TikTok Explained – Spotlight #350

Good Monday morning. It’s August 3rd. Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear weapon bombing of Hiroshima. I recommend the Hiroshima for Global Peace website as you consider that event.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,438 words, about a 5 minute read.

Didja see what happened last week after we wrote about online political bias?

Mere hours after we sent your copy of Spotlight, the internet exploded with reactions to the misleading “frontline doctors” video that the president and his oldest son recommended. For this week’s trick, well, stay tuned.

1. News to Know Now

a. Facebook Messenger has introduced a new app lock feature for iOS users. When activated, the setting requires you to unlock the app with your fingerprint or face ID. Android devices are next. 

b. Amazon spent just under $7 billion on U.S. advertising in 2019. That’s about 9% more than previous leader Comcast. Those two companies and AT&T are the only three U.S. companies to spend $5 billion or more. (Statista)

c. Ten members of Congress have signed a letter sent to the FTC requesting an investigation of data brokers who may have engaged in “unfair and deceptive” business practices. The letter includes examples of people having their mobile location data captured when they attended Black Lives Matter protests and of religious profiles being created from similar data when people attended houses of worship as early as 2017. (See a PDF of the signed letter)

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins — the gold standard
Event Risk Assessment from Georgia Tech
School Reopening Plan Tracker from Johns Hopkins
College Crisis Initiative (Open or Hybrid) from Davidson College
NEW: Covid Tracking Project — useful for its annotations

Tech News
Facebook suspends anti-mask group for spreading misinformation – The Verge
Google Promises Privacy With Virus App, Can Still Collect Location – NY Times
Uber offers COVID-19 contact tracing help amid chaotic U.S. response – Reuters
UK Government admits breaking law with NHS test and trace – The Guardian

An important article that deserves your attention:
How to Understand COVID-19 Numbers – ProPublica

3. Search Engine Optimization News

A new study of Google search results suggests that Google’s strategy of displaying non-text items in search results can siphon off nearly half the clicks when showing users images, maps, or recipes. Even in specific subject areas like news, up to 30% of the clicks won’t be made. This is the effect that we describe when we write about Google’s “zero-click” search results page.

One other extreme example: displaying a knowledge panel of boxed data often found on the right side of a Google results page reduces the click rate of that page 42%.

Website owners complain that the data is often siphoned from their properties and shown in piecemeal fashion while mixed with data from other organizations.

Google often works with data providers to gather this information and has recently announced a new deal with Uber. That deal calls for Uber to pay Google for Maps usage over the next four years. Uber also bought Routematch this month and now owns a platform that has 500 transit agency partners.

Another data deal example on Google Maps: Android users in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago now see traffic light detail on their maps according to Droid LIfe.

Google continues adding structured data functions so that it can show even more information in search results without generating a click. Google is now recommending that businesses offering remote or telecommuting jobs use special codes in their website so that a flag can be shown in search results.

This is all new and continues to worry organizations we speak with that rely on publishing replicable data to attract potential customers.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Just What is TikTok?

We last took you on a deep dive through TikTok in mid-December and suggested then that you think of the app as a YouTube and Snapchat hybrid. Users post videos ranging from 6 to 60 seconds although 15 seconds is the norm. Those videos are then shared with others who can react with likes or comments or even a short video of their own.

There is little time for elaborate setup or exposition in this app that grew to prominence because of its quirky dance and lip syncing memes. The culture is similar to internet meme culture but with a dialect and style of its own. Despite the brief content, users spend about 45 minutes on the site each day, making it one of the most sticky of the social media sites.

Like Facebook and Snapchat before it, TikTok dominates usage among teens and people in their early twenties with about half of its users between the ages of 18 and 24. The site is a global phenomenon with huge user bases in the U.S., India, Brazil, and China. The number of U.S. users nearly doubled between January and April, when it reached 52 million. 

So what happened?

U.S. politicians and corporate interests have long been suspicious of TikTok’s parent company in China. Race-baiting actions by the Trump administration over the COVID-19 pandemic have also vilified the company. For months, a stream of NGOs, corporate offices, and government agencies have prohibited the app on their devices. Wells Fargo, the U.S. military, TSA, and the Biden campaign have all banned the app from phones that they own. Amazon made news in July when it sent its employees an email banning the app and then almost immediately rescinded that directive.

Detractors claim that the video sharing app is a way for China to spy on other countries although waiting for the daily news of which company has had its data breached seems to undercut that argument. The app’s supporters say that an anti-establishment bias makes it an enemy of powerful governments. A rallying cry over the last few days has asked why the U.S. government would ban an entertainment app before it bans extremist hate groups like the KKK.

What’s next: Microsoft might still purchase the entire U.S. operation and run it  operate it domestically alongside versions for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The app has been downloaded more than two billion times worldwide. No news regarding a sale or government action had been reported by late Sunday night.

Here is a cute interactive test about TikTok from the good folks at Emerging Tech Brew. 

Smartlinks

Everything to Know About Social Media Usage in July — TNW
Facebook Readies TikTok Competitor — Dow Jones MarketWatch
How the U.S. Government Could Ban TikTok — CNBC
See the list of Where TikTok is Already Banned — Business Insider
TikTok — Statistics & Facts — Statista
U.S. Consumers Flocking to TikTok -eMarketer (way back in April!)

5. Following Up: That Facebook Ad Boycott

Much has been made of the Stop Hate for Profit Facebook ad boycott we’ve told you about in the past. 

We’ve learned that not all of the one thousand participating organizations stopped advertising on all their brands. We applaud the awareness generated by the program, but also acknowledge that the financial impact was minimal.

Here’s a CNBC report suggesting that Facebook’s YOY July revenue will stay consistent.

5. Following Up: That Facebook Ad Boycott

Much has been made of the Stop Hate for Profit Facebook ad boycott we’ve told you about in the past. 

We’ve learned that not all of the one thousand participating organizations stopped advertising on all their brands. We applaud the awareness generated by the program, but also acknowledge that the financial impact was minimal.

Here’s a CNBC report suggesting that Facebook’s YOY July revenue will stay consistent.

7. ProTip: Dinosaurs in Your House

We could tell you about the Google Easter Egg honoring the Cha Cha Slide, but dinosaurs are way more fun. We’ve seen this type of augmented reality before with animals and rocket launches.

Follow along as Lifehacker shows you how to create dinosaurs in a mobile view of your house.

8. Great Data: Atlas of Surveillance

The privacy stalwarts at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have published an interactive map that shows more than 5,300 programs of citizen surveillance operated by law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

Check it out for yourself. It’s why TikTok didn’t seem so scary to us.

Screening Room: Open Like Never Before

I began messaging people while watching this brand new Coke spot that addresses the way life changed during the pandemic. There are still only 5,000 total views on the official YouTube post on Sunday evening so consider this your early screening of Coke’s “Open Like Never Before” ad  featuring George the Poet.

10. Coffee Break: Time Warp Trailer

While sipping your hot beverage of choice, enjoy this fan-made trailer for the 1986 Batman movie re-imagined if it was released in 1945. This is so much fun that it deserves your attention a year after it was released. It’s still relatively unknown with under 50,000 views.

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