to limit an online advertiser’s ability to identify and target a consumer who has been the victim of sexual abuse, substance abuse, or medical conditions. This has fallen into the “we know how to do it technically, but it’s not permitted and it’s evil” bucket. Regulators would like to put that into the “make it impossible to do” bucket.

Reporter Kashmir Hill–one of our favorites and one whose work we’ve referred to you before–is publishing a fantastic series called “Life Without the Tech Giants”.  She is a data privacy expert who is enlisting great tech resources to help her block companies like Google and Amazon from her life. And as she writes, it’s not always working. Start with her intro to the series here.



Worth your time this week:

  • Google is finally removing Google+ data from the publicly-accessible Internet. Your stuff–if there was any there-will be deleted April 2.
  • Snopes is ending its fact-checking partnership with Facebook.
  • Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body? It’s not a Snickers commercial. It’s a well done 75 second Deep Fake video that reporter Mikael Thalen posted to Twitter.



Good Monday morning. It’s January 28th. Happy Tech Earnings Week. Apple and telecoms report Tuesday, Microsoft and Facebook are reporting Wednesday, and Amazon is up Thursday. Count on lots of news all week.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.


  • Fifteen U.S. Senators have written the FTC and FCC to urge an investigation of the “sale of Americans’ location data by wireless carriers, location aggregators, and other third parties.” (PDF of the letter)


  • Facebook announced plans to combine Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. It’s a gamble. All 3 are on every list of the most popular mobile apps.


  • U.S. regulators are considering whether and how to fine Facebook for its role in the Cambridge Analytical data scandal. This is on the heels of the EU fining Google $57 million for violations of its GDPR data privacy law.


Your Data Is Out There

 Have I Been Pawnd (HIBP) founder Troy Hunt wrote a “post for the masses” instead of the techies and detailed “Collection 1”–a data file that combines 1.1 billion combinations of email addresses and passwords. The article is easy to understand with links to more info for the data curious. Troy’s HIBP service is free and should be part of your data routines, along with a password manager and a physical key like the ones sold by Yubico.

We learned about other data out there this week. More than 24 million financial records, including mortgage and tax information from the country’s biggest banks, were found online by security analyst Bob Diachenko, according to TechCrunch. Luckily Bob is a responsible researcher and discloses only after notifying affected organizations. The third parties managing the personal data didn’t even have current relationships with the banks in some cases, but still had to maintain the records.

No matter what search, social media, and other data privacy targets do, the data breaches that have caused the most trouble have been at the federal government or companies like Equifax and Marriott. In short, data security is a bigger issue than Google or Facebook although they certainly play a role.

If all of this was Greek to you and you’re unsure about what to do next, you should email George since he’s Greek and can help.

What’s With All The Fines?

Seven months after the EU passed its GDPR, a set of stringent personal data regulations, French regulators have fined Google $56.8 million. The main infringements were related to “transparency, information, and consent”, specifically Google requiring users to accept new privacy policies.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ is another troubling EU concept for Google and search engines. A Dutch surgeon who was disciplined for medical negligence has won her suit against Google in an Amsterdam court to have that information removed from the search engine according to The Guardian.

This is an important concept that we’ve helped U.S. entities navigate. European courts have established that search engines must adhere to a European citizen’s ‘right to be forgotten’, which allows inadequate, excessive, or irrelevant content to be ignored. The guidelines are often considered vague. This is not U.S. law, which generally provides for truth as a defense against removing data from a search engine.

Facebook is also dealing with the possibility of regulatory fines in the U.S. for its role in privacy violations. The FTC is the lead agency considering “a record-setting fine” for Facebook according to the Washington Post. A prior consent decree Facebook entered into with the FTC and the lingering effects of the government shutdown are complicating the final resolution.

Google and Facebook may also create future liabilities in Europe under the continent’s Copyright Directive, which permits companies to demand money when fragments of their articles appear on third party sites. Google is considering blocking access to Google News throughout Europe as a result, reports Bloomberg.

This negative activity has led to some predictable actions. The five biggest tech companies, including Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, joined Facebook and Google in accounting for nearly $60 million in federal lobbying during 2017 according to a study in The Hill.  Facebook is also receiving increasingly negative attention from the media, according to a Recode analysis of consumer sentiment about Facebook articles in The New York



Worth your time this week:

  • More than 11,000 Microsoft employees are caught up in a Reply-All fiasco that is equal parts amusing and sad. (Business Insider)
  • Gmail’s mobile interface is adding strikethroughs, undo and redo, more. (TechCrunch)
  • Netflix now has 139 million subscribers worldwide. And in line with our entertainment article last issue, raised prices. Who knew they read Spotlight? (CNN)


Like this summary? You can get a free copy emailed  at the beginning of each work week.

Good Monday morning. It’s December 10th. Look for Google CEO Sudar Pichai to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Citing no proof, some lawmakers and the President have accused the search company of presenting results with political bias.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.


    • We’ve been telling you that Facebook wasn’t doing illegal things regarding data privacy, merely sleazy things. That issue came home to roost when the UK Parliament dumped 250 pages of unredacted emails that were seized a week ago. Sleazy, but not illegal is the industry consensus, and you can read for yourself in this HUGE PDF.


    • More data breaches were reported, the biggest at question-and-answer site Quora, where hackers stole 100 million passwords. We’re linking to a new, well done guide called “The Wired Guide to Data Breaches” that is worth your time.


Breaking news this weekend: BuzzFeed is reporting that it has seen two subpoenas from the FBI to third party companies regarding millions of fake comments opposing net neutrality that were posted with the names and addresses of Americans who did not make them. FCC Chair Ajit Pai acknowledged this week that “millions of Russian and fake comments” influenced the repeal of net neutrality.

Visual Social Media


Facebook garners most of the attention when social media is discussed but its Instagram subsidiary and Alphabet’s YouTube subsidiary are where almost all growth and innovation are occuring. The top 50 accounts at each platform all have more than 20 million followers. And they’re not all celebrity accounts either.

About 85% of all U.S. adults online use YouTube–and one quarter of adults use YouTube more than once per day.  At the same time, the number of active Instagram accounts grew from 800 million to 1 billion in the last 14 months. Analysts expect that U.S. and worldwide growth will continue increasing at a 20% plus rate for the next several years.

Don’t ask who is doing all of this. Instead, understand that it’s just about everyone.

And people are making money.

Vox interviewed Viral Nation co-founder Joe Gagliese who admittedly has every reason to hype the markets he serves but claims that influencers with 10,000-50,000 subscribers can charge “a few thousand dollars for a post”.  Keep the numbers quoted as anecdotal and enjoy that interview here.

This week also featured Forbes’ annual ranking of the Highest-Paid YouTube stars. Seven-year-old Ryan (with no last name publicized) is the face of Ryan ToysReview and a new line of toy collectibles sold at Walmart. Ryan TR generated $22 million in revenue this year to go along with last year’s $11 million.

Ryan also has 17 million subscribers. When this was written during the weekend, a two day old post of his about riding a bike with no training wheels was viewed nearly 2 million times. That was followed the next day by a 6 1/2 minute post that generated 388,000 more views.

All told, Ryan has 26 billion-with-a-b views, including at least one video on YouTube’s list of all-time Top 50 viewed videos. Most of the videos feature Ryan getting new toys which he unboxes and plays with as a “review”. He’s got the former CEO of Nickelodeon guiding his channel now. For context, that traditional kids television network has about 1.2 million daily viewers.

Ryan moves merch for toy companies. The video showing him unboxing and playing with “Pet Dinosaur Jurassic World Alpha Training Blue” has received 2 million views since it was posted 10 days ago. The toy’s cost: $229.

Check out the video.

What Does All This Mean For You?

Instagram has been Facebook’s ace-in-the-hole for the six years since its been acquired. The same people often frequent Facebook and Instagram but behave differently on each. Meanwhile YouTube continues to be Google’s stake-in-the-ground for consumer living rooms. Amazon’s Alexa has entered the fray with deep discounts on its TV Fire Stick that adds functionality and big Prime Viewing library.

Organizations that advertise are going to have to develop video and visual display advertising.

Consumers will eventually be migrated to primarily video advertising such as the 6 second short form and in-video commercials that spark complaints but are no different than a television network would air.

The biggest difference: when I watched Ryan’s channel to write this, I saw ads for things that interested me specifically like advertising and music. Those aren’t what would air on Nickelodeon or someone buying space on Ryan’s channel. Personalized targeting makes markets more efficient than ever.

Fun read: NY Times technology writer Brian Chen is out this week with a fun piece called “I Tried to Make My Dog an Instagram Celebrity. I failed.




  • The National Health Service in the U.K. has now been forbidden from buying fax machines and must stop using its existing ones within the next two years. Presumably 1996 called and wants its technology back.


  • And during this holiday season, you need to be aware of BrainGate, a project from researchers at Brown University and Boston University. To quote WBUR’s great story, they are “using a tiny brain implant to allow severely paralyzed or ‘locked-in’ patients to move a computer cursor with their minds.”  With. Their. Minds.  It’s not science fiction. It’s fantastic.