Keep work parties virtual this year.

The holidays are upon us, and for those who work in offices, we have the possibility of holiday parties. Work parties are frequently considered a significant piece of office culture. Bosses can regularly feel they must host gatherings for their workers from time to time, trying to show appreciation and urge coworkers to get to know one another.

Parties can be somewhat polarizing among both workers and management. Some folks love them, and others hate spending more time with the folks they see 9 to 5 already. Parties likely have some importance for teambuilding. But with covid19 still a concern, perhaps it’s best to use virtual team building.

Virtual colleagues let employees mix. But these gatherings maintain distant keeping everyone safe, and perhaps making the more introverted at the office feel comfortable particularly as new covid19 variants are kicking up.

Zoom wins the decade so far.

We are now two years into the 2020s and the only clear winner is Zoom. Zoom Video Communications, Inc. has crushing it, even if things are slowing down a bit. The company’s utility isn’t going to fade completely. Companies who planed cooperate retreats made a hard pivot to events and activities on Zoom.

And while Zoom may be less relevant as the world opens back up, a lot of creativity went into making Zoom a replacement for company team-building retreats. Here’s the thing, virtual experiences cost much less than trips. 

Virtual escape rooms powered by Zoom just may be here to stay, because they cost companies less. I’ve never really cared about team building, I’d rather just get paid more. So if my company is going to host a team building, the option where I don’t leave my home is my preference.

Is PPC Replacing SEO

When people talk about SEO, they mean Google most of the time. Yes, other search engines exist, and people do want to optimize on YouTube, Amazon, and no one turns down high rankings on Bing. But Google is the core of the game for SEO.

And Google at this point mostly drives to Google, things like Google Maps, Knowledge Box, and AMP (Yes AMP is going to hopefully die a little bit) but most Google searches seem to be driving to Google.

As Google has changed so have the goals of SEOs. Link building is still important, but SEOs are now spending much more focus on local map listings, and code optimization to be featured in one of Google’s snippet results. Oh, and paid ads are pushing even those Google pages down on the search results page. This begs the question, is SEO being replaced by PPC?

Many firms that work in SEO also offer PPC management. A quick search for “Portland SEO company” showed only 7 companies (excluding places like Clutch that are just lists of agencies) all of those companies offer PPC. When I looked up “Dallas PPC management” every agency listed in Google also offered SEO.

I’m not commenting on the quality of any of these services providers. And most ad agencies have more than a single capability. But I’m starting to think SEO, where the goal is to be the first organic result is being replaced with the pay to play world of becoming the first paid result.

I just searched 10 different phrases in Google:

  1. watch movies online (0 above the fold ads)
  2. buy wedding rings (4 above the fold ads)
  3. comfortable mask (0 above the fold ads)
  4. denver diners (0 above the fold ads)
  5. cheap insurance (4 above the fold ads)
  6. windshield repair (3 above the fold ads)
  7. canker sore treatment (2 above the fold ads)
  8. dental abscess treatment (4 above the fold ads)
  9. divorce attorney chicago (4 above the fold ads)
  10. easy home cooked meals (2 above the fold ads)

On my device half of these terms do not show organic content above the fold. Most have ads above the organic results, and the times I’m not shown ads don’t seem to be worth much money.

Being the first organic result for “dental abscess treatment” or “divorce attorney chicago” would make a web page the 5th result at best. Some of those terms are very expensive, $30+ cost per click. So yes, an organic ranking is free, but it’s not going to get the clicks we used to expect form the so called “ten blue links

In smaller regions, searchers do have fewer ads. For example “rockwall botox” showed only 2 ads, but rockwall botox was also hidden behind the Google maps block, meaning even the top organic result that drives to a page outside of Google is bellow the fold.

The Old Is New Again, QR Codes, Netflix, And Vimeo

The old is new again, or so it feels. Today I learned that Netflix is testing real-time programming in France. To be clear the streaming company isn’t getting into live programming, they are testing a linear experience that sounds just like a broadcast or cable channel that plays the same prerecorded content to everyone at the same time. Netflix in this test won’t be on TV however, the test will be accessible exclusively via the Netflix web browser, not even working on set-top boxes.

Netflix, is clearly trying to fit into the existing habits of French viewers, but this new real-time test is a departure from everything Netflix has been since the company’s start. The streaming company may find success with this new experience. But the move feels strange, they are, after all just broadcasting things from the Netflix library to a web page, that people have to pay for… Unlike Hulu, Plex, Sling, YouTube, and more Netflix is not getting into the live content space.

Speaking of live the YouTube competitor that has morphed into a highly featured video content delivery network Vimeo just completed a funding round. Vimeo raised $150 million in new equity funding at a valuation of $2.75 billion, and the company will likely spin out from it’s parent firm IAC.

Vimeo is exciting to investors in part because of the tools it gives companies to offer live video to large brands (live not just real-time). Vimeo’s suite of video production and distribution tools has landed them 3,500+ paying enterprise customers and another 1.5 million paying subscribers. Back in the early days of online video, Vimeo was a contender for consumer streaming dominance, a battle they are everyone else clearly lost to YouTube. Many competitors in the space just died now remembered only in internet archives, but Vimeo found a place, a good one in the market.

If it cannot find a place in the market, a product will eventually die. This may be the reason we all saw QR codes as a flash in the pan back in 2010-2012 but the technology mostly faded away. Well now, thanks to the pandemic, QR codes are coming back, and this time they are working at least for restaurants. While QR codes have some security risks, it’s clear the codes do have a place in this post contact world.

Adding AI To Everything! Marketing Spin, but it seems to be working.

AI is not so much a tech buzzword, most of the people who work in AI know AI is not particularly sophisticated at the moment. But between the media, and the marketing hype around AI, I feel safe in saying AI is the new IoT. We will now have AI toasters and hairbrushes, IoT hairbrush the way we got stupid IoT devices a few years ago.

Now we get IoT devices that spy on us transparently, and pointless marketing AI tech. For example, AI Botox, after a serious media push a saw 10 high profile articles about AI powered Botox, and only one skeptical post, in a small tech blog. To quote that blog post,

“I sit convinced AI Botox is still at the “wow, oh wow, that is a gimmick” stage. In the Esquire article, it’s clear that the AI did very little. A human took photos, and an AI procedurally generated some dots. And a human, almost certainly a human who is a Registered Nurse, administered some Botox.”

Yes some AI in healthcare is amazing, but most of the AI is the same as the IoT hairbrush. Really, the AI people rant about my someday be a powerful god that people like Sam Harris and Stuart J. Russell fear, but that seems to be far, far way. Right now AI is at baby levels, and the real flaws of AI come from human dependency on infantile technology.

We have outsources tasks like job search to really dumb AI’s to avoid discriminatory hiring law suits, and that has done little by harm both the job sneakers, and the companies seeking talent. We use AI to make determinations about bail amounts, and predictive policing is horrifying. AI’s reflect human bias, but the AI like like the hologram of a wizard we, humans can hide behind to claim we are not bias. Criminal justice, and human corporate hiring practices already have a lot of flaws, AI is making them worse.

The way AI handles search and social algorithms makes it easy for everyone of every political opinion to clam that bias is agents them. We live in a wold where people claim AI is some magic, a magic that is fore the most part unimpressive and disruptive due to the power we have collectively given it.

The problem isn’t AI, it’s human’s wiliness to act like the AI is a wizard, the great and powerful AI. Now AI is getting hyped in all kinds of application where AI has no place. In an article called The 6 unholy AI systems thou shalt not develop Tristan Greene says.

Artificial intelligence may be the most powerful tool humans have. When applied properly to a problem suited for it, AI allows humans to do amazing things. We can diagnose cancer at a glance or give a voice to those who cannot speak by simply applying the right algorithm in the correct way.

Sadly nearly every system he names is in some stage of development. Most will be as useless as AI botox, but if someone claimed the AI could tell a person was evil, and people used that AI to purge the evil form humanity, the damage is done. AI is good at doing stupid things a bit faster. AI is good at creating transcriptions, and looking for abnormality in medical imaging. AI is good for searching and finding information.

But lately AI is mostly good at being a scapegoat, allowing people to do exactly that they want, and to say “the AI made me do it”.

Search Engine Optimisation Is Harder If Companies Change The Rules

Many marketers who do SEO think mainly of Google, and sometimes Bing. But the reality is that any platforms with search have people who try to optimise for a better result. People work hard to try to rank on search engines like YouTube, Amazon and the Apple App Store.

It’s not just optimising performance based on the algorithms. Some companies, including Apple and Amazon have changed their search algorithms to favor the companies themselves. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Amazon altered its search results in ways that boosted its own profits. This was despite a lot of internal pushback.

According to WSJ, Amazon’s retail business pushed for the product search system to take profitability into account. Programmers tasked with running the search algorithm,, reportedly opposed the idea. In part because it goes against the ethos of the company that claims to put the customer above all else.

Amazon’s legal team also raised concerns about the idea. Pointing out that the decision would likely draw scrutiny in The European Union. Google was fined $2.7 billion in 2017 for elevating its own shopping service in the organic search results.

Apple has been known for the same behavior on its owe app store search engine. According to a report from The New York Times Apple’s iOS App Store heavily favored the company’s iPhone and iPad apps, ranking them higher than more popular third-party options. This changed with a recent algorithm update.

The Times says they studied App Store search results (dating back several years) for queries like “music” and “podcasts” finding that Apple regularly favored a handful of its own apps, before getting to apps made by third-party developers.

Writing for Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling said “Visibility and position in App Store search results can be a make or break proposition for developers and startups in particular. Apple now says it has voluntarily remedied the issue in the App Store.

Despite this, the government will continue to scrutinize Apple’s behavior. And the results of any investigation into Apple’s search algorithm and its economic impact may hold implications for Google as well.”

People working in SEO, were overwhelmingly not surprised by this, but definitely find it annoying. Mason Pelt the owner of a Dallas SEO Agency said “I believe Apple, Amazon and Google, are only impartial to the point they have to be, for fear of consumer backlash or regulation. Finding out Apple, Amazon, or Google favored their own products, isn’t surprising. ” Adding in a lecture to a group of small business owners, that “ owned by Jeff Bezos still redirects to Why? because they are relentless.”

When asked for tips Pelt said “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you until you have some teeth.” He explained that Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple, but that the only reason he felt the complaint benefited Spotify, rather than ending the company was because Spotify already had millions of users.

Chinese Firms Selling AI Surveillance To African Nations

AI tech is rapidly taking off worldwide being implemented from voice recognition to fake videos to road traffic monitoring. It is also increasingly used to monitor and track citizens, according to a new report.

At least 75 of the 176 countries surveyed globally are now using AI for surveillance purposes. This from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The applications include facial recognition, social media and phone surveillance tools and the more. The main suppliers of these systems worldwide are Chinese companies, led by Huawei, which has supplied these technologies to at least 50 nations around the world.

Steven Feldstein, The study’s author, says that these tools were being used to “accomplish a range of policy objectives—some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground.”

African countries still struggle to adopt AI technologies, and the report notes that less than a quarter of countries invest in these systems. That is partly explained by the fact that the continent is still struggling with Internet connectivity.

However, Chinese companies are rapidly penetrating African markets, offering soft loans for governments to buy their equipment and promising to establish and manage these systems. In Kenya, for example, Huawei has helped install video systems that implemented 1,800 HD cameras and 200 HD traffic surveillance systems in Nairobi. In Zimbabwe, the Guangzhou-based CloudWalk developer announced a controversial agreement in 2018 to oversee a large-scale facial recognition program in collaboration with the authorities. With predictive policing is on the rise, but contested in the first world, early implementation of AI in law enforcement in the third world may set a status quo that people will never rebel against.

The debate on AI technologies also occurs when African nations and activists face issues that including digital privacy, information censorship, surveillance and Internet shutdown. With the lack of privacy laws in nations like Kenya, there is concern about how governments will use these data repositories, where they will be stored and who will have access to them.

Read the Full Story

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Buying Cracking Tech

According to a federal filing Immigration and Customs will pay Cellebrite between $30 and $35 million for technolagy to hack cell phones.

In 2016 Cellebrite became widely known by offering to hack the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter. The $35 million is for “universal forensic extraction devices (UFED)” and “accessories licenses, training and support services.” for 12 months, with the option for extending for up to five years.

CBP needs no warrants to search at borders. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has authority to operate within 100 miles of any U.S. border so, immigration checkpoints could pop up at any place in the U.S. up to 100 miles away from a border. About 65% of the U.S. lives within that distance of an external boundary.

Last year Homeland Security spied on journalists, activists, lawyers and and put them on enhanced screenings list given to CBP, this screening included and device searches by Border Patrol.

Vice confirmed last year the company has also sold hacking tools to to Russia, the UAE, and Turkey. a press release from Cellebrite in 2016 says they have “licenses in 100 countries” this is half of the nation states earth.

Cellebrite may have been involved with the hacking of iPhone in China. The nation state was hacking iPhones of people they have been putting into concentration camps. An ICE employee hung up on me after asking about Cellebrite’s involvement in china.

Hat Tip to Internet News Flash.

Gig Workers Win In California Senate

After most of the year deliberating the California Senate is now passing AB5, a law that is expected to solve problems for contractor from companies like Uber, Lyft and Doordash. In a historic victory, workers in these companies and others like them are likely to be considered employees, who are entitled to the benefits and protections that the statute suggests.

Gig platforms like these have been the subject of increasing criticism that the businesses rely on the misclassification of their workforce as independent contractors, while depriving workers of all significant self-determination of value — a key element of a truly independent entrepreneur. The lack of minimum protections at work has allowed carpool drivers to pay out of pocket for associated costs such as gasoline and vehicle preservation, while platforms determine how and when they shuttle passengers and can fire them at any time for any reason. This unbalanced ness leads to new leadership in the global protests of this disappearing workforce, which, at least in California, finally sees some relief.

The bill, introduced at the California State Conference in January by Assembly Lorena Gonzalez, still needs another passage on the Assembly and Governor Gavin Newsom’s. However, he has recently expressed his support for the initiative, and it is expected that the House will easily adopt the Senate version.

Read More in the New York Times

YouTube Pays $170M After Breaking Children’s Privacy Law

Google the parent compay of YoUTube is paying fines totaling $170 million to the FTC and the New York Attorney General to settle a case of unlawful data collection of children under 13.

The penalty for YouTube is paid out as, $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to the New York Attorney General. The company has also agreed to implement new policies to prevent further violations of COPPA. The FTC called this the largest penalty of its kind to date. However, this fine may not be make some privacy groups happy.

YouTube also must now treat all users viewing children’s videos as if COPPA applies to them, thus limiting data collection to “only to what is needed to support the operation of the service.”

People who work Managing YouTube Channels for brands will have to be up on the new guideline.

Google’s longer-term goal is to more all youngsters to the new separate YouTube Kids sire. A platform with parental controls, more privacy and stricter content guidelines.

Full Story by DCC Mag