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Apple and Google to Team Up on Data Sharing to Help Contain COVID-19 – The Pros and Cons


The big tech news to end last week was that Apple and Google have agreed to a partnership which will enable health authorities to better track COVID-19 patients, and alert people who’ve been in contact with them, which could provide significant help in containing the virus.

The process would work like this:

  • Apple and Google will provide tools that will enable combined device tracing across both iOS and Android devices, which will mean that no matter what device a person is using, a central process will be able to track it, based on proximity signals via Bluetooth
  • Health authorities will then be able to develop apps that can trace which users have been in close contact with others. The process will be opt-in, and will require users to download a new, official app
  • If a person is found to have COVID-19, they’ll be able to log that in the app, via a code from a health authority, which will then alert all other app users who’ve been in contact with them that they are at risk and need to self-isolate.

Google provided this visual overview of the proposed system:

Apple/Google COVID-19 tracking

It’s a good idea, which somewhat mirrors similar solutions in place in other regions – though there are some limitations to the process, and some concerns as to where it takes us, in terms of personal tracking.

The Good…

First off, the good news – this system would enable significantly better tracking of COVID-19 patients on an individual level, and with 1.5 billion active iOS devices in circulation, and 2.5 billion active Android devices, the potential coverage base is massive.

These are the most popular mobile device operating systems in the world, by a big margin, and the capacity to be able to trace users on both will enable widespread alerting – which could, theoretically, significantly help to contain the virus’ spread, and enable us to get back to some semblance of normal life faster. 

It’s also pretty amazing to see Apple and Google working together. Both companies have been notoriously critical of one another, with Apple CEO Tim Cook regularly taking aim at both Google and Facebook over their questionable privacy practices. To see the two come together to benefit the greater good is a significant development – but yet, there are some issues that could limit the effectiveness of the proposal. 

The Bad…

One thing that will limit the effectiveness of this process will be the fact that people need to download another app, and it’ll require widespread take-up of that app to be effective.

Both companies are looking to respect user privacy, and the requirement to download a separate app is, essentially, a measure of consent – in doing so, you’ll be agreeing to let Google and Apple share your location data for this purpose. That makes sense, but if only a small portion of people go to the effort of doing so, it will render the system largely irrelevant. If, for example, you go to the local shops, and you’re the only one who’s downloaded the app, that won’t be much help in an alerting sense.

How, then, do the health authorities ensure optimal take-up?

In China, they’ve seen some level of success with a somewhat similar system – though the difference is that they’ve integrated the process into existing apps WeChat and AliPay. These apps are used for everything in China, from buying groceries to doing your banking – which also provides Chinese authorities with an extra level of control. To limit the spread, they’ve assigned color codes to people based on their COVID-19 risk, which restricts their capacity to move freely as a result. 

The integration with already popular apps enables Chinese authorities to better monitor and track citizens’ movements, and limit such through this process – though even then, it’s not foolproof, despite utilizing a far wider-reaching system.

Health authorities in other nations could look to similar options – they could, for example, restrict people’s movements based on them downloading and using the app, subject to random checks, but that likely won’t be as easy to implement in western regions. 

It’s a challenge that will need to be thought through – but the thing is, Apple and Google are already tracking this data among the vast majority of their users, and could provide it without needing a separate app. It would open up a lot more privacy questions, of course, but the combined database would already have much of this info, without needing any extra steps.

Research shows that up to 90% of smartphone users have location services switched on at all times, as it comes in handy for maps, tracking your daily jog, interactive games like Pokemon Go, etc. That means that Google and Apple have this info already, and they could, theoretically, create a system that alerts all users within a certain proximity of someone found to be carrying COVID-19.

A more authoritarian system might see doctors require patients who are infected with the virus to register their condition via their device, which would subsequently alert all users who’ve been anywhere near them. A combined Google and Apple data net would see such an alert reach virtually everybody at risk, and they could do this without any extra steps – though it would significantly overstep the bounds of user privacy.

Which leads to the next issue…

The Ugly…

The concern here is that a combined Android/iOS data net covers pretty much everyone in most connected regions across the world, and would give whomever can access it the most advanced personal tracking tool in history.

That would be of significant interest to governments, who would be keen to use such to track criminal gangs, blackmarket rings – anyone that they might choose to hone in on. 

Privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm bells about such tools being developed in times of crisis, because as The New York Times recently noted, once a privacy back door like this has been opened, it can be very difficult to close it again after the need subsides.

Enligt NYT:

“Ratcheting up surveillance to combat the pandemic now could permanently open the doors to more invasive forms of snooping later. It is a lesson Americans learned after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, civil liberties experts say. Nearly two decades later, law enforcement agencies have access to higher-powered surveillance systems, like fine-grained location tracking and facial recognition – technologies that may be repurposed to further political agendas like anti-immigration policies.”

In the case of granular location tracking, this could facilitate increasingly complex systems of tagging and monitoring citizens, with limited transparency as to how such are being utilized. Combining the Android and iOS systems is massive, and will have many looking for ways in, which is a risky proposition, despite its significant potential benefits.

This is where the proposal is somewhat uncomfortable. Yes, this system could be hugely beneficial if they’re able to prompt mass user take-up of the relevant health authority app, or apps. But it mightn’t provide much help if they can’t, while the creation of a process that provides connective access to both the iOS and Android networks, in any form, is a significant step towards the next level of potential mass surveillance.

That’s not to say Google or Apple will let that happen, but as the crisis goes on, there will be pressure on both to create tools that utilize their existing systems in this way, aside from this separate proposal.

It also underlines, once again, the massive data the tech giants have on us – and theoretically, Facebook could also create a similar alert system, tracking who you’ve been in contact with and when, and correlating that with positive COVID-19 tests. 

Even if these tools don’t fall into the wrong hands, they do already exist, and they are being used by corporations for profit.

It’s a concerning situation, and one that could get significantly more so if this leads to enhanced data tracing as a result. 



Moore Digital Names Two Executives To Serve Nonprofit Fundraisers 02/07/2023


Moore Digital Names Two Executives To Serve Nonprofit Fundraisers 02/07/2023

Moore Digital, which assists nonprofit clients with fundraising, has named Adva Priso as chief strategy officer and Bonnie Huey as senior vice president of
digital media.

They are joining a team of “more than 70 top digital experts from across the for-profit and nonprofit industries, including strategists,
media planners and …


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Pinterest Now up to 450 Million Active Users, Posts Solid Numbers in Latest Performance Report


Pinterest Now up to 450 Million Active Users, Posts Solid Numbers in Latest Performance Report

Pinterest has posted its Q4 and full-year earnings for 2022, showing steady increases in both users and revenue, as it continues to build out its various offerings.

First off, on users, Pinterest added five million more active users – most of them coming from Europe – within the final measurement period of last year.

That’s a good sign for Pinterest, which actually lost users in early 2021, after the COVID-induced boom in eCommerce activity of the previous year, which saw the platform post record high usage numbers.

Many analysts and businesses seemed convinced that the COVID boost to online shopping would hold, even after the pandemic ended. That lead to companies like Meta, Google, Amazon and Twitter investing big into commerce solutions – but many of the staff they put on were eventually culled in the most recent round of lay-offs, because once physical stores re-opened, people actually did go back to shopping as normal, as opposed to continuing to rely on online options.

Pinterest felt that the most, but now, it’s steadily building back up again, as it continues to refine its solutions around evolving shopping behaviors. Which includes video content.

Pinterest’s big winner on this front has been Idea Pins, its Stories-like option which presents uploaded video in a swipeable, full-screen display.

Pinterest Ideas Festival updates

The emphasis on this format has helped boost the platform’s appeal with younger audiences, with Pinterest reporting that Gen Z was the fastest-growing demographic on the platform, increasing double digits year over year.

“Gen Z sessions grew much faster year over year than sessions from older demographics, while nearly half of all new videos pinned in Q4 were from Gen Z users.”

Pinterest also says that sessions continued to grow faster than MAUs, an indicator that it’s driving better engagement overall, while it also increased its overall video supply by 30%, another marker of the popularity of Idea Pins.

Because you can’t post video as a native pin anymore, only in Idea Pins (or paid ads), underlining the focus on the format, and Pinterest’s evolving usage.  

On the revenue front, Pinterest posted a 4% year-over-year increase, after bringing in $877 million Q4.

Pinterest Q4 2022

As you can see in this chart, Pinterest’s revenue is climbing steadily, though its revenue splits remain concerning:

Pinterest Q4 2022

Or maybe you see this as an opportunity, with Pinterest still able to potentially eek out a lot more revenue from regions outside of the North American market. Definitely, it’s got some work to do in that ‘Rest of World’ bracket.

But Pinterest is still developing, and is still expanding its ad and business offerings into new regions. So there is, indeed, potential there – yet the size of the gap here is a concern.

Still, there is growth, slowly but surely, and maybe, if you’re a believer, you can see more ways for Pinterest to generate much bigger revenues moving forward.

Pinterest remains focused on shopping, and highlighting relevant products to users, with its ever-evolving recommendation engine providing better content matches to more users every day. It’s also investing in live-stream shopping, a trend that all platforms hope will catch on in western markets, while it’s developing more presentation tools for Idea Pins to capitalize on that engagement.

In combination, these approaches are working – but at the same time, usage growth in your local market may have stalled, going on these charts.

And of course, while overall growth is interesting, what marketers want to know is whether their customers are there.

For this, you can use Pinterest Trends, which enables you to search for the most popular Pin trends by region.

Pinterest Trends

Tap into these with Idea Pins and you’ll likely be on the right path, based on these latest insights from the app.


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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable


These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

Why do some organizations still solicit funds the way they did in the 1960s? You need to take a smarter marketing approach, or you’ll waste money like they do. I’m still getting about two bucks a month in cash from stupid, misguided charities that insist on sending me actual money in the mail. I get …


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