Good Monday morning. It’s March 2nd. 

Information about coronavirus is changing fast. As a business leader, you need to rely on prime sources for your news. Here’s the CDC’s online page for businesses that are planning now for potential disruptions.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,414 words and takes about 5 ½  minutes to read.

Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1.  Security researchers at McAfee fooled two Tesla vehicles into speeding up or believing a stop sign was not present by subtly altering highway signs with black tape in a way that MIT Tech Review says passersby would never notice. Read the story here or go straight to the experiment findings here.

2. Clearview AI, the company that broke the rules and harvested billions of photos from Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, had its own customer list stolen. Critics are naturally asking how the company can safeguard the images they’ve improperly taken if they can’t protect their customer list. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed got their hands on the list and found 2,200 organizations on it including the NBA, Walmart, Macy’s, and the University of Alabama. Read their coverage here

Clearview’s list isn’t unusual. NEC facial recognition is used by more than 1,000 organizations in 70 different countries, including Delta Air Lines, Carnival Cruises, and retail chains in California, Japan, and India. If you’re interested in NEC and biometrics in general, this is the article to read today.

3. Amazon is also working on image recognition to power its new grocery chain. You probably knew about the company’s convenience stores without cashiers. That same technology is now being used in the company’s newest stores. Separate from Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary, these grocery stores use a smaller footprint around 10,000 square feet that is popular in contemporary retail. TechCrunch has coverage.

2. Messaging Apps: Signal

You probably know and use the big messaging apps. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are the second and third most popular mobile apps in the world after Facebook. WeChat, owned by China’s Tencent, is a close fourth with one billion active users. They’re amazingly useful and have created positive change in our world, but like everything, the real effect is more nuanced. 

Encrypted, free alternatives like Signal and Telegram are becoming more important in our world. After WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton had a highly publicized falling out with Mark Zuckerberg, he injected $50 million into the nonprofit Signal Foundation and became its executive chairman. Acton announced that Signal would provide technology based on complete data privacy and data protection. In a famous Forbes interview at the time, the billionaire ruefully said, “I sold my users’ privacy.” 

Signal’s secure communications landed Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in trouble after media reports surfaced that he was using the encrypted messaging software to send ephemeral messages that disappeared. That capability could allow Kushner to be noncompliant with the Presidential Records Act. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was also criticized for his use of the app this week.

That level of security is what encouraged the European Commission to notify its staff in February that they should start using Signal following several data breaches. Signal claims that its servers do not track caller or message identifiers. The company says its data consists of when a user last connected to Signal and said that only the day is specified.

Conservatives at the federal level including Attorney General Bill Barr and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are working to remove legal protections from companies making “warrant-proof” products. Their long-standing argument is that the software can encrypt communications, but only if law enforcement agencies have the ability to access them.

Signal works on iOS, Android, and personal computers and is available in the app stores.

Smart links: Messaging Apps: Signal

Signal is Finally Bringing Its Secure Messaging to the Masses” — Wired
Exclusive: WhatsApp Cofound Brian Acton …” — Forbes
EU Commission to staff: Switch to Signal Messaging App” — Politico EU
Switch to Signal for Encrypted Messaging, EC Tells Staff” — Naked Security
De Blasio’s Use of Encrypted Messaging App …” — New York Post
WhatsApp Co-Founder Puts $50M into Signal …” — Wired
Trump Administration Targets Warrant-Proof Encrypted Messages” — NPR

3. Google Search Updates

Google wants you to know that the minimum word counts and word limits you read about online are myths. That’s reasonable. Insisting that content reaches a certain word count can lead to poor writing. And it’s tough to write well and thoroughly while also beating every other organization’s content to a searcher’s attention. 

But there isn’t a word count measure in Google’s algorithm If it were that easy, the junior assistant to my assistant would be typing this.

We’re seeing and hearing more incidents of search engine optimization making news outside digital marketing circles. Warner Bros. recent dud film “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” was renamed while still in theaters to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. A Warners rep told The Verge that the name was changed as part of “a search expansion for ticket sites” making it easier for people to find the movie. 

Word order does matter for search reasons in titles, headings, and as a differentiator. One of my favorite music acts is CHVRCHES (pronounced ‘churches’). They came up with the name using a stylized Romanesque “v” instead of the “u” to differentiate themselves in search engines. 

Search engine optimization also popped up on a recent earnings call from B2B company TechTarget. They reported that they experienced a 25% drop in Google organic traffic. They went on to tell investors, “We believe this is a technical SEO issue and we are testing some changes related to this and are optimistic we will see improvement over time.”

Your brand marketers and product people need to work with your search marketers. That Birds of Prey movie title was signed off on by a lot of people who make a lot of money because it is set in the Batman universe. They all thought that the 11 word title with the main character’s name at the end was fine. 

4. Debugged: Weinstein Didn’t Get Medal of Freedom

I would be angry too if convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein had been a Medal of Freedom recipient. He isn’t despite the convincing looking social media stories with doctored photos.

Fact Check has the scoop.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Smithsonian Images

Smithsonian Open Access is the name of the free portal that will allow businesses, students, and everyone else to download and use nearly 3 million of the Smithsonian’s images. There is even 3D content.

Worth bookmarking for the search bar on this page.

6. Great Data: Huge Data-Driven Map

Professor Michael Mandiberg crunched the publicly-accessible data of 8.6 MILLION people who have made a combined 884 million edits to Wikipedia. The way he parses the data is a master class in how to present big data to people who don’t understand it.

Read his work at The Atlantic.

7. Protip: Ambient Mode on Android 10

Samsung released Android 10 to another large group of customers this week so here is how to use Ambient Mode — that cool feature that lets you control music, see upcoming events and alarms, and other nice things without unlocking the phone even while it’s charging.

Give it a try, it’s only 3 steps.

8. Following Up: TurboTax & Free Filing

We’ve told you how ProPublica chased down Intuit and H & R Block over the way they’ve obscured and de-emphasized free tax filing for users. And we wrote again when the IRS revamped the program two months ago to allow them to compete with TurboTax or H & R Block.

ProPublica is out now with a new story that claims that a loophole around advertising is allowing the companies to advertise “free tax filing” services and then upgrades users to paid plans.

Read them here. They’ve done yeoman’s work covering this for months.

9. Great New Ads: Amy Poehler’s Fairy Tales

Amy Poehler is promoting Pure Leaf Iced Tea. She stars in three new commercials directed by Rashida Jones that are hysterical Poehler updates of fairy tales.

Catch all three spots here.

10. Coffee Break: Pinball Map

Are you a pinball wizard looking for that special machine where you played a mean pinball? This crowd sourced map details the locations of 25,000 machines in 7,500 locations.

Search by your area, for a specific machine, or all the machines in one venue.

Good Monday morning to you.  It’s February 24th.

My parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Sunday, March 1. A Leap Day every four years pushes their anniversary celebration back one day. Only five percent of all marriages reach 50 years, and there is no readily available data for longer periods. My wife and I are blessed because her aunt and uncle were married 69 years and now my parents have also reached 60.  May you and your loved ones be so blessed. And happy anniversary with many more to come, Mom and Dad.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,384 words and takes about 5 ½ minutes to read.

Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1.  The IRS is cautioning taxpayers to use two-factor authentication on tax preparation software. Those romantic softies issued the warning on Valentine’s Day. The agency said that “nearly two dozen tax practitioner firms” have reported data thefts this year. The agency has also backed away from a stance of considering video game virtual currency taxable, according to CNN reporting.

2. Tens of millions of Chinese students are unable to attend public schools because of COVID-19 virus closures. Officials have switched to online teaching to avoid further scheduling disruptions. As with their approach to fast hospital construction, the government has enlisted telecom firms to create enough bandwidth for 50 million simultaneous connections. News also broke late Sunday that South Korea has postponed the start of its school year by one week. MIT Technology Review has more.

3.  School students in New Mexico, meanwhile, may have a new provider if a lawsuit filed by the state against Google succeeds. The state alleges that Google’s free email and office suite products and discounted computers are used in the school system, allowing Google to unlawfully collect data from children under the age of 13. Get the details at Consumer Reports.

2. YouTube News

Alphabet revealed this month that its YouTube unit generated $15.1 billion in 2019 revenue, up 36% in one year and nearly double its 2017 performance. That makes YouTube’s revenue about 75% of the size of Netflix, a company with a $166 billion market cap. 

YouTube’s 20 million paid subscribers still trails other music services like Spotify (124 million), Apple (60 million), and Amazon Music (55 million), but it’s non-subscribing 1 billion users generate revenues that dwarf the others. As a result, Alphabet reports that it paid music rights holders $3 billion last year, which some industry analysts believe still lags Spotify and the others.

With a big number painted on YouTube’s news, regulators are looking hard at content uploaded by consumers and non-big brand users. The BBC’s Chris Fox filed a fantastic story about “fake kitchen hacks” that generated billions of views but don’t work. His video follows this story.

Andy Parker is experiencing an unimaginable YouTube news trauma. His daughter Allison was a reporter killed with her cameraman during a live television segment more than four years ago. Parker filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last week because YouTube continues to host videos that show her murder. Parker joins Sandy Hook parents and others in complaining about the site’s responsiveness and its requirements to remove content.

There is horrifying content on YouTube, news and entertainment content. The Verge has done stellar reporting in the last year about contracts Accenture has to moderate Internet content and reported last month that Accenture employees were required to sign waivers acknowledging that the work could cause post-traumatic stress disorder. The Verge has details of employees paid $18.50 per hour to view videos flagged for extreme violence.

YouTube is the second most visited website in the world behind only corporate sibling Google and ahead of four Chinese sites and Facebook.

Smart links about YouTube News
 Alphabet Q4 and 2019 earnings (PDF)
How Many Users…” at Music Ally
YouTube Says It Paid…” at Music Business Worldwide
Father of Slain Journalist…” at The Washington Post
YouTube Moderators Are Being Forced…” at The Verge

YouTube News: It’s not you, it’s the food hacks.

3. Google Search Updates

Google announced that it removed 75 million policy-violating reviews and 4 million fake business profiles from Google Maps using automation. Those profiles included 10 million photos and 3 million videos. Map spam has been an issue since before Google Maps was launched, and we applaud any cleanup, but this is unfortunately a never-ending process.And there were undoubtedly false positives so pay attention to your listings.

The company also announced that it will ramp up its efforts to deliver downloads via non-encrypted connections. Beginning in March, Google Chrome users will receive a warning when trying to download a non-encrypted file. Google will begin blocking non-encrypted executable files with the release of Chrome 83 scheduled for June. 

Users accessing unencrypted PDFs, videos, images or music files will receive warnings beginning in March and be completely blocked by October. That means if your entire website isn’t serving completely encrypted files, you are going to start scaring your users with a warning in the next few weeks.  Bleeping Computer has more details

4. Debugged:  No Free Ticket Giveaway

Alaska Air wants you to know that it continues to see “Anniversary Offer” scams about the ariline floating around Facebook. They got concerned enough to post a blog entry with lots of images and tips showing how to tell a real promotion from a fake promotion.

Good advice that translates to other companies.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Twitter Disinformation

Twitter is under increasing pressure to keep misinformation and disinformation (deliberate untruths) clearly labeled as such. And it’s asking users to police the site for election misinformation that can now be reported via  a special area under the “Report an Issue” function.

NBC News reported last week that the company is also experimenting with orange and yellow backgrounds on tweets that have inaccurate information. 

The election information is as worrisome as a Brown University study publicized last week that found 25% of tweets about climate change denial or rejecting climate science were written by automated “bots”. Fewer than 5% of tweets advocating climate change action were posted by bots.

6. Great Data: Watch A Map Sketch

Sometimes you want a map of a town or area’s for purposes other than navigation. There are artistic reasons or logos or all sorts of creative ways to use an isolated street map. It’s a smart use of free geographical data that map providers don’t necessarily make easy to access.

Make your own here.

7. Protip:  Detecting ISP Throttling

Maybe your equipment is slow. Maybe there’s just a slowdown at your ISP. Or maybe your ISP has had it up to here with your data-using ways and has reduced your bandwidth.

CNET takes you on a step-by-step journey to find out if that’s the case.

8. Following Up: Dot Org Domains

We’ve been updating you regularly about the proposed sale of the dot org domain registry to a private firm. We learned last week that Ethos Capital, the private firm, has agreed to cap the .org price for 8 years at 10% per year. That means that the maximum wholesale price for a one year domain name registration in 2028 will be around $21.

Domain Name Wire has more deal news.

9. Great New Ads: Sephora

Watching this journey as a girl ages to maturity is so good that you almost forget that you’re watching a longform advertisement.

10. Coffee Break: Unseen YouTube Videos

Imagine that you can click on a website and view “unnamed, unedited, and previously unseen” videos uploaded to YouTube. 

Have fun on this journey!

Previous Issues:
Internet Manipulation | Disinformation | Facebook Memo Leaked

Good Monday morning to you.  It’s February 10th. Valentine’s Day starts ninety hours after this arrived in your email.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,441 words and takes about 5 ½ minutes to read.

Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

Quick scheduling note: Spotlight is off next week because of the President’s Day holiday. We’ll see you again on Monday, February 24.

1. News To Know Now

1.  An Amazon-Goldman Sachs small business lending program began capturing people’s attention early last week. Our attention is captured whenever Amazon partners with Wall Street. The retail giant is already partnering with JP Morgan on their Amazon Care program covering employee health benefits. Separately, Amazon has moved to trademark Amazon Pharmacy in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and 13 other countries according to CNBC.

2. Researchers received news of a boonvia Bloomberg News that the Trump administration is considering an executive order requiring that research papers be published online without paywalls if they were paid for with federal tax funds. Twitter has also hopped on the research bandwagon with an announcement that academic researchers can access their public data via an API. Get more info about that here.

3.  Alphabet subsidiary Waymo is partnering with UPS in Phoenix to deliver packages between UPS Stores and its area delivery hub in self-driving Chevy Pacifica minivans. The company is also providing self-driving ride hailing services in Phoenix. 

Breaking Sunday night: Facebook’s new desktop beta is rolling out to some users. Here’s what it looks like on my PC. I don’t know when non-beta users will get it, but there’s a new dark mode as well as bigger text  The best functional change: Facebook now remembers where you were in your newsfeed when you navigate away to read something else on the site.

2. Internet Manipulation

Many consumers remain leery of complete automation for tasks like driving. And while many if not most human drivers piloting their vehicles are distracted at least part of the time, there also ways that internet signals can prove troublesome.

One occurred in Berlin last week when artist Simon Wickert posted video of himself pulling a red wagon through deserted streets near Google’s local offices. The wagon was loaded with nearly one hundred Android phones, causing the Google Maps program to show the area had high traffic.  Here is the video of the benign but powerful experiment that he posted.

Teenage Instagram users are using a variant of Wickert’s one phone equals one person exploit by sharing secondary and tertiary accounts among trusted groups of users. They share accounts in a convoluted way that scrambles Instagram’s abilities to identify who interacted with content. The benefit is that nosy parents and pesky college admissions officers can’t track their Instagram use.

Images and videos are another Internet manipulation content type that people are using to confuse algorithms. Photoshopping an image is a cliché that even the president amplifies on social media while so-called deepfakes can be processed and created by hobbyists and graphics specialists. An experiment by Ars Technica resulted in a reporter creating a deepfake video for only about $500. Nearly all deepfakes published online are used to simulate female celebrities in sexual activity, but an experiment by comedian Jordan Peele using Barack Obama as a subject is a cautionary tale for what could happen during elections or critical events.

Big Tech is fighting Internet manipulation, especially doctored images. Photoshop maker Adobe announced last year that it can identify manipulated images of a person’s face. Twitter announced last week that users may not upload manipulated media “likely to cause harm” and said that it may choose to label manipulated media. Alphabet subsidiary Jigsaw also announced last week that journalists can now access a free tool they developed to help them spot doctored images.

We highly recommend the BBC article, “The Hidden Signs that Can Reveal a Fake Photo” for anyone who wants more information.

Smart links: Internet manipulation

Teens have figured out …” at CNET
… How Instagram Determines Hiding Images” at Hypebeast
I Created My Own Deepfake — it took 2 weeks and cost $552” at Ars Technica
Deepfakes are a real political threat” at Vox
Tool to Help Journalists” at The New York Times

3. Google Search Updates

Google’s Chrome browser released a new version last week, and users should make sure they’ve been updated because there are some great advances. The biggest changes include more restrictions on how websites can use cookies to track visitors and blocking website notifications. ZDNet runs down all the changes with all the links here.

Also new to Google search this week is a new capability for iOS users to search Google with the command “Hey Siri, Search Google for [keyword].” Search Engine Journal takes you step-by-step through the setup.

If you’re a criminal, you may want to watch out how you use Google. Miami’s Fox 7 has the story of 18-year-old Amos Shuler who stole a woman’s car. The woman’s mobile phone was inside the car. The thief was using the phone to search for stories about his past robberies. He included his name in the search queries. The fact that we now know his name should connect the rest of the dots for you.

4. Debugged: Iowa, Facebook, and Twitter

There is no shortage of criticism due after last week’s botched Iowa caucuses, but others are more concerned with the amount of misinformation about them that made its way online via Facebook and Twitter.

Wired broke down the misinformation about the caucuses that arose from sources including the president and conspiracy theory websites like Judicial Watch and Epoch Times.

And yes, New Hampshire’s primary is tomorrow.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Business Disclaimers

I attended a funeral Friday at Quantico National Cemetery and was surprised to hear an announcement after the service. “You may visit from sunup to sundown,” the staff member told the mourners. “If you look online, Facebook and others might say we’re closed, but that means the office. If our flag is flying, you can visit.”

The announcement is the sort of workaround done by conscientious employees all over the world. Here is how we really do things, says an employee. Ignore anything else published.

You need to find out if this happens in your organization and fix it. When I examined the cemetery’s Facebook listing, I found an unofficial page with nearly 25,000 visits and 1,195 likes. The official Facebook page run by the cemetery had 759 page likes and 52 visits.  Fifty-two.  

Here’s the kicker: combining the unofficial page into the official is easy. Setting your operating hours is also easy on every platform.  By the time you read this, I’ll have already called Quantico and told them how to fix things. And now I’m doing the same for your organization. 

6. Great Data: Worldwide Sprawl Map

Maps are effective when used to visualize complex data. The fantastic Global Sprawl Map measures connectivity of streets throughout the world and goes down to the street level in many instances. Well connected streets are walkable and served by public transportation. Sprawl is characterized by poor connections–a maze of cul-de-sacs and loops. 

There’s a random zoom that is a fun time-waster.

7. Protip:  Finding Old and Big Email Attachments

If you’re running low on free Gmail space, a simple search command can help you find big attachments that you may not need any more.

Lifehacker will help you do that.

8. Following Up: Clearview AI & Dot Org Domains

1. We told you two weeks ago about Clearview AI and the way that its company scrapes Google, Facebook, and other sites to capture their images of people for use in their facial recognition software. CBS News reported last week that Google, YouTube, Venmo, and Linkedin have all sent cease and desist letters to the company.

2. We’ve also been telling you about the sale of the registry that assigns dot org domain names. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is requiring more information regarding the sale, an action that Domain Name Wire estimates will delay the sale for as long as two months.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

Lady Gaga fans find alleged new song name in her website’s code

How to stop Google Maps from keeping a detailed record of everywhere you go

The Jeopardy game show archive

10. Coffee Break: Explore Space with Neal

One of last year’s most popular coffee breaks was a deep sea interactive graphic by Neal Agarwal. He’s back with a feature called “The Size of Space” that is even better and certainly prettier.

Start with an astronaut and work your way up.

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