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11 Popular Apps, Products, And Services Potentially Affected By The RESTRICT Act

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11 Popular Apps, Products, And Services Potentially Affected By The RESTRICT Act

The recently-introduced bipartisan legislature may give users and lawmakers alike a bit more than they bargained for.

The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act would allow the U.S. Department of Commerce the power to review information and communications technology (ICT) products and services used by Americans.

If an ICT product (like TikTok) with millions of U.S. users (150M, specifically) is made by an entity (ByteDance) tied to a country labeled as a foreign adversary (China) – it may fall under this 55-page bill, introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

But What Does The RESTRICT Act Aim To Prevent?

Fundamentally, the Act aims to stop foreign adversaries from sabotaging ICT products or services, damaging critical infrastructure, interfering with Federal elections, steering U.S. policies and regulations for foreign benefit, or posing other risks to national security or the security of U.S. persons.

As for the risks these ICT products and services might pose, the main objective of the RESTRICT Act is to presumably shield critical infrastructures (like telecom and energy, for instance) that support national defense, government, and the economy from sabotage by so-called foreign adversaries.

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It could protect the U.S. from risks associated with a foreign adversary having access to the content Americans share publicly and “privately” with technology that processes, stores, retrieves, or communicates information or data electronically.

But those technologies go far and beyond the likes of, say, TikTok.

They could include risks to:

Individuals who use a smartphone (like an iPhone with Chinese components) are secured with Kaspersky (Russian ties) at hospital workstations that store patient medical data.

Individuals may have their smartphone’s microphone and cameras enabled for the Telegram messenger or Badoo dating app (used by millions and developed in Russia) while working at a bank discussing consumer financial and credit information.

Individuals at organizations rely on Lenovo, a company founded in Beijing, for government, healthcare, and large enterprise solutions that process sensitive, personal information.

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Individuals who discuss legal cases from a home office using a TP-Link router, founded in China, in a home secured with Blink cameras, assembled in China.

Individuals with businesses hosted on Amazon Web Services or Rackspace services in China.

What Happens To Risky Technology Under The RESTRICT Act?

While millions of U.S. shoppers may fear a ban on their favorite Chinese fashion app, SHEIN, that’s just one potential outcome for technology reviewed under the RESTRICT Act.

It’s worth noting that countries like China, Russia, and Iran block citizens from using Facebook and Twitter based on privacy concerns, what is perceived as misinformation, and national security. India blocks TikTok for similar reasons.

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce could use the Act to pressure entities from certain countries to sell holdings in technology Americans use – much like other areas of the U.S. government trying to get ByteDance, founded in Beijing, to separate TikTok U.S. from its current Chinese parent company.

Or, the Act could put pressure on companies to update data handling processes and create transparent policies.

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TikTok’s latest commitments to safety and transparency seem not to affect politicians who want it banned.

Compliance with regional law can become costly for companies with global users. Those who want to succeed must have enough resources to meet all local data laws and regulations.

Bipartisan support for the RESTRICT Act includes 25 cosponsors, the Department of Commerce, and the White House.

It follows other bills recently introduced by the House and Senate to stop China from accessing U.S. citizens’ personal sensitive information, spying via the Internet, censoring American values, influencing American politics, or training algorithmic systems with Americans’ personal data.

While national security and infrastructure stability should be top priorities, the language in the RESTRICT Act leaves Americans with concerns.

What Type Of Technology Could Be Included Under The RESTRICT Act?

Unlike its predecessors, such as the DATA Act and Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act, the RESTRICT Act’s reach goes beyond a social media app.

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It could be any hardware, software, product, service, or app linked to an entity in a foreign country deemed adversarial.

That encompasses various activities: web hosting, content delivery networks, cloud-based storage, artificial intelligence and machine learning, webcams, drones, desktop and mobile applications, gaming, payments, ecommerce, marketplaces, managed services, data transmission, and more.

What Data Could Be Available To The Government During Its Review Of Foreign ICT?

Each company has guidelines concerning the circumstances under which it will offer user data to law enforcement and government agencies.

TikTok outlines guidelines while acknowledging user rights. Apple offers a 20-page document on its process. Blink adheres to Amazon policies. Badoo manages a law enforcement portal.

Given that, data made available to the U.S. during this investigation could include information, documents, and reports related to an activity under investigation. The Secretary could release information unavailable to the public or commercially available if it’s of national interest or authorized by Federal law.

Would the government punish people who try to use an app banned by the RESTRICT Act through virtual private network (VPN) or onion services?

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According to a Tweet from Warner:

“This bill wouldn’t enable criminal or civil penalties against anybody – regardless of their age – just for using a VPN to access a banned app. This bill is aimed squarely at corporations, not users.”

This likely means the government would punish the VPN services allowing people to connect to the banned app.

But the wording in the RESTRICT Act’s penalties section uses the word “person” 12 times before listing civil penalties (up to $250,000) and criminal penalties (up to $1,000,000 and/or 20 years in prison)”

“It shall be unlawful for a person to violate, attempt to violate, conspire to violate, or cause a violation of any regulation, order, direction, mitigation measure, prohibition, or other authorization or directive issued under this Act, including any of the unlawful acts described in paragraph (2).”

Persons are defined as citizens or nationals of the U.S. or any foreign country.

The bill has eight unlawful acts (violations), one of which is as follows:

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“No person may engage in any transaction or take any other action with intent to evade the provisions of this Act, or any regulation, order, direction, mitigation measure, prohibition, or other authorization or directive issued thereunder.”

In civil and criminal cases, the United States can seize any real or tangible property or proceeds related to the unlawful acts defined in the Act.

Why Does All Of This Matter?

Data privacy and security concerns affect technology companies on a global scale.

Italy’s recent ban on ChatGPT is a reminder that anyone’s favorite product could become harder and more expensive to access if a government agency decides it’s a risk.

The RESTRICT Act is one of the most viewed and tracked bills in the U.S.


Featured image: mark reinstein/Shutterstock



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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Benny Marty

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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