Video Conferencing – Spotlight #352

Good Monday morning. It’s August 24th. Friday is the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march in Washington, D.C., the morning after the close of the Republican National Convention there. The protest is led by Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963. Read more.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,316 words, about a 5 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. While universities struggle with fall semester scheduling, they’re also coping with continued ransomware attacks. The University of Utah disclosed last week that they paid $457,000 in July to prevent hackers from releasing files including student and employee data stolen during a ransomware attack. This followed news in June that UC San Francisco paid $1.14 million over a similar attack. Bleeping Computer has coverage.

b. November’s presidential election is also a ripe target for malevolent activities, according to a Yahoo News scoop. The Department of Homeland Security has warned election officials that there are dozens of websites online that look like official websites providing voting information. The information on those sites can be changed in minutes to provide inaccurate information and share similar domain names with the official sites.

c.In related news Twitter announced Sunday that it had hidden one of President Donald Trump’s messages behind a warning notice “for violating our Civic Integrity Policy for making misleading health claims that could potentially dissuade people from participation in voting.” The president falsely claimed without evidence that drop boxes used to collect ballots “are not Covid sanitized.” The inaccurate message is accessible to anyone who clicks a link in the warning notice.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Covid Tracking Project — useful for its annotations
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations — the gold standard
NEW:  COVID-19 Forecast Hub – Collects multiple models

Tech News
14 States Make Contact Tracing Data Public. Here’s What They’re Learning – NPR
A Michigan college is tracking its students with a flawed app – TechCrunch
Apps We’re Not Using Anymore Because of the Pandemic – PC Magazine
Nevada Launches Contact Tracing App – Nevada Independent
Scared of going back to the office? Companies hope these apps will help – CNN

3. Search Engine Optimization News

You may have seen a Google screenshot of searches for “white American doctor” and “white American nurse” showing images of non-Caucasian people.Roger Montti at Search Engine Journal does a nice job deconstructing what happened, but let’s go higher level than that. Here are the images: 

Examining the code behind one image identifies the subject as “African American doctor … isolated on white [background].” As Google’s Danny Sullivan pointed out last year, “As it turns out, when people post images of white couples, they tend to say only “couples” & not provide a race. But when there are mixed couples, then “white” gets mentioned. Our image search depends on heavily words [sic] — so when we don’t get the words, this can happen.”

Mark that clause: “our image search depends [heavily] on words” because it’s important. 

Words and links are how we translate what a page is about for search engines. This should be a key insight that you use to explain to others how search works. That makes items like the alternate attribute on an image critical to a search engine’s understanding of what your page is about. 

Google isn’t broken. The way that we use language to describe things needs an inclusivity overhaul.

Google announced last week that its Chrome browser will begin highlighting webpages that pass its tests for core vital statistics. Chrome will display the words “fast page” in search results. About 85% of website pages do not pass all tests. You’ll need to hurry if you want that designation to show for your website because the option is already in use on the next beta version of the Chrome browser.

Bing also confirmed that Microsoft considers user engagement a ranking signal. Bing execs Fabrice Canal and Christi Olson told Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz that ” … it doesn’t matter the content’s amazing, if users aren’t staying on that site, maybe they’ve put a pop-up in. There’s something going on there, that is a signal that regardless of what content is on the page, the users are saying it does not add value.” 

Google continues to deny that it uses engagement data to rank websites although its Google Analytics product is found on 84% of all websites.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Video Conferencing

Zoom saw Amazon, Google, and Facebook come for it when the pandemic hit and Zoom became a de facto video conferencing standard. The company’s stock has surged more than threefold this year and now has a market cap of $81 billion. That makes it about the size of CVS or Mondelez, makers of Oreos, Ritz, and Cadbury. 

Zoom has been lagging behind bigger tech companies and sought to catch up last week with its announcements that users will soon be able to participate in Zoom conferences while using Amazon Echo, Facebook Portal, and Google Nest video conferencing products. The Verge reports that the Zoom-Facebook Portal solution will be available in September. 

Google, meanwhile, has broadened its competing Meet product to work with its Chromecast to project video to your television. Google has been pushing Meet video conferencing hard, finally giving it space in the Gmail app and announcing education features that allow teachers to create breakout groups, polling, Q & As, and attendance tracking.

Facebook countered Google’s accessibility by adding screen sharing to its Messenger Group rooms and making those rooms very visible in its new user interface. Messenger Rooms also have received the ability to broadcast via Facebook Live. Facebook now reaches three billion people on the planet and is merging its Facebook Messenger chats with Instagram chats, making it an even more formidable video conferencing competitor.

5. Following Up: TikTok & A Weird College Project

We broke down all the hullabaloo about TikTok a couple of weeks ago. The company confirmed this weekend that it will sue the Trump administration over the president’s executive order forbidding it to engage in U.S. commerce and ordering its divestment to a U.S. based company.

We also wrote about OpenAI’s GPT-3 project that was impressing a lot of technologists. UC Berkeley computer science student Liam Porr used GPT-3 to create a completely fake blog using a fake name. The project was fun, MIT Technology Review points out, until one of the AI-authored posts reached the top of Hacker News. Porr’s final post was “What I would do with GPT-3 if I had no ethics.”

6. Debugging: False Plandemic Sequel Released

There is a new sequel to the conspiracy theory “Plandemic” video that is almost universally denounced by scientists and media organizations. The 75 minute video released last week “…offers a more far-reaching conspiratorial take on the pandemic, with an underlying theme that the media can’t be trusted. It suggests without proof that the novel coronavirus was man-made and intentionally released,” writes Annenberg’s

Read the rest of their findings here..or send it to that special someone.

7. ProTip: Get Your Gmail Space Back 

We told you above that Google’s Meet product shoehorned its way into the left sidebar of Gmail on Android and iOS, but it doesn’t have to stay there.

Read The Verge on how to “get rid of that irritating Meet tab.”

8. Great Data: Six Degrees is Too Many

Facebook did a lot of number crunching on more than 1.5 billion accounts to learn our level of connectedness.  Good news–we’re getting closer.

These data scientists say 3.57 degrees and slightly less in the U.S.

Screening Room – Cafe Rio Gets Real

More great authenticity from Cafe Rio Mexican Grill. They know you’ve had a goofy six months, and they’ll immortalize that in 60 seconds.

10. Coffee Break:  Cake or not a cake?

You don’t have to be the judge in this fun BuzzFeed video because they have pictures.

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