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.
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.
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.
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.
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!