I’ve got a lot of material this month, so I’m going to jump right into it. Without further ado, here are some of the best (vaguely nonprofit technology-related) things I read online in January.
Nonprofit Tech Trends
Over at Tech Soup, Jim Lynch pulled together this smart roundup for nonprofits in the coming year. Jim was kind enough to include the voices of Idealware’s Karen Graham and Tech Impact’s Sam Chenkin, as well as some partners and friends of ours.
If you’re interested in learning more, we hosted a panel discussion on the same topic. You can listen to the recording for free.
Good Uses of Data
We love a good case study at Idealware. The Times has one about data being used in interesting ways to help surfers at the new Surf Simply resort in Costa Rica. Whether you’re interested in data or surfing or just need to hear about warmer weather and tropical shores, it’s a good read.
Questionable Uses of Data
The news about Facebook continues to get worse. Data breaches, privacy overreach, Russian accounts, you name it. Now, writing for Tech Crunch, Josh Constine breaks this story about how the social media giant has been secretly paying teens to install an app that lets it suck in all of their phone and web activity. The app was developed in violation of Apple’s rules—and the company had already banned and removed an earlier version of it. It’s very questionable behavior from a company that already knows way too much about us.
In this unrelated story about how awful Facebook may be, ProPublica writes about a tool it created to let the public see exactly how Facebook users were being targeted by advertisers, along with similar tools built by others. The catch? In a middle finger to transparency, Facebook has quietly made changes to its site to block them.
“This is very concerning,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has co-sponsored the Honest Ads Act, which would require transparency on Facebook ads. “Investigative groups like ProPublica need access to this information in order to track and report on the opaque and frequently deceptive world of online advertising.”
In an unwitting privacy breach, a teen recently discovered a bug that lets you call anyone with Apple FaceTime and immediately hear the audio coming from their phone—even before the other person has answered or rejected the call. Possibly video, too. Apparently his mother had to work pretty hard to get Apple to take the claims seriously, but now the company is pushing out a bug fix.
Speaking of spying and Apple, Reuters has this story about “a team of former U.S. government intelligence operatives working for the United Arab Emirates hacked into the iPhones of activists, diplomats and rival foreign leaders with the help of a sophisticated spying tool called Karma.”
What does this have to do with nonprofit tech? File it with all the other compelling evidence building the case for solid security practices to protect your org’s data.
It’s Not Just Your Phones That Are Watching You
Some people who have installed Amazon’s Ring security cameras in their home are just starting to learn that strangers might have been watching their camera feeds, according to this story in The Intercept.
It’s Not Just Your Phones That Are Watching You, Part Two
For those of us who received Internet of Things gifts for the holidays, this Engadget article might make you think twice about how you use them.
“Maybe you got a Sonicare toothbrush and it wants to know your location at all times. Or a hot tub that can be hacked and remotely controlled. What about a connected vibrator that can spy on you? Did you really want those Tommy Hilfiger connected jeans that track you in exchange for ‘one-of-a-kind rewards and experiences’? Hey, and some people only found out this year that their Vizio TV might’ve spied on them in 2015.”
It’s Not Just Your Phones That Are Watching You, Part Three
As if it’s not bad enough that your toaster and TV are spying on you, now your groceries are in on the game.
The Atlantic reports that “Walgreens is piloting a new line of “smart coolers”—fridges equipped with cameras that scan shoppers’ faces and make inferences on their age and gender. On January 14, the company announced its first trial at a store in Chicago in January, and plans to equip stores in New York and San Francisco with the tech.”
The Incredible, Inedible Egg
Have you heard about The Instagram Egg? This month the egg became an internet phenomenon when its first post became the most-liked Instagram photo of all time. Since then, the account has posted a series of photos of the same egg with a progressively larger crack, suggesting something inside. Now the people behind the egg want to sell brands the right to be the first to emerge from the egg.
“Being the first brand to crack out of the egg is worth at least $10 million,” they say.
Uh huh. Let’s all agree that we can do better as a society, shall we?
It’s Now Clear None of the Supposed Benefits of Killing Net Neutrality Are Real
Making the case to end net neutrality last year, FCC head Ajit Pai said it would “boost broadband industry investment, spark job creation, and drive broadband into underserved areas at an unprecedented rate.” Instead, network investment is down, layoffs abound, and networks are falling apart.
As a culture, a species, a people, we are sitting ourselves slowly to death. That’s old news. But according to this Outside piece, a brief burst of exercise at lunch or after work isn’t enough to improve your overall well-being. Want to stay healthy? You’d better be moving all day long.
“Compared with 1960, Americans today burn about 140 fewer calories, on average, per day because of our sedentary jobs. To offset the damages of sitting, we need to move. The latest recommendations call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to maintain good health. If you divide 150 minutes by seven days a week, that’s 22 minutes a day.”
They say knowledge is half the battle. But when it comes to exercise, knowing you need more is the easy half. The difficult part is finding or making time for it. Not to worry.
Speaking of sitting all day, does working at your desk leave you with pain in your wrists, back or neck? It doesn’t have to be that way—in fact, it shouldn’t, according to Melinda Wenner Moyer. Here’s how to fix it by setting up a more ergonomically correct office.
And speaking of offices, how is yours laid out? Cubes? Bullpen-style open spaces? Did you arrive at that layout because of a thoughtful approach to what inspires contentment and productivity among your staffers, or because of space constraints? According to this story in Slate, “For many workers, the noise, distractions, and lack of privacy make open offices a modern torture device. And yet open floor plans continue to gain popularity among employers.”
Literary Twitter has been afire lately with people debating the idea of limiting your personal book collection to fewer than 30 titles that “spark joy.” The idea was put forth by Marie Kondo, a clutter elimination enthusiast with a Netflix show. In this Times piece, Brian X. Chen applies a Kondoesque approach to what he calls “e-junk”—the accessories, data, and detritus of digital life.
Fundraising and Email
At Idealware, we each have our own approach to email inbox maintenance—and in the larger world, there are competing philosophies on the subject. Whether you’re into the Zen ideal of “Inbox Zero,” or more like the Morning Edition producer who has 9,528 unread emails in her Gmail and 72,895 in Outlook, this radio story might interest you.
In early January, M+R reported many nonprofits had experienced unsettling end-of-year online fundraising results, and essayed some guesses about the reasons behind it. Since then they’ve dug a little more deeply. A few highlights—or, in some cases, lowlights—from their report:
- Overall gift count was down 15 percent, and average gift size was down 3 percent, to $100—so not only were fewer people giving, they were also making (slightly) smaller gifts.
- Deliverability, while still top of mind for most groups, didn’t seem to impact overall response patterns to email: the median group saw a response rate of 0.07 percent, which was identical to last year, while average gift from email was down 2 percent to $103.
- Even though EOY was a little womp womp for the average group, Giving Tuesday continues to grow: Revenue for this now-multi-day marketing blitz was up 16 percent from last year.
And then there’s this. Have you heard about “deepfakes,” or videos in which an individual’s face is superimposed onto another? They make it possible to spread inaccurate and deceptive information online at an alarming rate. The tech behind it gets better all the time—terrifyingly so.
One such video highlights how far the technology has come by combining actor Steve Buscemi with actress Jennifer Lawrence at the 2016 Golden Globe awards to show the possibilities, leading to the nightmare image at the top of this email. The video’s viral spread online this week comes as lawmakers sound the alarm over the potential of deepfakes to disrupt the 2020 election.
In other news-to-lose-sleep over, “We’re about to hit a full-on environmental crisis,” Elizabeth Segran says, writing for Fast Company. But small things can change the world. She offers eight simple, inexpensive ways to be a more ethical consumer in 2019.
And finally, in this entry for the Law of Unintended Consequences file, Motherboard has the story about an arrangement of elephant seals—that’s the proper term of venery—that took over a beach during the recent government shutdown. And now they’re not giving it back. What does this have to do with nonprofit tech? Nothing. But after reading some of these other stories, I thought you might want to join me in rooting for the seals…
A big thank you to everyone who sent links for Best of the Web. As always, if you have any you think would be a good fit, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next month…