Ransomware Hits New Government Network – Spotlight #301

Good Monday morning. It’s July 8th.  Thank you for the notes and kind comments when we celebrated nearly a dozen years and Spotlight issue #300 last week. We wouldn’t do this without your constant support feedback.

Our client Moms Clean Air Force has an anniversary this week too. They are hosting their 6th annual Play-in for Climate Action on The National Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s a kid-friendly event that includes special guests Senator Tom Carper, Reps. Castor, Rochester, Haaland, McEachin, and Dingell, and author/editor and co-founder Dominique Browning among others. There’s also free live music from Latin GRAMMY winner Mister G. 

Head with your child to the free live event starting Thursday morning at 9 or livestream on Facebook.

1. News to Know Now

  • Facebook and Twitter are not invited to a “social media summit” scheduled for Thursday at the White House according to weekend news reports. Confirmed attendees include a political cartoonist, a company suing YouTube, and the Heritage Foundation think tank. Not invited yet are any of the country’s top social media networks although to be fair, we haven’t heard yet about Pinterest.

    The president’s re-election campaign is a fan of social media advertising. The latest results from Facebook show nearly $15 million in Trump campaign spending. The campaign also spent several hundred thousand advertising on YouTube during the recent Democratic debates. You may have also heard that the president uses Twitter.
  • Ebooks ‘purchased’ from Microsoft will be deleted as soon as (checks watch) now from their ‘owners’. That’s because you don’t buy eBooks. You buy a license to view them on a device. Microsoft is refunding the full purchase price plus $25 if notes or annotations were made. Who knew books would be ephemeral?

2.  An Employee Clicked (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This)

A ransomware attack on the administrative division of the Georgia Courts seems to have largely moved the operations to manual processes, but the computer network is already being recovered. 

Ransomware attacks have crippled cities as large as Baltimore and as lucrative as Riviera Beach, Florida, which agreed to a $600,000 ransom. These are not unusual cases. Lake City, Florida (population 12,000) paid out $460,000 last month, Atlanta was a victim last year, and there was an international outbreak in 2017.

Think of ransomware as a virus that doesn’t destroy but that either threatens to expose or locks up access to an organization’s data. It’s often introduced to those systems via infected email files or by other files employees unknowingly transport via thumb drives or other media.

Guarding against ransomware is beyond the scope of a newsletter, but it’s a very real threat that can change an entire organization.  Ask Mayor Witt of Lake City, whose city was projected to take in about $16 million in revenue this year but paid out nearly half-a-million in ransom.

Security woes have become the most prevalent way for entities to suffer an extreme reversal of fortunes. Collections firm Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau (parent of AMCA) filed for bankruptcy after LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics stopped using the firm following a data breach of nearly 20 million Americans. Hardware maker D-Link, which manufactures routers and cameras, announced a cumbersome and expensive new security program with the FTC after being successfully targeted by hackers multiple times.

We also learned this week that a company was able to post a fake app called “Updates for Samsung” at the Google Play Store. The app, riddled with advertising and charging for free services, has been removed, but 10 million people have downloaded it. 

Our take: this is an insidious problem. The software carries the Samsung name and actually distributes its free software. The app is downloaded at the official Google Play store. There is a possibility that Google will remove the app from all devices that downloaded it, but don’t count on that. And be prepared with your receipts if you paid money for the app.

3.  NY AG Investigating Facebook 

The New York Attorney General is investigating Facebook because its advertising software allows advertisers to illegally restrict housing ads by race or age. Facebook reached an agreement with civil rights groups about the issue this spring and was promptly sued by HUD.

This new twist is that Facebook allegedly categorizes users into protected classes by predictive analytics. Facebook is still being investigated but has said that it will create a separate advertising platform for companies that want to buy housing, employment or credit advertising. The company plans to roll out that platform within the next two months.

Regulators are also wary of Facebook’s announcement last month that it will enter the cryptocurrency market in a partnership with Visa, Uber, and a VC firm. Facebook will bundle its new Calibra wallet directly into WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook itself. 

As Facebook widens its service offerings (remember that dating services are coming soon), there will also be more outages affecting more people. Even a partial outage like the inability to load images on July 3 caused disruptions among the site’s business users and advertisers. Apple’s iCloud also had outage issues on July 4th, but has a much smaller commercial footprint.

And there’s a lot of money on the table. Axios, using Emarketer data, shows the steady climb of ARPU (average annual revenue per user) for Instagram and Facebook climbing steadily through 2021 to reach a combined $340.

4. In the Spotlight

  • Investment firm KKR has a new toy: WordPerfect. The private equity firm bought graphics software maker Corel and got its WordPerfect subsidiary in the deal. (TechCrunch)

  • ProPublica, which first publicized Facebook advertising links to discrimination last year, is looking for your help to uncover hate groups on Facebook. Read their appeal.

  • My home state of Virginia has made deep fake revenge porn illegal. Remember that a deepfake uses machine learning to create a convincing video, in this case a pornagraphic one. “Deep fake revenge porn” was a phrase I had never considered in my career before last week.

5. Protip: Instagram Ad Interests

Do you want to see how Instagram is projected to make about $10 per month per user in revenue? Extra points for knowing it’s via advertising although their algorithms for determining user interests is regularly mocked online. That’s with good reason in my case. Care to see your own?

Simply click this link if you’re logged in or follow this path to find your ad interest

Settings>security>access data>ad interests

6. Food For Thought: Google for Social Engineering

A digital marketer in Germany (like us, but you like us better) has written a NY Times op-ed explaining how he used Google advertising to send social cues about undesirable action.

Patrick Berlinquette followed a Google experiment that directed Islamic sympathizers to videos critical of the organization’s goals. In the first two months, the videos were watched by 320,000 people.

Berlinquette used a combination of similar techniques to identify potential suicides or prospective school shooters. In one example, he showed ads to people physically located around the Golden Gate Bridge who searched on various terms related to suicide. His ad redirected callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and 28% of the people who clicked the ad called that number.

This is a remarkable story and kind use of an oft-criticized technology. It seems like some people’s lives were saved.

Your food for thought: since we know the technique can be used to manipulate vulnerable people, how does society address this? Prohibitions against someone like Patrick doing this simply means that it becomes the province of governments and corporate interests.

Like always, send me your thoughts and I’ll collect them for future newsletters. Challenge two:  brainstorm with your team how you can help your brand and industry by engaging people like this.

Read the fascinating experiment here.

7.  Great Data: Everything Amazon Owns

You knew about Whole Foods and maybe Pill Pack. You might have remembered IMDb or Zappos from back in the day. But what about Fabric.com, Mama Bear diapers and baby products, or Franklin & Freeman men’s shoes?  

Buzzfeed put together a long list of all the brands that Amazon owns, including all those private label clothing brands.  

Get the whole list here.

8.  Coffee Break

Imagine a website that breaks usability and interface rules. Now make it a frustrating and funny game. First and only hint: click on the word ‘HERE’ to get to the second page.  

Vist User Inyerface

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