Messaging Apps: Signal – Spotlight #330

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.

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