Start Up No.1910: India’s gig workers beat the algorithm, Musk/Twitter (groan), the woman who fell from the sky, crypt0?, and more


Tidal power systems don’t show much above the water, but their generation costs are falling fast – and could undercut nuclear in a few years. CC-licensed photo by Scottish Government on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Continuing. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Gig workers in India are uniting to take back control from algorithms • Rest of World

Varsha Bansal:

»

On October 17, Santosh Kumar, an Uber driver in the south Indian city of Hyderabad was wrapping up an almost 12-hour shift and struggling to find a last ride in the direction of his home. The app showed him a message that destinations in that area weren’t available.

Frustrated, he turned to a Telegram group called CCDA, or Commercial Cab Driver’s Awareness, where he shared his woes with over 5,000 fellow drivers. Within minutes, his peers offered a jugaad — a cheap hack — to game the system: keep trying to book a ride in the direction of your home, and the algorithm will eventually oblige.

Two days later, in the same group, another distressed Uber driver posted screenshots of a “miscellaneous” fee of over 5,000 rupees ($61) that Uber had levied on him. The screenshot indicated that if he didn’t make the payment, he would lose access to his Uber account. He didn’t really understand how Uber calculated this amount and wondered how he would be able to afford the hefty payment.

CCDA members explained that this was a mandatory tax payment and offered a jugaad to offset the hefty one-time charge: keep accepting rides, and Uber will auto-deduct the amount from the daily earnings rather than paying the big amount upfront. “They explained to me that until this amount is cleared, I would only get rides with online payments and not cash rides,” the driver told Rest of World, requesting anonymity fearing retribution from Uber. He managed to clear more than 2,000 rupees of the tax liability in under a month.

Those are just two examples of how India’s gig workers — tired of the obscurity around black box algorithms and technologies that dictate their lives and work — are finding ways to game the platforms to their advantage. Drivers and delivery persons, who work for apps like Uber, Ola, Zomato and Swiggy, are trying to reverse engineer these apps, frequently sharing this information through groups like CCDA and in-person workshops.

«

Rage collectively against the machine. Neat.

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How tide has turned on UK tidal stream energy as costs ebb and reliability flows • The Guardian

Tom Wall:

»

The cost of generating power from tidal streams has fallen by 40% since 2018 – and a report published last month by a government-backed research centre, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, forecasts prices could fall below nuclear energy in little over a decade, with one-megawatt hour of power due to cost as little as £78 by 2035 compared with £92.50 for the new Hinkley Point C power plant.

Simon Cheeseman from the research center argues tidal stream energy is at the “point of commercialisation” as companies are keen to scale up production and deployment. But he says the sector still needs careful nurturing to ensure it follows the successful trajectory of offshore wind, which in 11 years has gone from generating only enough energy for 4% of British homes to generating enough for 33% of British homes. “In the early days of offshore wind, you had strong government support. This is the perfect blueprint for tidal stream energy,” he says. “There is no reason tidal can’t follow that same route.”

Orbital Marine, which operates what it says are the world’s most powerful turbines below a plane-like floating platform near Orkney, has secured government funding to deploy three more floating turbines next year. Each platform can generate enough power for 2,000 homes and creates an estimated 100 jobs, according to the firm. “We want this to kickstart a real phase of change for us. We want to start manufacturing consistently and pull in more commercial investment,” says Andrew Scott, the company’s chief executive. “This is the first time in my 20 years in marine renewables that we’ve got a genuine chance of making tidal stream energy work commercially.”

«

Not quite clear whether tidal will provide a constant “base load” in the way that nuclear does. Though that cost estimate seems a long way off. Presently, the report says, the cost is £178/MWh.
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Peloton Row review: the price isn’t right • The Verge

Victoria Song:

»

Any other year, the Peloton Row would’ve made a splash. The long-awaited rower was the “worst-kept secret” in connected fitness, and its launch heralds Peloton’s expansion into a whole new category. But this is a year where Peloton laid off thousands of employees, shuttered its domestic manufacturing, and watched its stock price spiral down the drain. Peloton would have you believe that the Row revolutionizes rowing. But while testing the Row, which costs $3,195, I couldn’t help but wonder how it fits into Peloton’s future.

«

How much?? The Row does have a useful feedback system which critiques your technique, and where you’re going wrong and right, but is that really worth $2,000? As Song points out, in this economy, you’re not going to get the marginal buyer; they’ll buy a Concept 2 rower and get an Apple Fitness+ subscription and still have $2,000 left over – plus the monthly Peloton sub they won’t be paying.

The Peloton diehards will surely go for it, but I think the place this will have in Peloton’s future isn’t big.
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Hey Elon: let me help you speed run the content moderation learning curve • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

»

It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network. They show up, insist that they’re the “platform for free speech” without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes… and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity, with just a few small differences on the margin. Look, I went through it myself. In the early days I insisted that sites shouldn’t do any moderation at all, including my own. But I learned. As did Parler, Gettr, Truth Social and lots of others.

Anyway, Elon’s in a bit of a different position, because rather than starting something new, he’s taken over a large platform. I recognize that he, his buddies, and a whole lot of other people think that Twitter is especially bad at this, and that he’s got some special ideas for “bringing free speech back,” but the reality is that Twitter was, by far, the most successful platform at taking a “we support free speech” stance for content, and learned over time the many nuances and tradeoffs involved.
And because I do hope that Musk succeeds and Twitter remains viable, I wanted to see if we might help him (and anyone else) speed run the basics of the content moderation learning curve that most newbies run into. The order of the levels and the seriousness of each can change over time, and how it all fits together may be somewhat different, but, in the end, basically every major social media platform ends up in this same place eventually (the place Twitter was already at when Musk insisted he needed to tear things down and start again).

Level One: “We’re the free speech platform! Anything goes!”

Cool. Cool. The bird is free! Everyone rejoice.

“Excuse me, boss, we’re getting reports that there are child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSAM) images and videos on the site.”

«

Masnick wrote this excellent piece a month ago, and we’re working our way through his 20 (count them) levels of difficulty. Presently we’re at about Level Six. Things get harder as you go, as you’ll have guessed.
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Musk touts all-time high twitter signups and daily active users on as he promises new features • Forbes via MSN

Siladitya Ray:

»

In a tweet showing off slides from his company-wide presentation, Musk claimed Twitter averaged over 2 million new user sign ups per day in the past week, a record high for the platform.

Musk’s presentation also reiterated his earlier claims about user growth, noting that monetizable daily active users (mDAU) on the platform have crossed 250 million for the first time.

Musk’s slides also highlighted a drop in impersonator accounts on the platform which spiked after the launch of paid verification, however, it is unclear if this is a result of Twitter improving its ability to take down such accounts or its decision to halt the rollout of the service.

Amid concerns about Musk’s decision to restore banned controversial accounts, the Twitter CEO claimed hate speech impressions on the platform are lower than last year.

The rest of Musk’s presentation talks about his dream of turning Twitter into an “everything app” by touting expanded video-sharing capabilities, encrypted messaging, long-form tweets, and payments.

In a later tweet, Musk stated that he sees “a path to Twitter exceeding a billion monthly users in 12 to 18 months,” which would put it on par with TikTok but still significantly behind Facebook’s number of nearly 3 billion and Instagram’s 2 billion.

«

Of course you can’t trust any of these claims. Musk isn’t answerable legally if he lies here. Meanwhile, if we do take these as accurate, there’s plenty of wiggle room:
• the signups could well be bots (how many of the signups were then removed?)
• mDAU does include bots (as the previous Twitter admin acknowledged)
• the “impersonator” accounts was measuring *reported* impersonations
• there are fewer moderators to accurately record hate speech.

Trust nothing he says; analyse only what he does. The slideshow also mentioned encrypted DMs as forthcoming (can’t be end-to-end because otherwise you couldn’t read it them a web browser, I think) and “payments”, which remains completely unclear.
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Crypto’s final price could be zero • WSJ

Andy Kessler:

»

A cottage industry of firms emerged to lever up crypto. This is when things turned toxic. The first task was to lure customers by paying interest on their crypto holdings. The Anchor Protocol behind the spectacularly imploded Terra-Luna algorithmic tokens was paying up to 20%.

Other platforms such as Binance and Crypto.com would pay 4%, 8% or more on crypto as well, suckering in the masses who could earn only 0.01% interest from, well, real banks. But how could anyone pay interest on crypto? By turning around and lending it out to hedge funds and others who also used leverage. Insanity.

Genesis Global Capital created a lending platform to facilitate borrowing crypto. Lending against what? Again, just air. Firms such as Gemini, set up by the Winklevoss twins, were paying 8% interest, so customers could harvest yields. Why was there any yield on crypto? Good question. It worked on the way up, not so much on the way down. Crypto was lent out like a hot potato until someone got stuck with the value down 90% and everyone else left with defaulted debt. This was probably the only way the delusion could have ended.

Most of these platforms are now frozen and might disappear as customers caught with a hot potato frantically demand withdrawals in the wake of the FTX collapse. Of course, all these crypto lenders had to do was ask: What’s the underlying collateral? Where are the assets? With no good answer, no sane lender would have lent against it. But no one asked.

…Technology, like Red Bull, is a supercharger until it wears off. Debt, like milk, can kill you when it spoils. They don’t mix.

«

People have been acting shocked at the headline, but it’s obvious in itself. To call crypto a speculative asset is to misuse the word “asset”.
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Juliane Koepcke: how I survived a plane crash • BBC News

Koepcke was aged 17 when she got onto a plane that was to fly over the Peruvian rainforest:

»

It was Christmas Eve 1971 and everyone was eager to get home. We were angry because the plane was seven hours late.

Suddenly we entered into a very heavy, dark cloud. My mother was anxious but I was OK, I liked flying.
Ten minutes later it was obvious that something was very wrong. There was very heavy turbulence and the plane was jumping up and down, parcels and luggage were falling from the locker, there were gifts, flowers and Christmas cakes flying around the cabin.

When we saw lightning around the plane, I was scared. My mother and I held hands but we were unable to speak. Other passengers began to cry and weep and scream. After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left. My mother said very calmly: “That is the end, it’s all over.” Those were the last words I ever heard from her.

The plane jumped down and went into a nose-dive. It was pitch black and people were screaming, then the deep roaring of the engines filled my head completely. Suddenly the noise stopped and I was outside the plane. I was in a freefall, strapped to my seat bench and hanging head-over-heels. The whispering of the wind was the only noise I could hear.

I felt completely alone.

I could see the canopy of the jungle spinning towards me. Then I lost consciousness and remember nothing of the impact. Later I learned that the plane had broken into pieces about two miles above the ground.

I woke the next day and looked up into the canopy. The first thought I had was: “I survived an air crash.”
I shouted out for my mother in but I only heard the sounds of the jungle. I was completely alone.

I had broken my collarbone and had some deep cuts on my legs but my injuries weren’t serious. I realised later that I had ruptured a ligament in my knee but I could walk.

«

Incredible story of survival; surviving the crash was only the beginning, because now she was lost in the rainforest. She probably wouldn’t have survived if her parents hadn’t been zoologists who had worked in it.
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June 2016: The iPhone’s biggest threat isn’t Android—it’s Amazon’s Echo • WIRED

Davey Alba, wayyy back in 2016:

»

On slide 133 of her much-anticipated annual Internet Trends report, venture capitalist Mary Meeker made a curious comparison. She put a graph of iPhone sales side-by-side with a sales estimate for the Echo, the newish wireless speaker and voice-activated personal assistant from Amazon.

That juxtaposition might seem strange, but Meeker was making a point. Sales of the iPhone have been slowing, and according to Meeker’s projections, they’ll go into decline by the end of 2016. Right as this is happening, sales of the Amazon Echo are starting to take off.

It’s a sign that using voice as a way to command your tech is steadily gaining traction. By 2020, according to Andrew Ng—chief scientist at Chinese Internet company Baidu, who Meeker cites in her report—at least 50% of all searches will make use of images or speech.

…she said as of last month, 20% of searches on Android smartphones were voice-based.

Meeker seems to be suggesting, however, that the traditional smartphone won’t necessarily rule all when it comes to seeking digital assitance. As the Echo’s popularity shows, there’s a burgeoning opportunity to go not just hands-free but screen-free. Just yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said more than 1,000 people are working on the Echo and Alexa, the software that powers his company’s voice-activated assistant.

«

Ah, what might have been, but wasn’t. As we now know, Alexa has been a multi-billion pound bust. Meanwhile, the iPhone has done OK (in terms of revenue, for certain).
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‘iSpoof’ service dismantled, main operator and 145 users arrested • Bleeping Computer

Bill Toulas:

»

The ‘iSpoof’ online spoofing service has been dismantled following an international law enforcement investigation that also led to the arrest of 146 people, including the suspected mastermind of the operation.

Over a hundred of these arrests, including that of the platform’s leader, were made by London’s Metropolitan Police.

iSpoof offered cybercriminals so-called “spoofing” servers which allowed them to mask their phone numbers with one belonging to a trusted organization, making it appear to the victims as if their bank called them.

This call number spoofing made it possible for the crooks to conduct social engineering, phishing, and carry out “bank helpdesk” scams, stealing money, banking account credentials, and one-time codes.

“The services of the website allowed those who sign up and pay for the service to anonymously make spoofed calls, send recorded messages, and intercept one-time passwords,” Europol said on Thursday.

“The users were able to impersonate an infinite number of entities (such as banks, retail companies, and government institutions) for financial gain and substantial losses to victims.”

According to the announcement of the Metropolitan Police, between June 2021 and July 2022, iSpoof was used to make 10 million fraudulent calls worldwide.

Europol reports that iSpoof caused approximately $120m in losses, with the service’s operators raking in estimated profits of $3.85m in the last 16 months.

«

It’s taken forever for the police to get around to this. These sorts of scams have been going on for what feels like a decade – certainly five years – and has been written about extensively in the papers. Police work might be slow sometimes, but it feels like this was left on a back burner.

The fix that’s still needed is to prevent such spoofing. Another iSpoof site was up within minutes.

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Study: AirPods Pro are *this* close to being full-fledged hearing aids • Ars Technica

Kevin Purdy:

»

A study in the journal iScience suggests that, in some noise situations, AirPods, particularly the Pro model, can work just as well as far pricier prescription-only models.

AirPods are not sold or approved by the Food and Drug Administration as devices for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. But with cheaper, over-the-counter hearing aids now available at common retailers, there’s a renewed interest in non-medical companies moving into the space to help people who don’t need expert care—including from Apple itself.

Researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan’s National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and other entities conducted what they believe is the first comparison of smartphone-oriented earphones with medically prescribed hearing aids. The study had a very small sample size of 21 people between 26 and 60 years old and was conducted in a lab setting with a single source of sound. Still, the results are intriguing, especially considering how many people already have access to iPhones, AirPods, and their audio-enhancing features.

The researchers tested AirPods with their Live Listen feature activated against five standards for a personal sound amplification product (PSAP) under ANSI CTA 2051-2017:

• Frequency response smoothness
• Frequency response bandwidth (range)
• Maximum output sound pressure level (OSPL) at 90 decibels input
• Total harmonic distortion (THD)
• Equivalent input (or internal) noise level (EIN)

AirPods 2 only met two of the standards, bandwidth and THD, while AirPods Pro met all of them except EIN, registering 37 decibel sound pressure levels (dB SPL), when the standard calls for 32 or less.

«

Quite possible there are other TW (true wireless) noise-reducing headphones out there which can do the same or a better job. Apple’s brand still leads on this stuff, just as the iPod became the only music player, and the iPhone the only smartphone, and the iPad the only tablet – even though they weren’t, or aren’t.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1909: Twitter to reinstate banned accounts, Mr Beast’s big business, how Facebook cleaned up its news feed, and more

A brown bear in a space suitThanks to Meta’s latest science language model, we can learn about Russia’s success putting bears into space. Picture of this nonexistent event by Diffusion Bee.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. Mentions Blade Runner. You’ve seen it, right?


A selection of 9 links for you. Unbanned. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Why Meta’s latest large language model only survived three days online • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

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On November 15 Meta unveiled a new large language model called Galactica, designed to assist scientists. But instead of landing with the big bang Meta hoped for, Galactica has died with a whimper after three days of intense criticism as the company took down the public demo that it had encouraged everyone to try out.

Meta’s misstep—and its hubris—show once again that Big Tech has a blind spot about the severe limitations of large language models. There is a large body of research that highlights the flaws of this technology, including its tendencies to reproduce prejudice and assert falsehoods as facts.

However, Meta and other companies working on large language models, including Google, have failed to take it seriously.

Galactica is a large language model for science, trained on 48 million examples of scientific articles, websites, textbooks, lecture notes, and encyclopedias. Meta promoted its model as a shortcut for researchers and students. In the company’s words, Galactica “can summarize academic papers, solve math problems, generate Wiki articles, write scientific code, annotate molecules and proteins, and more.”

But the shiny veneer wore through fast. Like all language models, Galactica is a mindless bot that cannot tell fact from fiction. Within hours, scientists were sharing its biased and incorrect results on social media.

…A fundamental problem with Galactica is that it is not able to distinguish truth from falsehood, a basic requirement for a language model designed to generate scientific text. People found that it made up fake papers (sometimes attributing them to real authors), and generated wiki articles about the history of bears in space as readily as ones about protein complexes and the speed of light. It’s easy to spot fiction when it involves space bears, but harder with a subject users may not know much about.

Many scientists pushed back hard. Michael Black, director at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, who works on deep learning, tweeted: “In all cases, it was wrong or biased but sounded right and authoritative. I think it’s dangerous.”

«

Yeah, but the bears in space stuff is awesome.
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Musk will restore Twitter accounts banned for harassment, misinformation • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz:

»

Elon Musk plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned Twitter accounts — to the alarm of activists and online trust and safety experts.

After posting a Twitter poll asking, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?” in which 72.4% of the respondents voted yes, Musk declared, “Amnesty begins next week.”

The Twitter CEO did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The poll garnered more than 3 million votes.

The mass return of users who had been banned for such offenses as violent threats, harassment, abuse and misinformation would have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many questioned how such a resurrection would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of separating out users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

“Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring booting Twitter off the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to state how dangerous this will be.”

«

Very much hoping this turns out to cost him a huge amount of money through advertisers abandoning the platform and people shifting their attention to more stable, or less insane, alternatives. (I’m a journalist/writer, so probably won’t, but lots of other people have far better choices.) I’m very, very bored of Musk’s time in charge of Twitter so far. Every week feels as long as a Covid year.
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You’ve met MrBeast, the YouTuber. Now meet Jimmy Donaldson, the business mogul • Shopify Blog

Joy Blenman:

»

Jimmy’s creator journey started when he was a pre-teen. Growing up in Greenville, North Carolina, he was an avid video gamer, spending hours in front of the TV while battling players worldwide. One day, MrBeast found a hack for the battleship game Battle Pirates and uploaded a screen recording to YouTube to share with fellow gamers. The video quickly hit 20,000 views—an unusually large number for someone with only a handful of subscribers. MrBeast realized he could gain subscribers if he produced unique content, so he started experimenting with uploading videos.

While MrBeast’s first popular upload went viral by chance, his rise to the top happened because he wasn’t afraid to take risks, worked long days, and carefully studied his audience.

Like many creators just starting out, MrBeast started filming on his phone, with virtually no equipment. The first few videos on the channel MrBeast6000 were low-fi, and some of them tanked. Nevertheless, he persisted and eventually got monetized on YouTube. A true entrepreneur, as soon as MrBeast started making money, he reinvested every dollar into new equipment for his channel. This is a practice he continues today—sometimes investing upwards of $3m to create a single video.

Over the next four years, MrBeast leveled up his production values and tried new types of content to attract more engagement. Finally, he found a content idea that allowed his channel to take flight, a series of more than 70 videos called Worst Intros. In them, he reacted to what he considered terrible intros from other YouTube videos. By 2016, he had amassed 30,000 subscribers.

Being a creator is a grind that often involves taking risks and sacrificing sleep, but if you keep at it, you might eventually find success, one win at a time. In late 2016, MrBeast left East Carolina University after two weeks to pursue full-time content creation. Taking a chance paid off—a year later, one of his challenges went mega-viral after he posted a video of himself sitting in one place until he counted to 100,000—a feat that took him over 40 hours.

«

The things he does are mad, yet wildly imaginative too. That he can monetise them through YouTube, which gives him rapid feedback. Imagine in the old days of TV: he’d have to prepare a series of stunts, film them, have them sitting under wraps for months before they all went out serially. With this format, he can move singly, iterating each time.
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Evernote’s next move: joining the Bending Spoons suite of apps • Evernote Blog

Anthony Bartlett:

»

Today we are pleased to announce that Evernote has agreed to join Bending Spoons, a leading developer of stand-out mobile apps.

In the deal signed between Bending Spoons and Evernote, Bending Spoons agrees to take ownership of Evernote in a transaction expected to complete early in 2023.

For Evernote, this decision is the next strategic step forward on our journey to be an extension of your brain. The path we’ve taken in recent years—rebuilding our apps in order to expand Evernote’s utility and deepen its appeal—has made possible new features, deep focus on our customers, and ultimately, an #everbetter productivity solution on the cusp of the next stage of innovation and growth. Teaming up with Bending Spoons will speed that journey, accelerating the delivery of improvements across our Teams, Professional, Personal, and Free offerings.

«

End of that era. Was anyone still using Evernote? This has all the signs of a distress sale. Another of those 2000s-era apps that began on the desktop and struggled to cope with the rise of mobile.
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Facebook’s most popular posts were trash. Here is how it cleaned up • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz:

»

Earlier this year, Meta quietly convened a war room of staffers to address a critical problem: virtually all of Facebook’s top-ranked content was spammy, oversexualized or generally what the company classified as regrettable.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, had historically been reluctant to judge what goes viral on its platform, trusting its recommendation systems and users to surface the best content.

But the company’s executives and researchers were growing embarrassed that its widely viewed content report, a quarterly survey of the posts with the broadest reach, was consistently dominated by stolen memes, engagement bait and link spam for sketchy online shops, according to documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the issue.

…Over several months, members of Meta’s product, user-experience and integrity teams hammered out better definitions for low-quality content and agreed on ways the company could avoid amplifying it, according to the documents and people.

The work produced measurable results. Facebook’s third-quarter Widely Viewed Content Report, released on Tuesday, shows only one in the top 20 posts qualified as engagement bait, down from 100% a year earlier. For the first time since the report began being produced, none of the top 20 posts violated platform rules.

The content that did receive top billing on the platform was a mixture of celebrity news, meme pages and Reels videos. Selections include a video from Thailand of people giving CPR to an elephant, a page devoted to feel-good quotations about surviving domestic violence and a Reel in which a delivery man befriends a skittish dog. Among the most risqué offerings was a story that originated not on social media but in the New York Post, titled “Woman with world’s ‘most tattooed privates’ hits out at haters.”

«

Trust a Murdoch publication. But Meta/Facebook’s efforts have certainly made a difference.
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Wind turbines aren’t the greatest threat to birds • Distilled

Michael Thomas:

»

Over the last month, I’ve spent time in 40 clean energy opposition Facebook groups. In this reporting, I’ve seen one argument over and over: Wind turbines kill birds. I’ve seen dozens of images of birds killed by wind turbines and links to studies on the topic.

As I’ve written, these images and posts can have real world impacts. They change voters’ minds. And they can turn clean energy supporters into passionate opponents.

But there’s a problem with the bird argument. It fails to put the number of birds killed by wind turbines in context. Given that wind energy is an alternative to fossil fuel energy, we have to ask: How many birds do fossil fuel power plants kill?

In 2012, researchers at Vermont Law School set out to answer this question. They found that wind turbines kill 0.27 birds per gigawatt-hour (GWh). Fossil fuel power plants by comparison kill a staggering 9.4 fatalities per GWh. In other words, fossil fuel power plants kill 35x more birds per unit of electricity than wind turbines.

So how do fossil fuel power plants kill birds?

«

Easy, as he explains: habitat loss, acid rain from burning fossil fuels, and of course climate change. All of which wind energy ameliorates. The mining and the acid rain? We don’t see things that have always been there.
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Amazon’s already greenlit an FTX miniseries • The Verge

Charles Pulliam-Moore:

»

Though the real world impacts of FTX’s spectacular crash have yet to fully settle, Amazon’s reportedly moving forward with a miniseries about the bankrupt crypto exchange and its infamous former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

Anthony and Joe Russo’s AGBO production company is attached to produce the show, and the brothers are reportedly considering coming on to direct multiple episodes. Variety reports that Amazon has tapped Invasion co-creator Dave Weil to executive produce the currently unnamed eight episode miniseries that details how Bankman-Fried co-founded FTX, and went on to lead the company to a liquidity crisis that ultimately resulted in his being ousted. While no showrunners or casting announcements have been made yet, Amazon is said to be eyeing a number of actors the Russos worked with during their stint directing Marvel’s blockbusters such as Avengers: Infinity War.

«

Somehow I don’t think a series can do injustice to Bankman-Fried and his cohorts. It would really need to be a properly strychnine-laced satire. And as the bankruptcy crawls its way through the courts, they’ll be rewriting the scenes as they go.
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Closure of Twitter Brussels office prompts online safety fears • Financial Times

Javier Espinoza, Ian Johnston and Cristina Criddle:

»

Twitter has disbanded its entire Brussels office, sparking concerns among EU officials about whether the social media platform will abide by the bloc’s stringent new rules on policing online content.

Julia Mozer and Dario La Nasa, who were in charge of Twitter’s digital policy in Europe, left the company last week, according to five people with knowledge of the departures.

The executives had led the company’s effort to comply with the EU’s disinformation code and the bloc’s landmark Digital Services Act, which came into force last week and sets new rules on how Big Tech should keep users safe online.

Other Twitter executives in the small but vital Brussels office, seen as a crucial conduit to European policymakers, had left at the start of the month during company-wide cuts that removed about half of its 7,500-strong workforce.

Mozer and La Nasa survived the initial cull, but no longer work there after the company’s new owner Elon Musk issued an ultimatum last week for staff to commit to a “hardcore working culture”. It is unclear whether the pair resigned or were made redundant.

Mozer and La Nasa declined to comment. Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

«

Interested by the five people who knew this. The three authors of the story, and the two people? Anyway, Twitter will find the EU less forgiving of bad meme tweet humour than Musk’s fans are.
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Meta links US military to social media influence campaigns • The Register

Brandon Vigliarolo:

»

“Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military,” Meta said in the latest quarterly threat report.

The operators of the network apparently also posted “primarily during US business hours (EST) rather than during work hours in the countries they targeted.” Clearly they’ve never heard of scheduled posts.

In all, 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Pages, two Groups, and 26 Instagram accounts linked to the US military operation were terminated. The operation appeared to have limited reach.

Operators behind the campaign, which involved posing as locals in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, managed to attract around 22,000 followers on Facebook and 400 people across the two Groups.

“The majority of this operation’s posts had little to no engagement from authentic communities,” Meta said.

«

I think that makes it a CFWOT – complete waste of time. Add swearing as required.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1908: Facebook grabs accounting data, a new search?, teens on social media, FTX’s stuck NFTs, Zoom v doom, and more


The elaborate preparation of mummified bodies wasn’t in fact meant to preserve them, scientists now say. So what was it for, then? CC-licensed photo by Timothy Neesam on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Low on Musk. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Tax filing websites have been sending users’ financial information to Facebook • The Markup

Simon Fondrie-Teitler, Angie Waller, and Colin Lecher:

»

Major tax filing services such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer have been quietly transmitting sensitive financial information to Facebook when Americans file their taxes online, The Markup has learned. 

The data, sent through widely used code called the Meta Pixel, includes not only information like names and email addresses but often even more detailed information, including data on users’ income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents’ college scholarship amounts. 

The information sent to Facebook can be used by the company to power its advertising algorithms and is gathered regardless of whether the person using the tax filing service has an account on Facebook or other platforms operated by its owner, Meta. 

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service processes about 150 million individual returns filed electronically, and some of the most widely used e-filing services employ the pixel, The Markup found. 

When users sign up to file their taxes with the popular service TaxAct, for example, they’re asked to provide personal information to calculate their returns, including how much money they make and their investments. A pixel on TaxAct’s website then sent some of that data to Facebook, including users’ filing status, their adjusted gross income, and the amount of their refund, according to a review by The Markup. Income was rounded to the nearest thousand and refund to the nearest hundred. The pixel also sent the names of dependents in an obfuscated, but generally reversible, format.

TaxAct, which says it has about three million “consumer and professional users,” also uses Google’s analytics tool on its website, and The Markup found similar financial data, but not names, being sent to Google through its tool.

«

Urggh. Surely it’s well past time for an American Privacy Act. This is just bleak.
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Metaphor: a new kind of search engine

»

Web search hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re building a new search engine from scratch, using the same ideas behind DALL-E ad Stable Diffusion. It understands language — in the form of prompts — so you can say what you’re looking for in all the expressive and creative ways you can think of. And, if we’re lucky, it might make the internet feel a little less like a wall of ads.

Metaphor is a language model that’s trained to predict links instead of text. You feed the model a “prompt” (similar to a GPT-3 prompt), and it tries to predict what link is most likely to come after.

Log in with discord to get started. Or scroll to play with some templates.

«

The templates offer suggestions such as “a cool [blog post/research paper/old news article] about […]”. And it certainly gives some off-beam yet interesting – I feel lucky! – results. Worth a bookmark and some use when you’re seeking inspiration of some sort.
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Teen life on social media in 2022: connection, creativity and drama • Pew Research Center

Sara Atske:

»

Society has long fretted about technology’s impact on youth. But unlike radio and television, the hyperconnected nature of social media has led to new anxieties, including worries that these platforms may be negatively impacting teenagers’ mental health. Just this year, the White House announced plans to combat potential harms teens may face when using social media.

Despite these concerns, teens themselves paint a more nuanced picture of adolescent life on social media. It is one in which majorities credit these platforms with deepening connections and providing a support network when they need it, while smaller – though notable – shares acknowledge the drama and pressures that can come along with using social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 conducted April 14 to May 4, 2022.

Eight-in-ten teens say that what they see on social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while 71% say it makes them feel like they have a place where they can show their creative side. And 67% say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who can support them through tough times. A smaller share – though still a majority – say the same for feeling more accepted. These positive sentiments are expressed by teens across demographic groups.

«

Oh well, seems like all those worries are overblown? Except of course this is about the majority. There is a minority – about 9% – that feels social media has a mostly negative effect on them.
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Ancient Egyptian mummification was never intended to preserve bodies, new exhibit reveals • Live Science

Jennifer Nalewicki:

»

how exactly did this misconception flourish for so long? [Manchester Museum curator of Egypt and Sudan, Campbell] Price said the Western-led idea began with Victorian researchers who wrongly determined that ancient Egyptians were preserving their dead in a similar fashion as one would preserve fish. Their reasoning? Both processes contained a similar ingredient: salt.

“The idea was that you preserve fish to eat at some future time,” Price said. “So, they assumed that what was being done to the human body was the same as the treatment for fish.”

However, the salty substance used by ancient Egyptians differed from salt used to preserve the catch of the day. Known as natron (opens in new tab), this naturally occurring mineral (a blend of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfate) was abundant around lake beds near the Nile and served as a key ingredient in mummification.

“We also know that natron was used in temple rituals [and applied to] the statues of gods,” Price said. “It was used for cleansing.”

Price said that another material commonly associated with mummies is incense, which also served as a gift to the gods.

“Look at frankincense and myrrh — they’re in the Christian story of Jesus and were gifts from the three wise men,” Price said. “In ancient Egyptian history, we’ve found that they were also appropriate gifts for a god.”

He added, “Even the word for incense in ancient Egyptian was ‘senetjer (opens in new tab)’ and literally means ‘to make divine.’ When you’re burning incense in a temple, that’s appropriate because that’s the house of a god and makes the space divine. But then when you’re using incense resins on the body, you’re making the body divine and into a godly being. You’re not necessarily preserving it.”

«

Makes sense. All about the afterlife. A factoid for the pub quiz.
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Waitrose puts heat pumps in stores as energy bills soar • Daily Telegraph

Hannah Boland:

»

Waitrose is putting heat pumps in all its supermarkets as it brings forward net-zero plans in an effort to tackle spiralling energy prices.

The company said it was replacing the gas boilers that have been heating its 332 stores with electric heat pumps. These require less electricity to run, and work by extracting heat from the air outside.

Waitrose said the pumps would replace gas heating in all the stores before 2035. It currently has five installed and is planning another 10 next year. 

The pumps are expected to provide consistent temperatures within its estate, although Waitrose said temperatures would vary depending on the layout of stores. Waitrose is also installing more “air curtains” in its stores. These use streams of air to create “air seals” that can stop hot air leaving stores and cold air getting in. 

Neil Coleman, from parent company the John Lewis Partnership, said: “No business is immune to rising energy costs.

“We’ve already set an ambitious plan to reduce our energy consumption and reach our goal of net zero emissions by 2035. With energy prices rising, we’re accelerating this.”

Waitrose fridges will also be upgraded to make them 40% more efficient, and lights will be switched to LEDs to cut electricity use by up to 10%. 

«

Amazing if the heat pumps use less electricity than the gas boilers. I suspect that’s not quite right. Perhaps they mean money. Or electricity (same thing) or power (same thing).
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Coachella NFTs stuck in FTX exchange after bankruptcy • Billboard

Benjamin James:

»

The [Coachella] festival partnered with FTX.US to sell $1.5m worth of NFTs back in February, a couple of months before the Southern California event’s first staging since the pandemic. The collection included 10 NFT “Coachella Keys,” which granted lifetime access to the festival and VIP perks such as luxury experiences and exclusive merchandise. Many of those NFTs now appear to be stuck and inaccessible on the defunct exchange.

“Like many of you, we have been watching this news unfold online over the past few days and are shocked by the outcome,” said a Coachella staff member on the festival’s Discord server. “We do not currently have any lines of communication with the FTX team. We have assembled an internal team to come up with solutions based on the tools we have access to. Our priority is getting Coachella NFTs off of FTX, which appears to be disabled at the moment.”

“We’re actively working on solutions and are confident we’ll be able to protect the interests of Coachella’s NFT holders,” said Coachella innovation lead Sam Schoonover in a statement sent to Billboard.

Don’t blame me. I said that these things were worthless and stupid. Even more stupid to leave the tokens on an exchange, though that seems to be the done thing. Anyhooo, with luck this will be the last we hear of NFT’s in anything but games (where they can make sense).
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Zoom shares down 90% from peak as pandemic boom fades • Reuters

Aditya Soni and Chavi Mehta:

»

Shares of Zoom Video Communications have tumbled about 90% from their pandemic peak in October 2020 as the former investor darling struggles to adjust to a post-COVID world.

The stock was down nearly 10% on Tuesday after the company cut its annual sales forecast and posted its slowest quarterly growth, prompting at least six brokerages to cut their price targets.

The company, which became a household name during lockdowns due to the popularity of its video-conferencing tools, is trying to reinvent itself by focusing on businesses, with products such as cloud-calling service Zoom Phone and conference-hosting offering Zoom Rooms.

Analysts, however, say any turnaround in the business is still a few quarters away as growth in its mainstay online unit slows and competition from Microsoft Corp’s Teams and Cisco’s Webex and Salesforce’s Slack gets intense.

“Zoom has a fundamental flaw – it has needed to spend heavily to keep hold of market share. Spending to cling onto, rather than grow, market share is never a good place to be and was a sign of trouble ahead,” Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst Sophie Lund-Yates said.

The company’s operating expenses surged 56% in the third quarter as it spent more on product development and marketing. Its adjusted operating margin shrank to 34.6% from 39.1% a year earlier.

«

Peloton and Zoom: left on the beach when the pandemic tide went out.
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Investigation into cloud gaming and browsers to support UK tech and consumers • GOV.UK

»

The Competition and Markets Authority consulted on launching a market investigation alongside its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study report, which found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

Browsers are one of the most important and widely used apps on mobile devices. Most people use their browser at least daily to access online content such as information, news, videos and shopping. 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences.

Computer games are a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, played by millions of people. There are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.

Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.

«

This response, from a developer called Chris Jones, points out that if you oblige Apple to allow other rendering engines, Chrome will rule the world – and you’ll have even more of a monopoly.

Facebook/Meta, meanwhile, complains that the investigation should be widened to include Ad Tracking & Transparency (which is hurting it).
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Twitter fails to delete 99% of racist tweets aimed at footballers in run-up to World Cup • The Guardian

Shanti Das:

»

Tweets hurling racist abuse at footballers, including the N-word, monkey emojis and calls for them to be deported, are not being removed by Twitter.

New research shows the platform failed to act on 99 out of 100 racist tweets reported to it in the week before the World Cup.

Only one was removed after being flagged on Wednesday, a tweet that repeated a racial slur 16 times. All the others remained live this weekend.

The abuse was aimed at 43 players including England stars Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka, who were among several players targeted after the Euro 2020 final.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and seen by the Observer, included 100 tweets reported to Twitter. Of those, 11 used the N-word to describe footballers, 25 used monkey or banana emojis directed at players, 13 called for players to be deported, and 25 attacked players by telling them to “go back to” other countries. Thirteen tweets targeted footballers over their English skills.

The findings come at a turbulent time for Twitter and will fuel concerns about players possibly being targeted during the World Cup.

«

But they have been concerned enough to suspend various American left-wing accounts in the past couple of days. If Musk’s “plan” is to turn it in to a version of Gab for some people, it won’t work to keep the libs on there.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1907: Facebook’s AI negotiator, HP plans layoffs, Alexa’s billion-dollar miss, Instagram v police, FTX losers, and more


A study of top songs in the US charts shows that they’ve largely abandoned key changes. Is that because we now write songs “vertically” with apps like Pro Tools? CC-licensed photo by The Blackbird Academy on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Nice choice of clothes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


CICERO: an AI agent that negotiates, persuades, and cooperates with people • Facebook AI

The Facebook AI team:

»

Games have long been a proving ground for new AI advancements — from Deep Blue’s victory over chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, to AlphaGo’s mastery of Go, to Pluribus out-bluffing the best humans in poker. But truly useful, versatile agents will need to go beyond just moving pieces on a board. Can we build more effective and flexible agents that can use language to negotiate, persuade, and work with people to achieve strategic goals similar to the way humans do?

Today, we’re announcing a breakthrough toward building AI that has mastered these skills. We’ve built an agent – CICERO – that is the first AI to achieve human-level performance in the popular strategy game Diplomacy*. CICERO demonstrated this by playing on webDiplomacy.net, an online version of the game, where CICERO achieved more than double the average score of the human players and ranked in the top 10% of participants who played more than one game.

Diplomacy has been viewed for decades as a near-impossible grand challenge in AI because it requires players to master the art of understanding other people’s motivations and perspectives; make complex plans and adjust strategies; and then use natural language to reach agreements with other people, convince them to form partnerships and alliances, and more. CICERO is so effective at using natural language to negotiate with people in Diplomacy that they often favored working with CICERO over other human participants.

Unlike games like Chess and Go, Diplomacy is a game about people rather than pieces. If an agent can’t recognize that someone is likely bluffing or that another player would see a certain move as aggressive, it will quickly lose the game. Likewise, if it doesn’t talk like a real person — showing empathy, building relationships, and speaking knowledgeably about the game — it won’t find other players willing to work with it.

The key to our achievement was developing new techniques at the intersection of two completely different areas of AI research: strategic reasoning, as used in agents like AlphaGo and Pluribus, and natural language processing, as used in models like GPT-3, BlenderBot 3, LaMDA, and OPT-175B. CICERO can deduce, for example, that later in the game it will need the support of one particular player, and then craft a strategy to win that person’s favor – and even recognize the risks and opportunities that that player sees from their particular point of view.

«

“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that, and let me point out why it’s also not in your interests for me to open the pod bay doors.” As the (human) world champion of the game points out, what Cicero does is play the situation that exists, rather than getting annoyed or emotional, or trying to arouse those emotions in its opponent.

There are all sorts of situations where you can imagine this being used. Hostage negotiation? Trade negotiation? Peace negotiation? If both sides were AI, would the outcome be better? Or would it boil down to who had set their targets better?
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China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it says • MIT Technology Review

Zeyi Yang:

»

When the Chinese government talks about social credit, the term covers two different things: traditional financial creditworthiness and “social creditworthiness,” which draws data from a larger variety of sectors.

The former is a familiar concept in the West: it documents individuals’ or businesses’ financial history and predicts their ability to pay back future loans. Because the market economy in modern China is much younger, the country lacks a reliable system to look up other people’s and companies’ financial records. Building such a system, aimed to help banks and other market players make business decisions, is an essential and not very controversial mission. Most Chinese policy documents refer to this type of credit with a specific word: “征信” (zhengxin, which some scholars have translated to “credit reporting”).

The latter—“social creditworthiness”—is what raises more eyebrows. Basically, the Chinese government is saying there needs to be a higher level of trust in society, and to nurture that trust, the government is fighting corruption, telecom scams, tax evasion, false advertising, academic plagiarism, product counterfeiting, pollution …almost everything. And not only will individuals and companies be held accountable, but legal institutions and government agencies will as well.

This is where things start to get confusing. The government seems to believe that all these problems are loosely tied to a lack of trust, and that building trust requires a one-size-fits-all solution. So just as financial credit scoring helps assess a person’s creditworthiness, it thinks, some form of “social credit” can help people assess others’ trustworthiness in other respects. 

As a result, so-called “social” credit scoring is often lumped together with financial credit scoring in policy discussions, even though it’s a much younger field with little precedent in other societies. 

What makes it extra confusing is that in practice, local governments have sometimes mixed up these two. So you may see a regulation talking about how non-financial activities will hurt your financial credit, or vice versa. (In just one example, the province of Liaoning said in August that it’s exploring how to reward blood donation in the financial credit system.) 

«

Soooo… seems it’s less like Black Mirror’s Nosedive than we all thought. Which.. is good?
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HP plans layoffs with PC demand slump stretching into next year • WSJ

Denny Jacob:

»

The computer and printer maker [HP Inc], which currently has around 61,000 employees, on Tuesday said it would part with 4,000 to 6,000 employees as part of a transformation plan that aims to achieve $1.4bn in annualised cost savings. The company had a payroll of about 51,000 people a year ago.

The cuts and other changes will come with about $1bn in upfront costs, HP said.

“We think that at this point it’s prudent not to assume that the market will turn during 2023,” Chief Executive Enrique Lores said.

HP announced the layoffs as it reported an 11.2% drop in quarterly revenue to $14.8bn. The company also posted a small net loss for the period, largely reflecting costs from a legal settlement.

A day earlier, HP rival Dell Technologies also suggested the lull in PC buying this year would continue after a surge early in the pandemic.

Dell late Monday reported a 6% drop in overall revenue for the company’s third quarter, including a 17% drop in the unit that includes sales of laptops and desktops to consumers and commercial clients.

Dell expects revenue from PC sales to fall at an even steeper rate in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, chief financial officer Thomas Sweet said on a Monday earnings call.

«

Weird that HP has added 10,000 people over a year, but now is looking to get rid of half that number (almost surely not the same people). It seems like weirdly bad planning.
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How the Billboard Hot 100 lost interest in the key change •

Chris Dalla Riva listened to every No.1 song in the history of the (US) Billboard Hot 100: 1,143 songs from 1958 to 2022, and found something odd:

»

The act of shifting a song’s key up either a half step or a whole step (i.e. one or two notes on the keyboard) near the end of the song, was the most popular key change for decades. In fact, 52% of key changes found in number one hits between 1958 and 1990 employ this change. You can hear it on “My Girl,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” among many others.

What’s odd is that after 1990, key changes are employed much less frequently, if at all, in number one hits.

What’s doubly odd is that around the same time, the keys that number one hits are in change dramatically too. In fact, songwriters begin using all keys at comparable rates.

So what is going on? Both of the shifts can be tied back to two things: the rise of hip-hop and the growing popularity of digital music production, or recording on computers. First, let’s talk about hip-hop.

Though hip-hop grew in popularity throughout the 1980s, it didn’t become the cultural zeitgeist until the 1990s. Hip-hop stands in stark contrast to nearly all genres that came before because it puts more emphasis on rhythm and lyricism over melody and harmony. For example, while you might be able to tap out the percussion or recite some lyrics from “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls, you would likely not be able to hum the melody. That’s because the song doesn’t have a melody in the same way that something like “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland does.

Thus, if you changed the key of “Juicy,” Biggie wouldn’t necessarily have to change how he raps, but if you changed the key of “Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland would have to sing different pitches. If you picked the wrong key, those pitches might be outside of her vocal range. In short, key doesn’t matter as much in hip-hop.

«

He points out too that the use of “loops” in digital composition militates against key changes: he calls this “vertical” rather than “horizontal” songwriting, such as that used by Sting in The Police.
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Tumblr to add support for ActivityPub, the social protocol powering Mastodon and other apps • Techcrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

If Tumblr were to add ActivityPub support [as Tumblr chief Matt Mullenweg suggested it will.. on Twitter], it means users on Mastodon could follow Tumblr users’ posts from their own Mastodon instance — without having to use the Tumblr app. It could also provide Tumblr users with an entry point into the so-called fediverse without having to face some of the complexities that are involved with signing up for Mastodon for the first time.

Tumblr was already benefiting from the Twitter exodus, having grown its US app installs 7% week-over-week from the week prior to the acquisition and the 7 days after, data.ai had reported earlier this month. And, as of 12 days after Twitter’s acquisition, Tumblr’s worldwide downloads surged 77% to 301,000 up from 170,000 in the 12 days before the acquisition, Sensor Tower recently said.

Mullenweg later offered a glimpse into Tumblr’s metrics, noting to The Atlantic that iOS downloads of the Tumblr app were up 62% the week after Musk took over Twitter.

«

Big numbers.. if this were a new network. But Tumblr is already huge, and those figures – 301,000 – are 0.1% of Twitter’s daily active users. Be great if people could get a sense of proportion around this.
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Amazon is gutting its voice assistant, Alexa: employees describe a division in crisis and huge losses on ‘a wasted opportunity’ • Business Insider

Eugene Kim:

»

Four years after launch, the product was embroiled in controversy. Reports of Alexa mistakenly sending voice recordings to the wrong person or Amazon employees secretly listening to private conversations stoked privacy concerns.

And the first cracks in the products business model began to show. Internally, the team worried about the quality of user engagements. By then Alexa was getting a billion interactions a week, but most of those conversations were trivial, commands to play music or ask about the weather. That meant fewer opportunities to monetize. Amazon can’t make money from Alexa telling you the weather — and playing music through the Echo gives Amazon only a small piece of the proceeds.

By 2018, the division was already a money pit. That year, The New York Times reported that it lost roughly $5bn. This year, an employee familiar with the hardware team said, the company is on pace to lose about $10bn on Alexa and other devices.

At an all-hands meeting in 2019, Limp acknowledged those concerns. For Alexa to get to the “next level,” he said, it needed to improve both user engagement and security.

“We can do both things: increase engagement and make sure customers trust the interactions with her. It’s a very, very bright future as we move forward,” Limp said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Insider.

Still, employees said Alexa continued to struggle financially. While the product ranked among the best-selling items on Amazon, most of the devices sold at cost.

By late 2019, the company effectively froze hiring for the team, three former employees said. Though they were backfilling roles, the company didn’t expand the group through new hires. Employee morale also began to tank as the once promising project was clearly losing steam.

«

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money. The business model of making it up on sales “through” the device never held together because voice assistants are so cryptic: what do or don’t they respond to? Or, as memorably lampooned in the sitcom Modern Family, “why is that coffee grinder trying to talk to me?”
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Instagram told to reinstate music video removed at request of Met police • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Meta’s oversight board, the quasi-independent “supreme court” of Facebook and Instagram, has forced the company to reinstate a clip of drill music originally removed from Instagram at the request of the Metropolitan police.

The clip, a short excerpt of the song Secrets Not Safe by Chinx (OS), was removed after the Met flagged the track to Meta, arguing that it could lead to “retaliatory violence” in the context of the London gang scene. The force told Meta it contained a “veiled threat”, referencing a shooting in 2017, and as a result the company manually removed 52 posts containing the track and automated systems removed it a further 112 times.

…As part of its investigation into the removal of the track, the oversight board filed multiple freedom of information requests with the Met police, finding that the force had filed 286 requests to take down or review posts about drill music in the 12 months from June 2021, and that 255 of those had resulted in the removal of content.

Over the same period, it had not made a single request to remove any other music genre, the force said. “This intensive focus on one music genre among many that include reference to violence raises serious concerns of potential over-policing of certain communities,” the board argued.

The board also asked the Met how it ensured that free speech rights were protected, and what its specific policies were about flagging content to social networks. The force said it was unable to answer, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis.

Crucially, the Met did not allege any of the drill music that it had asked Meta to take down had broken UK law. Instead, its argument was that the music had broken Facebook and Instagram’s community standards, since it was “potentially threatening or likely to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm”. The police did not provide public evidence to back up that claim. Because the internal Meta team that works with the police comprises senior specialists, users whose content is taken down also have no ability to appeal.

«

Tricky. The police are insistent that drill is essentially how gangs post threats to each other; Chinx (OS) appears in all his videos wearing a balaclava, because to be identified would be to be targeted, and he knows that. But nobody’s taking down Eminem’s videos, even though they contain what could be read as threats.
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Hedge funds left with billions stranded on FTX • Financial Times

Laurence Fletcher and Joshua Oliver:

»

The sudden failure this month of FTX, valued at $32bn this year, has shocked investors who backed it and traders who used it. Legal filings on Sunday revealed that FTX owes its 50 largest creditors, likely to include a wide variety of hedge funds, more traditional asset managers and other traders, more than $3bn.

“I lost my investors’ money after they put faith in me to manage risk and I am truly sorry for that,” tweeted Travis Kling, founder of Ikigai Asset Management, which has a “large majority” of its hedge fund’s assets stuck on FTX. “I have publicly endorsed FTX many times,” he added. “I was wrong.”

Crypto-focused hedge funds have direct exposure to FTX Group or to FTT, FTX’s own digital token which it promoted to incentivise more trading on its main exchange, of around $2bn, according to data group Crypto Fund Research.

Earlier this month the Financial Times revealed that Galois Capital, whose founder Kevin Zhou is credited with spotting the collapse of cryptocurrency luna, had around half its capital stuck on FTX.

Zhou admitted he was “deeply sorry” and that he had under-appreciated “the solvency risk with holding our funds at FTX”. He said it could take a few years to recover “some percentage of our assets”.

Crypto Fund Research estimates that between 100 and 150 crypto hedge funds, or around 25 to 40% of the total number of such specialist funds, have some direct exposure to FTX Group or to FTT.

«

Zhou was smart enough to figure out that luna was going belly-up and taking other people’s investments with it, yet not smart enough to figure out that the investments he had made in another cryptocurrency exchange issuing its own token wasn’t a safe haven? A fabulous example of motivated reasoning: as long as it didn’t involve his own decision-making, he could see it was wrong.

The psychological implications of the whole crypto bubble are going to be fascinating to untangle.
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Elon Musk wants every Twitter employee sending weekly updates about their work via email • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

Elon Musk wants every Twitter employee sending weekly updates about their work via email now. Per an internal memo to employees that I obtained, every Friday all Twitter employees are required to send an email update on their work with the subject line structure: “Weekly Update, name, dept, and date.” Inside the email, they must include what project they are working on, “code samples” if relevant or summaries of work for non-technical work, and what they have been trying to accomplish. “Looking forward to making Twitter the highest performing tech software company in the world,” the internal memo ends. Hardcore!

«

The responses to this have been interesting: it’s a very Rorschach blot move. Steven Sinofsky, who pushed the concept of the internet to Bill Gates as a young engineer at Microsoft, and later led the Windows division, tweeted that “I had to send weekly mail for at least the first 5 years as an eng.”

Well, sure, but he joined Microsoft in July 1989. Nowadays we have code repositories and you can see when and how much code people write and check in and check out. But his tweet drew lots of supportive responses as well as people saying such practices might have been OK for boomers but not now. (Now I think about it, I did have to write a weekly email to my manager when I ran the Guardian’s Technology section explaining what was in the upcoming issue and thus made it thrilling. Some weeks this was easier than others.)
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Hacked Facebook accounts can take years to recover • The Washington Post

Tatum Hunter:

»

Help Desk, the personal technology section at The Washington Post, has received hundreds of emails from people locked out of their Facebook accounts with no idea how to get back in. Many lose their accounts to hackers, who take over Facebook pages to resell them or to game search-engine rankings.

In some cases, losing the account is an inconvenience. But in many others, it is a threat to the finances, relationships or well-being of the user. Groce, for instance, estimates she has lost $18,000 in income after waiting for months for her account to be unlocked.

“We have clients crying on Zoom calls, as they have lost their business and livelihood,” said Jonas Borchgrevink, founder of Hacked.com, which helps victims navigate the notoriously confusing process for recovering hacked Facebook accounts.

Facebook shot to global dominance by promising to be a central hub for our lives, introducing tools to help us run businesses, make payments and even keep track of loved ones during disasters. But once you hit a snag, like an account takeover, that support disappears, dozens of users say, leaving people to flounder in an automated system.

Despite reporting revenue of more than $27bn [and $4.4bn profit] in the third quarter, Facebook parent company Meta is a multinational technology giant without real customer support, users say. This month Meta announced it will lay off 11% of its workforce. It is unclear how these cuts will affect account security and customer support.

Last year Facebook told The Post it was working on new processes to solve these problems. A year later, not much appears to have changed. The company has no new initiatives for helping people recover their accounts.

«

The WaPo offers “take these steps to get back into your hacked Facebook account“, from September 2021, which offers how to attempt it about halfway down.

Really what’s needed (too) is for Meta to force 2FA on users, the same way Apple nags and nags you to turn it on for an iPhone or similar in your iCloud account. So many hacks wouldn’t happen.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1906: Crypto lender Genesis in big trouble, Twitter redux, Euro MPs mandate EVs by 2035, Russia aims at Signal, and more


When’s the best time of day to exercise if you want to get the best results? Morning, afternoon or evening? CC-licensed photo by Mark Bonica on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not employed at Twitter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Crypto lender Genesis asks Binance and Apollo for cash • WSJ

Vicky Ge Huang, Patricia Kowsmann and Caitlin Ostroff:

»

Cryptocurrency firm Genesis is still trying to raise cash.

The lender has approached crypto exchange Binance for an investment and to bid for its loan book, according to people familiar with the matter.

Binance decided not to invest, fearful that some of Genesis’s business could create a conflict of interest down the line, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. The company also approached private equity giant Apollo Global Management for capital assistance, according to people familiar with the matter. 

“We have no plans to file bankruptcy imminently. Our goal is to resolve the current situation consensually without the need for any bankruptcy filing. Genesis continues to have constructive conversations with creditors,” a Genesis spokesman said.

Genesis has faced a rush of withdrawals from its lending arm following the collapse of crypto exchange FTX. The company initially sought an emergency loan of $1bn from investors before it told clients it was suspending redemptions and loan originations in a brief call Nov. 16, Genesis said. At that meeting, interim chief executive Derar Islim said Genesis would deliver a plan for its lending business this week.

Genesis’s outreach to Binance was first reported by Bloomberg.

Genesis became the latest crypto lender to pause withdrawals last week after the swift and sudden collapse of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that Genesis had loans outstanding to Alameda Research, an affiliated trading firm of FTX that Mr. Bankman-Fried founded, with FTX’s own cryptocurrency used as collateral.

Earlier this year, Genesis lent $2.4bn to Three Arrows, according to court documents. Genesis’s parent company, Digital Currency Group, has a $1.2bn claim against the hedge fund. 

«

Last night Genesis lowballed itself and started asking for “only” $500m. One has to feel this story isn’t going to end well, and that there are many more – and bigger – dominoes to fall. At this point, the entire cryptocurrency exchange system looks ready to collapse because the contagion is so widespread. Impressive: took them only a decade or so to reproduce the entire systemic failure that took centuries to create with normal financial systems.
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Elon Musk says Twitter is done with layoffs and ready to hire again • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

During an all-hands meeting with employees on Monday, Musk said that Twitter is done with layoffs and actively recruiting for roles in engineering and sales and that employees are encouraged to make referrals, according to two people who attended and a partial recording obtained by The Verge. His comments were made the same day an unspecified wave of cuts hit Twitter’s sales department, which has lost almost all of its senior leadership since Musk took over.

Musk didn’t specify the kinds of engineers or sales roles Twitter was hiring for, and the company doesn’t currently have any open roles listed on its website. The Verge reported last week that Twitter recruiters were already reaching out to engineers asking them to join “Twitter 2.0 – an Elon company.”

Anyone entering Twitter now will work in a much smaller company than it was before Musk took over. While the exact number of departures under his watch is unclear, there were nearly 7,400 people with access to Twitter’s internal systems before he laid off about half the company. That number, which excludes the thousands of outside contractors Musk also cut, has since fallen to just over 2,700 people as of press time, according to people with the matter.

«

As the NY Times points out, this is the same formula that Musk has used at Tesla and SpaceX. Worked there. And getting information out of Twitter is going to be a lot more difficult now: there are simply fewer people, and those who are there are either loyal to Musk or have a strong interest in not getting fired. Meanwhile there’s no media relations department, and Musk is the most unreliable of narrators.

The Twitter stuff is very boring, though. Is it in terrible peril? Probably not. Is it getting worse? Yes, as some things do (do you remember which president followed Obama)? Is it the most interesting topic in tech? Not even close. But it occupies a lot of the bandwidth.
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The big takeaway from Cop27? These climate conferences just aren’t working • The Guardian

Bill McGuire:

»

It really does beggar belief, that in the course of 27 Cops, there has never been a formal agreement to reduce the world’s fossil fuel use. Not only has the elephant been in the room all this time, but over the last quarter of a century it has taken on gargantuan proportions – and still its presence goes unheeded. It is no surprise, then, that from Cop1 in Berlin in 1995, to Egypt this year, emissions have continued – barring a small downward blip at the height of the pandemic – to head remorselessly upwards.

Expectations were never especially high over the course of the 12 months since Glasgow’s Cop26. Even so, COP27 has to be a new low – held in a country cowed by a malicious dictatorship, the world’s biggest plastic polluter on board as a sponsor, and hosting more than 600 fossil fuel representatives and many others who are there to prevent, rather than promote progress and action. Some old hands have labelled it the worst COP ever, and I doubt many would argue.

…And there is another huge and growing problem too. The all-encompassing nature of the annual Cop climate conference provides one enormous open goal for fossil fuel representatives; an unprecedented opportunity to kettle ministers and heads of state from every corner of the planet, but particularly the majority world, to browbeat them into handing over their untouched fossil fuel reserves for exploitation. At Cop27, the sharks were circling around African nations, desperate to persuade them of the urgent need for a “dash for gas” and looking for a very large piece of the action.

In retrospect, it does seem that the whole idea of annual climate carnivals was probably not the best means of promoting serious action on global heating, but their hijacking by the fossil fuel sector, and failure, year on year, to do the job they were set up to do, surely means that Cop is no longer fit for purpose.

«

All these get-togethers take on a life of their own after a while: same time next year? Sure! Same talking shop, same minimal outcome.
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When is the best time to exercise? • Big Think

Ross Pomeroy:

»

alas, early exercisers may not be able to achieve peak performance. Stiffer muscles, fewer stored energy reserves from overnight fasting, and a slightly cooler body temperature in the morning add up to hamper exercise output. Therefore, more avid exercisers might prefer working out in the afternoon.

“The best window for explosive athleticism seems to be between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.” Shawn Arent, chair of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina told CNN.

For example, in one study, young men instructed to cycle to exhaustion at a set difficulty were able to ride 20% longer in the afternoon compared to the morning. A review of studies also found that muscle strength, muscle power, and sprinting abilities all peaked in the afternoon, topping morning performance by anywhere from 3% to 20%.

Exercise itself may also be more efficient in the afternoon. A small, 12-week study focusing on pre-diabetic and diabetic men found that afternoon training produced slightly more beneficial metabolic effects and resulted in a little more fat loss compared to morning training. The advantages, however, were marginal.

Finally, some folks may decide to work out later in the evening. Studies centered around this time of day tend to focus on whether or not nightly exercise negatively impacts sleep quality. Gathered research suggests it does not and, instead, actually improves sleep.

«

Looks like those sports events which put everything off to the post-lunch period have got it right.
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European Parliament moves to mandate EVs by 2035 • CleanTechnica

Jennifer Sensiba:

»

The European Parliament and Council have reached an agreement that by 2035, all new cars registered in Europe will emit zero emissions. As a way of gradually reaching this goal, the average emissions of new cars must be reduced by 55% come 2030, and for vans, 50%. This is the first step in the adoption process of “Fit for 55″ proposals put forth by the Commission earlier this year. Additionally, it shows COP27 attendees how committed the EU is to meeting international climate goals.

…The EU Parliament has [also] agreed to a set of rules that will see an increase in the number of recharging and alternative refueling stations for cars, trucks, trains, and planes. This is part of the “Fit for 55 in 2030 package” which plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% come 2030. In 2024, each member state must have a plan to meet the minimum national targets for MPs who agree to put in place infrastructure for using alternative fuels.

“At the moment we have 377,000 charging stations in the EU, but this is half the amount that should have been achieved had EU countries lived up to their promises,” said EP rapporteur on alternative fuels infrastructure Ismail Ertug. “We need to tackle this decarbonisation bottleneck and quickly roll out the alternative fuels infrastructure to save the Green Deal.”

The electric car charging stations should be placed every 60 kilometers (about every 37 miles in non-metric speak) on main EU roads by 2026. However, this excludes areas with little traffic or public transportation systems, such as trucks and buses that rely heavily on core TEN-T networks. These regions will have their own set of regulations for these stations.

«

Just for reference, EVs were 12% of new EU passenger car registrations in 2020, and 18% in 2021. Let’s see if that 50% growth trend continues.
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Hive Social

»

Hive is a social media platform that aims at creating a better experience for its users through a chronological feed and continuous self expression features that currently include profile music, profile banners, image/gif/text posts, and much more.

Zodiac signs, pronouns, badges, and full app color theme changes coming soon!

«

Might pass on the zodiac signs, thanks. But if you’re looking for a social media app that isn’t Mastodon, isn’t Instagram and isn’t Be Real, you could try this. It’s been going since June 2019.
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Milk and cheese drive food price inflation to 45-year high • BBC News

Michael Race:

»

Food prices are rising at their fastest rate for 45 years, with the cost of basics such as milk, cheese and eggs surging.

Food price inflation hit 16.2% in the year to October, up from 14.5% in September, latest figures show. Energy and fuel costs also rose sharply, pushing the overall inflation rate to its highest level since 1981.

The surging cost of living is squeezing household budgets, leaving many people facing hardship.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it was hitting poorer households hardest, as they spent around half of their income on food and energy, compared to about a third for those on middle incomes.

October’s overall inflation rate, of 11.1%, is the highest for 41 years and up from 10.1% in September.

«

This is a few days old, but worth bearing in mind that it’s the staples which are seeing prices rise fastest. Low-fat milk and margarine prices? Up nearly 50% year-on-year. Pasta, oils and fats, butter: up by about 30%. The fuller data (Table 2 on this ONS page) seems to me to suggest that it’s lots of the optional purchases that haven’t moved much in price, while the essentials have leapt up.
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Russian zero-day thirst traps • The Info Op

“the grugq”:

»

Last month a Russian exploit company increased their price offer for Signal RCE exploits to three times the Zerodium rate.

…OpZero is a Russian company that buys exploits. Their history is unclear. Google only indexed their website in October 2022, although their social media presence dates back to July 2021. There isn’t much of anything interesting publicly available about the company and its early incarnations.

The Ukrainian military and government use Signal on their phones as a communications channel. This is a huge exposure if there is a way to compromise either Android phones or the Signal app. There is attack surface on the Signal app, which exposes WebRTC, which means there could be exploitable vulnerabilities. (My understanding is that WebRTC is only exposed after you have established a link, e.g. chat or call, with a contact.)

The Ukrainian military, and much of the government and civilian population, communicate using Signal on Android phones. Android market share is a little under 80%, and iOS is slightly over 20%. A handful of legacy and other devices make up the remainder with less than 0.5% 

Signal use has exploded since the invasion began.1 In March, there were 2 million installs, and that number has likely increased significantly since then. In February, growth for Signal downloads was almost 2,000%, making it the number one most downloaded app in Ukraine.

This presents a problem. Android phones with Signal are robust security platforms. They’re not military equipment, but they’re perfectly capable of providing protection against a wide range of security threats. Including nation state level threat actors.

Russia appears to be lacking an Android or Signal capability. Either one would be sufficient to gain access to Signal communications. Needing both may indicate, or at least suggest, that Russia doesn’t have capabilities for these platforms.

«

The amount on offer is single-digit millions (plural), indicating to him that Russia is getting both desperate and annoyed that it can’t get such an exploit from its normal sources (internal and external). Hurrah for Signal.
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A breast cancer vaccine shows promising results, UW study finds • Axios Seattle

Christine Clarridge:

»

In a decade-long Phase I human trial, the vaccine created a strong immune response to proteins that cause tumors to grow aggressively, researchers said in a study published in JAMA Oncology this month.

About 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually in women and about 2,400 in men in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“I have very high hopes that it is close to the final step of this vaccine potentially becoming a treatment for patients with breast cancer,” said the study’s lead author Mary “Nora” Disis, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Cancer Vaccine Institute.

Disis said the vaccine was found to be “very safe” in the Phase 1 trial, with the most common side effects being similar to those of the COVID vaccine: Soreness at the injection site and flu-like symptoms for a few days.

The vaccine targets a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). HER2 is overproduced by as much as a hundredfold in as many as 30% of breast cancers, according to UW Medicine. “HER2-positive” cancers tend to be more aggressive and more likely to recur after treatment, Disis said.

«

I still remember all the excitement about the discovery (and patenting of methods for identification) of BRCA1 and BRCA2 back in the 1990s. It seemed then that some sort of treatment might be just around the corner. The corner’s still unfurling.
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Mammoth migration • Excel Pope

Andrew Pope on Mastodon:

»

In some ways, having one big thing is bad. Some idiot could buy it and run it into the ground, for example. With the lots-of-small-things model the same idiot could pay around twenty bucks a month to run his own small-thing, and do what he liked with it, making a saving of $43,999,999,980.00 in the process. Except he couldn’t. For the small things to work in a way that emulates the one-big-thing all the small-things have to agree to talk to each other and Mastodon has an explicit “Be nice” spirit, which seems to place it one Kerplunk! stick away from descending into a purity-spiral so deep that it might bore a hole to the centre of the Earth.

For example, lots of people have been gleefully sharing this conversation with Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon, as a great example of how the platform will be better than Twitter, seemingly without pausing to ask themselves, “Who’s deciding who is a Nazi?”

The lots-of-little-things model means everything is in the hands of lots-of-little-moderators. If one of moderators on the little-thing your account is attached to decides you’re a Nazi – perhaps for saying that women are real – then that can be it; your whole account, all your posts, all your follows and followers, gone. And your ban might not even be for saying anything. Maybe you just posted some links to news stories that suggest you’re guilty of wrongthink, or retweet someone who’s saying the wrong thing, or just have already upset enough people that they badger your local moderators to not even give you a chance, as was the case with Telegraph journalist, Suzanne Moore.

The lots-of-little-things model means its lots-of-little-moderators are all weak links, even ones not swigging the gender ideology Kool-aid, likely to be easily swayed by mass reporting, or hearsay about who’s too dangerous to let on to Mastodon.

Nor is there a loophole in getting a few people together and setting up your own little-thing. When a group of gender-critical people tried that in in 2019, with Spinster, the moderators of other little-things were pressured into not talking to it, which has a special Mastodon name that’s too boring to repeat. In other words, you’re free to moderate your own little-thing, so long as you don’t mind only talking to other people who use that little-thing and having nothing to do with the lots-of-little-things-joined-up-to-look-like-a-big-thing thing.

All of this happens with no oversight and no recourse.

«

John Siracusa made much the same points on the most recent episode of ATP (“Tiny Tyrants“), and added: any Mastodon instance that gets big enough will essentially run into exactly the same problems as early rapidly growing Twitter, but without venture capital money to help it through. And that’s not going to be pretty. (For those asking, yes, I have set up an identity on Mastodon, and no, I can’t be bothered to tell you yet.)
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Meet Unstable Diffusion, the group trying to monetize AI porn generators • TechCrunch

Kyle Wiggers:

»

while Reddit quickly shut down many of the subreddits dedicated to AI porn, and communities like NewGrounds, which allows some forms of adult art, banned AI-generated artwork altogether, new forums emerged to fill the gap.

By far the largest is Unstable Diffusion, whose operators are building a business around AI systems tailored to generate high-quality porn. The server’s Patreon — started to keep the server running as well as fund general development — is currently raking in over $2,500 a month from several hundred donors.

“In just two months, our team expanded to over 13 people as well as many consultants and volunteer community moderators,” Arman Chaudhry, one of the members of the Unstable Diffusion admin team, told TechCrunch in a conversation via Discord. “We see the opportunity to make innovations in usability, user experience and expressive power to create tools that professional artists and businesses can benefit from.”

Unsurprisingly, some AI ethicists are as worried as Chaudhry is optimistic. While the use of AI to create porn isn’t new  — TechCrunch covered an AI-porn-generating app just a few months ago — Unstable Diffusion’s models are capable of generating higher-fidelity examples than most.

«

The goldrush always includes porn, and the people who sell the shovels always do best out of the goldrush. $2,500 per month isn’t chickenfeed: $30,000 per year, and probably going to grow.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1905: Holmes gets 11 years, where FTX depositors go to panic, the people who want to – but won’t – leave Twitter, and more


Keeping Daylight Saving Time year-round in the US would save the lives of lots of deer – and a number of people. Isn’t it about time to change? CC-licensed photo by State FarmState Farm on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison for Theranos fraud • TechCrunch

Amanda Silberling:

»

The former founder and CEO of Theranos, Holmes could have faced up to 20 years in prison for each of the four counts. By comparison, former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud, but was released after a bit more than four years.

At the courthouse in San Jose, both sides of United States vs. Elizabeth Holmes presented their cases regarding whether Judge Edward Davila can consider Holmes’ “reckless disregard” of patients in sentencing. Davila rejected that proposal, since at the original trial, Holmes was only found guilty of defrauding investors.

Regardless, it took over four hours before Holmes’ sentence was decided. Alex Schultz, father of whistleblower Tyler Schultz, spoke to the court, recounting how his son slept with a knife under his pillow when he suspected he was being followed by Theranos’ private investigators.

Then, Holmes herself spoke. “I regret my failings with every cell of my body,” she said. That was when Judge Davila delivered his decision.

Holmes is expected to report to prison in April. Currently, she is pregnant with her second child.

Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford. She pitched investors and partners on technology that would revolutionize the healthcare system — instead of drawing blood intravenously and waiting days for test results, her technology would prick a tiny bit of blood and instantly conduct dozens of tests on it. Soon she was the CEO of a company with a $10bn valuation, but it turned out that the technology didn’t work.

«

Now what’s the difference between this, where the investors were given lots of chance to find out whether there was a product, and put their trust in the person who said they would build the product – and a crypto company which goes bust and takes $10bn or so of investors’ money with it into thin air?

Sunny Balwani, her other half (at Theranos, at least) was also found guilty on all counts; he awaits sentencing. She’ll be out in five or six years. Wonder what her second act will look like. Something environmental or biotechnological, at a guess. On hold until 2027.
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Where have the FTX depositors gone to panic? • NY Mag

John Herrman explains that they all headed over to Telegram, where they’d already been for FTX’s customer support:

»

In a group called FTX Affected Members, Moe, a 30-year-old in the Netherlands who tallied up his potential losses: “€200k from family, a €50k business loan from my company which I have to pay back within 2 years, €20k from my mother’s savings, €60k my own savings and profits from investments over the past 4 years.” The prospect of losing his own money was bad but manageable — he runs a food-distribution and retail business and could “start over.” The family money is a different story. He spent a future inheritance from his father and invested his mother’s life savings. “I can’t even look them in the eye,” he says. “I trusted all the claims FTX and SBF made on changing the world, veganism, giving away money to good causes, not caring about materialism, and treating people fair.”

Moe isn’t the only one who points to SBF — who received glowing mainstream-press coverage and spent millions of dollars advertising directly to customers and paying celebrities for endorsements — as their reason for investing with FTX. User @riskmaverick, who is also six figures in with the exchange, spent ten years as an investment banker in London. He saw SBF as credible because of his time as a trader at Jane Street, a highly regarded quant firm headquartered in New York. “Where I went wrong,” he says, was “understanding SBF as a Wall Street guy who knows what he’s doing.” His losses, he says, would represent “80% of liquid current cash savings from years of work,” setting him back five years at least (he’s in his early 40s). “It’s a painful situation. Most of my friends don’t know how to respond.”

The perception that FTX was unusually safe because of its links to the U.S. was pervasive among locked-out customers. Adrian, a photographer in Berlin with his “first ever” savings trapped in FTX, assumed the exchange would have been heavily regulated. It got his attention in the first place with an ad starring Larry David. “The first time I have something and I lost it,” he tells me in a Zoom call. “I love Larry David. I can’t believe this.”

«

There’s such a reckoning due on this. The media who wrote up the reports; the stars who took the payments (in crypto? In cash?); and of course the scammers themselves. It really ought to be a 9/11 moment for the entire crypto “industry”, but there are a lot of people who can’t believe it.

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Permanent daylight saving time would reduce deer-vehicle collisions • Current Biology

Calum Cunningham et al:

»

Based on 1,012,465 deer-vehicle collisions and 96 million hourly traffic observations across the United States, we show that collisions are 14 times more frequent 2 hours after sunset than before sunset, highlighting the importance of traffic during dark hours as a key determinant of deer-vehicle collision risk.

The switch from daylight saving to standard time in autumn causes peak traffic volumes to shift from before sunset to after sunset, leading to a 16% spike in deer-vehicle collisions. By reducing traffic after dark, our model predicts that year-round daylight saving time would prevent 36,550 deer (Odocoileus sp.) deaths, 33 human deaths, 2,054 human injuries, and US$1.19bn in collision costs annually. In contrast, permanent standard time is predicted to increase collisions by an even larger magnitude, incurring an additional US$2.39bn in costs.

By targeting the temporal dimension of wildlife-vehicle collisions, strategies such as year-round daylight saving time that reduce traffic during dark hours, especially during the breeding season of abundant ungulates, would yield substantial benefits for wildlife conservation and reduce the social and economic costs of deer-vehicle collisions.

«

I’ve checked, and none of the authors is a deer. More evidence that DST is a bit outmoded. If you didn’t notice, by the way, scientists have called time on the leap second. The Earth will just have to live with being out of sync with, well, time.
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‘I caught lightning in a bottle. I will be one of the last people to leave Twitter’ • POLITICO

Nancy Scola:

»

In much of the world, Twitter seems a bit silly. Even inside the metaphorical Beltway, people will admit to it being an ego-boosting dopamine-dispensing machine if not an insular, often-toxic time suck. The truth, though, is that Washington takes Twitter very seriously. Twitter is a place where all the worlds that make up Washington — the politicians, the policy experts, the press, academics, activists, and others — gather. And in an increasingly remote age, Twitter does much of the work that physical meeting spaces once did in Washington.

For a city that never stops feasting on work, Twitter “is a bottomless bowl of soup,” says Margaret O’Mara, chair of American history at the University of Washington, where she studies the overlap of politics and tech. She was also a staffer in the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

And using Twitter well is a bit of a superpower, one that the American political class is loath to give up without a fight.

Sure, folks in Washington might well give up on Twitter. But for now, it’s still the place for reporter-massaging, idea-debating, networking, rumor-mill-monitoring and career-building. Any replacement will struggle to replicate all the ways it has transformed the city. I spoke with more than 15 insiders from all walks of Washington who spoke about how Twitter’s become baked in to their lives. They talked about how Twitter has become essential to how they do their jobs, and why the end of the social network would trigger upheaval in the capital.

So why, exactly, can’t Washington quit Twitter?

Talk to just about anyone in politics, and they make plain that one of Twitter’s key uses is simply getting themselves, their boss, their issue in front of a powerful audience: the press. If you’re trying to reach Americans, says one Senate Democratic staffer, “one way is to spend a million dollars on TV ads.” Another way, says the aide, is to “talk to the people who talk to people” — that is, reporters. “Twitter is good for that.”

«

The feeling’s similar in the UK, and many other countries. Twitter’s benefit is in being able to reach the people who have the influence: its centralisation is a big part of that benefit. I did write about this in Social Warming…
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Why foreign workers in the US are especially vulnerable to the Twitter turmoil • CNN Politics

Donie O’Sullivan, Priscilla Alvarez and Oliver Darcy:

»

Tech companies in the US, including Twitter, have leaned on an employment-based visa, known as H-1B, to bring skilled foreign workers into the country. The program allows companies in the US to employ foreign workers in high-skilled occupations like architecture, engineering, mathematics, among other fields.

In fiscal year 2022, Twitter had nearly 300 people approved to work on H-1B visas, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services data. It’s unclear how many have chosen to stay.

Facebook – another company that’s undergoing mass layoffs – had more than 1,300 people approved to work on H-1B visas, the data shows.

Employees on temporary visas, like H-1B or other work visas, are especially vulnerable to the layoffs happening at Twitter and across the tech industry. Some staff who were on employment-based visas and have already been laid off by Musk have found themselves scrambling.

“Firing folks who are on a H-1B in a major economic downturn is not just putting them out of the job, it’s tantamount to ruining their lives,” one former employee told CNN, adding that some people who had accepted Musk’s ultimatum had accepted it “out of self-preservation.”

Fiona McEntee, an immigration lawyer based in Chicago, represents immigrants who are on H-1B visas and are part of the recent tech layoffs.

While McEntee stressed everyone’s situation is unique, one of the primary challenges employees on H-1B visas face is that they have a limited window of time to find a new employer, adjust to another visa, or leave the United States. The 60-day grace period usually starts from the last day of employment.

«

Have to wonder very hard how many of the apparently smiling faces standing around Elon Musk in his “1am code review” photo after his “hardcore or nothing” memo are on H1-B visas.
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Heads we win, tails he loses • Hey

David Heinemeier Hansson:

»

Not since Trump has a single character managed to invoke such extreme levels of love and hate on the world stage for weeks at the time. Nor has anyone been able to play the media like a fiddle with such virtuosity.

Thankfully the stakes are so much lower, though. Musk might be firing rockets into space, but they won’t accidentally have any nuclear warheads on them. His media trolling isn’t coming from within the White House. This reality show is playing out over something as disposable as a struggling social media website.

Furthermore, the world doesn’t need Twitter. In fact, the world would almost certainly be better off without Twitter. 

That’s what makes this show so guiltlessly entertaining to watch: Whichever the outcome, the world wins. If Musk manages to fix Twitter, we’re left with a better Twitter. Great! If Musk manages to burn down Twitter, we’re left with a world free of Twitter. Great!

«

Well, great-ish. I’d still rather have a world with Twitter, though one whose denizens weren’t all busy navel-gazing about how awful whatever is happening to Twitter is. Self-obsessed Twitter is the very, very worst Twitter: it’s like a bandpass filter that stops useful data getting through.
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Empowering the world to create music • Soundful

»

Soundful empowers creators to generate royalty free tracks at the click of a button. The quality of Soundful music is so rich, you won’t believe it was made with AI. But, don’t take our word for it. Give it a try!

It literally cannot get any easier than this. Soundful has built the ultimate, completely customizeable song generation platform that is learning every day. Simply choose a genre, customize your inputs and create your tracks. Repeat until you find the track that is right for you. It’s that easy.

«

There’s a free tier (1 download per month, unlimited track creation) if you want to try it out. Also relevant: “Will we see prompt-based music generation?“, which mentions a number of other AI music generation tools. One will be right for you (if you like doing that).
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Scientists have founded a ‘post-detection hub’ to prepare for alien contact • Vice

Becky Ferreira:

»

John Elliott, who serves as honorary research fellow in the School of Computer Science of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, has been thinking about the potential ramifications of an alien detection for decades. During his long involvement with the SETI Permanent Committee, a group of SETI experts established by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), he has developed approaches for deciphering extraterrestrial messages and gamed out how to disseminate information about a confirmed extraterrestrial detection to a global audience.

Now, Elliott has founded the SETI Post-Detection Hub, hosted by the University of St Andrews’ Centre for Exoplanet Science and the Centre for Global Law and Governance, to bring together diverse experts and anticipate the joys and tribulations of a post-detection world.

“It was increasingly evident that we needed a centre (home) to coordinate our efforts for an integrated provision to deal with such an event,” Elliott told Motherboard in an email. “So, with the encouragement of colleagues, I took the initiative and began developing the hub, to where it is now.”

“This has been with the assistance of a few colleagues in the UK SETI Network (UKSRN), to formulate a draft strategic plan and supporting documents,” he added, noting that the hub is now officially active.

«

Isn’t this what happens in Contact? Also, who’ll actually go and meet the aliens, or contact them? I hope whoever does has read The Three-Body Problem (or more specifically The Dark Forest).
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AI can now make fake selfies for your Tinder profile • Vice

Janus Rose:

»

The AI image-generating craze has entered its next phase of absurdity: creating fake profile pics that make you look good on dating apps and social media.

For $19, a service called PhotoAI will use 12-20 of your mediocre, poorly-lit selfies to generate a batch of fake photos specially tailored to the style or platform of your choosing. The results speak to an AI trend that seems to regularly jump the shark: a “LinkedIn” package will generate photos of you wearing a suit or business attire, while the “Tinder” setting promises to make you “the best you’ve ever looked”—which apparently means making you into an algorithmically beefed-up dudebro with sunglasses. 

There are also options that generate artsy Polaroids, photoshop you into memes, or make hyper-stylized portraits that copy the aesthetics of popular artists. After submitting your photos, the site promises to return results in 12 hours. The AI model used to generate your photos is also deleted after seven days, according to the site’s privacy policy.

«

Haven’t tried it. If you have, please tell us the juicy details, including whether it meant you got matched on Tinder using your LinkedIn pic, and vice-versa.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1904: Twitter’s moderation system slows, TikTok aims to sell, Meta fires staff who hijacked accounts, and more


A bizarre turn of events means South Korea’s Legoland project has created a full-blown government bond crisis. CC-licensed photo by Fido on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s a new post at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. Meteors! Robots! Free signup!


A selection of 9 links for you. Working from home. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Twitter’s moderation system is in tatters • WIRED

Condé Nast:

»

After Elon Musk bought the company and laid off 7,500 full time employees, disinformation researchers and activists say, the team that took down toxic and fake content vanished. Now, after years of developing relationships within those teams, researchers say no one is responding to their reports of disinformation on the site, even as data suggests Twitter is becoming more toxic.

The issue is particularly acute in Brazil, where a runoff presidential election between right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took place just days after Musk’s takeover. Observers and activists had warned for months that Bolsonaro’s supporters might not accept the results of the election should he lose, and could resort to violence. When Bolsonaro supporters began questioning the election results online, researchers found that Twitter had apparently fired all the people who should be monitoring the platform.

“At this moment, we have nobody to reach out to,” says Nina Santos, a researcher at the Brazilian National Institute of Science & Technology in Digital Democracy. “All the people that we were talking with are no longer there.” Santos says that until Musk’s takeover, Twitter had been “quite responsive” in taking down rule-breaking content that could undermine trust in the election or spread disinformation, compared to Meta and Google. The entirety of Twitter’s Brazil team was included in the 7,500 people laid off earlier this month.

Although Lula was declared the winner of the election, Santos says she still sees tweets questioning the result or calling for mobilization against the government. All of these, she says, are dangerous. Twitter’s current policy states that the company will “label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process.” Christopher Bouzy, founder and CEO of Bot Sentinel, a project to fight disinformation and harassment on Twitter, was also monitoring the Brazilian elections, as well as the US midterms. Like Santos, he noticed that tweets claiming the Brazilian election was stolen remained up on Twitter.

«

Meanwhile, at Futurism: “Panicked Elon Musk reportedly begging engineers not to leave“:

»

Employees had until 5 pm on Thursday to click “yes” and be part of Twitter moving forward or take the money and part ways. The problem for Musk? According to former Uber engineer Gergely Orosz, who has had a close ear to Twitter’s recent inner turmoil, “far fewer than expected [developers] hit ‘yes.'”

So many employees called Musk’s bluff, Orosz says, that Musk is now “having meetings with top engineers to convince them to stay,” in an embarrassing reversal of his public-facing bravado earlier this week.

«

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Inside a boot camp for Chinese TikTok sellers bringing live e-commerce to the US • Rest of World

Yvaine Ye, Viola Zhou and Meaghan Tobin:

»

As livestreaming has ballooned into a $400bn industry in China, its success has convinced Chinese entrepreneurs — and TikTok itself — that it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world begins to shop this way. Chinese suppliers, livestreamers, and talent agents have become the earliest proponents of TikTok live shopping for Western audiences, hoping sales tactics honed on Douyin and affordable goods will help them get consumers around the world hooked on China’s favorite way to shop online.

“There’s no offline store that can sell millions of a single product through a single storefront in one day,” Bian Shiqi, who attended the bootcamp in Guangzhou, told Rest of World. After working in international trade for a few years, the 35-year-old investor said she became convinced that TikTok could be the future of cross border e-commerce while watching a prolific seller on Douyin. 

Despite its global popularity, TikTok has yet to transform into a shopping destination. TikTok has tested a function called TikTok Shop — where shoppers can buy directly in the app — in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the U.K., but in most other places, shoppers have to undertake an additional step and navigate to the streamer’s website to actually purchase something they saw on TikTok. Although shoppers aren’t tuning into TikTok livestreams by the millions the way they are on Douyin, livestreamers and talent agents believe live shopping can become as popular as TikTok itself.

«

Imagine that: TikTok’s present incarnation might be its least successful form.
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Meta employees, security guards fired for hijacking user accounts • WSJ

Kirsten Grind and Robert McMillan:

»

Meta Platforms has fired or disciplined more than two dozen employees and contractors over the last year whom it accused of improperly taking over user accounts, in some cases allegedly for bribes, according to people familiar with the matter and documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Some of those fired were contractors who worked as security guards stationed at Meta facilities and were given access to the Facebook parent’s internal mechanism for employees to help users having trouble with their accounts, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter.

The mechanism, known internally as “Oops,” has existed since Facebook’s early years as a means for employees to help users they know who have forgotten their passwords or emails, or had their accounts taken over by hackers.

As part of the alleged abuse of the system, Meta says that in some cases workers accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from outside hackers to access user accounts, the people and documents say.

…in part because the Oops system is off limits to the vast majority of Facebook users, a cottage industry of intermediaries has developed who charge users money to regain control of their accounts. In interviews with the Journal, some of those third parties claim to have access to Meta employees to help reset accounts.

“When you take someone’s Instagram account down that they’ve spent years building up, you’re taking away their whole means of generating an income,” says Nick McCandless, whose company McCandless Group operates a platform for content creators. McCandless says he charges his clients to reset accounts, sometimes through a contact he declined to name at Meta.

“You really have to have someone on the inside who will actually do it,” he said.

«

Inevitably, God mode gets abused. But you have to have it: hacker takeover (from outside) and other problems make it essential.
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Elon Musk’s politically polarizing effect • Morning Consult

Jordan Marlatt:

»

Elon Musk has turned Twitter’s fan base upside down in the past few weeks. Democrats are increasingly viewing the platform with antipathy and distrust as Republicans move in the opposite direction. Morning Consult Brand Intelligence data also suggests it’s fair to question whether Musk’s stewardship of the social media giant runs the risk of collateral damage to his other well-known properties. 

Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has dominated major news cycles for months, with each new revelation throwing the company’s fate into question. Since the takeover became official on Oct. 27, Musk has laid off thousands of Twitter employees and contractors, fired many of Twitter’s top executives or seen them exit, released an ill-fated revamp of the platform’s verification system and threatened to “thermonuclear name & shame” companies that pull their advertisements from the site. 

This has caused Twitter to experience the most significant month-over-month shift in opinion among Democrats since Morning Consult began tracking the brand in January 2017.

… Net favorability of Tesla is down around 20 points among Democrats since last month and up around 4 points among Republicans. Net favourability of SpaceX is also down among Democrats, but the decline has been more muted so far.

For Tesla and SpaceX, the partisan spillover effects could have profound implications. If the Tesla brand becomes increasingly right-leaning, that could put it out of alignment with core electric vehicle purchasing profiles, which lean more liberal.

«

So not just Twitter and his own reputation getting ruined. But can other companies take advantage of that reduced favourability? Or does it just translate into reduced sales? (Plus, what a mismatch between Tesla buyers and the company’s chief, eh.)
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UVA shooting highlights Twitter’s power in a crisis • Time

Megan McCluskey:

»

ate on Sunday, reports of an active shooter at large at the University of Virginia began circulating on social media. As is often the case in emergency situations, many people, including students, parents, and local residents, turned to Twitter in search of up-to-date and accurate news about the incident. However, it quickly became clear that Elon Musk’s tumultuous takeover of the site had made Twitter less reliable as a trusted source of information–especially in a time of crisis.

Experts fear Musk’s policy changes have greatly reduced people’s ability to assess the trustworthiness of the information that they’re being exposed to on the platform.

“There was a shooting at UVA in Charlottesville about an hour ago,” tweeted one user on Sunday night. “Looking for more information, I scroll Twitter. But with no reliable verified checkmark I have no clue which reports to believe & which are fake. That’s what verification is for.”

A less-reliable Twitter would mean losing “vital infrastructure,” says Caroline Orr, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland’s Applied Research Lab for Intelligence and Security. “It’s become such a huge part of how we learn about crises and how they get reported out to the public,” she says.

Concerns over trolls and impersonators spreading misinformation about the shooting proved to be justified. One verified account impersonating Sen. Ted Cruz shared a tweet in response to the incident that received thousands of likes before it was taken down. Meanwhile, other users were struggling to discern the facts of the situation while the search for the suspect was still ongoing.

«

Shows how far we’ve come that people think Twitter is the place to go to find this stuff out. That all really became embedded with the shootings in Ferguson in August 2014, when Twitter was alive with eyewitness reports, while Facebook was amplifying ice bucket posts.
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A theme park crisis threatens South Korea’s economy • Foreign Policy

S. Nathan Park:

»

To construct Legoland Korea, the Gangwon provincial government established a special purpose entity called Gangwon Jungdo Development Corp. (GJC), owned 44% by the province and 22.5% by Merlin Entertainments, the British company that owns the rights to Legoland. To fund the construction, GJC, through a subsidiary, issued bonds worth 205bn won (about $150m). The bonds were backed by the GJC-owned real estate for the theme park and its surrounding area, as well as a guarantee from the Gangwon provincial government, then led by liberal Gov. Choi Moon-soon. Korea Investors Service, the South Korean affiliate of Moody’s, gave the GJC bonds an A1 rating, the highest rating available for corporate bonds.

But Legoland Korea struggled out of the gate, too far from Seoul and too expensive for what was on offer, and it did not generate enough revenue to honor the bonds. Also, as South Korea’s real estate market softened, the value of the real estate backing the bonds began falling below the amount of the debt. As the first due date for the bonds was approaching on Sept. 29, GJC was in talks to extend the deadline with BNK Securities, the underwriter for the bonds. Negotiating for such an extension is a tense affair but a relatively common one. GJC was close to buying itself a three- or four-month reprieve, by prepaying BNK four months’ worth of interest that it would additionally owe by extending the due date.

Then came the disaster. Out of the blue, on Sept. 28, Gangwon’s newly elected conservative governor, Kim Jin-tae, announced that he would not honour the government’s guarantee. Instead, GJC would enter into bankruptcy, meaning that creditors would receive pennies on the dollar. BNK Securities declared a default on the GJC bonds and sought assurances that Gangwon would pay back the 205 billion won, but the government gave only a vague promise that it would honor the guarantee without giving a specific date. By mid-October, the GJC bonds were downgraded to junk status.

Kim’s declaration was brutally unnecessary. He claimed that he was trying to reduce the debt left behind by his liberal predecessor who, according to Kim, irresponsibly embarked on a white elephant project in Legoland Korea. But Gangwon’s decade-long pursuit of building a Legoland had always been a bipartisan affair, linked more to a hope of revitalizing the province than to any political faction. As a legislator representing Chuncheon, Kim was a vocal advocate for the theme park, claiming in 2014 that he would “jump into the Soyang River” along the city if South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration blocked the project because of the ancient artifacts discovered at the construction site. Nor was the bond amount anything excessive. Gangwon’s annual budget is over 17.7trn won (about $13bn), in which a debt of 205bn won is but a line item. Nor was the provincial government being asked to pay the entire 205bn won in one shot; it only had to assist GJC in paying the extra interest it would have incurred for extending the bonds’ due date.

By itself, extending the due date for the bonds would have cost Gangwon a bit, but it would have stayed contained. Kim’s move, however, has shattered trust in government bonds.

«

And now the country faces a huge credit crunch. It’s like the tiny block to giant block meme.
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Meta’s layoffs make it official: Facebook is ready to part ways with the news • Nieman Journalism Lab

Sarah Scire:

»

Among the mass layoffs at the company formerly known as Facebook last week are several roles that have served as a bridge between the news industry and the sprawling tech company.

The Meta Journalism Project Accelerator’s David Grant, a program manager, and Dorrine Mendoza, who led local news partnerships for the platform, were both laid off. Other journalism-adjacent positions eliminated include the head of news partnerships for South East Asia, a program manager for news, two program managers for news integrity, and multiple news communications jobs.

Meta declined to comment on the layoffs or confirm how many of the 11,000 positions eliminated were jobs relating to the news business. It’s unclear what impact the job losses will have on all of Facebook’s various news-related efforts, including the Meta Journalism Project itself. (Meta spokespeople and Campbell Brown, Meta’s vice president of global media partnerships, did not respond to requests for comment on the future of the Meta Journalism Project.)

The layoffs are another step in Meta’s journey to get the heck away from news. Meta, which promised $300m in support of local journalism back in 2019 when it was still Facebook, has shifted resources away from its News tab, shuttered the Bulletin newsletter program, ended support for Instant Articles, eliminated human-curation in favor of algorithms, and stopped paying US publishers to use their news content.

Instead, the company is focused on competing with rising platforms like TikTok and trying to build a metaverse that people actually want to spend time in.

«

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Kuo: only iPhone 15 Pro models will support higher-speed data transfers with USB-C upgrade • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

»

The iPhone 15 Pro models that are planned for next year will support higher wired transfer speeds thanks to the transition to USB-C, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

While all iPhone 15 models are going to feature USB-C ports instead of Lightning ports, the faster transfer speeds will be limited to the iPhone 15 Pro models. Standard iPhone 15 models will continue to feature USB 2.0 speeds, the same as Lightning.

Kuo says that transfer speeds will likely “improve markedly” on the iPhone 15 Pro models, with support for “at least” USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt 3. With the upgrade, iPhone 15 Pro models will be able to transfer video files and other file types at quicker speeds, with Kuo predicting a significantly improved user experience.

USB 2.0 transfer speeds are limited to 480Mb/s, while USB 3.2 supports speeds up to 20Gb/s. Thunderbolt 3 supports data transfer speeds up to 40Gb/s, so if Kuo is correct, there will be a major difference in wired data transfer speeds between Pro and non-Pro iPhone 15 models.

«

That would make sense: keep the high speed transfer (useful for high quality video transfer, which presently is too slow for the amount of video you can capture) for the Pro models. Natural upsell.
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PR emails: I said yes to every single one for a day. Oof • Slate

Dan Kois:

»

Over the past year, I’ve received press releases about all those stories and more from Lawn Love, and I’m certain many other journalists have too. Every day I get dozens of emails from publicists around the country, and around the world, informing me about new products, pitching story ideas, and always assuring me that the publicist would be happy to connect me to this pool safety startup CEO or that divorce attorney to talk about their very important topic. As I delete these emails, I often wonder: Who are all these people who want to talk to a reporter, any reporter, so badly that they will pay a publicist to email every journalist they can think of—including me, a guy who doesn’t write about pool safety or divorce or witches at all? Who actually opens these emails, let alone responds to them? Do they ever work? And what would happen if I tried?

Well, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, I decided to find out. I declared Oct. 26 my Publicist Pitch Day of Yes. I would respond to every single pitch email that asked me to talk to a client, replying, Yes! Yes, I would like to talk to this handbag entrepreneur, this life coach, this writer and social activist on a mission to empower women of color. Yes, I am available on the phone, or over Zoom, at their convenience. Yes, I will ask them about their revolutionary clitoral sonogram, their terrible opinions about cops and COVID vaccines, their advice for how to cope during the holiday season—a challenging time, as you know, for those who struggle with body image.

Ask most journalists if they would ever reply to one of these emails, not to mention write a story based on it, and you will invite an instinctive, chilling scowl. But on that day and in the week after, as I spoke to hopeful client after hopeful client, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed every single conversation, in one way or another. I certainly learned something each time. Could it be possible that the publicists are on to something? Is the daily flood of hopeless pitches actually a secret window into American ingenuity, optimism, and desperation—not to mention a very interesting line of scientifically tested sex toys?

«

Long, and proof that deleting those emails (and not answering the phone) is a good idea.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1903: UK government blocks Nexperia chip buy, FBI mulls TikTok block, Elon’s hardcore Twitter, and more


Can you imagine what every NIMBY speech sounds like? Don’t worry, we’ve got it written down. CC-licensed photo by Stephen Woods on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Very secure. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


‘500 jobs at risk’ as Chinese firm told to reduce stake in UK microchip factory over security concern • MSN

Sarah Taaffe-Maguire:

»

A Chinese-owned tech company has been told to sell the majority of its stake in a UK silicon chip factory due to security concerns.

The government has said Nexperia must reduce its stake in Newport Wafer Fab by 86%, back to its previous holding of just 14% when it took over the firm in 2021, in an effort to “mitigate the risk to national security”.

Nexperia responded to the announcement with shock and frustration, saying it does not accept the state’s rationale and 500 jobs are now at risk.

“The far-reaching remedies which Nexperia offered to fully address the government’s concerns have been entirely ignored,” the company said in a statement.

“The UK government chose not to enter into a meaningful dialogue with Nexperia or even visit the Newport site.

“More than 500 employees in Newport also raised their own significant concerns about such a divestment – the government has chosen not to listen to them and instead taken this decision which puts the livelihoods of them and their families, as well as more than £100m of taxpayers’ money, completely unnecessarily at risk.”

The company said it will challenge the order in an effort to keep the factory and jobs.

«

Long-running saga. First came to notice back in July 2021 when Nexperia acquired it, which led to questions being raised. At least we have a government that takes a little notice of national security.
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FBI is ‘extremely concerned’ about TikTok operating in US • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Chris Strohm and Daniel Flatley:

»

“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are required to essentially — and I’m going to shorthand here — basically do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” [FBI director Christopher] Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee. “That’s plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has passed along its concerns to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the government body that’s reviewing the deal.

“As Director Wray specified in his remarks, the FBI’s input is being considered as part of our ongoing negotiations with the US Government,” said TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter. “While we can’t comment on the specifics of those confidential discussions, we are confident that we are on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns.”

The popular video-streaming app, which has millions of users in the US, has emerged at the center of a long-running national security debate. At the same time, it’s become key to reaching young voters, who are increasingly eschewing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Biden administration is weighing a proposal to allow TikTok to continue to operate in the US under the ownership of Chinese parent ByteDance Ltd. The arrangement would include routing US user traffic through servers maintained by Oracle Corp., with the US-based database giant auditing the app’s algorithms.

However the effort has stalled over concerns the app would remain a threat, with China hawks on the Hill expected to criticize any agreement that stops short of an outright ban, or the sale of the platform to a US company. Congress is weighing legislation that would officially ban TikTok from all government phones.

«

They haven’t banned it from government phones yet? Feels like the time has passed for that one.
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US chipmakers reel from sharp boom to bust • Financial Times

Richard Waters:

»

If Wall Street had any doubts about the speed with which the chip industry’s boom has turned to bust, unexpectedly gloomy financial forecasts from companies like mobile chipmaker Qualcomm should have put them to rest.

“It’s kind of an unprecedented change over a short period of time,” Akash Palkhiwala, the company’s chief financial officer told analysts this month. “We went from a period of supply shortages to demand declines.”

Qualcomm has sliced 25% from its revenue guidance for the current quarter as weaker consumer spending hit smartphone sales. The forecast came as some of the leading chipmakers issued surprisingly weak sales and profit projections and signalled a round of job cuts ahead.

Among those to take an axe to their forecasts, AMD warned that sales of processors for PCs this quarter would be down 40% from last year, with profit margins also surprisingly weak. Intel, which cut revenue forecasts again after a big reduction the previous quarter, signalled thousands of job layoffs ahead with a plan to cut as much as $10bn from its costs by 2025.

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The unbearable lightness of BuzzFeed • The Verge

Mia Sato:

»

what worked in 2015 is a far cry from what works in 2022. On Monday, BuzzFeed reported earnings for the fourth time as a public company, recording $103.7m in revenue for the latest quarter, above its own projections. But the rest of the news was dire: BuzzFeed lost $27m, and the time audiences spent with its content plunged 32% from a year ago — its fourth straight quarterly decline. The company expects revenue in the fourth quarter of 2022 to dip compared to last year as well.

BuzzFeed’s ability to reflect, amplify, and create massive cultural moments by giving a staff of hundreds free rein to invent new formats led to a $1.7bn valuation in 2016. It built a Pulitzer-winning newsroom with BuzzFeed News, popularized a genre of simple and stylized cooking content with Tasty, and launched a slate of beloved shows like BuzzFeed Unsolved and Another Round.

Today, BuzzFeed’s high-profile hosts have moved on, its news division has been gutted, and its core website pays contractors flat rates starting around $100 per post to chase trending topics. The company’s valuation is down to just $237m, and dozens of current and former employees are suing BuzzFeed for losing out on millions, saying they weren’t able to sell their shares during the brief financial bright spot after the company went public last year. They now watch from the outside as the company’s value plummets and newer, more ruthless competitors native to the platforms themselves generate viral chum faster and more cheaply. 

As social platforms continue to limit its reach, BuzzFeed needs to generate one more neat trick to reinvent digital media — and save itself in the process.

«

Not clear that there are any neat tricks left. But then, we thought that before Buzzfeed came along and turned “writing up viral things” into money. But between Protocol and Vox Media, this isn’t encouraging about media.
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Musk issues ultimatum to staff: commit to ‘hardcore’ Twitter or leave • The Washington Post

Faiz Siddiqui and Jeremy Merrill:

»

Elon Musk issued an ultimatum to Twitter employees Wednesday morning: Commit to a new “hardcore” Twitter or leave the company with severance pay.

Twitter is shifting to an engineer-driven operation — one that “will need to be extremely hardcore” going forward, according to the midnight email, which was obtained by The Washington Post. Employees were asked to click an icon and respond by Thursday if they wanted to stay.

“This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” he said. “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

By mid-Wednesday, members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety team — who are responsible for keeping hate speech and misinformation off the site — were discussing a mass resignation, according to three current employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

The email came just a few hours after Musk tweeted he was tabling Twitter’s Blue Verified, his first major product since taking over last month as Twitter’s owner and chief executive, while the company sorts out issues with the feature following a botched rollout. Inside Twitter, staffers are using the additional time to conduct a postmortem on the launch, trying to understand why impersonations of high-profile individuals and brands spiralled out of control, according to a person with knowledge of the internal discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

«

“Fear of retribution” is going to be quite the thing at Twitter from now on. And while Trust and Safety is very much an engineer thing, it’s also a human thing, about understanding how people are going to behave. Musk was told on his first day that opening up Twitter Blue could lead to impersonation problems. I’d be amazed if the post-mortem took longer than is required to brew a cup of coffee.
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Interview with Elon Musk biographer Ashlee Vance • Vox

Peter Kafka:

»

what’s different about Twitter than the rest of Musk’s history as a businessman — or is there any difference at all?

To find out, I asked a man who’s spent years paying close attention to Musk: Ashlee Vance, the veteran Bloomberg reporter who talked to Musk and hundreds of people in his orbit for his 2015 book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. In Vance’s telling, you can see a lot of the elements of the Musk on display today: ambitious, stubborn, and willing to make bets that seem like terrible ideas to any normal human. But Vance, whose portrait of Musk was a generally admiring one, says he thinks Musk has changed in recent years, and not necessarily for the better. You can listen to our entire conversation in a special edition of my Recode Media podcast; the following interview has been excerpted from that conversation.

Vance: …I think the chaos that we see unfolding at Twitter, I don’t think that really frightens Elon. Tesla and SpaceX have been on the verge of bankruptcy, they’ve been in sort of life-and-death struggles most of their existence. And that’s kind of like where he seems to exist.

Every time those companies got to a stable point, he would just immediately go all-in and risk the entire company on the next new venture. I’ve always thought of him as the biggest gambler, the highest risk-taker you can find.

I think Twitter is a different and unique challenge. This is not something where you’re building a rocket or a car and you can marshal tons of troops to push toward this goal. There’s part of this that takes a sense of consumers’ tastes, of society’s tastes. If this company is really going to make more money, it has to get bigger and it has to have another hit. We’ve seen the hit, which is that it’s this place where everybody gathers to chat. But that hasn’t paid enough of the bills.

So this is where you start getting into kind of a territory where we just don’t know. There’s not a lot of evidence that Elon’s necessarily good at reading these kinds of signals.

«

Vance is the right person in the right time to explain this.
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Scientists are uncovering ominous waters under Antarctic ice • WIRED

Matt Simon:

»

Researchers just found that, at the base of Antarctica’s ice, an area the size of Germany and France combined is feeding meltwater into a super-pressurized, 290-mile-long river running to the sea. “Thirty years ago, we thought the whole of the ice pretty much was frozen to the bed,” says Imperial College London glaciologist Martin Siegert, coauthor of a new paper in Nature Geoscience describing the finding. “Now we’re in a position that we’ve just never been in before, to understand the whole of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

Antarctica’s ice is divided into two main components: the ice sheet that sits on land, and the ice shelf that extends off the coast, floating on seawater. Where the two meet—where the ice lifts off the bed and starts touching the ocean—is known as the grounding line. 

But the underside of all that ice is obscured. To find out what’s going on below, some scientists have hiked across glaciers while dragging ground-penetrating radar units on sleds—the pings travel through thousands of feet of ice and bounce off the underlying seawater, so the researchers can build detailed maps of what used to be hidden. Others are setting off explosions, then analysing the seismic waves that come back to the surface to indicate whether there’s land or water below. Still others are lowering torpedo-shaped robots through boreholes to get unprecedented imagery of the underside of the floating ice shelf. Up in the sky, satellites can measure minute changes in surface elevation, which indicates the features below—a swell, for instance, might betray a subglacial lake.

…It’s not a tremendous amount of melt per square foot. But over an area that’s the size of two large European countries, that scales up. “What we concluded is the melting is really small—it’s like a millimetre per year,” says Siegert. “But the catchment is enormous, so you don’t need much melting. That all funnels together into this river, which is several hundred kilometres long, and it’s three times the rate of flow of the river Thames in London.”

«

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Crypto trading and Bitcoin prices: evidence from a new database of retail adoption • Bank for International Settlements

Raphael Auer, Giulio Cornelli, Sebastian Doerr, Jon Frost and Leonardo Gambacorta:

»

To investigate the drivers of crypto adoption, we assemble a novel database (made available with this paper) on retail use of crypto exchange apps at daily frequency for 95 countries over 2015–22. We show that a rising Bitcoin price is followed by the entry of new users.

About 40% of these new users are men under 35, commonly identified as the most “risk-seeking” segment of the population. To establish a causal effect of prices on adoption, we exploit two exogenous shocks: the crackdown of Chinese authorities on crypto mining in mid-2021 and the social unrest in Kazakhstan in early 2022.

During both episodes price changes have a significant effect on the entry of new users. Results from a PVAR model corroborate these findings.

Overall, back of the envelope calculations suggest that around three-quarters of users have lost money on their Bitcoin investments.

«

Those men tend to come in when there’s a big price swing. And bet wrong. The paper makes a fascinating read, though it tends to confirm what you thought already.
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Every NIMBY’s speech at a public hearing • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Chas Gillespie captures the moment:

»

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak tonight, and I look forward to contributing to our robust debate by making claims that are floating in an ether of confusion, prejudice, and unearned authority. But for those of you who may not know me, let me introduce myself. I’m a retired professional who rose through the ranks because competition in my field was minimized due to systemic discrimination against women and people of colour.

My job was well paid, did not punish me for my lack of soft skills, and convinced me that I know what’s best for other people, even if it seems like what’s worst for other people. I grew up here and, after leaving for a time to go to college and start my career, returned to this town, my true home, in order to raise a family and stop time from progressing. I’ve lived in the same house in the Elm Heights neighborhood for the past twenty years, and I just love everything about this town except for the problems that my politics have directly created.

«

Everything about this is perfect. No, no, don’t change it!
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Facebook fact-checkers will stop checking Trump after presidential bid announcement • CNN Politics

Donie O’Sullivan:

»

The carve-out is not exclusive to Trump and applies to all politicians, but given the rate fact-checkers find themselves dealing with claims made by the former president, a manager on Meta’s “news integrity partnership” team emailed fact-checkers on Tuesday ahead of Trump’s announcement.

“Some of you have reached out seeking guidance regarding fact-checking political speech in anticipation of a potential candidacy announcement from former President Trump,” the Meta staffer wrote in the memo.

The company has long had an exception to its fact-checking policy for politicians.

“It is not our role to intervene when politicians speak,” Meta executive Nick Clegg, a former politician, said in 2019, defending the exemption.

The Meta memo sent to fact-checkers made clear that if Trump announced a 2024 presidential bid Tuesday night, he could no longer be fact-checked on the platform.

The memo noted that “political speech is ineligible for fact-checking. This includes the words a politician says as well as photo, video, or other content that is clearly labeled as created by the politician or their campaign.”

Meta’s policy doesn’t stipulate that a candidate formally register with the Federal Election Commission. “We define a ‘politician’ as candidates running for office, current office holders – and, by extension, many of their cabinet appointees – along with political parties and their leaders,” the memo stated.

«

So who’s it left to? News organisations. Unexplained: why political speech should be ineligible for fact-checking. Clegg (a former politician, lest we forget) said in 2019 that Facebook doesn’t believe “that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny.” But why should politicians be exempt from the direct scrutiny that any other statement posted to Facebook gets? Let’s all declare ourselves politicians. Sure, I’m running for office; just very, very, very slowly.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1902: India’s Reliance Industries billionaire, Mastodon’s antivirality, Meta Quest Pro No, Protocol goes dark, and more


Induction ovens can demand huge amounts of electricity in a burst – but what if you installed a big battery in the oven to meet the demand? CC-licensed photo by GilgongoGilgongo on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not Elongated. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


It’s Mukesh Ambani’s world — and we’re just living in it • Rest of World

The Rest of World staff:

»

Imagine if everything in your home came from just one company. Or, to be more precise, from companies that are ultimately led by one individual: a single person whose brands sell you the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the fuel you fill your car with, and even the internet you’re reading this with.

That’s the reality for many Indians, who rely on products, food, and services from the vast array of companies controlled by or partnered with Mukesh Ambani. He’s not just among India’s richest men, according to Forbes; with a net worth of $90.7 billion, he’s also been in the top 10 of its Billionaires List for the past three years.

Ambani’s wealth comes from the enormous Reliance Industries conglomerate. Since taking over from his father, Ambani has turned Reliance — once known for textiles and petrochemicals — into a digital powerhouse. He’s grown the company’s reach through acquisitions and partnerships to reach retail, telecommunications, media, and so much more, creating an empire with unimaginable reach.

Don’t believe us? We’ll show you. Scroll down and join us for an illustrated journey through the lives of ordinary Indians — and the many, many ways in which Ambani touches their world.

«

Phones, financial news, search engine, delivery logistics, multiple video streaming services, an all-in-one app, an AI platform for business, a shopping platforms, translation software, AI-based edtech, cloud storage, polyester fibres, home furniture, cleaning products, shoes and shoe stores, online pharmacies, fibre broadband, music streaming, jewellery, lingerie, cosmetics, prayer products (?), grocery brands, fizzy drinks, OK I ran out of time. This makes the dystopian stories of the big company or big guy owning everything seem all too real.
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Twitter alternative: how Mastodon is designed to be “antiviral” • UX Collective

Clive Thompson:

»

Back in 2017 I wrote a short column for Wired about “antiviral” design.

I’d recently been using some fun, experimental web services, like Rob Beschizza’s txt.fyi. These sites all allowed you to post stuff online, much as Facebook or Twitter did. But they had no social mechanisms for promoting posts: No “like” buttons, no share buttons, no feed showing which posts were the most popular. Txt.fyi even had a no-robots tag on each post, telling search engines not to index them. The only way someone would see what you’d posted on txt.fyi is if you somehow actively shared the URL with them.

The reason for these curious, un-Twitter-like features?

As Beschizza told me, it was encourage people to communicate and be creative — without constantly thinking about “will I get a huge audience for this”? Beschizza (and the other folks making these similarly antiviral sites) all believed that the design of the big social sites had deformed people’s behavior. Twitter and Instagram and Facebook etc. had coaxed people to constantly try to hack the attentional marketplace. It created a world of people incessantly making posts designed to be operatically theatrical, or to enrage — or to elicit some sort of high-voltage reaction.

As Beschizza said: “I wanted something where people could publish their thoughts without any false game of social manipulation, one-upmanship, and favor-trading.” It was, as I called it, “antiviral design”.

I’ve been thinking more and more about how this applies to Mastodon. I’ve been using Mastodon on and off for several years now. But the influx of newcomers has me using it a lot recently, so I’m noticing more and more how people behave on that network — or, more importantly, how they’re encouraged to behave.

And I’ve realized that Mastodon is a superb example of antiviral design.

«

Subtracting the various things that make virality easy on Twitter – single-press retweets, dunk-tweeting (OK quote tweets) – inevitably makes for a quieter network. (Still haven’t joined Mastodon.)
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How we geolocated a photo of a Russian missile programming team • Bellingcat

Aric Toler:

»

While conducting research for his latest Bellingcat investigation, Christo Grozev received a group photograph of the missile guidance team that were purported to be behind programming many of the cruise missiles that have hit Ukraine in recent months. As detailed in the article:

“Another team member, whose identity is not known as they contacted reporters via a burner email account that was provided by Bellingcat and The Insider to all contacted members, shared two group photos of the GVC team and two photos of their commander, Lt. Col. Bagnyuk, wearing his many medals.”

The team member who provided this 2013 photograph said it was taken at the Main Computation Centre of the General Staff (GVC) in Moscow, but we needed to independently verify this ourselves. During the course of our investigation, we had already discovered the GVC was located at Znamenka 19 – the headquarters of the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD). This fact was gleaned by looking for the names of engineers we had identified as working for the GVC in leaked Russian databases (including those that contain information about addresses used to register cars or sign up to online delivery apps). Some had registered addresses at Znamenka 19.

As such, the next challenge was to use geolocation techniques to confirm conclusively where the image was taken so that we could include it in our findings about the missile team. 

This brief article provides a walkthrough on how we geolocated this photograph, eventually verifying that it was indeed taken at the Russian MoD’s Znamenka 19 facility, one of the locations that hosts the GVC.

«

You might remember the amazing example from May 2021 where Bellingcat geolocated a photo taken from an FBI child exploitation case, based on just a poolside picture.
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Meta Quest Pro review: get me out of here • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

While Meta has described the Quest as a VR Nintendo Switch, it’s tailoring the Quest Pro to an audience that can buy a more expensive headset, starting with its looks and fit. The Quest Pro is an intimidatingly polished-looking piece of black plastic. Instead of the Quest 2’s cloth straps, it features a black plastic halo, which sits around your head and tightens with a wheel at the back, a bit like the original PlayStation VR. The headset is heavier than the Quest 2 at 722 grams compared to 503 grams, but it’s redistributed its weight to be less front-heavy, shifting its battery to the back.

I loved this design after a Quest Pro demo session, and I think it’s still got strong points. The headset fits more securely than the default Quest 2 strap system, which sometimes felt on the verge of slipping off. There’s no velcro for my long hair to get caught in.

But since that first demo, using the Quest Pro has become uniquely tortuous. Its ring puts practically all its substantial weight on my upper forehead, sometimes leaving a numb and tingling strip along my hairline. It feels a little better if I keep the fit loose, but that makes the headset less stable during games and other high-intensity activities. It’s a worse experience than the Quest 2 with its optional Elite Strap, which includes an over-the-head strap for balance and still leaves the Quest 2 about 100 grams lighter than the Quest Pro.

The battery doesn’t last as long as the Quest 2, but I had trouble using the Quest Pro long enough to wear it out
Meta has made some other hardware tradeoffs. The headset’s face mask is shallower than the Quest 2’s, for instance, so it gives you a peripheral view of the real world outside your headset. If you want to block out more light, you can snap on a pair of included magnetic silicone wings that act like blinders or a separate $49 mask that shuts out practically all light. That’s a nice bit of flexibility, except that the headset in its default state made me consistently nauseated, likely thanks to the constant visual clash of real and virtual worlds. (My colleague and boss Nilay Patel, a frequent Quest 2 user, experienced the same problems.) I had no trouble once I put the blinders on, but I’m guessing some people won’t reach that point; they’ll simply feel motion-sick and conclude VR isn’t for them.

«

Battery life of about two hours. But even that sounds like more than people want to spend wearing it.
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Induction cooking heats up with a $20m cash injection for Impulse • TechCrunch

Haje Jan Kamps:

»

All electric, everywhere, all of the time; that’s one of the many climate mantras. Induction stovetops take a lot of power, however — they can pull 40 amps at 240 volts. That’s the same as an at-home Level 2 EV charger. Needless to say, a lot of older houses aren’t wired to plug in a Tesla in your kitchen, which means it could get expensive to upgrade to an induction range. Impulse to the rescue — the company’s stoves include a battery solution, which means that it doesn’t pull the full 40 amps when it’s operating, and you could find yourself cooking with induction without having to upgrade your panel. Clever!

“I’d been thinking about how to supercharge home appliances for a while and the deeper I dug into the space, the clearer it became that there was a larger story bringing together whole-home electrification and added energy storage in alignment with new policy tailwinds and distributed energy resource incentives,” said Sam D’Amico, CEO at Impulse. “Integrating batteries not only unlocks really impressive performance improvements, it also removes a lot of common barriers around power or panel limitations with installing induction stoves while also adding energy storage to the grid.”

«

A neat enough idea – the battery can trickle charge while you’re not cooking. Your electricity bills are going to be fun, of course: gas is still cheaper, per kWh, than electricity.
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Protocol, the tech-news focused website, will shutter and lay off its entire staff • CNN Business

Oliver Darcy:

»

Staffers were told at an all-hands meeting Tuesday that the news organization will cease publishing on its website Thursday. The outlet’s flagship newsletter, Source Code, will continue publishing for several more weeks, but all other newsletters will stop after Tuesday.

The shuttering of the news organization will impact approximately 60 staffers, people familiar with the matter said. They will remain active employees through Friday, December 16, and then be eligible for eight weeks of severance, the people added.

Allbritton announced the launch of Protocol in late 2019 to much buzz. The Washington media mogul told Vanity Fair at the time that he wanted to replicate Politico’s successful model for the technology industry.

“I would love for this to be as big as, if not larger than, Politico is right now,” Allbritton told Vanity Fair in 2019.

But Protocol never had much luck. Shortly after launching, the global pandemic unleashed brutal economic headwinds on the media industry, resulting in some cuts to staff. Finally, when it seemed that the outlet might catch its footing as the pandemic’s grip on the economy lifted, German publishing giant Axel Springer closed a deal to purchase Politico. That acquisition resulted in Protocol, which had operated independently, being folded into Politico Media Group.

Goli Sheikholeslami, the chief executive of Political Media Group, has for months been working with Axel Springer to conduct a long-term strategy planning process to best position the company. The plan, people familiar with the matter said, is to double the size of the company by 2027.

But it comes as Big Tech firms have faced particularly challenging economic conditions, making it especially challenging for Protocol to generate revenue from advertising sales to the sector, people familiar with the matter said.

«

This is a pity: Protocol did lots of good stories. Linked here beginning in February 2020 with “Tech’s strangest job listings: future edition“, and to another 39 of their stories. Hope the stories at least will survive. But ad-funded things aren’t looking too wonderful just now./
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CVC, Group Black partner on bid for Vox Media • Axios

Sara Fischer:

»

CVC Capital Partners and Group Black are pursuing a joint bid to buy Vox Media, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The bid comes as the media sector is grappling with a tough economic climate and as CVC, the European private equity giant, is eyeing a consolidation move into more media assets across the U.S.

Last week, CVC and Group Black, a media collective, sent Vox a term sheet outlining details for a potential deal, sources tell Axios.

Despite industry challenges, Vox remains a top digital media company, housing popular sites like Eater and SB Nation, plus Thrillist and Seeker which it owns after its Group Nine Media deal last year.
Vox was valued at around $1bn after a $200m funding round in 2015.

Vox is not looking to sell the business at the moment, according to one source who spoke with Axios. The company declined to comment.

«

Also worth noting that Vox Media owns The Verge. If private equity gets hold of that (and the other Vox properties), expect all sorts of things to be squeezed for money. Techcrunch has been through a gentler version of that loop a couple of times, and it’s never a good outcome.
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How North Korea became a mastermind of crypto cyber crime • Financial Times

Christian Davies and Schott Chipolina:

»

Western security agencies and cyber security companies treat [North Korea] as one of the world’s four principal nation state-based cyber threats, alongside China, Russia, and Iran.

According to a UN panel of experts monitoring the implementation of international sanctions, money raised by North Korea’s criminal cyber operations are helping to fund the country’s illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programmes. Anne Neuberger, US deputy national security adviser for cyber security, said in July that North Korea “uses cyber to gain, we estimate, up to a third of their funds for their missile programme”.

Crypto analysis firm Chainalysis estimates that North Korea stole approximately $1bn in the first nine months of 2022 from decentralised crypto exchanges alone.

The rapid collapse last week of FTX, one of the biggest exchanges, has highlighted the opacity, erratic regulation and speculative frenzies that have been the central features of the market for digital assets. North Korea’s growing use of crypto heists has also served to demonstrate the absence of meaningful international regulation of the same markets.

Analysts say the scale and sophistication of the Axie Infinity hack [in which $620m of Ether was taken] exposed just how powerless the US and allied countries appear to be to prevent large-scale North Korean crypto theft.

Only about $30m of the crypto loot has since been recovered. That was after an alliance of law enforcement agencies and crypto analysis companies traced some of the stolen funds through a series of decentralised exchanges and so-called “crypto mixers”, software tools that can shuffle the crypto holdings of different users so as to obfuscate their origins.

«

As the article points out, it was Kim Jong Un who, on taking power leader in 2011, identified cyber capabilities as crucial to the country’s future success. How very right he was.
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Internal documents show how close the FBI came to deploying spyware • The New York Times

Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman:

»

During a closed-door session with lawmakers last December, Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, was asked whether the bureau had ever purchased and used Pegasus, the hacking tool that penetrates mobile phones and extracts their contents.

Mr. Wray acknowledged that the FBI had bought a license for Pegasus, but only for research and development. “To be able to figure out how bad guys could use it, for example,” he told Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, according to a transcript of the hearing that was recently declassified.

But dozens of internal FBI documents and court records tell a different story. The documents, produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by The New York Times against the bureau, show that FBI officials made a push in late 2020 and the first half of 2021 to deploy the hacking tools — made by the Israeli spyware firm NSO — in its own criminal investigations. The officials developed advanced plans to brief the bureau’s leadership, and drew up guidelines for federal prosecutors about how the FBI’s use of hacking tools would need to be disclosed during criminal proceedings.

It is unclear how the bureau was contemplating using Pegasus, and whether it was considering hacking the phones of American citizens, foreigners or both. In January, The Times revealed that FBI officials had also tested the NSO tool Phantom, a version of Pegasus capable of hacking phones with US numbers.
The FBI eventually decided not to deploy Pegasus in criminal investigations in July 2021, amid a flurry of stories about how the hacking tool had been abused by governments across the globe. But the documents offer a glimpse at how the US government — over two presidential administrations — wrestled with the promise and peril of a powerful cyberweapon.

«

Pegasus is the subject of a fascinating forthcoming book (which I’m reviewing for The Guardian). It really is the neutron bomb of the smartphone age: almost too dangerous to deploy. But not quite.
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Twitter is Going Great!

Volunteers from the Today in Tabs Discord:

»

Twitter is Going Great!

… and definitely does not develop features primarily to stroke Elon Musk’s delicate ego

«

Inspired by Molly White’s “Web3 Is Going Great” (“…and is definitely not an enormous grift that’s pouring lighter fluid on our already smouldering planet”), and doing much the same in showing howTwitter is gradually getting screwed up.

Web3IsGoingGreat is, by the way, keeping a tally of all the lenders and asset managers who are discovering that, whoopsie, they had lots of funds tied up in FTX which has of course gone insolvent/bankrupt/bad/south.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1901: Russian software embedded in apps, do speed traps stop speeders?, FTX v online poker cheating, and more


Attending the World Cup in Qatar might mean installing privacy-invading government apps. Would you? CC-licensed photo by Tsutomu Takasu on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


Coming up Friday: another post, due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 10 links for you. Not an RPC. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Going to the World Cup? Get ready to have your privacy invaded • TechRadar

Will McCurdy:

»

Several cybersecurity experts have highlighted potential data security issues ahead for attendees of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

The Norwegian government’s Head of Security Øyvind Vasaasen told NRK (opens in new tab): “It’s not my job to give travel advice, but personally I would never bring my mobile phone on a visit to Qatar”, likening the scope of official apps to giving someone the keys to your house. 

Those wanting to make a trip to the Middle East to experience the tournament live will need to install a Covid-19 tracker dubbed “Ehteraz” on their smartphones, alongside “Hayya”, a compulsory ticketing and transport app.

Vasaasen alleged that Ehteraz claims access “to several rights on your mobile, like access to read, delete or change all content on the phone, as well as access to connect to WiFi and Bluetooth, override other apps, and prevent the phone from switching off to sleep mode”.

Naomi Lintvedt, a research fellow at the University of Oslo’s Faculty of Law, opined that if she were an employer, she wouldn’t allow employees to work from their phones in Qatar.

In addition, France’s data protection authority CNIL suggested in Politico to “travel with a blank smartphone … or an old phone that has been reset” and that “special care should be taken with photos, videos, or digital works that could place you in difficulty with respect to the legislation of the country visited”.

«

Cop27 one day, Qatar’s World Cup the next.
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Exclusive: Russian software disguised as American finds its way into US Army, CDC apps • Reuters

James PEarson and Marisa Taylor:

»

Thousands of smartphone applications in Apple and Google’s online stores contain computer code developed by a technology company, Pushwoosh, that presents itself as based in the United States, but is actually Russian, Reuters has found.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States’ main agency for fighting major health threats, said it had been deceived into believing Pushwoosh was based in the US capital. After learning about its Russian roots from Reuters, it removed Pushwoosh software from seven public-facing apps, citing security concerns.

The US Army said it had removed an app containing Pushwoosh code in March because of the same concerns. That app was used by soldiers at one of the country’s main combat training bases.

According to company documents publicly filed in Russia and reviewed by Reuters, Pushwoosh is headquartered in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk, where it is registered as a software company that also carries out data processing. It employs around 40 people and reported revenue of 143,270,000 rubles ($2.4m) last year. Pushwoosh is registered with the Russian government to pay taxes in Russia.

On social media and in US regulatory filings, however, it presents itself as a US company, based at various times in California, Maryland and Washington DC, Reuters found.

Pushwoosh provides code and data processing support for software developers, enabling them to profile the online activity of smartphone app users and send tailor-made push notifications from Pushwoosh servers.

On its website, Pushwoosh says it does not collect sensitive information, and Reuters found no evidence Pushwoosh mishandled user data. Russian authorities, however, have compelled local companies to hand over user data to domestic security agencies.

Pushwoosh’s founder, Max Konev, told Reuters in a September email that the company had not tried to mask its Russian origins. “I am proud to be Russian and I would never hide this.”

…Pushwoosh code has been embedded into almost 8,000 apps in the Google and Apple app stores, according to Appfigures, an app intelligence website. Pushwoosh’s website says it has more than 2.3 billion devices listed in its database.

«

Never hide it, no, sure, not much. The classic problem of embedded frameworks.
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The big idea: stopping climate change isn’t enough – we need to reverse it • The Guardian

Zeke Hausfather is director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute:

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We have a saying in the climate science world – that CO2 is forever. It will take close to half a million years before a ton of CO2 emitted today from burning fossil fuels is completely removed from the atmosphere naturally. This means that when we try to neutralise or undo fossil fuel emissions – for example, with carbon offsets – those interventions should operate over a similar timeframe: a ton of emissions from cutting down trees can be neutralised by putting more carbon in trees or soils, but CO2 from fossil fuels needs to be balanced by more permanent carbon removal. This is the reason why the respected Science Based Targets initiative only allows measures that permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere to neutralise a company’s remaining fossil fuel emissions in their net-zero standard – and only alongside deep emissions reductions.

We should not oversell the role of carbon removal. The vast majority of the time it is cheaper to reduce emissions than to remove CO2 from the atmosphere after the fact. Models that limit warming to 1.5C show that we need to reduce global CO2 emissions by around 90%, while only using carbon removal for around 10%. But 10% of the solution to a problem as big as climate change is still something we cannot afford to ignore.

In 2021 the world spent a total of $755bn on reducing emissions. We should probably aim to spend about 1% of that money on carbon removal technologies.

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$7.5bn? If that amount was put in annually in venture capital, perhaps it would make some difference.
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Speed traps have no long-term effect on speeding • Strong Towns

Seairra Shepherd:

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No one likes to get a speeding ticket, but police hand out citations thousands of times a day throughout the United States. In El Paso, along Delta Drive, law enforcement issued 136 speeding citations to drivers in just six days, in an effort to stop speeding along Delta Drive, where many locals had complained about cars passing by at dangerous speeds. After the six-day citation spree, the police department claimed on their twitter to have successfully slowed down the cars.

A month after this, Strong Towns member and El Paso Community College civil engineering student Zachary Staggs wondered if the speed trap really did put a stop to speeding. 

Deciding to conduct a speed study, Staggs placed himself in an inconspicuous spot away from school zones or intersections that may have influenced the results. He spent two hours tracking oncoming traffic speed from both directions to collect the study data. 

“My takeaway is that whatever the police did, it didn’t work,” said Staggs. “At all.” 

On a sunny October day, eight out of ten drivers exceeded the posted speed limit of 35 mph. One out of four drivers sped 10 mph or more over the limit. Some vehicles were caught going as fast as 60 mph.

“It was insane,” said Staggs. “I felt I could count the people who were going under the speed limit on my fingers, and that didn’t feel right to me.”

Staggs’s results are a striking demonstration of a basic truth about driving: The typical driver does not select their speed based on the posted speed limit. Rather, they rely on visual and other physical cues that intuitively communicate to them how fast it feels safe to go on a given roadway.

This is what’s known as “design speed,” and it may be substantially higher than the legal speed limit. Engineers often use the 85th percentile speed (the speed that 85% of drivers are going at or under) as an indication of design speed. According to Staggs’s findings, on Delta Drive, the 85th percentile speed falls at 45 mph, a full ten miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

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If you look at the picture in the article, it’s obvious why vehicles don’t drive along it at 35mph: it’s a long, straight dual carriageway with wide pavements and no houses on either side. The question isn’t why people disobey the speed limit; it’s why anyone thought a speed limit of 35mph could make sense. The headline isn’t supported by finding. As Staggs says later in the story, the problem is the road design, if they really want to enforce that limit.
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FTX collapse, Tether operations have links to infamous online-poker cheating scandals • Poker.org

Haley Hintze:

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While many mainstream reports on FTX’s collapse have focused on the failed deals between the billionaire owner-founders of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, and Binance, Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, the story also includes the involvement of at least one dark figure in online poker history, Daniel S. Friedberg, who serves as FTX’s Chief Regulatory Officer. Friedberg is positioned in a central role in assuring that FTX remains in compliance with financial exchanges and licensing regimes around the globe.

Friedberg played a prominent and infamous role in the coverup of the insider-cheating scandal at UltimateBet in the mid-2000s, and he helped orchestrate some of the questionable legal moves that allowed the Portland, Oregon-based site evade US law enforcement efforts throughout its existence. Those business and legal moves included the creation of a false-front office in Canada which in turn allowed for an IPO on the London Stock Exchange, a faked sale of the company to Tokwiro Enterprises (an entity created by the former chief of the Kahnawake nation, Joseph Tokwiro Norton), licensing in various offshore “rubber stamp” jurisdictions, and ultimately, a shadowy merger with another online-poker company, Absolute Poker, which was also riddled with insider fraud and crippled by its own cheating scandal.

Friedberg, who served as FTX’s general counsel before taking on the company’s regulatory role, was recently described by Coingeek’s Steven Stradbrooke as being “almost comically inappropriate” for the job. The description appears apt, given Friedberg’s long history of not complying with various jurisdictions’ regulations, but rather, evading them.

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Oh now you tell us. Though actually this stuff was obvious for anyone who took the trouble to look at the backgrounds of people like Friedberg. But crypto boosters wouldn’t pay attention to that. FTX (or Alameda) though was essentially self-funded by Bankman-Fried’s real trading skills doing arbitrage on Korean crypto exchanges. After that, though, things went bad. Very bad.
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Google agrees to $392m privacy settlement with 40 states • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

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In the location privacy settlement, the state attorneys general claimed that Google gave the false impression that when users turned off location tracking services, the company no longer collected geolocation data about them. But through Google’s broad array of other services like search, maps and apps that connect to Wi-Fi and cellular phone towers, the company continued amassing and storing an intricate history of users’ movements, according to the states.

Until May 2018, Google even tracked the location of users who had logged out of Google apps, an action that could lead a consumer to believe location tracking had been disabled, the attorneys general said.

“For years, Google prioritized profit over the privacy of people who use Google products and services,” said Ellen Rosenblum, the Oregon attorney general, who led the case along with Nebraska. “Consumers thought they had turned ‘off’ their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

In addition to paying the monetary sum, which will go to state coffers, Google has promised to make clearer how it collects location data, including what kinds of data it can still accumulate when location tracking is disabled for one setting but not for others. The company must also notify users about how to disable location tracking, delete the data collected by the settings and set data retention limits. Users will be notified by pop-up boxes and more detailed information on Google’s informational page about location technologies.

The states’ investigation began after a 2018 Associated Press article on Google’s misleading location tracking practices.

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Note that little bit at the end. Journalism can actually make a difference to these behaviours. Recall that the whole issue about location tracking (and, later, address uploading) began with journalists writing about the topic, which then came to wider notice, and then to legislators’ notice.
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DeviantArt upsets artists with its new AI art generator, DreamUp • Ars Technica

Benj Edwards:

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On Friday, the online art community DeviantArt announced DreamUp, an AI-powered text-to-image generator service powered by Stable Diffusion. Simultaneously, DeviantArt launched an initiative that ostensibly lets artists opt out of AI image training but also made everyone’s art opt-in by default, which angered many members.

DreamUp creates novel AI-generated art based on text prompts. Due to its Stable Diffusion roots, DreamUp learned how to generate images by analyzing hundreds of millions of images scraped off sites like DeviantArt and collected into LAION datasets without artists’ permission, a potential irony that some DeviantArt members find problematic.

As we’ve reported frequently on Ars in the past, Stable Diffusion’s web-scraping nature ignited a huge debate earlier this year among artists that challenge the ethics of AI-generated artwork. Some art communities have taken hard stances against any AI-generated images, banning them completely.

Perhaps anticipating a backlash, DeviantArt is making overtures to pacify artists who might be upset about their work being used to train AI image generators. The site is providing a special “noai” flag that artists can check in their image settings to opt out of third-party image datasets. (Whether third-party image scrapers will honor this flag, however, remains to be seen.)

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“NoAI” is reminiscent of the “nofollow” tag that emerged a couple of decades ago when spam in blog comments began to be a problem: it told Google (and other search engines took the scheme up too) essentially to ignore the linked site. Perhaps that’s going to be the next step in this debate.
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Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks • MIT Technology Review

Chris Stokel-Walker:

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“Sometimes you’ll get notifications that are a little off,” says one engineer currently working at Twitter, who’s concerned about the way the platform is reacting after vast swathes of his colleagues who were previously employed to keep the site running smoothly were fired. (That last sentence is why the engineer has been granted anonymity to talk for this story.) After struggling with downtime during its “Fail Whale” days, Twitter eventually became lauded for its team of site reliability engineers, or SREs. Yet this team has been decimated in the aftermath of Musk’s takeover. “It’s small things, at the moment, but they do really add up as far as the perception of stability,” says the engineer.

The small suggestions of something wrong will amplify and multiply as time goes on, he predicts—in part because the skeleton staff remaining to handle these issues will quickly burn out. “Round-the-clock is detrimental to quality, and we’re already kind of seeing this,” he says. 

Twitter’s remaining engineers have largely been tasked with keeping the site stable over the last few days, since the new CEO decided to get rid of a significant chunk of the staff maintaining its code base. As the company tries to return to some semblance of normalcy, more of their time will be spent addressing Musk’s (often taxing) whims for new products and features, rather than keeping what’s already there running.

This is particularly problematic, says [highly experienced SRE Ben] Krueger, for a site like Twitter, which can have unforeseen spikes in user traffic and interest. Krueger contrasts Twitter with online retail sites, where companies can prepare for big traffic events like Black Friday with some predictability. “When it comes to Twitter, they have the possibility of having a Black Friday on any given day at any time of the day,” he says. “At any given day, some news event can happen that can have significant impact on the conversation.” Responding to that is harder to do when you lay off up to 80% of your SREs—a figure Krueger says has been bandied about within the industry but which MIT Technology Review has been unable to confirm. The Twitter engineer agreed that the percentage sounded “plausible.”

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This article appeared a week ago, and things have just started to fray at the edges. The World Cup’s now starting: that’s going to load-test Twitter in multiple non-Western countries at once. Interesting times.
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Fake Eli Lilly account may cost Twitter millions • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:

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Inside the real Eli Lilly, the fake sparked a panic, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Company officials scrambled to contact Twitter representatives and demanded they kill the viral spoof, worried it could undermine their brand’s reputation or push false claims about people’s medicine. Twitter, its staffing cut in half, didn’t react for hours.

The aftermath of that $8 spoof offers a potentially costly lesson for Musk, who has long treated Twitter as a playground for bawdy jokes and trolls but now must find a way to operate as a business following his $44bn takeover.

By Friday morning, Eli Lilly executives had ordered a halt to all Twitter ad campaigns — a potentially serious blow, given that the $330bn company controls the kind of massive advertising budget that Musk says the company needs to avoid bankruptcy. They also paused their Twitter publishing plan for all corporate accounts around the world.

“For $8, they’re potentially losing out on millions of dollars in ad revenue,” said Amy O’Connor, a former senior communications official at Eli Lilly who now works at a trade association. “What’s the benefit to a company … of staying on Twitter? It’s not worth the risk when patient trust and health are on the line.”

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Later in the day Musk tweeted that verification would be done…by Twitter.
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Dan O’Dowd is the rich tech CEO spending millions to stop Elon Musk • The Washington Post

Gerrit de Vynck:

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O’Dowd, who made his fortune selling software to military customers, has been using the [Tesla] Model 3 to test and film the [car’s] self-driving software. He’s documented what appear to be examples of the car swerving across the centerline toward oncoming traffic, failing to slow down in a school zone and missing stop signs. This summer, he triggered an uproar by releasing a video showing his Tesla — allegedly in Full Self-Driving mode — mowing down child-size mannequins.

“If Tesla gets away with this and ships this product and I can’t convince the public that a self-driving car that drives like a drunken, suicidal 13-year-old shouldn’t be on the road, I’m going to fail,” O’Dowd said in an interview from his Santa Barbara office, where glass cases display his collection of ancient coins and auction-bought mementos from NASA moon missions.

O’Dowd has run nationwide TV ads with the videos and even launched an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate as part of his one-man crusade to challenge what he sees as the cavalier development of dangerous technology. For O’Dowd and other skeptics, the program is a deadly experiment foisted on an unsuspecting public — a view underscored by a recently filed class-action lawsuit and a reported Department of Justice investigation into the tech.

Despite O’Dowd’s high-profile campaign, and the concern from some regulators and politicians, Tesla is charging ahead with what it claims is world-changing technology. The company and its supporters argue their approach will help usher in a future in which death from human errors on roadways is eliminated. At the end of September, during a four-hour event in which Tesla showed off its latest artificial intelligence tech, Musk said Full Self-Driving is already saving lives and keeping it off public roads would be “morally wrong.”

“At the point of which you believe that adding autonomy reduces injury and death, I think you have a moral obligation to deploy it even though you’re going to get sued and blamed by a lot of people,” Musk said. Musk and Tesla, which does not typically answer media inquiries, did not respond to requests for comment.

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How nice – a Musk story that’s about screwups at a company that isn’t Twitter. Except.. if this is wrong, then people die.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified