Internet Manipulation – Spotlight #328

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.

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

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