Tech Blocks Russia – Spotlight #416

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s March 7th, almost exactly two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In America, we’re now about 2 months away from reaching the horrific milestone of one million deaths. In Mississippi, 1 out of every 245 residents has died. In Vermont, the number is about 1 out of every 1,000 people. Every state falls in between those two extremes.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,415 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“I am an artist who was raised by an accountant and a businessman … My goal in all of this is to see what’s possible.“— Science fiction author Brandon Sanderson to The New York Times after he raised $1 million on Kickstarter in 35 minutes. By last night with more than 3 weeks to go, the author had raised $25 million from fans for four new books.

a) Samsung is throttling more than 10,000 apps on phones that it has produced since the S10, according to The Verge. The tech site points out that popular performance benchmarking apps are not throttled. The company says it slowed down the apps to manage the amount of heat the phones generate, and that it would ship software to allow consumers to disable the function. That stunning revelation led Ars Technica to ask why they would create software to turn off something needed for the phone to operate.

b) Wordle cheating is a big thing around 7 to 8 a.m., and especially in New Hampshire. That’s the word from word search site WordFinderX. They called out all of northern New England and Washington, D.C. as “the biggest cheaters.” The word most often searched outside New England was “tacit.”

c) U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is issuing a Request for Information about Health Information Misinformation during the pandemic. The deadline to submit comments is May 2. No entities, including technology companies, are required to respond at this stage.

3. Search Engine News — Google Releases Search Trend Insights

The Think With Google team released a set of 16 new search trends in four distinct categories: Sticky Trends, Seasonal Things, Reopening Continued, and Rising Expectations.

Rising Expectations are trends with big growth. They include late night searching, 24/7 customer service, next day flower delivery, and dog friendly restaurants (a thing I didn’t know until now that I wanted).

Sticky Trends were influenced early by the pandemic and remain a high volume search category. This is the group where you’ll find makeup games (literally games about cosmetics), best movies to stream, nursery plants near me, and hair trends for females.

Reopening Continued reflects changing attitudes around socializing as the Omicron wave diminishes. They consist of spring break, cinemas near me, seating charts, and unique things to do in a city.

Seasonal Trends reflect February as only these can: Valentine’s Day nails, figure skating, Winter Olympics, and winter vacation in different locations.

4. Spotlight Explainer — Tech Blocks Russia

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is the first time that many people have seen a war and all of the attendant suffering in streaming media and 24/7. That’s despite years of American combat in Afghanistan, the Yemeni Civil War aided by Saudi Arabia, and conflict in Ethiopia with Eritrea. All three trouble spots experienced more than 10,000 casualties in the last year.

This war has captured American attention for reasons of race, status, and position that are far too complex for a newsletter to tackle. But because of the heightened interest, tech companies are responding in unprecedented ways to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine instead of, say, to Russia’s military incursions in the Syrian Civil War during which Russia has attacked civilian targets for years.

Social media cuts new content and monetization

Every major social media platform has stopped making new content available from Russia including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. This follows reports in the world’s media that Russian propaganda was flooding social media.

Facebook, YouTube and others have also cut the ability for Russian companies, including government controlled media, to earn advertising revenue on content. A consensus of too little too late has sprung up around those initiatives.

No major fintech companies are offering payment processing

Mastercard and Visa have suspended operations in Russia and Belarus. They were followed by PayPal, and on Sunday, American Express.

Meanwhile, an inspiring Ukrainian moment came when the country’s Digital Transformation office issued a plea on Twitter for cryptocurrency donations and received more than $50 million in days. Reports this weekend came out that half of the funds have been spent on bulletproof vests, night-vision devices, food packages, and bandages.

That Airbnb meme is accurate, but tread cautiously

Western social media lit up on Friday when memes began circulating that people could buy an Airbnb stay in Ukraine and the money would be transferred to the individuals who were renting out the property. That’s true, and Airbnb quickly waived fees for Ukraine bookings. The big caveat is that you can give money directly to the Ukrainian government or to relief organizations. It’s a sweet story about direct giving, but seems pretty inefficient.

Entertainment and news options are disappearing in Russia

News organizations have stopped reporting from Russia after the Russian government said that journalists printing what it calls “fake news” could face imprisonment for up to 15 years. Among the organizations halting news from and in Russia are CNN, CBS, ABC, the BBC, and probably many more by the time you read this.

Faced with a requirement to carry state-sponsored programming, Netflix has also ceased operating in Russia. They’ve been joined by Apple and Microsoft, who are no longer selling devices or apps in Russia. Meanwhile, Russian teams have been banned from participating in international soccer competitions related to the World Cup. Of all the actions, that one generated immediate and urgent appeals from the Russian government.

5. Did That Really Happen? — Can You Spot Fake News Stories?

With news about the Russian invasion occupying so much attention, there are a constant flurry of news hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation being published. We have previously told you about First Draft’s excellent interactive training that lets you check your news verifying skills.

There are all sorts of resources and quizzes you can use for free. This is worth your time to visit. They also publish a nice, free newsletter and have a free app.

6. Following Up — Nukemap is Popular Again

For a world that didn’t often have nuclear meltdowns or bombings top of mind, the richly detailed Nukemap is a return to decades of Cold War horror. Creator Alex Wellerstein launched the site 10 years ago, and it’s enjoyed surging popularity since the Russian invasion. 

You can target anywhere in the world and control for different factors. It’s macabre, but also fascinating.

7. Protip — Chromebook Expiration Dates

That’s right, Chromebooks, the tablet/laptop hybrid, have an expiration date. Once they reach that date, they won’t update their software. The current time frame is 8 1/2 years, but was previously 5. That’s the period from its release date, not when you activated it. This great WSJ explainer has details, including how to find out your device’s date.

8. Screening Room — Apple Card & Chocolate

A note-perfect short spot from Apple Card about what might happen if you enjoy that candy bar before you get to the register… and can’t find your wallet.

9. Science Fiction World — Google Can Read Your Body Language Without Cameras

This very cool story is an example of how a device can use radar instead of cameras to determine where you are and what you’re doing. Imagine getting a snack or going to the bathroom while watching a movie — and your TV pauses until it senses your return. There are many more applications from driving to sleeping and everything in between.

10. Coffee Break — Heardle

You know about Wordle, and you may have even heard about Quordle, a game that tests you with four words at once. There’s also Worldle for geography, and brand new: Heardle for music.

11. Sign of the Times

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