UK Big Tech Crackdown – Spotlight #407

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s December 6th. Friday is Human Rights Day. Check out the official UN site with archives, quizzes, and event calendars.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,198 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“Social media can have catastrophic effects, even if the average user only experiences minimal consequences.” — The University of Washington’s Joseph Bak-Coleman discussing how averaging big numbers can distort the extent of the harm experienced by vulnerable people.

a) They may be your devices, but Peleton and NordicTrack customers reported being locked out of features on their connected exercise equipment. The NordicTrack customers were able to bypass the company’s exercise programs in favor of internet videos, including Netflix. Meanwhile, Peloton was criticized by customers who were told that they would have to purchase a subscription to internet workout programs to use their treadmills at all. The company reversed that decision, and there is PC Magazine coverage here.

b) Google has Pixel phone owners protected against non-smiling holiday photos. The company’s new feature allows customers to take a group photo only when everyone in the frame is smiling. Some people may be standing there for a long time based on the photos I see around the holidays.

c) Google also announced that it would delay its mandatory return to its office date past January 10. Despite delays from employees at big companies returning to their offices, we continue to see remote work companies experience financial downturns. The latest is DocuSign. The company’s stock fell 42% Friday after it issued an earnings warning. That loss represented more than $19 billion in market cap.

3. Search Engine News — AMP is Dead & So Are Dot Gov Links

Despite its seeming newness, the search engine optimization industry is well into its second generation. As with every discipline, there is a lot of information published online that is no longer true — or perhaps was never true.

Higher quality links — from universities and government agencies — were once thought to convey a ratings boost to the receiving site. Former Google executive Matt Cutts tried dispelling that notion in 2008, but less informed people continued selling projects based on that flawed theory.

John Mueller, who effectively does much of Cutts’ public facing work these days, tried the same 10 years later, and it still hasn’t fully taken hold. If you have someone insisting that you should create a project specifically for education and government links, we highly recommend Miranda Miller’s new analysis in Search Engine Journal.

Because of Google’s effect in the market, their words and actions are parsed, analyzed, and debated at length. Their code initiatives receive even more attention. Website teams have been known to rush those initiatives to their own websites the moment that they’re made live only to watch them diminish just as quickly.

The most recent initiative to have the rug pulled out from under it is the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) framework. We never really saw small businesses embrace AMP and big brands already had brand traffic. Google told news publishers that they didn’t have to use AMP and everyone is jumping ship, including marketing sites and even Twitter.

Bottom line: you don’t need AMP or special high-powered links to rank your website high.

4. Spotlight Explainer — UK Big Tech Crackdown

Let’s start with the big news first. The UK Competition and Markets Authority announced last week that Facebook’s parent company Meta must divest itself of last year’s $400 million acquisition of GIPHY.

Those little videos without sound at the bottom of messages? What’s the big deal?

That’s the one. The official looking GIFs were creating revenue from brands and studios. And new films and shows were beginning to be advertised that way too.

So why is this a competitive threat?

The UK didn’t mention any platforms by name, but comments on Twitter and other social media platforms could use those GIFs too. And there’s that whole advertising element to say nothing of user generated GIFs that were copied without the copyright owner’s permission. It’s a real mess.

You said crackdown. What else?

Data company Clearview AI has been ordered to stop processing facial recognition data of people in the UK and to delete all data they’ve stored.

What if people consented?

The industry’s main players have joined regulators in their anger at Clearview after it improperly copied scads of data from Facebook, Google, and other platforms. 

So they copied the pictures without permission?

Yep. And that’s why the UK is ordering the photos to be deleted, as well as warning the company to expect a fine exceeding $20 million.

So the UK is undoing deals and fining miscreants. Anything else?

Oh yes. Here is the announcement of an algorithmic standard published by the Central Data Digital Office after government programs there experienced bias because of poorly defined algorithms. Now the UK government is testing algorithm transparency among some of its councils and agencies to determine how they can best be deployed in the future. 

5. Did That Really Happen? — USPS and Christmas Stamps

Hoaxes posted on social media falsely claimed that the U.S. Postal Service had not issued new stamps for Christmas, but had done so for multiple other non-Christian holidays. 

First, it’s not true. Second, who has this kind of time with the made up war on Christmas, and if you know who they are, please make them stop. Meanwhile, here is Snopes with the true story about all the holiday stamps for sale.

6. Following Up — AI Ethicists Start New Lab

A new AI lab led by Timnit Gebru is being formed as a nonprofit. Gebru led the AI ethics team and was controversially fired by Google last year, followed by the firing of a prominent colleague of hers, and the resignation of their manager.

A first research paper out from the new Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research lab uses aerial imagery of South Africa to show how the legacy of apartheid remains in land use.

7. Protip — Mac Shortcuts

After last week’s nifty iOS privacy primer, we’re back on the Apple side of things with time saving shortcuts to set up on your Mac.

8. Screening Room — VRBO & Your House After WFH

VRBO is getting good buzz for this spot acknowledging the toll new WFH arrangements took on people’s homes. Oh, they happen to have a vacation idea for you too.

9. Science Fiction World — IBM Helping CVS Get Flu Shots to Hot Spots

Using anonymized data, IBM’s Watson Advertising (yes, advertising) is launching a mobile messaging campaign that projects flu outbreaks up to two weeks in advance.

The program uses weather forecasts, patient data, and search and social media feeds to create a model that then helps CVS push flu shots in a specific area all the way down to the ZIP code level.

10. Coffee Break — This Climate Does Not Exist

You remember those photos of big American cities shrouded in smog during the 1960s and 1970s? You can create a similar view on your street now or add floodwaters and wildfires. It’s not a fun coffee break, but it’s an important one with some sound information for you to explore. Have a look at This Climate Does Not Exist.

11. Sign of The Times

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