Sometimes, I wonder if the internet can be boiled down to a single sentiment: "Oops."
That was certainly the underlying theme of some major news items this week, like the one our headline alludes to -- more on that below.
After all, the digital landscape is a setting that can be described at once as a playground and a hellscape, where mistakes never really disappear (even if you quickly delete them, thanks to screen shots), contentious competition never ends, and consumers are often left wondering, "What the hell is going on? I just want a machine to read my schedule to me in the morning."
This week -- as with many others -- was a busy one in the worlds of tech and marketing. Here's what you missed.
It's a Boy! Nope, It's Just a Glitch From Amazon
If our headline freaked you out, you're not alone: a yet-to-be-determined number of Amazon customers experienced a similar sentiment this week when they mistakenly received emails regarding phantom baby registries.
Last Tuesday, several Amazon customers reported receiving an email from the online merchant reading, "Someone great recently purchased a gift from your baby registry!" And while the internet typically can't be used for a pregnancy test -- unless you count Target's 2012 public relations disaster after predicting a teen's pregnancy by tracking her shopping habits -- it still caused brief moments of panic among those who got the email.
There were some fears that the emails were a result of phishing attempts, but in the end, Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch that the emails were the result of a technical glitch, going on to send apology emails to the customers that received them. It's not clear what exactly happened or what the the glitch entailed, but let this be a lesson to marketers: triple check your email workflows.
Among the panic, Twitter had quite a bit of fun with the error:
I couldn't help but wonder ... had everyone gotten the Amazon baby registry email except me? pic.twitter.com/DR3S6m2ejq— Gabe Ortíz (@TUSK81) September 19, 2017
More Trouble for Targeted Ads
Following last week's ProPublica revelation that Facebook was allowing advertisers to use anti-Semitic targeting criteria for promoted content, it was quickly discovered that Google and Twitter had similarly flawed advertising technology.
BuzzFeed was the first to discover that the Google allowed advertisers to use anti-Semitic and racially-charged search terms to target certain audiences, and soon after, the Daily Beast reported that Twitter allowed similar targeting criteria, which resulted in an audience of roughly 26.3 million users.
All three companies have since responded that they either have or are working to remove this criteria, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg publishing a very lengthy, formal apology on Wednesday:
And More From Facebook
Yesterday, Facebook released an official statement on its plans to hand over important documents regarding the ads it sold to Russian organizations to Congress, as well as a second one with answers to several "hard questions" on what happened to cause something like that to happen in the first place.
The gravity of that move is one that cannot be emphasized enough. As Mike Isaac writes for the New York Times:
" ... the move to work with the congressional committees underscored how far the social network has strayed from being a mere technology company and how it has increasingly had to deal with the unintended consequences of the tools it provides to reach the more than two billion people who use the site regularly."
Shortly after those posts went live, Mark Zuckerberg delivered a live address on his own Page to address the efforts it would make moving forward to "protect the integrity of the democratic process."
Some believe that this address, along with Sandberg's statement form the previous day, is the first of many efforts by Facebook to proactively dodge federal regulation by staying one step ahead of congressional actions or attempts to curb what such channels and platforms can actually do. It's even, perhaps, a defensive move, as the legality of the aforementioned ad sale remains in question.
Meanwhile, Twitter is also due to appear at a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing nxt week to further examine its own possible role in influencing the most recent U.S. presidential election.
The Uber-Alphabet Lawsuit Got Even Messier
Last week, we filled you in on the ongoing lawsuit between Uber and Alphabet, Inc company Waymo over proprietary self-driving technology. Since then, there have been a few key developments.
First, over the weekend, Alphabet requested that the trial be postponed after receiving crucial information that the court ordered Uber to turn over. Seeing that information, it seemed, made Waymo realize just how much was at stake with Uber being in possession of these materials, and needed more time to review all of the evidence supporting its case. Megan Rose Dickey of TechCrunch tweeted a key portion of its statement on the issue:
Waymo wants to postpone the trial w/ Uber. Here's Waymo's statement. pic.twitter.com/SF8CrGDYak— Megan Rose Dickey (@meganrosedickey) September 17, 2017
Uber, of course, objected to that request, charging that Alphabet is trying the delay the trial -- December 5 is the proposed postponed date -- not because of surmounting evidence, but because of a lack of it. The full opposition can be found here:
That same judge also gave Uber permission to publicly disclose some of what Waymo is hoping to gain from the lawsuit: $2.6 billion for one stolen (allegedly) trade secret. But there are still eight other secrets that Waymo says to have been stolen by Uber, and no monetary figure has yet been assigned to them.
At this point, the trial is still set to begin on October 10, and recently-appointed Uber has a decision to make: whether or not he wants to settle out of court, or continue to defend the company's name in what promises to be a complex, drawn-out trial.
It's just one of many problems for Uber these days. With the release of iOS 11 this week, Uber was forced to allow users to block the app from tracking their locations.
Additionally, the BBC broke news this morning that Transport for London would not renew the ride-sharing app's private hire license, calling it "not fit and proper" to carry on operations there. Uber has 21 days to dispute that decision and can continue providing services in London until then.
Attack of the Flying Eggplants
I'll admit it -- my new favorite feature of iOS 11, the latest operating system available on the iPhone, is probably the ability to fill your iMessage recipient's screen with the next, image, or emoji of your choice. But just for the sake of due diligence, I tested it by sending this gem to one of my colleagues:
But my low bar for amusement aside, the new operating system comes with some features that are actually, you know, productive. Here are our five favorites:
- Screen Recording. So, just how did I capture the magical moment above? iOS 11 has a screen record tool that saves the video in your camera roll.
- Do Not Disturb While Driving. This "do not disturb" feature uses your car's bluetooth connection to turn on automatically while you're driving.
- Screenshot Tools. The new iOS has a brilliantly simple new screenshot feature, which lets users draw on, crop, or highlight with ease.
- GIFs in Camera Roll. The camera roll now allows users to save and view GIFs, plus the newest editing tools even enable you to turn your live photos into GIFs.
- Notes App Upgrade. The notes app now features useful tools like a document scanner, and the ability to insert all kinds of formatting into your note.
And, finally -- we can't forget ARKit -- Apple's mobile augmented reality technology -- which has been a big portion of the talk of the iPhone town in the days following iOS 11's release. I tweeted about my experience with using it on Wayfair's home shopping app:
What's Google Up To?
A lot happened for the search giant this week, beyond its parent company's lawsuit and a significant team acquisition. First, there were some leaks around the rumored October 4th release of the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL, but they were mostly limited to the device's available colors, as per Droid Life.
That same outlet also leaked the rumored Google Home Mini, a much smaller version of the Google Home, which many are calling the company's response to the Echo Dot. And on Tuesday, a “media streaming device” -- the same language used to describe the original Google home -- with features remarkably similar to the first Google Home was submitted to the FCC. These developments all align with the timeline leading up to the October 4th press event.
Source: Droid Life
In non-Pixel or Home news, Google announced four new features this week:
- The Google app on iOS will now have a suggested content feature, in which users are provided with visual links to more information on what they're reading about.
- Contact information like phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses will now -- finally -- be automatically converted into hyperlinks on Gmail. Official announcement here.
- Natural language processing has been added to Cloud Search -- a search tool within G Suite -- to help users more quickly find information based on the words that Google deemed to be the most frequently used among G Suite customers: "what," "who," "how" or "when." For example, if you remember which one of your colleagues sent you a shared document, but can't remember what it was called, now you can search for it with a query like, "Docs shared by Karla."
- Read receipts are coming to Gmail -- kind of. On Wednesday, Google announced the launch of Email Log Search, which allows G Suite users to track the status of sent emails, such as where it is (e.g., the trash), or if it's been opened.
Actually, No, Equifax Still Isn't Handling This Data Breach Well
Remember all of those marketing takeaways from the Equifax hack that we outlined last week? Well, it turns out that Equifax hasn't exactly heeded that advice -- or that of too many others, it seems. In fact, it was revealed earlier this week that the company's customer service agents on Twitter were directing customers to a fake website that, visually, was nearly identical to the site Equifax set up for users to enroll in free credit marketing.
The clone site was created by by software engineer Nick Sweeting, whose intentions weren't malicious, but rather, were to show how poorly Equifax was monitoring and managing the situation.
Sweeting was quite transparent about that in creating the site, which has since been taken down, along with any tweets directing customers to it -- it was titled, "Cybersecurity Incident & Important Consumer Information Which is Totally Fake, Why Did Equifax Use A Domain That’s So Easily Impersonated By Phishing Sites?”
The "fake" site did not collect any personal information, but Sweeting pointed out how easily it would be for other hackers to create an equally identical site that did using the Linux command "wget" -- and he blamed that on Equifax's choice to establish an entirely new domain, rather than create an equifax.com subdomain.
"wget" essentially permits anyone -- yes, anyone at all -- "to just suck their whole site down with wget and throw it on a ... server,” Sweeting explained in an email to the New York Times. His version, he said, had "the same type of SSL certificate as the real version, so from a trust perspective, there’s no way for users to authenticate the real one vs. my server.”
Creating a subdomain should have been the obvious move for Equifax, Carnegie Mellon IS Professor Rahul Telang told the outlet, "so that if somebody tries to fake it, it becomes immediately obvious.”
This development comes amid news that Equifax actually suffered more than one hack this year. In addition to the headline-making breach in July, the company experienced an earlier one in March, creating even more confusion around the decision to wait until September to alert customers, as well as the massive August stock sale by its executives.
Odds and Ends
I Don't Want to Grow up, Because That Means I Have to File for Chapter 11
For anyone who grew up begging their parents to take them to the toy store, this week came with some sad news: Toy store chain Toys ‘R’ Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week. Many were quick to blame its demise on Amazon, which has been named the culprit for the financial woes of many other brick-and-mortar retailers, but in reality, the cause may have reached far beyond that. As Recode reports, the move is largely the result of a "cocktail" of limited product selection, a lack of competitive pricing, and piling debt after several 2005 buyouts.
For the sake of our own childhood memories, we hope Toys 'R' Us is able to turn things around.
The DHS Got Served ... By an Association of VCs
Allow us to introduce you to the International Entrepreneur Rule: a federal measure that, had it passed in July 2017 as planned, would have made it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to obtain visas for the purpose of founding startups in the U.S.
However, the same month it was slated to be effective, the current presidential administration delayed it until March 2018, with many believing that it will only go on to be completely dismantled. But this week, Axios reports, the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) has brought forth a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, on the grounds that the decision to delay the enforcement of the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act -- which says that the department must first "solicit public comment."
The formal complaint can be downloaded here.
No Empty Nest Here
Nest, which was acquired by Google back in 2013, held its first major press event this week, where it unveiled a number of new products. Among them were the Nest Cam IQ -- this writer's personal favorite unveiling from the launch -- an outdoor security camera that can detect movement and differentiate whether it's coming from a person or an object. If it's a person, the system alerts you, as well as letting you know if it senses a barking dog or a talking person. Even better: it's equipped with facial recognition, so that if someone familiar comes into the camera's range, like your regular dog walker, the system will recognize that it's likely not an intruder.
Also announced was the Nest Hello video doorbell, which uses similar camera technology to the above to alert users if a person is within range, even if they don't ring. Finally, an overall comprehensive security system was unveiled called Nest Secure, which exists of three key components: Nest Guard, where the system is armed and disarmed with the second component, Nest Tag, which is similar to a key fob and can be used to turn off the alarm system. The first piece is Nest Detect, which can sense general motion and the opening or closing of windows or doors.
Check out the video summary here:
That's all for this week! Next week, we're off to INBOUND 2017: one of the world's largest and most remarkable marketing and sales industry events. We'll be back with our regular news coverage the first week in October.
Until then -- happy autumn.