Start Up No.1209: the podcasters hacking Ring cameras, Strava drives London’s cyclists, Apple’s influential journalists, the Apple non-tax, and more


Do you like this stuff? Then you’re probably the sort of person who picks politicians nobody cares for. Marketers love you. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart 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. A minority view. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside the podcast that hacks Ring camera owners live on air • VICE

Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler:

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“Sit back and relax to over 45 minutes of entertainment,” an advertisement for the podcast posted to a hacking forum called Nulled reads. “Join us as we go on completely random tangents such as; Ring & Nest Trolling, telling shelter owners we killed a kitten, Nulled drama, and more ridiculous topics. Be sure to join our Discord to watch the shows live.”

Software to hack Ring cameras has recently become popular on the forum. The software churns through previously compromised email addresses and passwords to break into Ring cameras at scale. This has led to a recent spate of hacks that have occurred both during the podcast and at other times, several of which have been covered by local media outlets. In Brookhaven a hacker shouted at a sleeping woman through her hacked Ring camera to wake-up. In Texas, a hacker demanded a couple pay a bitcoin ransom. Hackers targeted a family in DeSoto County, Mississippi, and spoke through the device to one of the young children.

Ring cameras are the wildly popular home surveillance devices owned and heavily marketed by Amazon. The company has signed partnership agreements with hundreds of police departments around the country; many of these police departments have marketed and sold Ring devices on the company’s behalf. These internet-connected cameras have invaded much of America’s suburbs, as Gizmodo showed using data that Ring left exposed. These hacks, and this podcast, have turned devices nominally designed to protect people’s homes into surveillance devices that have been turned back on their owners.

After the recent media attention about Ring hacks, Nulled members are scrambling to remove evidence of the Ring hacks and distance themselves from the practice.

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Inviting devices into your home and not having simple ways to make them secure seems suboptimal. And so it proves.
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City planners zero in on cyclists through exercise app • Financial Times

Bethan Staton:

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When the UK capital built a “cycle superhighway” in 2016, Strava indicated where people had changed their route and showed that the number of cyclists increased by 60% when a bike-only lane was built along the Victoria Embankment on the Thames. Planners can observe changes, such as many cyclists avoiding a direct route, to see where roads may be dangerous.

Granular data from Strava also show where cyclists have to stop and wait, information Ms Hall used to review traffic light patterns so more cyclists could get a clear run on their commute.

While recognising its potential, however, researchers warned that Strava and other crowdsourced data sets should be treated with caution. Giulio Ferrini, from cycling charity Sustrans, said the average Strava user was probably “not representative” of the average cyclist.

Strava says it has 5.5m users in the UK. But researchers fear they are a self-selecting group, filtered by an affinity for exercise apps that may make them more competitive than others. According to Ms Hall at TfL, they “tend to be more gung-ho”.

Relying on crowdsourced data, Mr Ferrini said, could lead to cities being designed for “white men in Lycra” who usually travel speedily from A to B and neglecting groups such as parents who cycle with their children to school.

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Data-powered policy decisions: enormously difficult, because how do you collect the best data without forcing people to participate in the collection? This is a good enough compromise, I suppose.
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A better internet is waiting for us • The New York Times

Annalee Newitz:

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Social media is broken. It has poisoned the way we communicate with each other and undermined the democratic process. Many of us just want to get away from it, but we can’t imagine a world without it. Though we talk about reforming and regulating it, “fixing” it, those of us who grew up on the internet know there’s no such thing as a social network that lasts forever. Facebook and Twitter are slowly imploding. And before they’re finally dead, we need to think about what the future will be like after social media so we can prepare for what comes next.

I don’t mean brainstorming new apps that could replace outdated ones, the way Facebook did Myspace. I mean what will replace social media the way the internet replaced television, transforming our entire culture?

To find out what comes next, I went on a quest. I was looking for a deeper future than the latest gadget cycle, so I spoke to experts in media history, tech designers, science fiction writers and activists for social justice. I even talked to an entity that is not a person at all.

Collectively, they gave me a glimpse of a future where the greatest tragedy is not the loss of our privacy. It is the loss of an open public sphere. There are many paths beyond the social media hellscape, and all of them begin with reimagining what it means to build public spaces where people seek common ground.

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The “harbinger customers” who buy unpopular products and back losing politicians • Kottke

Jason Kottke:

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This paper, about the curious phenomenon of “harbinger customers” and “harbinger zip codes”, is really interesting. These harbinger customers tend to buy unpopular products like Crystal Pepsi or Colgate Kitchen Entrees and support losing political candidates.

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First, the findings document the existence of “harbinger zip codes.” If households in these zip codes adopt a new product, this is a signal that the new product will fail. Second, a series of comparisons reveal that households in harbinger zip codes make other decisions that differ from other households. The first comparison identifies harbinger zip codes using purchases from one retailer and then evaluates purchases at a different retailer. Households in harbinger zip codes purchase products from the second retailer that other households are less likely to purchase. The analysis next compares donations to congressional election candidates; households in harbinger zip codes donate to different candidates than households in neighboring zip codes, and they donate to candidates who are less likely to win. House prices in harbinger zip codes also increase at slower rates than in neighboring zip codes.

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It’s fascinating that these people’s preferences persist across all sorts of categories — it’s like they’re generally out of sync with the rest of society.

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They’re a strange group: everything they touch (or pick up in the supermarket) sells like crap.
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Magic Leap is renaming its AR headset to attract business customers • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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The new headset will ship on Magic Leap’s own site and through AT&T, just like the old one. But it’s cast as a commercial product rather than a kit for developers or artists. Magic Leap is using this new device to launch an operating system update and a software suite that appeals to professional customers, including a virtual collaboration application called Jump, which is rolling out in beta over the coming months. Magic Leap is also selling an “Enterprise Suite” at a higher price of $2,995, offering buyers access to dedicated support, device management software, and a “rapid replace” program if a headset malfunctions.

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Oh look, the pivot to business. Only, what, two or three years late.
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How Apple News UK editors quietly influence UK’s election reading • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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Rasmus Nielsen, of the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for Journalism, believes the power of the service – and equivalents such as Samsung’s Upday – is under-appreciated. “Our data suggests that more than a quarter of online news users in the UK rely on one or more aggregators for online news, and Apple News and Google News have higher reach among people aged 18-24 than established brands like ITV and Sky or the Sun and the Mirror,” Nielsen said. “Their editorial processes, however, remains opaque, whether reliant on human editors, algorithms, or some combination.”

[The five UK-based] journalists who work for Apple News have scrubbed the company’s name from their social media accounts, a move that reduces the risk of them being accused of bias but adds to the lack of transparency around their decisions.

People at British media organisations who deal with Apple News say the editors have a welcome reputation for promoting exclusives and high-quality news featuring original reporting in their “top stories” section. If the Apple News editors like what they see, their backing can deliver enormous numbers of readers – which gives these editors a power akin to an old-school newspaper boss choosing a front-page story.

“You could get a million views in the UK alone if they pick one of your stories,” said one social media manager at a British news site, who suggested outlets were hooked on traffic from the service. Although news websites struggle to make money from Apple News traffic, they are often loth to give up a source of traffic that can refer more readers than Facebook.

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Being a default helps, I suppose.
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“Link In Bio” is a slow knife • Anil Dash

Anil Dash:

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Links on the web are incredibly powerful. There are decades of theory behind the role of hyperlinks in hypertext — did you know in most early versions, links were originally designed to be two-way?  You’d be able to see every page on the web that links to this one. But even in the very simple form that we’ve ended up with on the World Wide Web for the last 30 years, links are incredibly powerful, opening up valuable connections between unexpected things.

For a closed system, those kinds of open connections are deeply dangerous. If anyone on Instagram can just link to any old store on the web, how can Instagram — meaning Facebook, Instagram’s increasingly-overbearing owner — tightly control commerce on its platform? If Instagram users could post links willy-nilly, they might even be able to connect directly to their users, getting their email addresses or finding other ways to communicate with them. Links represent a threat to closed systems.

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I remember quite a while back when Deja News was a standalone company (it archived Usenet newsgroups – a bit like archiving all of Twitter) that it was advertising-run, but none of the links worked. You literally couldn’t get out of it: it was an internet black hole, and the walls were covered in ads. Dash’s point is that Instagram is trying to do the same. (Google eventually bought Deja in February 2001. It had no idea what to do with it either.)
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52 things I learned in 2019 • Medium

Tom Whitwell:

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This year I edited another book, worked on fascinating projects at Fluxx, and learned many learnings.

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Whitwell’s lists are always one of the most wonderful things about the end of the year. A couple of favourites: emojis in court cases, harbinger customers (included today), the 10,000 steps source, how the US is like Mongolia, Japan’s love of CDs, and that asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk.
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The “Apple Tax” died years ago • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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The theory of there being an Apple Tax has been around for more than a decade. The term was coined during the mid-2000s to refer primarily to Apple laptops (iBooks and then MacBooks). A MacBook was said to cost more money than a Windows laptop with similar specifications because of there being a premium built into the MacBook’s price. Said another way, the MacBook was more expensive than other products since it included an Apple logo.

The “Apple Tax’ phrase became a way to poke fun at MacBook users for their apparent cluelessness in paying more for a product despite cheaper alternatives being available. In recent years, the Apple Tax definition has morphed to merely refer to higher-priced Apple products like the iMac Pro and new Mac Pro.

There has always been a glaring hole in the Apple Tax narrative: Since Apple does not license its Mac operating system to OEMs, a MacBook running Apple software ends up being very different than a Windows laptop said to have similar specs. In addition, while Apple made a number of content creation applications available for free on the Mac, Windows laptops positioned as direct competitors lacked such free applications. It may be more correct to say that the Apple Tax reflected the price of Mac software instead of some kind of premium created out of thin air.

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Welllllll, Windows OEMs had to pay a licence fee for Windows to Microsoft. But Apple included lots of other pieces of software – Garageband (which has been used by professionals), iMovie (Bill Gates complained bitterly to Microsoft’s engineers that Windows Movie Maker wasn’t anything like as good) and iPhoto (…). But there was also build quality.
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When China and other big countries launch cryptocurrencies, it will kick off a global revolution • The Conversation

Liang Zhao is a doctoral researcher at Lund University:

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There has been a massive rise in the number of bilateral agreements between central banks that allow two countries to swap currencies directly, a large number involving China. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have been repatriating their gold reserves from vaults in the US where they had long been stored.

Yet by comparison, major sovereign digital currencies based on blockchain technology would be revolutionary. Blockchains are encrypted ledgers for storing information that are decentralised rather than being under any country’s or company’s control. When applied to international payments, this offers the prospect of much more transparent and cheaper transactions than SWIFT.

It could cut the payments time lag from a couple of days to one second, and the cost from 0.01% to almost nothing. It will have the capacity to handle far higher volumes of payments, partly since they won’t require bank accounts or even internet access.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and XRP have been a good experiment in using blockchains for international payments. Yet when countries issue equivalents of their own, these will have even more advantages. They will be backed by states, and completely decentralised cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin will not be able to compete with this.

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I’d certainly agree on that latter point – bitcoin will get squashed by any national cryptocurrency, because it won’t be able to compete in exchange terms; governments could make it really difficult to exchange bitcoin for any useful currency (which bitcoin still isn’t). The suggestion is that a flip to national cryptocurrencies could happen in the same manner as going bankrupt: gradually, and then suddenly.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1208: YouTube tweaks ‘hate speech’ policy, Trump fined and barred from NY charity work, Apple Pro Display XDR Cloth©, the 201x’s 100 gadgets, and more


TIME’s Person of The Year – but is one year enough? (Mural: Jody Thomas, in Bristol) CC-licensed photo by Andrew Gustar 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Greta Thunberg: TIME’s Person of the Year 2019 • Time

Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes and Justin Worland:

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For a moment, it’s as if Thunberg were the eye of a hurricane, a pool of resolve at the center of swirling chaos. In here, she speaks quietly. Out there, the entire natural world seems to amplify her small voice, screaming along with her.

“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”

It’s a simple truth, delivered by a teenage girl in a fateful moment. The sailboat, La Vagabonde, will shepherd Thunberg to the Port of Lisbon, and from there she will travel to Madrid, where the United Nations is hosting this year’s climate conference. It is the last such summit before nations commit to new plans to meet a major deadline set by the Paris Agreement. Unless they agree on transformative action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution will hit the 1.5°C mark—an eventuality that scientists warn will expose some 350 million additional people to drought and push roughly 120 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. For every fraction of a degree that temperatures increase, these problems will worsen. This is not fearmongering; this is science. For decades, researchers and activists have struggled to get world leaders to take the climate threat seriously. But this year, an unlikely teenager somehow got the world’s attention.

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This is well deserved; the only downside is that 11 months from now, they’ll be casting around for someone else to name as the person around whom the year is deemed to have revolved. (Quick test: can you recall who it was last year?) By its nature, there’s an implication that the Person only mattered this year; and then we can move on to other things. The climate crisis is here for the rest of our lives.
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YouTube will ban videos that ‘maliciously insult’ people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation • Buzzfeed News

Mark Di Stefano:

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“Beyond threatening someone, there is also demeaning language that goes too far,” reads the statement by YouTube’s vice president, Matt Halprin. “To establish a consistent criteria for what type of content is not allowed on YouTube, we’re building upon the framework we use for our hate speech policy.

“We will no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation. This applies to everyone, from private individuals, to YouTube creators, to public officials.”

…The company also said YouTubers who “repeatedly brush up” against the harassment policy will also be removed from the platform’s partner program and will lose the ability to make ad revenue from advertising on videos.

But the new update also raises questions about how YouTube would deal with “malicious insults” made by “public officials”. President Donald Trump, who has made numerous disparaging remarks about individuals based on their race, uploads videos to his YouTube channel and livestreams all his rallies to the platform.

During a rally in Pennsylvania last night, Trump revived the use of “Pocahontas” as an insult, referring to Democratic presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage. He even bragged that the slurs had hurt Warren in the polls: “She’s starting to crash again. I thought I knocked her down. I did that heavy, heavy Pocahontas deal.”

YouTube has looked specifically at Trump’s use of the “Pocahontas” insult. According to the platform’s policy team, it’s not a violation of the new policy because it is directed at Warren in a political manner, in an apparent effort to ridicule her for allegedly exploiting her heritage with voters.

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There’s always an exception for Trump, isn’t there? And how is “malicious” defined? It’s the usual cottonwool.
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Trump pays $2m in damages ordered by judge over misuse of charity funds, according to NY attorney general • The Washington Post

David Fahrentold:

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President Trump has paid $2 million in court-ordered damages for misusing funds in a tax-exempt charity he controlled, the New York attorney general said Tuesday…

In the 2000s, Trump began to use the charity in ways that benefited himself or his businesses, according to the attorney general’s lawsuit. He used the charity’s cash to buy paintings of himself and sports memorabilia and to pay $258,000 in legal settlements for his for-profit clubs.

Charity leaders are barred from using their nonprofits’ money for personal benefit.

Trump also used the charity to boost political campaigns — first, Pamela Bondi’s Florida attorney general campaign, and then his own 2016 campaign. Trump gave away Trump Foundation checks onstage at rallies, despite strict rules barring nonprofit charities from participating in political campaigns.

The New York attorney general’s suit drew heavily on reporting by The Washington Post during the 2016 election.

Now, the foundation will be shuttered. The consequences of this case will linger for Trump. Under the terms of the settlement, he has agreed to special supervision if he ever returns to charity work in New York.

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The lawsuit only began in 2018, so that’s quite a rapid result. I hope nobody’s surprised that Trump corruptly used a charity for personal gain and broke every rule surrounding it; it’s entirely in character. The Trump organisation wouldn’t say whether it’s going to count the $2m fine as a “charitable donation” because it went to charities. What’s the betting…
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49% of workers, when forced to update their password, reuse the same one with just a minor change • Graham Cluley

The aforementioned Cluley:

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A survey of 200 people conducted by security outfit HYPR has some alarming findings.

For instance, not only did 72% of users admit that they reused the same passwords in their personal life, but also 49% admitted that when forced to update their passwords in the workplace they reused the same one with a minor change.

Furthermore, many users were clearly relying upon their puny human memory to remember passwords (42% in the office, 35% in their personal lives) rather than something more reliable. This, no doubt, feeds users’ tendency to choose weak, easy-to-crack passwords as well as reusing old passwords or making minor changes to existing ones.

According to the survey, forgetting passwords is a big problem – with 78% of respondents saying that they had had to reset a password in their personal life within the last 90 days (57% said the same for the workplace). HYPR said that this was due to users’ forgetting their passwords, so I presume they are not including figures for users who have had password resets forced upon them due to a security incident.

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Not surprising; we’ve gone in the past 20 years from a situation where you might need one password (for your email) to one where they’re needed in scores of situations – smartphone, social media sites, apps, email – and that has happened far faster than people have been able to adapt their tool use (eg password managers), with all the cognitive overload, and hence bad security, that implies.
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India proposes new rules to access its citizens’ data – TechCrunch

Manish Singh:

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India has proposed groundbreaking rules, akin to Europe’s GDPR, that would require technology companies to garner consent from citizens before collecting and processing their personal data.

But at the same time, the new rules also state that companies would have to hand over “non-personal” data of their users to the government, and New Delhi would also hold the power to collect any data of its citizens without consent to serve sovereignty and larger public interest.

The new rules, proposed in nation’s first major data protection law dubbed “Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” a copy of which leaked on Tuesday, would permit New Delhi to “exempt any agency of government from application of Act in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order.”

If the bill passes — and it is expected to be discussed in the Parliament in the coming weeks — select controversial laws drafted more than a decade ago would remain unchanged. The bill might also change how global technology companies that have invested billions of dollars in India, thanks in part to the lax laws, see the nation of more than 600 million internet users.

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Give with one hand, take with the other. India’s government shows worrying signs of really overt authoritarianism.
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How to clean your Apple Pro Display XDR • Apple Support

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How to clean your Apple Pro Display XDR

Your Pro Display XDR has either standard or nano-texture glass. To prevent damage to your display, follow these important guidelines for cleaning the display panel and enclosure.

Clean the nano-texture glass:
Use only the dry polishing cloth that comes with your display to wipe dust or smudges off the screen. Don’t add water or use other liquids to clean the nano-texture glass.

Never use any other cloths to clean the nano-texture glass. If you lose the included polishing cloth, you can contact Apple to order a replacement polishing cloth.

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Though with the standard glass, you can “Use the polishing cloth that came with your display or another clean, dry, micro-fiber cloth”. Nano-structures, maxi-care, it seems.
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Scoop: China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance in Xinjiang – Axios

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian:

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Chinese recipients of World Bank loans tried to secure funding for the purchase of facial recognition technology for use in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang, according to documents obtained by Axios.

The World Bank’s loan program in Xinjiang demonstrates the extreme moral hazard that is now facing any organization with operations in the region, where China has constructed a surveillance state and detained more than a million ethnic minorities.

In more than 8,000 pages of official World Bank Chinese-language procurement documents dated June 2017 and reviewed by Axios, Chinese recipients of the loan program requested tens of thousands of dollars for the purchase of facial recognition cameras and software, night-vision cameras, and other surveillance technology for use in Xinjiang schools.

The World Bank told Axios those funds were not disbursed. A World Bank spokesperson said, “As an institution focused on ending poverty, the World Bank knows that inclusive societies are key to sustainable development, and we take a strong line against discrimination of any kind. We promote equal access to opportunities, including education and training, so that everyone can seek to realize his or her full potential. We are fully committed to the integrity of our projects. We respond immediately when issues are raised, and we act based on facts.”

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Well done, World Bank.
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My paper reported the story of the boy on a hospital floor. Then online lies took over • The Guardian

James Mitchinson edits the Yorkshire Evening Post, which broke a story about a mother whose child with suspected pneumonia had to rest on coats because no emergency beds were available:

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On Monday night, one of our readers, a woman called Margaret, wrote to tell me that despite being a regular buyer of the Yorkshire Post (sister paper of the Yorkshire Evening Post), she had been let down by us. She’d seen a post on Facebook that showed we had not checked our facts. That social media post was from a nice, respectable, family-oriented lady who had a “good friend” working as a nurse at LGI [Leeds General Infirmary] who explained that our news story was in fact fake. This is despite all of the facts in front of Margaret – and all readers – on our part: including an explanation from the chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals General Trust and an apology – a sincere and heartfelt one – from its chief executive.

I faced losing a loyal reader because Margaret was taken in by the seeming warmth and sincerity of the manipulatively crafted words of a complete stranger. Someone who she did not know, could not contact, could not hold to account. This digital disease of our time was killing my business, imperilling the livelihoods of those employed on the titles I’m charged with looking after.

I wrote to Margaret to politely and sympathetically explain she had been the victim of a con. The source she cited had been tracked down by lunchtime on Tuesday: the woman whose Facebook post claimed the Jack Williment-Barr story was a hoax said that her account had been hacked and she had nothing to do with the allegations.

Unlike most cons, Margaret had lost no money. But she – like all of us – is in danger of losing something more valuable: the ability to discern between truth and lies in the news we consume, wherever we consume it.

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The deeper question: who writes the misinformation, and what is their purpose? Just for the lulz?
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Smart lock has a security vulnerability that leaves homes open for attacks • CNET

Alfred Ng:

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Smart locks are sold as devices that can make getting in your home more convenient, but security researchers found a vulnerability that makes it easy for hackers and thieves to do the same. 

On Wednesday, Finland-based security company F-Secure disclosed flaws with the “KeyWe Smart Lock,” which marketed itself as the “Smartest Lock Ever!” The lock sells for about $155 on Amazon and allows for unlocking doors through a mobile app. 

F-Secure’s researchers found that potential hackers could intercept network traffic between the mobile app and the smart lock, essentially stealing the keys to someone’s home out of thin air. 

“Unfortunately, the lock’s design makes bypassing these mechanisms to eavesdrop on messages exchanged by the lock and app fairly easy for attackers, leaving it open to a relatively simple attack,” Krzysztof Marciniak, an F-Secure consultant, said in a statement. “There’s no way to mitigate this, so accessing homes protected by the lock is a safe bet for burglars able to replicate the hack.”

The security researcher noted that this attack could be performed through network-sniffing devices, some of which can be bought for as little as $10. 

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I get a daily email from Indiegogo, and every item seems obliged to call itself “Smart” and “The Most… Ever” and often “AI”. Very often you can tell it’s none of those, though in this case “The Most Terrible Implementation Ever” might work.
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iPhones, Samsung Galaxy, and more: the 100 gadgets that defined this decade • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

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Gadgets in the 2010s were shaped first by the furious race to win the smartphone wars and then a furious race to create new kinds of hardware once it was clear that Apple, Google, and Samsung would dominate phones. And that hardware was tied to software and services like never before — every light bulb the endpoint of a cloud service, every speaker imbued with the voice of the data center’s soul.

USB-C was inflicted upon an unsuspecting public; our headphone jacks were taken away.

My favorite thing about gadgets is that they are intensely revealing: each one is a semipermanent encapsulation of a company’s trade-offs and priorities, and once they’re shipped, there’s no more PR spin or influencer marketing to hide behind. The processors are fast or they’re slow. The keyboards are reliable or they break. The battery lasts a long time or it dies.

Sometimes, the batteries explode.

And when gadgets work — when they really work — people do fantastic and unexpected things with them.

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Patel didn’t choose all of the gadgets, and there’s sure to be lots of discussion about the things left in and out; by calling them “gadgets” it avoids looking at devices that have made other real impacts (solar panels? wind turbines?), even while it includes the Toyota Camry and other not-very-gadgety things. A long read; maybe save it for Boxing Day. It’ll wait.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1207: those lyin’ political ads, Unicorn runs out of road (and cash), Mac Pro pricing, don’t touch that (car) screen, and more


Arctic warming is entering a dangerous feedback loop. And look, there’s one of the causes. CC-licensed photo by Paul Downey 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. It’s getting hot in herre. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Arctic may have crossed a key threshold to a long-dreaded climate feedback • The Washington Post

Andrew Freedman:

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The Arctic is undergoing a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state, one that is greener, features far less ice, and emits greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, according to a major new federal assessment of the region released Tuesday.

The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers.

The findings are contained in the 2019 Arctic Report Card, a major federal assessment of climate change trends and impacts throughout the region. The study paints an ominous picture of a region lurching to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment.

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic may have already become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24% of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

There has been concern throughout the scientific community that the approximately 1,460-1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon stored in frozen Arctic soils, almost twice as much greenhouse gases than what is contained in the atmosphere, could be released as the permafrost melts.

Warming temperatures allow microbes within the soil to convert permafrost carbon into the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released into the air and accelerate warming. Ted Schuur, a researcher at Northern Arizona University and author of the permafrost chapter, said the report “takes on a new stand on the issue” based on other published work, including a study in Nature Climate Change in November.

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We’re completely screwed. Please bear this in mind as you go about your business.

Also: the web headline on this is “Arctic report card: Melting permafrost is transforming the region into a carbon source”. I despair of the sub-editors on American papers. The one at the top is a tweak of what appears on the page. It’s still too wordy.

Also on the same topic: The Guardian reports on how rapidly Greenland’s ice sheet is melting. Coastal communities are going to be inundated.
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General election 2019: Ads are ‘indecent, dishonest and untruthful’ • BBC News

Joe Tidy and Rachel Schraer:

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A campaign group is calling for fact-checking of political advertising to be a legal requirement after what it describes as a “fake news and disinformation general election”.

The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising says at least 31 campaigns from across the party spectrum have been indecent, dishonest or untruthful.

The non-partisan body is made up of advertising professionals. It says the next government must create a new regulator to oversee the matter.

The organisation also suggests 87% of voters think there needs to be a law to compel political-ad creators to make only truthful claims. The figure is based on a survey of 1,691 adults conducted by YouGov on the Coalition’s behalf.

The Coalition says the largely unregulated world of election ads bears little resemblance to one of the founding principles of retail advertising, namely that ads should be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

«

There’s also a report of work by First Draft News in the story: that says that 86% of ads from the Tories, “at least” 16.5% by the Lib Dems, but none from Labour. Plenty of people on Twitter got angry because they thought that the CRPA study said what the First Draft News piece said, and that that should have been the top of the story and the headline.

That’s the trouble with the combination of portmanteau stories and Twitter. No doubt it seemed like they’d fit well together to the news editors.
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General election: Fake Corbyn tweets on London Bridge attack tried to ‘sow doubt’ among voters • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe and Alexander J Martin:

»

Sky News and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) have uncovered that this [fake Corbyn] tweet [expressing sympathy for the terrorist; Corbyn did no such thing] along with other similar efforts were first posted to the internet on the imageboard 4chan before being spread to other social media platforms.

We have obtained a number of these fake images [containing the fake tweet] constructed with different grammatical constructions but similar spelling mistakes as they were being collectively workshopped by a decentralised disinformation effort.

“In the hours immediately following the attack we very quickly saw the community on 4chan come together and start sharing fake memes designed to disinform the public about the nature of the attack,” said Jacob Davey, senior research manager at ISD.

The material was mostly comprised of falsified social media posts from Mr Corbyn responding to the attack. In some instances the material was not designed to disinform, but more as an in-joke for the community – Mr Corbyn complaining about Arsenal football club using racist language. But other fakes were able to impact the public discussion.

«

Between 4chan and reddit’s /pol, the whole “decentralised disinformation” effort is succeeding pretty well. Howcome it’s only right-wing content, though?
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Oppo steps into augmented reality with HoloLens-like AR Glass headset • Digital Trends

Andy Boxall:

»

Smartphone maker Oppo has announced a pair of augmented reality glasses, and stated they will be released during the first three months of 2020. Oppo’s AR Glass headset is part of an effort to expand beyond only making smartphones, and was revealed alongside plans for a smartwatch and an Oppo-produced mobile processor.

Oppo’s AR Glass is similar in design to HoloLens. A visor stretches across the front of the headset, attached to a band which holds it on your head, plus there is a forehead rest to keep it in position. This is not something designed for everyday wear, but more for home and industrial use. At home, Oppo says the AR Glass will be used for augmented reality content and games, while in the workplace, and somewhat less specifically, Oppo sees it being used for augmented reality services. These could include 3D modeling, planning, and design.

«

Nobody’s seen them except in slides and onstage demos; nobody’s tried them on. And the market for AR glasses isn’t exactly huge. Question is, what price will they have to be to make it worth Oppo making them at all? (The price wasn’t disclosed.)
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Exclusive: a Facebook employee accepted bribes from a scammer to reactivate banned ad accounts • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

»

A Facebook employee was paid thousands of dollars in bribes by a shady affiliate marketer to reactivate ad accounts that had been banned due to policy violations, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found.

A company spokesperson confirmed that an unnamed employee was fired after inquiries from BuzzFeed News sparked an internal investigation. The employee in question was based in the company’s Austin office, according to information obtained by BuzzFeed News.

“This behavior is absolutely prohibited under our policies and the individual is no longer working with Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We’re continuing to investigate the allegations and will take any further necessary action.”

The employee was paid to reactivate ad accounts connected to Ads Inc., a San Diego–based marketing firm BuzzFeed News previously revealed was running a sophisticated Facebook scam that involved placing more than $50 million in ads that typically made false claims about celebrities. The ads were part of a scheme that tricked consumers into signing up for an expensive monthly subscription for a product that was initially marketed as a free trial. Ads Inc. announced it was shutting down in October as a result of the BuzzFeed News investigation.

«

Much the same as the scammers who got access to phone details through bribery. If substantial amounts of money are at stake, things.. happen.
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Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR first impressions, performance benchmarks, more [Videos] • 9to5Mac

Michael Potuck:

»

The Mac Pro can be configured with up to a 28-core Intel Xeon processor, 1.5TB of RAM, dual Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs (equals 4 graphics cards) and up to an 8TB SSD. It’s also easy to customize and expand the new Mac Pro right away or over time with 8 PCIe card slots. And there’s also the special Afterburner accelerator card to take professional workflows to the next level.

It’s exciting to see the Mac Pro’s power put to the test and we’ve got some early and really impressive benchmarks. MKBHD noted that the new Mac Pro put out the highest GeekBench scores he’s ever seen with almost 3GB/s read/write speeds for the internal SSD.

But he was most impressed by how fast the Mac Pro was able to render video. It was able to process a 5-minute 8K clip in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. That’s some massively fast performance to handle 8K video faster than real-time.

As for thermal performance, Jonathan Morrison highlights the Mac Pro “does not make a sound even with every core lit up at nearly 100% which is bananas.”

In Jonathan’s Cinebench test, the Mac Pro came out with a wild CPU score of 9,918.

«

Starts at $6,000, and you can spend up to $53,000 (I haven’t looked at the price in sterling – probably just a like-for-like replacement). As anchoring goes, it’s a terrific way of making the top-end laptops look cheap. (The question the Apple community is asking is how much John Siracusa is going to spend on his. He’s still using the original “cheesegrater” from 2006. Very likely all will be revealed, in depth, on the Accidental Tech Podcast this week, where he’s one of the participants.)
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Apple sues iPhone CPU design ace after he quits to run data-center chip upstart Nuvia • The Register

Shaun Nichols:

»

Apple is suing the former chief architect of its iPhone and iPad microprocessors, who in February quit to co-found a data-center chip design biz.

In a complaint filed in the Santa Clara Superior Court, in California, USA, and seen by The Register, the Cupertino goliath claimed Gerard Williams, CEO of semiconductor upstart Nuvia, broke his Apple employment agreement while setting up his new enterprise.

Williams – who oversaw the design of Apple’s custom high-performance mobile Arm-compatible processors for nearly a decade – quit the iGiant in February to head up the newly founded Nuvia. The startup officially came out of stealth mode at the end of November, boasting it had bagged $53m in funding. It appears to be trying to design silicon chips, quite possibly Arm-based ones, for data center systems; it is being coy right now with its plans and intentions.

…Apple’s lawsuit alleged Williams hid the fact he was preparing to leave Apple to start his own business while still working at Apple, and drew on his work in steering iPhone processor design to create his new company. Crucially, Tim Cook & Co’s lawyers claimed he tried to lure away staff from his former employer. All of this was, allegedly, in breach of his contract.

The iGiant also reckoned Williams had formed the startup in hope of being bought by Apple to produce future systems for its data centers.

«

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Unicorn, e-scooter startup from co-creator of Tile, shuts down with no money for refunds • The Verge

Andrew Hawkins:

»

Unicorn, the electric scooter startup from the co-creator of gadget tracker Tile, is shutting down operations after blowing all its cash on Facebook and Google ads but only receiving 350 orders for its glossy white e-scooters, it claims. In an email to customers, the company says it lacks the resources to deliver any of its $699 two-wheelers, and won’t be issuing refunds “as we are completely out of funding.”

In a remorseful email, Unicorn CEO Nick Evans said the company had “totally failed as a business” and has also “spread the cost of this failure to you, the early customers that believed in us.”

Unicorn emerged six months ago as part of a new crop of scooter startups hoping to capitalize on the popularity of dockless rental services like Bird and Lime, while also pitching itself as an affordable alternative to shared scooters. In addition to having a striking profile — the all-white look was really something — the scooter was loaded with a lot of high-tech bells and whistles, like GPS tracking and smartphone-enabled locking. Naturally it included integration with Tile, Evans’ other company, which uses Bluetooth to track lost items, like a wallet, keys, or phone.

But now Unicorn is no more. The company claims it sunk all its money into advertising and marketing, as well as loan repayments and other expenses, with little leftover for production and deliveries.

«

Isn’t this just the perfect, perfect story to round out this decade. Scooters; social media advertising; blowout.
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Swiss Fiber TV service ‘Salt’ launches alternative Apple TV 4K remote control for frustrated customers • MacRumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

Swiss telco Salt, which includes an Apple TV 4K in its domestic broadband TV bundle, has today launched an “alternative” bespoke Apple TV remote control for users of its 250+ channel television service.

Costing just under 20 Swiss francs, the optional remote was reportedly developed in close collaboration with Apple, after a sizable section of Salt TV’s customer base apparently complained about the poor usability of the Apple Remote that comes with every Apple TV 4K.

Thanks to Apple’s input, the alternative remote doesn’t require any pairing with Apple TV and works out of the box. It includes directional arrows in place of the Siri Remote’s glass Touch surface, a power button in addition to a Menu button, along with separate volume and channel rockers and traditional media playback buttons.

There’s no microphone button in evidence, presumably because Siri on Apple TV isn’t officially available in Switzerland, and there’s no numerical channel buttons because tvOS doesn’t support the function. Otherwise, it resembles a standard TV remote that should be more amenable to Salt TV’s users, who can also look forward to an updated Salt TV app interface on Apple TV .

«

Oh god please let this go on general sale. Or onto eBay. Or be sent to me under plain cover. Don’t mind which.
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Satisfaction with in-car touchscreens reaches new lows • Strategy Analytics

»

A new report from the In-Vehicle UX (IVX) group at Strategy Analytics has investigated car owners’ satisfaction with their on-board touchscreens. Long hamstrung by poor UX [user experience] and extended production cycles, in-car touchscreens are seen by car users and buyers as lagging behind the experience offered by touchscreens outside the car. As such, consumer satisfaction has continued to slide in China and Europe, while reaching historic lows in the US.

Surveying consumers in the US, Western Europe, and China via web survey, key report findings include:

• Difficult text entry and excessive fingerprint smudging are common complaints among all car owners
• Because touchscreens have reached market saturation in the US, satisfaction with in-car screens has tailed off significantly.
• However, touchscreens remain a relatively newer phenomenon in many car models in Western Europe (compared with the US) and thus their limitations are less prominent in the minds of car owners.
• Overall touchscreen satisfaction fell for the fifth straight year in China, indicating a growing impatience for in-car UX to match UX found elsewhere in the consumer electronics space.

«

If you look at it from a BOM (bill of materials) point of view, the touchscreen and associated software are miles down the list both of price and importance. Are they big-ticket or big-profit items? No. Do they risk the driver’s or passengers’ safety? No, most of the time. Are they essential to operating the vehicle? No. And yet for the driver and passenger, they’re a constant focus – both the screen itself and the software that powers it. A lesson in how the cheap items can have the most value.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1206: Amazon’s Ring cameras mapped, hidden in hashtags, China dumping US PCs, Bo de-selection?, and more


William Gibson’s back, and the future’s not that bright. CC-licensed photo by gilly youner 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. It’s a consensual hallucination. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ring’s Neighbors data let us map Amazon’s home surveillance network • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron and Dhruv Mehrotra:

»

Gizmodo has acquired data over the past month connected to nearly 65,800 individual posts shared by users of the Neighbors app. The posts, which reach back 500 days from the point of collection, offer extraordinary insight into the proliferation of Ring video surveillance across American neighborhoods and raise important questions about the privacy trade-offs of a consumer-driven network of surveillance cameras controlled by one of the world’s most powerful corporations.

And not just for those whose faces have been recorded.

Examining the network traffic of the Neighbors app produced unexpected data, including hidden geographic coordinates that are connected to each post—latitude and longitude with up to six decimal points of precision, accurate enough to pinpoint roughly a square inch of ground.

Neighbors, which has millions of users, is advertised as a way to receive “real-time crime and safety alerts” from local law enforcement and other Neighbors users nearby. A Ring camera isn’t required to use the app. In cities where police have partnered with Ring, police officers have access to a special law enforcement portal, through which the officers can request access to Ring footage. They can choose a date, a time, and a location on a map, and Neighbors users with cameras in the vicinity are alerted.

«

They found about 20,000 cameras, and then stopped because they felt they’d proved their point – but there are many, many more out there. A researcher at MIT Media Lab has located 440,000 cameras in 1,800 US counties.

In Europe, Amazon would be looking down the wrong end of a giant GDPR lawsuit.
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How William Gibson keeps his science fiction real • The New Yorker

Joshua Rothman:

»

Gibson is now seventy-one. Bald and skinny, six feet five but for a slight stoop, he dresses almost exclusively in a mixture of futuristic techwear and mid-twentieth-century American clothing painstakingly reproduced by companies in Japan. It was late on a gray afternoon; we sat at the bar of a cozy bistro—warm wood, zinc bar, brass fixtures—while Gibson, in his slow, quiet, wowed-out, distantly Southern drawl, described the work of keeping up with the present.

“With each set of three books, I’ve commenced with a sort of deep reading of the fuckedness quotient of the day,” he explained. “I then have to adjust my fiction in relation to how fucked and how far out the present actually is.” He squinted through his glasses at the ceiling. “It isn’t an intellectual process, and it’s not prescient—it’s about what I can bring myself to believe.”

“Agency” is a sequel to Gibson’s previous novel, “The Peripheral,” from 2014, which is currently being adapted into a television show for Amazon, executive-produced by the creators of “Westworld.” In writing “The Peripheral,” he’d been able to bring himself to believe in the reality of an ongoing slow-motion apocalypse called “the jackpot.” A character describes the jackpot as “multicausal”—“more a climate than an event.” The world eases into it gradually, as all the bad things we worry about—rising oceans, crop failures, drug-resistant diseases, resource wars, and so on—happen, here and there, to varying degrees, over the better part of the twenty-first century, adding up to “androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit” that eventually kills eighty% of the human race. It’s a Gibsonian apocalypse: the end of the world is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed. One character reacts to the jackpot equivocally: “Either depressing and scared the fuck out of me or sort of how I’d always figured things are?”

«

Essential reading.
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Hashtag steganography • Terence Eden’s Blog

null:

»

I recently saw someone tweeting the hashtag #ManchesُterDerby

Do you see an odd character in the middle? It’s an Arabic Damma (U+064F) – a vowel character. Although it comes after the “s” in Manchester, it appears after the “t” because it is a Right-To-Left (RTL) character.

Yet, if you click on the hashtag with the extra character, you get through to the same page as if you had visited the regular #ManchesterDerby page.

If you visit the page of a hashtag with ignored character, something interesting happens. Hitting the “Tweet” button pre-fills your message with the hashtag. Not the normalised tag, but the one with hidden characters.

Try it now! Visit #Ŕöméø, you’ll see all sorts of different #Romeo Tweets, but hit the Tweet button and see what happens.

A marketing campaign could give out identical looking hashtags to influencers – for example:
Alice #Campaig%CD%8Fn
Bob #Camp%CD%8Faign
Eve #C%CD%8Fa%CD%8Fm%CD%8Fp%CD%8Fa%CD%8Fi%CD%8Fgn

By seeing which of those subtly-different-but-semanticly-identical hashtags is used the most, it might be possible to see which influencer has the biggest reach.

«

Or other uses you might be able to think of…
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This impeachment is different—and more dangerous • POLITICO

Lawrence Lessig:

»

In a nation dedicated to freedom of the press, it’s impossible—not to mention undesirable—to legislate limits on political speech. That cannot be the role of government if democracy is to remain free of state control.

But the nation could use some temporary, if voluntary, restraint. The business model of hate may well pay for both politicians and the media. But the cost to the republic of this profit will be profound. This is a moment to knit common understandings, not a time to craft even more perfectly separated realities.

That knitting could begin with both networks and digital platforms asking not what is best for them, individually, but what would be best for us all, together. Which network or platform strategies will enable a more common understanding among all of us? And which strategies will simply drive even more committed tribe-based ignorance? The norms should be different in the context of impeachment, even if that means networks and platforms would be less profitable. Not because this president, in particular, must be respected, but because any president charged with impeachment deserves a nation that at least understands the charge. If we as a people are to be persistently polled and our views so persistently legible to our representatives, then at least we should know enough in common to make judgments in common.

…Social media platforms have responsibilities here as well. We don’t yet know the consequences of those platforms forgoing political ads in the context of an entire election season—even as some experiment with doing so. But impeachment could be an important moment to experiment even more fully. This is precisely the kind of question for which we do not need interested ad-driven spin. It is precisely the moment when Facebook and Twitter together could take the lead in turning away ads aimed at rallying a base or trashing the opposition.

«

(Thanks Seth for the link.)
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Greeks set to face heavy fines if they don’t spend 30% of their income electronically • Sydney Morning Herald

Tom Rees:

»

Greeks will be hit with a hefty fine if they do not spend almost a third of their income electronically in an unprecedented bid by the new government to stamp out rampant tax evasion.

The government expects to raise more than €500m ($808m) every year from the initiative that will force Greeks to spend 30% of their income electronically, Alex Patelis, the prime minister’s chief economic adviser, revealed.

Individuals that fail to meet the target will be hit with a 22% fine on the shortfall. Therefore, if an individual spends just 20% of their income through electronic means, they would face a 22% tax on the remaining 10%, bar some exclusions.

The scheme is a radical attempt to cast some light on Greece’s huge shadow economy, the world’s largest, and is part of new prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s sweeping overhaul to revive growth.

«

But… won’t this encourage exactly the cash economy that they’re trying to discourage? Unless they can persuade all the retailers to only sell electronically.
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The case for growth centers: how to spread tech innovation across America • Brookings Institute

Robert D. Atkinson, Mark Muro, and Jacob Whiton:

»

Regional divergence has reached extreme levels in the U.S. innovation sector. The innovation sector—composed of 13 of the nation’s highest-tech, highest R&D “advanced industries—contributes inordinately to regional and U.S. prosperity, and its diffusion into new places would greatly benefit the nation’s well-being.

However, the sector has instead been concentrating in a short list of superstar metropolitan areas. Most notably, just five top innovation metro areas—Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego—accounted for more than 90% of the nation’s innovation-sector growth during the years 2005 to 2017. As such, they have increased their share of the nation’s total innovation employment from 17.6% to 22.8%. In contrast, the bottom 90% of metro areas (343 of them) lost one-third of the nation’s innovation jobs now reside in just 16 counties, and more than half are concentrated in 41 counties.

Such high levels of territorial polarization are a grave national problem. At the economic end of the equation, the costs of excessive tech concentration are creating serious negative externalities. These range from spiraling home prices and traffic gridlock in the superstar hubs to a problematic “sorting” of workers, with college-educated workers clustering in the star cities, leaving other metro areas to make do with thinner talent reservoirs. As a result, whole portions of the nation may now be falling into “traps” of underdevelopment—and that is creating baleful social impacts.

«

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Inside the hate factory: how Facebook fuels far-right profit • The Guardian

Christopher Knaus, Michael McGowan and Nick Evershed:

»

Ron Devito was tapping away on his laptop to the 20,000 followers of his pro-Trump Facebook page, Making America 1st, when he received a similar message, this time from someone using the name Tehila.

“She pitched to me that she was a good editor, she could provide some good content to increase likes and views on the page,” Devito told the Guardian. “Could I just give her a chance and let her post her stuff, right? So I figured, ‘What the heck, give it a shot’.”

Villereal and Devito weren’t the only ones. Over the past two years, a group of mysterious Israel-based accounts has delivered similar messages to the heads of at least 19 other far-right Facebook pages across the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, Austria, Israel and Nigeria.

A Guardian investigation can reveal those messages were part of a covert plot to control some of Facebook’s largest far-right pages, including one linked to a rightwing terror group, and create a commercial enterprise that harvests Islamophobic hate for profit.

This group is now using its 21-page network to churn out more than 1,000 coordinated faked news posts per week to more than 1 million followers, funnelling audiences to a cluster of 10 ad-heavy websites and milking the traffic for profit.

The posts stoke deep hatred of Islam across the western world and influence politics in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US by amplifying far-right parties such as Australia’s One Nation and vilifying Muslim politicians such as the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the US congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

The network has also targeted leftwing politicians at critical points in national election campaigns. It posted false stories claiming the UK Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said Jews were “the source of global terrorism” and accused the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, of allowing “Isis to invade Canada”.

The revelations show Facebook has failed to stop clandestine actors from using its platform to run coordinated disinformation and hate campaigns.

«

Gee, ya think? But this is terrific work. And of course Facebook, once told about the pages, takes them down and makes pompous noises about violations of its policies.
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Beijing orders state offices to replace foreign PCs and software • Financial Times

Yuan Yang and Nian Liu:

»

Beijing has ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years, in a potential blow to the likes of HP, Dell and Microsoft.

The directive is the first publicly known instruction with specific targets given to Chinese buyers to switch to domestic technology vendors, and echoes efforts by the Trump administration to curb the use of Chinese technology in the US and its allies.

The move is part of a broader campaign to increase China’s reliance on home-made technologies, and is likely to fuel concerns of “decoupling”, with supply chains between the US and China being severed.

…Analysts at China Securities, a broker, estimate that 20m to 30m pieces of hardware will need to be swapped out as a result of the Chinese directive, with large-scale replacement beginning next year. They added that the substitutions would take place at a pace of 30% in 2020, 50% in 2021 and 20% the year after, earning the policy the nickname “3-5-2”.

«

I think Lenovo is going to be very, very happy about this.
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Thieves of experience: On the rise of surveillance capitalism • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr, reviewing Shoshana Zuboff’s book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”:

»

Zuboff opens her book with a look back at a prescient project from the year 2000 on the future of home automation by a group of Georgia Tech computer scientists. Anticipating the arrival of “smart homes,” the scholars described how a mesh of environmental and wearable sensors, linked wirelessly to computers, would allow all sorts of domestic routines, from the dimming of bedroom lights to the dispensing of medications to the entertaining of children, to be programmed to suit a house’s occupants.

Essential to the effort would be the processing of intimate data on people’s habits, predilections, and health. Taking it for granted that such information should remain private, the researchers envisaged a leak-proof “closed loop” system that would keep the data within the home, under the purview and control of the homeowner. The project, Zuboff explains, reveals the assumptions about “datafication” that prevailed at the time: “(1) that it must be the individual alone who decides what experience is rendered as data, (2) that the purpose of the data is to enrich the individual’s life, and (3) that the individual is the sole arbiter of how the data are put to use.”

What’s most remarkable about the birth of surveillance capitalism is the speed and audacity with which Google overturned social conventions and norms about data and privacy. Without permission, without compensation, and with little in the way of resistance, the company seized and declared ownership over everyone’s information. It turned the details of the lives of millions and then billions of people into its own property. The companies that followed Google presumed that they too had an unfettered right to collect, parse, and sell personal data in pretty much any way they pleased. In the smart homes being built today, it’s understood that any and all data will be beamed up to corporate clouds.

«

As pointed out, it’s a neat three-card monte where you don’t even realise it’s happening.
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Apple’s ad-targeting crackdown shakes up ad market • The Information

Tom Dotan:

»

Since Apple introduced what it calls its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in September 2017, and with subsequent updates last year, advertisers have largely lost the ability to target people on Safari based on their browsing habits with cookies, the most commonly used technology for tracking. One result: The cost of reaching Safari users has fallen over 60% in the past two years, according to data from ad tech firm Rubicon Project. Meanwhile ad prices on Google’s Chrome browser have risen slightly. 

That reflects the fact that advertisers pay more money for ads that can be targeted at people with specific demographics and interests. “The allure of a Safari user in an auction has plummeted,” said Rubicon Project CEO Michael Barrett. “There’s no easy ability to ID a user.”

This shift is significant because iPhone owners tend to be more affluent and therefore more attractive to advertisers. Moreover, Safari makes up 53% of the mobile browser market in the U.S., according to web analytics service Statscounter. Only about 9% of Safari users on an iPhone allow outside companies to track where they go on the web, according to Nativo, which sells software for online ad selling. It’s a similar story on desktop, although Safari has only about 13% of the desktop browser market. In comparison, 79% of people who use Google’s Chrome browser allow advertisers to track their browsing habits on mobile devices through cookies.

…ad tech firms that specialize in targeted ad sales, have been affected. Criteo, a publicly traded ad tech company, said Apple’s introduction of ITP cost it $25m in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017, or 9% of the total, excluding the cost of acquiring traffic. A Criteo spokeswoman said that by making the ad-blocking feature automatic in Safari, Apple “does not truly promote choice for the users of its browser.”

The spokeswoman said ITP had continued to affect Criteo’s business since 2017, which she said was the case with the rest of the ad industry.

«

Hilarious quote from Criteo. Of course everyone wants to make more money for Criteo. How dare they not?
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RBS accused of writing fake reviews of its new banking app Bó • Daily Telegraph

James Cook:

»

The Royal Bank of Scotland has been accused of writing fake reviews for its new banking app Bó before it was officially available to download.

A series of five-star reviews of the app published months ahead of Bó’s launch on Nov 27 praised features such as its notifications and design.

Another positive review, published on the day of the app’s release, was written by an account which has the same name as an RBS employee.

NatWest owner RBS began development of Bó after abandoning an attempt to acquire fast-growing banking start-up Monzo several years ago.

Three recent reviews of the app on Apple’s store accuse RBS of planting fakes. One reviewer wrote: “Was keen to test this out but concerned by the mass of five-star reviews parroting the marketing materials.”

A spokesman for RBS said more than 2,800 people signed up to Bó as part of a pilot phase, which included staff from across the bank.

He added: “Feedback from these customers shows Bó has helped testers take control of their spending – which is why we built it.”

«

Uh huh, sure, Jan. (Also what Shingy madness is it to call your app “Bo”? I’m not going to bother with the accent.) The average review score is quickly moving down – quite a few one-stars there, and plenty complaining that it doesn’t have biometric authentication, even though that’s built into every iPhone since 2013.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1205: ave atque vale Larry and Sergey, Russia leaking NHS papers?, Nato stress-tests social platforms, Thailand’s e-waste problem, and more


Hard to believe, but sales of Magic Leap’s $2,300 headset have been slow – estimated at 6,000 in its first six months. CC-licensed photo by Collision Conf 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. Reset, restart. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Magic Leap Two headset reportedly ‘years away from launch’ • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

Magic Leap’s sales numbers reportedly haven’t matched CEO Rony Abovitz’s high expectations — and a second-generation headset could be years away from release. The Information has published a sobering update on the much-hyped augmented reality company, which released its first product last year. According to former employees and people close to the company, Magic Leap had sold around 6,000 Magic Leap One headsets six months after release, compared to a goal of 100,000.

The company is apparently prototyping a Magic Leap Two headset with 5G connectivity, a wider field of view, and smaller and lighter hardware with multiple color options. But the project is reportedly hampered by “fundamental technology constraints,” and Magic Leap is more likely to release a near-term update with only slight changes.

…But Magic Leap has also reportedly laid off dozens of employees in the past weeks. Last month, Business Insider reported that two executives, CFO Scott Henry and SVP of creative strategy John Gaeta, had left the company. Documents revealed that the company signed over nearly 2,000 patents as collateral to JPMorgan Chase earlier this year. This isn’t an inherently bad sign, and Magic Leap has said it’s in the middle of raising a significant new funding round. But the deal could cause problems if Magic Leap hits financial trouble down the road.

«

The original goal was reportedly a million. To me, 6,000 sounds reasonable, given that there’s pretty much no point in owning them – they’re only of interest to pre-early adopters trying to figure out what is needed to make better stuff.

Magic Leap is going to flame out if it can’t pivot to business uses pretty quickly. Even then its burn rate might be too large. Back in August 2018 Palmer Luckey estimated they’d sold about 2,000 units (priced $2,300) in the first 48 hours, about 3,000 after a week. If that’s right, it’s essentially dead. Yet we’ve been hearing stories of how fabulous it is since February 2015. Good grief.
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Larry and Sergey: a valediction • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

Larry and Sergey may well have been the last truly happy human beings on the planet. They were doing what they loved, and they were convinced that what they loved would redeem the world. That kind of happiness requires a combination of idealism and confidence that isn’t possible anymore. When, in 1965, an interviewer from Cahiers du Cinema pointed out to Jean-Luc Godard that “there is a good deal of blood” in his movie Pierrot le Fou, Godard replied, “Not blood, red.” What the cinema did to blood, the internet has done to happiness. It turned it into an image that is repeated endlessly on screens but no longer refers to anything real.

They were prophets, Larry and Sergey. When, in their famous 1998 grad-school paper “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” they introduced Google to the world, they warned that if the search engine were ever to leave the “academic realm” and become a business, it would inevitably be corrupted. It would become “a black art” and “be advertising oriented.” That’s exactly what happened — not just to Google but to the internet as a whole. The white-robed wizards of Silicon Valley now ply the black arts of algorithmic witchcraft for power and money. They wanted most of all to be Gandalf, but they became Saruman.

«

I love how Carr is able to see things from an angle that nobody else can. Not blood; red. Not happiness; its simulacrum.
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Russia involved in leak of papers saying NHS is for sale, says Reddit • The Guardian

Kevin Rawlinson and Aamna Mohdin:

»

An anonymous online poster who disseminated documents later brandished by Jeremy Corbyn as evidence the Conservatives would put the NHS “on the table” in US trade talks was part of a campaign directed by Moscow, the site hosting the papers has said.

On Friday evening, Reddit confirmed it has banned 61 accounts, including that of a user called Gregoriator, who it believes was part of a Russian information operation known as Secondary Infektion.

The anonymous user posted copies of the leaked official documents on the site in late October. Corbyn presented the same documents at a news conference last week, saying they “leave Boris Johnson’s denials [that the NHS would be for sale] in absolute tatters” and touting them as “evidence that, under Boris Johnson, the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale”.

Reddit insisted the post garnered minimal interest at the time and Labour has declined to reveal where it obtained the documents. The government has said it believes they are genuine.

However, questions will now be asked about whether Russia had a hand in introducing the papers into the UK’s public discourse and, if so, what its motivations were for doing so.

Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, said it was “extremely serious” that the leaked documents could be linked to a Russian disinformation campaign. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, Morgan said: “I understand from what was being put on that website, those who seem to know about these things say that it seems to have all the hallmarks of some form of interference.”

«

None of which takes away from the key point: that the documents are genuine. Why might the Russians want to leak them? Because they like causing trouble. The next question is where they found them. Another version of the documents was published on Reddit in the summer, I thought – and the Daily Telegraph, a right-wing paper, wrote about them.
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Facebook, Twitter and Google failing to tackle manipulation on their platforms, NATO StratCom finds • Buzzfeed News

Alberto Nardelli:

»

A year ahead of the US presidential election, the world’s biggest social media companies are still failing to tackle manipulation on their platforms, an exercise by NATO StratCom has found.

To test the ability of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to detect potentially malicious activity, researchers at the NATO Strategic Communication Centre of Excellence ran a four-month experiment starting in May.

They purchased social media engagement on 105 different posts across the four social media platforms from manipulation service providers (MSPs), a type of company that allow clients to buy clicks and inflate their social media presence.

At a cost of just €300 (about $333), NATO StratCom bought 3,530 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views and 5,100 followers across the four platforms.

Researchers were able to identify the accounts — 18,739 in total — that were being used to deliver the purchased interactions. This in turn allowed them to assess what other pages these inauthentic accounts were interacting with on behalf of other clients.

The results of the experiment are startling: Four weeks after the purchase, 4 in 5 of the purchased engagements were still online, and three weeks after a sample of fake accounts was reported to the companies, 95% of the accounts were still active.

The findings, which are contained in a report released today shared with a small number of media outlets including BuzzFeed News, suggest that malicious and inauthentic activity enabled by MSPs will often go unnoticed, considerably increasing the risk that attempts by ill-intentioned state and nongovernmental actors that seek to interfere in democratic processes will not be effectively detected and tackled.

«

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Apple’s Activation Lock will make it very difficult to refurbish Macs • iFixit

Craig Lloyd:

»

Every month, thousands of perfectly good iPhones are shredded instead of being put into the hands of people who could really use them. Why? Two words: Activation Lock. And Macs are its next victim.

“We receive four to six thousand locked iPhones per month,” laments Peter Schindler, founder and owner of The Wireless Alliance, a Colorado-based electronics recycler and refurbisher. Those iPhones, which could easily be refurbished and put back into circulation, “have to get parted out or scrapped,” all because of this anti-theft feature.

With the release of macOS Catalina earlier this fall, any Mac that’s equipped with Apple’s new T2 security chip now comes with Activation Lock—meaning we’re about to see a lot of otherwise usable Macs heading to shredders, too.

Activation Lock was designed to prevent anyone else from using your device if it’s ever lost or stolen, and it’s built into the “Find My” service on iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices. When you’re getting rid of an old phone, you want to use Apple’s Reset feature to wipe the phone clean, which also removes it from Find My iPhone and gets rid of the Activation Lock. But if you forget, and sell your old iPhone to a friend before you properly wipe it, the phone will just keep asking them for your Apple ID before they can set it up as a new phone. In other words, they won’t be able to do much with it besides scrap it for parts.

That seems like a nice way to thwart tech thieves, but it also causes unnecessary chaos for recyclers and refurbishers who are wading through piles of locked devices they can’t reuse.

«

So what’s needed is for Apple to have an equivalent to its “Migration Assistant” (where you move your files and settings from an old Mac to a new one) that makes sure you’re completely signed out of your old one. It could even be an option at the end of Migration Assistant.

And for iPhones, you just need to be told about Factory Reset (which makes you turn off Find My iPhone).
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The price of recycling old laptops: toxic fumes in Thailand’s lungs • The New York Times

Hannah Beech and Ryn Jirenuwat:

»

As they toiled, smoke spewed over nearby villages and farms. Residents have no idea what is in the smoke: plastic, metal, who knows? All they know is that it stinks and they feel sick.

The factory, New Sky Metal, is part of a thriving e-waste industry across Southeast Asia, born of China’s decision to stop accepting the world’s electronic refuse, which was poisoning its land and people. Thailand in particular has become a center of the industry even as activists push back and its government wrestles to balance competing interests of public safety with the profits to be made from the lucrative trade.

Last year, Thailand banned the import of foreign e-waste. Yet new factories are opening across the country, and tons of e-waste are being processed, environmental monitors and industry experts say.

“E-waste has to go somewhere,” said Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, which campaigns against trash dumping in poor countries, “and the Chinese are simply moving their entire operations to Southeast Asia.”

…If some types of electronic waste aren’t incinerated at a high enough temperature, dioxins, which can cause cancer and developmental problems, infiltrate the food supply. Without proper safeguarding, toxic heavy metals seep into the soil and groundwater.
Locals who fought against the deluge of trash have been attacked.

“Why don’t you in the West recycle your own waste?” said Phayao Jaroonwong, a farmer east of Bangkok, who said her crops had withered after an electronic waste factory moved in next door.

“Thailand can’t take it anymore,” she said. “We shouldn’t be the world’s dumping ground.”

«

What do we do with our old laptops, then?

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China survey shows high concern over facial recognition abuse • Financial Times

Yuan Yang and Nian Liu:

»

while 60-70% of people believe the technology makes life safer and more convenient in those settings, users are concerned about their personal information being leaked and want more control over their data, according to results released on Thursday by the Nandu Personal Information Protection Research Centre in Beijing. 

The survey highlights how the proliferation of facial recognition in China has created widespread concern and even resistance. The survey found that 74% of respondents want the option to choose traditional ID methods over facial recognition.

In October, China’s courts received their first challenge to the commercial use of face scans, and last week China’s education ministry was forced to respond to an outcry over the use of cameras in classrooms to track behaviour. 

According to the Nandu survey, the top concern was the possibility that operators of facial-recognition systems might be lax at data security and thus leak personal information, with 80% of respondents identifying this among a list of concerns.

In addition, 57% of respondents were concerned about their movements being tracked, while 84% of respondents wanted to have the opportunity to review the facial-recognition data collected from them, or request that they be deleted.

«

Faint surprise that the survey results could be published. Though I guess it makes no difference; they won’t be listened to.
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TWTR: enough already • No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway owns a lot of Twitter stock (as well as being a professor of marketing) and he says it’s time to get rid of Jack Dorsey:

»

Fake accounts, GRU-sponsored trolls, algorithms that promote conspiracies and junk science, and inconsistent application of your terms of service have resulted in a firm that not only underperforms, but is dangerous. 

The poor citizenship of Twitter is bad. What’s worse is Twitter’s malfeasance coupled with scant benefit to stakeholders. The platform is all the calories of big tech (poor citizenship, divisiveness, hate) without the great taste (stakeholder returns). At least tobacco stocks performed well.

This decline in value, however, presents an opportunity. As Twitter has shrunk to a fraction of the value of its once-peers, there is an opportunity to fill an unserved niche — a platform healthy for users and the commonwealth. A platform that brings out the best, and not the worst, in its users. The firm desperately needs to turn the page.

It’s not Mr. Dorsey’s plans to move to Africa [in 2020] that constrain stakeholder value, but his plans to move back. Mr. Dorsey demonstrates a lack of self-awareness, indifference, and yogababble that have hamstrung stakeholder value.

This is not Mr. Dorsey’s fault. After serving on seven consumer, media, and technology public company boards, my experience is that if you tell a thirty- or forty-something person, who regularly wears black turtlenecks, that they are Steve Jobs, they are inclined to believe you. The real culprit is directors who enable this reckless behavior and render themselves flaccid fiduciaries for shareholders. 

«

His list of “things that Dorsey should take note of” is very long, too. But: surely they’ve tried replacing Dorsey? They did that in 2008, and Ev Williams replaced him, and then Dick Costolo. Who would do it this time round?
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Adding a new teller • John D Cook Consulting

John Cook:

»

Suppose a small bank has only one teller. Customers take an average of 10 minutes to serve and they arrive at the rate of 5.8 per hour. What will the expected waiting time be? What happens if you add another teller?

We assume customer arrivals and customer service times are random (details later). With only one teller, customers will have to wait nearly five hours on average before they are served. But if you add a second teller, the average waiting time is not just cut in half; it goes down to about 3 minutes. The waiting time is reduced by a factor of 93x.

«

But why so much? Why was it so long? You’ll need to read the the rest of the post. Lots of fun posts if you’re into maths and similar. (And the finding about tellers has lots of applications beyond banks.)
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Nancy Pelosi pushes to remove legal protections for online content in trade pact • WSJ

John McKinnon and Brody Mullins:

»

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing to strip out sweeping legal protections for online content in the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada, in what would be a blow for big technology companies.

Internet firms lobbied hard to include the immunity language in the trade agreement, seeing it as a way to extend to Mexico and Canada the broad umbrella of legal protection they enjoy in the U.S.

But the trade-pact language also could make it harder for Congress to withdraw the current federal online protections for internet firms in the future, some lawmakers fear. That is causing second thoughts about including the legal shield—regarded by tech firms as a pillar of the internet—in a trade pact.

“There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial…liability shield in our trade agreements, particularly at a time when Congress is considering whether changes need to be made in US law,” a spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi (D., Calif.) said.

The internet content dispute is one of several issues clouding passage of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA, that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

«

The protection they’re referring to is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – essentially the one that says it doesn’t matter what your platform publishes, as long as you take it down infringing content when notified.

Readers of that piece are also invited to “SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Should online content immunity protections of American companies be limited to the U.S. or extended to Mexico and Canada? Why? Join the conversation below.”

I have to say I’d be OK with online content immunity protections of American companies being limited to the US. Isn’t there an implicit imperialism in just forcing your views on the world?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1204: fix the climate (here are the tools), life inside InfoWars, Reddit outdoes Twitter, Google with unions?, and more


A new study shows how people get – and share – their news about the general election. CC-licensed photo by Diego Sideburns on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Another one down. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Uncovered: reality of how smartphones turned election news into chaos • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

»

in a first-of-its-kind election monitoring project conducted by the Guardian and research agency Revealing Reality, a group of voters have allowed their phone use to be recorded for three days – and the results from each individual’s phone show how the traditional media ecosystem is changing and disintegrating.

Charlie in Sunderland consumed much of his election news through memes on lad humour Facebook pages, spending more time looking at posts of Boris Johnson using the word “boobies” than reading traditional news stories. Fiona in Bolton checked out claims about Jeremy Corbyn’s wealth by going to a website called Jihadi Watch before sharing the far-right material in a deliberate bid to anger her leftwing friends. And Shazi in Sheffield followed the BBC leaders’ interviews purely by watching videos of party supporters chanting the Labour leader’s name outside the venue.

The six volunteers who took part in the project should be seen as a snapshot rather than a statistically representative sample of the population. But the behaviour chimes with previous research to illustrate a pattern of behaviour across the political spectrum – a result with huge implications for the role of responsible journalism and reliable sources.

“News is becoming intermingled with entertainment,” said Damon De Ionno of agency Revealing Reality, who ran the project after pioneering the screen-recording approach to market research in the UK. “You’re no longer asking: what’s going on in the world today? It’s very different – you want to be entertained.”

The analysts who studied the volunteers – recruited under pseudonyms to reflect a spread of demographics, politics, and geography – saw broad patterns in the way they used their phones. Some were expected, with people increasingly consuming news passively by scrolling through headlines rather than actively seeking out information; one woman in London read 29 headlines but clicked on just six and only read three articles to the end.

«

Reading headlines and not reading all or even most of the article isn’t new; that’s been the case with papers for years. What’s really different here is being able to share stuff you haven’t read at all, and seeking out a source for something you want to be confirmed.
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How political parties are using GIFs to boost their campaigns • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe:

»

Here’s a question. What’s performed really well online for the SNP this year?

It’s not an incendiary tweet or an aggressive video, or any of the sort of things normally associated with political success online.

No – it’s a GIF of Nicola Sturgeon raising her eyebrows.

via GIPHY

Since this second-long moving image was created by the party in February, it’s had more than 1.4 million views – more than 30,000 times the SNP’s most popular video on YouTube.

This isn’t a fluke, but a triumph of digital strategy.

Since 2016, the SNP has been creating content for use inside mobile apps.

The Nicola Sturgeon GIF is just one of 408 items it has uploaded to its channel on GIF database Giphy.

«

*aged voice* I remember when they used to do it with posters. Posters that they stuck to billboards.
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I worked for Alex Jones. I regret it • The New York Times

Josh Owens was given a job at InfoWars as a video editor at the age of 23, right out of college:

»

Suddenly, I was no longer a bored kid attending an overpriced art school. I was Fox Mulder combing through the X-Files, Rod Serling opening a door to the Twilight Zone, even Rosemary Woodhouse convinced that the neighbors were members of a ritualistic cult. I believed that the world was strategically run by a shadowy, organized cabal, and that Jones was a hero for exposing it.

I had my limits. I can’t say I ever believed his avowed theory that Sandy Hook was a staged event to push for gun control; to Jones, everything was a “false flag.” I didn’t believe that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama smelled like sulfur because of their proximity to hell or that Planned Parenthood was run by “Nazi baby killers.” But it was easy to brush off these fever dreams as eccentricities and excesses — not the heart of the Alex Jones operation but mere diversions.

Once I started working there, however, it became obvious that one was impossible to separate one from the other. Soon after I was hired, Jones’s Infowars-branded store — which sells emergency-survival foods, water filters, body armor and much more — introduced an iodine supplement, initially marketed as a “shield” against nuclear fallout. Still learning the ropes, I was tasked with creating video advertisements for the supplement, which he ran on his online TV show. One of these ads started with a shot of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as it exploded. I doubled the sound of the explosion, adding a glitch filter and sirens in the background for dramatic effect. Jones stood over my shoulder as I edited. “This is great,” he said. “See if you can find flyover footage of Chernobyl as well.”

«

Life inside a cult: remarkably cult-like.
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We need to halve emissions by 2030. They rose again in 2019 • MIT Technology Review

James Temple:

»

The world likely needs to halve greenhouse-gas emissions within the next decade to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. Instead, year after year, we’re still pumping out more climate pollution.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels will rise for the third straight year in 2019, ticking up an estimated 0.6% to a record 37 billion metric tons, according to the closely watched annual report from the Global Carbon Project. Slight declines in the US and European Union were offset by projected increases in China, India, and other parts of the world, where economic growth is fueling rising energy demands.

In fact, carbon pollution is likely to climb again in 2020, given expected increases in use of oil and natural gas in emerging economies.

“Even with all the attention of the youth movements and growing climate focus around the world, we still haven’t turned the corner to stabilize and bring emissions down,” says Rob Jackson, professor of earth system science at Stanford and chair of the Global Carbon Project, an international research collaboration established in 2001 to track global climate pollution.

«

Got that? Next up is your chance to fix it. Yes, really.
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En-ROADS Climate scenario modelling • MIT Management Sustainability Initiative

»

Welcome to the beta version of En-ROADS from Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative.

The simulator is most powerful when used in a role-play game or policy workshop.

«

This is really detailed. With the default assumptions, it’s forecasting that we’ll be 4.1C above baseline by 2100. You have lots of levers to pull: economic growth, population growth, coal/oil/nuclear/renewable/gas/bioenergy use, carbon pricing, energy efficiency, transport electrification, industry electrification, deforestation, reforestation, methane emissions from land and industry, carbon sequestration.

You pull them all really hard and suddenly the only way to keep the world from cooking is to be Thanos.
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France not ruling out response to cyber attack on hospital • Bloomberg

Helene Fouquet:

»

French authorities said they may hit back at cyber assailants who’ve struck a public hospital, forcing it to suspend all but the most vital systems.

“The attacker is still active, and looking for targets in France,” said Guillaume Poupard, the head of the national cyber security agency ANSSI. He spoke on the sideline of a conference in Paris. “The French law allows us to be active against the attacker, to neutralize it. We’re not ruling it out,” he said.

Authorities said the Nov. 15 attack’s characteristics are similar to those of a criminal group from Russia called TA505 and have deployed 50 agents at the Rouen hospital to repair networks and restore operations. Poupard said a series of attacks in the past weeks hit public and private operators with an emphasis on the health sector. He declined to say if publicly listed companies had been targets.

While French police may be limited in their response, national agencies are increasingly launching their own cyberattacks across borders. French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with the Economist that he wants to collaborate on cyber security with Russia, an area where “we’re waging total war against one another.”

«

What are they going to do, bomb them? One rather loose quote gets turned into an overcooked story.
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Reddit’s monthly active user base grew 30% to reach 430M in 2019 • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

In a year-end retrospective released this morning, Reddit says its user base grew 30% this year to reach 430 million monthly active users, as of the end of October. Its users also contributed 199 million posts, 1.7 billion comments and 32 billion upvotes, the company says.

Last year, Reddit reported 330 million monthly active users — bigger than Twitter.

Monthly comments and monthly views were also up on an annual basis in 2019, with increases of 37% and 54%, respectively.

…Meanwhile, the most upvoted AMA (Ask Me Anything) post on the site was with Bill Gates, which received 110,000 upvotes.

Reddit also noted a number of trends across its more than 100,000 active communities, including sizable increases in its top 50 beauty and style communities, which grew 63+% and 52%+ year-over-year, respectively. To some extent, these increases were driven by the blogger beauty feuds — for example, the r/beautyguruchatter community jumped up by 87% year-over-year. The r/skincareaddiction community was the most popular beauty community, reaching over 1 million subscribers, Reddit says.

«

Bigger than Twitter. But as influential as Twitter? Isn’t influence the next metric of the attention economy?
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Kuo: Four new OLED iPhones in 2020, iPhone without Lightning port in 2021 • 9to5Mac

:

»

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is out today with a new investor note focused on Apple’s iPhone lineup for 2020 and 2021. Kuo says there will be four new OLED iPhone models in 2020, followed by a new iPhone without a Lightning port in 2021.

Kuo predicts that Apple will introduce 5.4in, two 6.1in, and a 6.7in OLED iPhone models in 2020. He says that all four of these iPhones will also feature 5G connectivity. The difference between all of these models, other than screen sizes, will be camera technology.

According to Kuo, the 5.4-inch OLED iPhone will feature a dual-camera setup on the back. The lower-end 6.1-inch iPhone will feature a similar dual-camera system. The higher-end 6.1-inch model and the 6.7-inch model will include triple-lens camera setups as well as time-of-flight 3D sensing technology.

In terms of design for the 2020 OLED iPhone, Kuo says the form factor will be “similar to the iPhone 4.”

«

What the hell does he mean, “similar to the iPhone 4”? Are they really going to get that much thicker?

As for not having a Lightning port.. possible, but that’s really assuming a lot of wireless chargers will be sold and installed over the next 24 months.
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2020 iPhone rumored to have under-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner supplied by Qualcomm • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

The reports claim that Apple plans to use Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor technology in at least one iPhone model set to be released in 2020, although the timeframe could be pushed back to 2021. GIS would cooperate with Qualcomm to supply necessary components.

This lines up with recent reports from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Barclays analysts, Bloomberg, and others who expect Apple to release an iPhone with both Face ID and under-display fingerprint authentication in 2020 or 2021.

There are currently two types of under-display fingerprint sensors, including optical and ultrasonic. Optical variants rely on light from a smartphone’s display to create a 2D image of a fingerprint, while ultrasonic variants make use of high-frequency sound to generate a 3D image of a fingerprint.

Qualcomm already supplies ultrasonic fingerprint sensors for Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note10 smartphones, but iPhones could use an even more advanced version of the technology by time 2020 or 2021 rolls around.

…Qualcomm today at its Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii unveiled a 30x20mm in-display fingerprint sensor for smartphones, said to be 17x larger than the one in the Galaxy S10.

«

Sounds like a lock for the under-display fingerprint then; especially as 3D Touch is gone, so things are less complicated under the display. As well as Face ID.
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Google fired us for organizing. We’re fighting back • Medium

Google Walkout For Real Change:

»

Other topics, like Google’s work with Customs and Border Protection, the decision to place an anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant think tank leader on the company’s AI Ethics council, developing drone technology for the U.S. Department of Defense, the unequal and unethical treatment of harassment and discrimination on YouTube, a secret project to work with the Chinese government to launch a censored search engine in China, and the hiring of one of the architects of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, extend far beyond, impacting not just our workplace, but also Google’s users and customers, and indeed the entire world.

So we spoke up, and how did they respond? Google didn’t respond by honoring its values, or abiding by the law. It responded like a large corporation more interested in revenue growth than in ensuring worker rights and ethical conduct. Last week, Google fired us for engaging in protected labor organizing.

We’ve all been subjected to interrogations, some of us for hours, and all of us had our reputations smeared in the press as Google spread rumors that we were rule-breaking troublemakers who “leaked” sensitive information. This is flatly untrue, and in the privacy of our meetings with HR and Google’s internal investigations team, the company acknowledged this. A careful reading of their statements will only confirm this.

«

The group of four (two men, two women) are urging people in technology companies – especially the big ones – to create unions in their workplaces. That’s going to create some dramatic corporate culture clashes. But it also finally, definitely marks the passing of the time when people joined Google to get rich.
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The Alphabet of Google A and Google B • Asymco

Horace Dediu, back in August 2015, when Google became (part of) Alphabet:

»

For the last few years, I’ve been proposing that the way to conceptualize Google is as two separate entities: Google A and Google B.

Roughly speaking Google A was the R&D organization and Google B was SG&A [sales, general and administrative expenses]. You can find the operating expenses of running each of these organizations in the company’s income statement.  In the last quarter R&D was about $2.8 billion and SG&A was about $3.5bn. The two entities are further distinguished as follows:

• Google A was led by Eric Schmidt and Larry Page and Google B was led by persons unknown, but mostly represented by the [then] “Chief Business Officer” Omid Kordestani.
• Google A spends money. Google B collects money.
• Google B sends a check to Google A while Google A sends data to Google B (which then sells it on to advertisers and collects money).
• Google A communicates frequently with optimism and enthusiasm about the future. Google B remains quiet.
• Google A solves problems of humanity, Google B solves problems for advertisers.
• Google A has users, Google B has customers (to whom it sells users.)

In summary, Google A is altruistic, Google B is pragmatic. Google A engages in research, Google B engages in commerce. Google A operates in a structure similar to a Bell Labs for the good of humanity,  Google B operates in a structure similar to AT&T and collects monopoly rents but without any government oversight.

This was an effective construct for analysis which explained to me much of how Google operated and how it made decisions. So what do we make of Google’s new Alphabet?

«

Pretty much everyone who has an opinion is of the opinion that Alphabet, as a structure, isn’t long for this world. “Long” probably meaning four to five years tops.
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5G captured 5% of the global premium market in Q3 2019 • Counterpoint Research

Varun Mishra:

»

According to Counterpoint Research Market Pulse service, the global premium market sell-through declined 7% YoY. The contribution of 5G within the price segment was 5% during the quarter. Samsung led the 5G segment with 74% of the market share followed by LG (11%) and Vivo (5%). This was driven by the early adoption of 5G in South Korea, followed by North America and China. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G was the top-selling model, capturing over one-third of the total sales of all 5G devices.

All major OEMs in the premium segment now have 5G-capable devices, except Apple. Still, Apple alone captured over half of the premium market in Q3 2019. Apple grew 1% YoY increasing its market share from 48% a year back to 52% during the quarter. This was driven by both the initial, strong demand for the iPhone 11, as well as the continued success of the iPhone XR. iPhone XR was the top-selling model globally in the premium segment.

«

5G is a terrific way to keep pushing up prices – though the top segment (over $1,000) shrank in the quarter compared to 2018. By my calculations, even though the number sold fell by 7%, the value of the whole premium segment fell by just 2% because there was a 50% rise in the value of the ~$900 segment. LG in particular must be relieved: 5G might be its mobile division’s temporary saviour.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1203: why ‘cancel culture’ is a hit, fake news keeps on thriving, Egypt tries to kill the tuk-tuk, another Google messaging app!, and more


Instagram says it’s going to try to enforce its minimum age limit of 13 – for new users. Let’s see how that goes. CC-licensed photo by Stock Catalog 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 to be mocked. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Instagram to collect ages in leap for youth safety, alcohol ads • Reuters

Paresh Dave:

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Facebook Inc’s Instagram said it will require birthdates from all new users starting on Wednesday, expanding the audience for ads for alcohol and other age-restricted products while offering new safety measures for younger users.

Until now, Instagram except for limited circumstances has required its 1 billion users only to say they are at least 13 years old.

Instagram said advertisers were not the driving force for the new requirement. Gambling and birth control are among other types of ads restricted to older audiences by Instagram policies and laws. 

The policy change could help stave off passage of costly child safety and data privacy regulations as lawmakers and family safety groups in the United States, Britain and elsewhere criticize the app for exposing children to inappropriate material.

The birthdate requirement is the latest step Instagram has taken to move away from longstanding principles such as anonymity that had distinguished it from Facebook’s namesake app.

“Understanding how old people are is quite important to the work we’re doing, not only to create age-appropriate experiences but to live up to our longstanding rule to not allow access to young people,

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Maybe it’s something to do with all those lawsuits heading its way, and the furore over children under 13 using it? The admission that the “experiences” haven’t been “age-appropriate” is subtle, but there it is. And of course the age-appropriateness is a forced export from the US: what if we judge that it should be 14 or 16 in the UK, rather as our drinking age is lower? Do we get a say?
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Five reasons why people love cancel culture • Psychology Today

Rob Henderson:

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“Cancel culture” describes how large groups of people, often on social media, target those who have committed some kind of moral violation. They are often cast out of their social and professional circles. Both the term “cancel culture” and the activity itself are becoming more popular. Especially among young people. 

Here are 5 reasons why cancel culture is so effective. 

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They’ll feel quite self-evident in retrospect – raises (your) social status, reduces enemies’ social status, strengthens social bonds, makes enemies show themselves, has fast payback. But seeing it written down brings it into focus.
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Egyptian government seeks to do away with popular tuk-tuks • Associated Press

Isabel Debre and Mohamad Salah:

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Motorized rickshaws known as tuk-tuks have ruled the streets of Cairo’s slums for the past two decades, squeezing through dusty alleys, dodging trash bins and fruit stands, blaring rhythmic electro-pop and navigating the city’s chaos to haul millions of Egyptians home every day.

Now the government is taking its most ambitious stand yet again against the polluting three-wheeled vehicles: in a push to modernize the country’s neglected transport system, it plans to replace tuk-tuks with clean-running minivans.

“This is for the health and safety of all Egyptians,” said Khaled el-Qassim, the spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Local Development, which is spearheading the initiative. “We’re creating a more beautiful image of our country.”

The state had long turned a blind eye as tuk-tuks became part of the fabric of life in Cairo’s vast informal settlements.

The new plan requires that drivers sell their tuk-tuks for scrap and take loans to buy new minivans — or risk fines and even prosecution. It has raised fears that the poorest Egyptians, already squeezed by economic austerity measures, will shoulder the bulk of the burden.

“I’d rather work as a thief than pay for this minivan,” said Ehab Sobhy, a 47-year-old who earns 130 pounds, about $8, a day plying the densely-packed district of Shobra in his weathered black-and-yellow tuk-tuk, sporting a decorative Islamic sticker in place of a license.

“If they take this away … how is my family going to eat,” asked Sobhy. Even with a government loan, he said he wouldn’t be able to afford the 90,000 pounds he estimates he’d need for the new minivan.

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The minivans are gas-powered, so it’s hardly a triumph for the environment either. Even if it succeeds, the Egyptian government is probably going to lose here.
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Google Photos launches private messaging for quickly sharing photos • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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Google is finally acknowledging that photos nowadays are as much about communication as they are form of memory collection. For years, the only way to share photos through the company’s otherwise fantastic Google Photos service has been to create a cumbersome shared album. But starting Tuesday, Google has launched a revamped share option that’s effectively a private messaging feature built into the Google Photos iOS and Android mobile and website.

Now, when you want to share a photo, you no longer have to create an entire album. You can send a one-off message to a friend, so long as they also have Google Photos installed, that contains a photo, just as you would on Instagram, Snapchat, SMS, or any other chat app.

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This is great, because nobody has any means of sending a photo to someone else they know by any method, and Google doesn’t already have a gazillion chat apps. (Pls run this past the fact-checkers.)
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How fake news is still fooling Facebook’s fact-checking systems • OneZero

Will Oremus:

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the good news is that Facebook’s systems are having at least some effect, the bad news is that they’re far from foolproof. And unless Facebook continually improves them, propagandists will likely only get better at finding ways around them.

The Pelosi story [claiming, falsely, she has diverted $2.4bn from US social security to Trump’s impeachment] offers one instructive example. It has been widely debunked, including by at least two of Facebook’s official fact-checking partners, Politifact and FactCheck.org. Yet, when you go to post the article link to Facebook, the platform offers no warning, no hint that it might be bogus. Likewise, when it appears in your News Feed, nothing indicates that it’s false.

Facebook couldn’t say definitively why one of the most viral political articles on its platform remained untouched by its fact-checking warnings months after it was published, and even for weeks after Avaaz’s study called attention to it. But there are at least two possible culprits.

First, it appears that Politifact’s fact check was applied in Facebook’s system to a different version of the false Pelosi claim, one that appeared in the form of a photo with overlaid text, rather than an article link. Second, the article version may have skirted a fact check in part because the outlet that published it — PotatriotsUnite.com — identifies as a “satire” site, a label that experts say has become a popular fig leaf for misinformation merchants. That’s a label you’ll see if you click the link in your News Feed, and stop to pay attention to the site’s tagline, URL, or “About” page, rather than simply reacting to the headline and story itself, as so many people do. (There is also a watermark on the image accompanying the story that includes the word “satire,” though it’s so tiny as to be barely legible.)

Satire presents a quandary for Facebook’s fact-checkers: Slap earnest warning labels on every Onion story and suppress users’ ability to share it, and you essentially eradicate political humor from the platform, while insulting the intelligence of millions of Onion fans who are in on the joke. But what about self-described “satire” sites whose headlines seem calculated to mislead and inflame rather than amuse?

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Though you have to wonder about anyone who could believe it would cost $2.4bn to impeach Trump.
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Inside Larry Page’s turbulent Kitty Hawk: returned deposits, battery fires and a Boeing shakeup • Forbes

Jeremy Bogaisky:

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In 2017, success seemed to be just around the corner for Kitty Hawk, the secretive flying-car company that’s bankrolled by Google cofounder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford AI and robotics whiz who had launched Google’s self-driving car unit. Kitty Hawk had just shown off a prototype of the Flyer, a single-seat, battery-powered aircraft intended to be a low-altitude fun machine for use over water, like a jet ski on rotors, with handling that would make flying as easy as driving. “I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight,” Page said at the time. The startup promised to put the Flyer in eager buyers’ hands by the end of the year.

Late that year the Mountain View, California-based company also began flight-testing a more ambitious project in New Zealand: a two-seat electric self-flying taxi called Cora that Kitty Hawk says will enable city dwellers to soar over gridlocked streets. “Just imagine traveling at 80 miles an hour in a straight line at any time of day without ever having to stop,” Thrun told the Guardian a few months after Cora was unveiled. “It would be transformational to almost every person I know.”

Two years later, however, Kitty Hawk’s promise to bring personal flying to the masses has failed to take wing yet amid technical problems and safety issues with Flyer and unresolved questions about its practical use, according to four former Kitty Hawk employees who were among six who spoke to Forbes on the condition of anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements. At the same time, the company may have given up control of Cora, sources suggest. [This was subsequently confirmed.]

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Maybe Larry doesn’t have the Midas touch after all. Still, he’ll have more time to devote to this now.
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Internet Society CEO: Most people don’t care about the .org sell-off – and nothing short of a court order will stop it • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:

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El Reg has quizzed Andrew Sullivan, the president and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC), about his organistion’s decision to sell the non-profit .org registry to private equity outfit Ethos Capital.

We have previously covered the controversy over the proposed sale, the continued failure of ISOC and DNS overseer ICANN to answer detailed questions, and efforts by both to push the deal forward even while opposition to it grows.

Your correspondant asked Sullivan whether he expected the amount of criticism from the internet community that has erupted in recent days.

“I did expect some people to be unhappy with the decision, I expected some pushback,” he told The Register, adding: “But the level of pushback has been very strong.”

He was aware, he says, that people would not like two key aspects of the decision: the move from a non-profit model to a for-profit one; and the lack of consultation. He had explanations ready for both: “The registry business is still a business, and this represented a really big opportunity, and one that is good for PIR [Public Interest Registry].”

As for the lack of consultation: “We didn’t go looking for this. If we had done that [consulted publicly about the sale .org], the opportunity would have been lost. If we had done it in public, it would have created a lot of uncertainty without any benefit.”

«

Not answered: why did they think it was important to sell off .org? As McCarthy – who has followed the internet domain market for years (he tracked down and wrote about the shenanigans behind the ownership of sex.com) – points out, there’s no way longstanding .org sites are going to move if the price goes up. Yet they’re the ones least likely to be able to pay. It’s a shockingly bad decision.
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The missing link between spreadsheets and data visualization • RAWGraphs

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First, insert your data into RAWGraphs

As simple as a copy-paste.

RAWGraphs works with delimiter-separated values (i.e. csv and tsv files) as well as with copied-and-pasted texts from other applications (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheets, TextEdit, …). It also works with CORS-enabled endpoints (APIs).

No worries, your data is safe.

Even though RAWGraphs is a web app, the data you insert will be processed only by the web browser. No server-side operations or storages are performed, no one will see, touch or copy your data!

Second, choose from a wide range of visual models.

Conventional and unconventional layouts.

We designed and developed RAWGraphs with designers and vis geeks in mind. That’s why we focused on providing charts that are not easy to produce with other tools. But don’t worry, you can also find bar charts and pies! Something missing? See how easy is to build your own model.

«

I feel like I’ve been seeing “finally! Visualise your spreadsheet data!” for the past 10 years at least. They’re always nice, but not as convenient as your spreadsheet software. But this is open source, so maybe we’ll find a way to make it last. Generates vectors or PNGs, so that’s promising.
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The one-traffic-light town with some of the fastest internet in the US • The New Yorker

Sue Halpern:

»

McKee, an Appalachian town of about twelve hundred tucked into the Pigeon Roost Creek valley, is the seat of Jackson County, one of the poorest counties in the country. There’s a sit-down restaurant, Opal’s, that serves the weekday breakfast-and-lunch crowd, one traffic light, a library, a few health clinics, eight churches, a Dairy Queen, a pair of dollar stores, and some of the fastest Internet in the United States. Subscribers to Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), which covers all of Jackson County and the adjacent Owsley County, can get speeds of up to one gigabit per second, and the coöperative is planning to upgrade the system to ten gigabits. (By contrast, where I live, in the mountains above Lake Champlain, we are lucky to get three megabytes.) For nearly fifteen million Americans living in sparsely populated communities, there is no broadband Internet service at all. “The cost of infrastructure simply doesn’t change,” Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of the Rural Broadband Association, told me. “It’s no different in a rural area than in Washington, D.C. But we’ve got thousands of people in a square mile to spread the cost among. You just don’t in rural areas.”

Keith Gabbard, the CEO of PRTC, had the audacious idea of wiring every home and business in Jackson and Owsley Counties with high-speed fibre-optic cable. Gabbard, who is in his sixties, is deceptively easygoing, with a honeyed drawl and a geographically misplaced affection for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up in McKee and attended Eastern Kentucky University, thirty-five miles down Route 421; he lives with his wife, a retired social worker, in a house next door to the one in which he grew up. “I’ve spent my whole life here,” he said. “I’m used to people leaving for college and never coming back. The ones who didn’t go to college stayed. But the best and the brightest have often left because they felt like they didn’t have a choice.”

«

Lovely piece. But the reality of how a fast connection changes the possibilities is enormously underappreciated: it has value that goes beyond simple money. (I speak as someone who lives in a rural area where we used to be lucky to get 3Mbps; then fibre arrived some months back, and everything is possible.)
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Worldwide loudspeaker market under pressure, but with pockets of growth • Futuresource Consulting

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The consumer loudspeaker market is facing challenges from shifting listening habits, as consumers look beyond traditional audio products, fixing their sights on smart speakers and headphones. However, the category is showing some resilience, and recent changes in loudspeaker preferences means trade value is faring better than volume, according to a new worldwide loudspeaker report from Futuresource Consulting.

Comprising bookshelf speakers, floor standing speakers, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, home theatre speakers and computer speakers, the consumer loudspeaker market achieved 45 million shipments worldwide in 2018, with a trade value of $2.8bn. That equates to a 12% year-on-year decrease in units and a 5% drop in value.

“The growth in streaming services is transforming the relationship that people have with music,” says Guy Hammett, Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “It’s altering audio consumption habits and we’re seeing a rapid change in the mix of devices people wish to buy and own. Combine this with trends towards convenience, simplicity, fewer and smaller speakers and less cabling, and there are clear challenges ahead for the traditional loudspeaker market. Just three years ago, the value of the wireless speaker market was less than double that of loudspeakers. Now it’s nearly three times the value.”

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That’s a hell of a flip to wireless. The triumph of Bluetooth.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1202: Facebook’s chatbot hit, Ring and the police, tracking MPs’ extra income, Escobar’s folding phone (really), and more


Sundar Pichai is on top of Google – and now of its holding company Alphabet too. CC-licensed photo by Daniel Cukier on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Try a search! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A letter from Larry and Sergey • Google Blog

»

Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about! 

Sundar brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day. He’s worked closely with us for 15 years, through the formation of Alphabet, as CEO of Google, and a member of the Alphabet Board of Directors. He shares our confidence in the value of the Alphabet structure, and the ability it provides us to tackle big challenges through technology. There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.

«

TL;DR: Sundar Pichai replaces Larry Page at the top of the company that owns Google. My hot take on this is: Alphabet is going to turn back into Google, the battleship around which the other businesses sail in more or less close formation. I don’t see Pichai finding it too much of a hassle running both Alphabet and Google.

Where does Page go? More to the point, where has he been the past few years? In September 2018 Bloomberg asked “Where’s Larry?” and didn’t have an answer. Sergey Brin is also going to stop being “President”, and the role won’t be filled. But they’ll keep their shares: unaccountable power at one of the biggest, more powerful companies in the world.
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Facebook gives workers a chatbot to appease that prying uncle • The New York Times

Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac:

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Some Facebook employees recently told their managers that they were concerned about answering difficult questions about their workplace from friends and family over the holidays.

What if Mom or Dad accused the social network of destroying democracy? Or what if they said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was collecting their online data at the expense of privacy?

So just before Thanksgiving, Facebook rolled out something to help its workers: a chatbot that would teach them official company answers for dealing with such thorny questions.

If a relative asked how Facebook handled hate speech, for example, the chatbot — which is a simple piece of software that uses artificial intelligence to carry on a conversation — would instruct the employee to answer with these points:

• Facebook consults with experts on the matter.

• It has hired more moderators to police its content.

• It is working on A.I. to spot hate speech.

• Regulation is important for addressing the issue.

It would also suggest citing statistics from a Facebook report about how the company enforces its standards.

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Just in case your family didn’t think that you had been absorbed into a cult.
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Liam Bot • Glitch

:

»

The ‘Liam Bot’ teaches Facebook employees what to say if friends or family ask difficult questions over the holidays. We hope it’s helpful!

Uncle: When are you planning on having kids?

🤖: Some problems lend themselves more easily to A.I. solutions than others.

«

Reload for all the answers to those difficult, difficult questions. (It would be nice to be able to pose your own questions, but I guess you can’t have everything.)
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Building a more honest internet • Columbia Journalism Review

Ethan Zuckerman:

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Thirty years after the invention of the World Wide Web, it’s increasingly clear that there are significant flaws in the global model. Shoshana Zuboff, a scholar and activist, calls this model “surveillance capitalism”; it’s a system in which users’ online movements and actions are tracked and that information is sold to advertisers. The more time people spend online, the more money companies can make, so our attention is incessantly pulled to digital screens to be monitored and monetized.

Facebook and other companies have pioneered sophisticated methods of data collection that allow ads to be precisely targeted to individual people’s consumer habits and preferences. And this model has had an unintended side effect: it has turned social-media networks into incredibly popular—some say addictive—sources of unregulated information that are easily weaponized. Bad-faith actors, from politically motivated individuals to for-profit propaganda mills to the Russian government, can easily harness social-media platforms to spread information that is dangerous and false. Disinformation is now widespread across every major social-media platform.

In response to the vulnerabilities and ill effects associated with large-scale social media, movements like Time Well Spent seek to realign tech industry executives and investors in support of what they call “humane tech.” Yes, technology should act in the service of humanity, not as an existential threat to it. But in the face of such a large problem, don’t we need something more creative, more ambitious? That is, something like radio? Radio was the first public service media, one that still thrives today. A new movement toward public service digital media may be what we need to counter the excesses and failures of today’s internet.

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(Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.)
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Ring let police view map of video doorbell installations for over a year • CNet

Alfred Ng:

»

For more than a year, police departments partnered with Amazon’s Ring unit had access to a map showing where its video doorbells were installed, down to the street, public documents revealed. So while Ring said it didn’t provide police with addresses for the devices, a feature in the map tool let them get extremely close. The feature was removed in July.

Public documents from the Rolling Meadows Police Department in Illinois, obtained by privacy researcher Shreyas Gandlur and reviewed by CNET, revealed that police had access to a heat map that showed the concentration of Ring cameras in a neighborhood.

In its default state, the heat map showed police where Ring cameras are concentrated: the darker the shade, the more the cameras. But when zoomed in, it would show light circles around individual locations, essentially outing Ring owners to police. Police could also type in specific addresses to see the cameras in the surrounding area.

In a statement, Ring denied that its heat map tool gave exact locations of its users.

“As previously stated, our video request feature does not give police access to the locations of devices. Ring is constantly working to improve our products and services and, earlier this year, we updated the video request process to no longer include any device density information,” the company said.

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As heat maps go, it gave you a pretty good idea where the devices were.
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UK MPs’ additional income • Lobo

»

The annual salary for an MP in the United Kingdom is £79,468. But MPs can earn additional income by, for example, giving speeches, writing articles and advising companies. They must declare these earnings, but not in a format that enables easy comparison across MPs. So, we’ve written some code which converts all their payment declarations into a common format. All £8.4 million of them. Here’s what we found.

Between 8th June 2017 and 31st October 2019 (the most recent Parliament), the average MP earned £12,879. That’s roughly £5,330 every 12 months, earned mostly through second jobs (with a fixed, regular salary).  But also through other ad-hoc tasks like giving speeches. We can’t see income from rental properties or financial assets.

Most MPs have not declared any additional earnings. This means that earnings are concentrated: 15 MPs account for over 50% of total earnings. Boris Johnson alone earned almost 10% of the total: nearly £800,000 or £27,440 a month. That was mostly earned through giving speeches. All 15 top-earners are men.

«

Only one of those 15 isn’t a Conservative. Would love to see this for previous Parliaments. And the gender gap is remarkable.
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Climate change is forcing one person from their home every two seconds, Oxfam says • CNN

Jack Guy, CNN:

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People are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by floods, cyclones and wildfires than volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and three times more likely than by conflict, according to the report released Monday,

The issue is one of a raft of topics set to be discussed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 25, which starts on Monday in Madrid.

Oxfam is calling on the international community to do more to fund recovery programs for poorer countries affected by the climate emergency, which is set to intensify as extreme weather events are projected to increase in both severity and frequency.

Low- and lower-middle income nations, such as India, are more than four times more likely to be affected by climate-fueled displacement than high-income countries like Spain and the US, according to the report.

Geography also plays a role, with about 80% of those displaced living in Asia.

Small island developing states (SIDS), such as Cuba, Dominica and Tuvalu, are particularly badly affected, making up seven of the top 10 countries with the highest rates of displacement from extreme weather disasters between 2008 and 2018.

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I’d really like to know what governments’ detailed reports about food production, shortages and mass migration look like. A question I’ve seriously been wondering about is in which decade of this century governments will introduce rationing.
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Pablo Escobar’s brother unveils folding smartphone with help of hot models • TMZ

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Pablo Escobar’s brother knows how to move merchandise — show off the goods … and make sure to toss in a little extra eye candy. Or a lot.

The notorious Colombian kingpin’s bro, Roberto, is adding to his tech portfolio by unveiling one of the world’s first foldable smartphones. Based on the ad … sexy women in lingerie will especially enjoy using it.

According to his company, Escobar Inc., the flexible screen Android easily folds out into a 7.8in screen tablet … and comes with all the top-of-the-line bells and whistles.

Its name – the Escobar Fold 1. Retail price – $349. The company says they’ll sell out quickly, because it’s only producing 100,000 units to start … so get ’em while they’re hot.

«

First, I don’t think the quality’s going to be up there – this has surely come from a Chinese knockoff company, especially at that price.

Second, what a classic celebrity magazine story: don’t care about interrogating the tech, just look at the name!

Third, I don’t think you’d really want to make a complaint to customer service. “What did you say your address was? Ah, we’ll send someone round to deal with.. the problem.” (Thanks Jim C for the link.)
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Why the paper on the CRISPR babies stayed secret for so long • MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:

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More than a year after the birth in China of twin girls known as Lulu and Nana, the world’s first gene-edited babies, the affair is still shrouded in secrecy. US researchers and universities have given incomplete or equivocal accounts of their involvement with He Jiankui, the Chinese biophysicist who used CRISPR to make changes to the girls’ DNA while they were still embryos. In China, if you distribute a news story to WeChat asking what happened to the twins, state censors will issue a takedown notice.

No reason is given. No appeal is possible.

The silence hasn’t served only to conceal what really happened to the girls. It is hiding the scientific facts themselves. Starting late last year, manuscripts written by He describing the creation of the twins were considered for publication by at least two supremely influential journals: Nature and JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Neither has published his work.

The reason isn’t only that He’s project trampled ethics rules. Another major obstacle to a full account is that He has not been seen or heard from for months. He didn’t make it to his home village for Chinese New Year in February, his father told us. His lab and data, according to one insider, were seized by Chinese authorities last December, and his original team of 10 has scattered to the four winds. An American collaborator, Michael Deem of Rice University, is the subject of an investigation by that institution; it has come to no public conclusion or disclosed any findings. So there may be nobody who can answer questions, expand upon the data, or carry out follow-up experiments, as scientific review by a journal often demands.

Although the reaction to the CRISPR babies was overwhelmingly negative, the future that the unpublished manuscripts unveil—a future of genetically engineered humans—is coming faster than many people realize. Genome-writing techniques are improving at a blazing pace. Select researchers remain keen to employ them in human embryos, tempted by the chance to prevent disease or improve heredity. The fear is they will do it again in secrecy, in some other country with lax oversight, and repeat He’s mistakes.

«

Hang on – a country that has access to CRISPR and high-quality laboratories and yet has lax oversight? Where is it, Jurassic World? But at least the article (3,000+ wds) goes into the detail of the paper, and why it hasn’t been published: the gene-deleting work with CRISPR might have gone wrong.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up No.1201: Wikipedia + Wayback = better, Greenland’s melt worsens, Facebook’s strange way with facts, and more


Amazingly, this company is – in a roundabout way – responsible for a lot of the image compression you see online. CC-licensed photo by Bertrand Duperrin 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Internet Archive is making Wikipedia more reliable • WIRED

Klint Finley:

»

The reason people rely on Wikipedia, despite its imperfections, is that every claim is supposed to have citations. Any sentence that isn’t backed up with a credible source risks being slapped with the dreaded “citation needed” label. Anyone can check out those citations to learn more about a subject, or verify that those sources actually say what a particular Wikipedia entry claims they do—that is, if you can find those sources.

It’s easy enough when the sources are online. But many Wikipedia articles rely on good old-fashioned books. The entry on Martin Luther King Jr., for example, cites 66 different books. Until recently, if you wanted to verify that those books say what the article says they say, or if you just wanted to read the cited material, you’d need to track down a copy of the book.

Now, thanks to a new initiative by the Internet Archive, you can click the name of the book and see a two-page preview of the cited work, so long as the citation specifies a page number. You can also borrow a digital copy of the book, so long as no else has checked it out, for two weeks—much the same way you’d borrow a book from your local library. (Some groups of authors and publishers have challenged the archive’s practice of allowing users to borrow unauthorized scanned books. The Internet Archive says it seeks to widen access to books in “balanced and respectful ways.”)

So far the Internet Archive has turned 130,000 references in Wikipedia entries in various languages into direct links to 50,000 books that the organization has scanned and made available to the public. The organization eventually hopes to allow users to view and borrow every book cited by Wikipedia, with the ultimate goal being to digitize every book ever published.

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Start enough projects, and you’ll eventually have one that’s world-beating. But these two are both world-beating.
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Greenland melt involves massive waterfalls encased in ice, raising fears about sea level rise • The Washington Post

Andrew Freedman:

»

Scientists are keenly interested in how meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet — the largest contributor to global sea level rise — acts to speed up the movement of ice toward the sea by lubricating the underside of the ice surface. The new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year. This means tweaks may be needed to the computer models used to predict sea level rise from Greenland.

This is the first study to show that partial lake drainage can occur through cracks in the ice, rather than overtopping or other mechanisms, which was previously the assumption. This means even more water is reaching the base of the ice sheet than previously thought.

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We are very, very screwed.
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Coal power becoming ‘uninsurable’ as firms refuse cover • The Guardian

Julia Kollewe:

»

The number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time US companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuels, according to a new report.

The report, which rates the world’s 35 biggest insurers on their actions on fossil fuels, declares that coal – the biggest single contributor to climate change – “is on the way to becoming uninsurable” as most coal projects cannot be financed, built or operated without insurance.

Ten firms moved to restrict the insurance cover they offer to companies that build or operate coal power plants in 2019, taking the global total to 17, said the Unfriend Coal campaign, which includes 13 environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Client Earth and Urgewald, a German NGO. The report will be launched at an insurance and climate risk conference in London on Monday, as the UN climate summit gets underway in Madrid.

The first insurers to exit coal policies were all European, but since March, two US insurers – Chubb and Axis Capital – and the Australian firms QBE and Suncorp have pledged to stop or restrict insurance for coal projects.

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The rise of solar power is jeopardising the west Australia energy grid, and it’s a lesson for all of Australia • ABC News

Daniel Mercer:

»

While much of the debate about the intersection of climate and energy policy is focused on the eastern states — and its national electricity market (NEM) — western Australia (WA) is hurtling towards a tipping point.

At heart of the state’s problem is its isolation.

Unlike states such as South Australia, which has even higher levels of renewable energy, WA cannot rely on any other markets to prop it up during times of disruption to supply or demand.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which runs WA’s wholesale electricity market (WEM), said the islanded nature of the grid in WA made it particularly exposed to the technical challenges posed by solar.

AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said these challenges tended to be most acute when high levels of solar output coincided with low levels of demand — typically on mild, sunny days in spring or autumn when people were not using air conditioners.

On those days, excess solar power from households and businesses spilled uncontrolled on to the system, pushing the amount of power needed from the grid to increasingly low levels.

Ms Zibelman said WA’s isolation amplified this trend because the relative concentration of its solar resources meant fluctuations in supply caused by the weather had an outsized effect.

The only way to manage the solar was to scale back or switch off the coal- and gas-fired power stations that were supposed to be the bedrock of the electricity system.

The problem was coal-fired plants were not designed to be quickly ramped up or down in such a way, meaning they were ill-equipped to respond to sudden fluctuations in solar production.

«

Filed under “problems you didn’t expect to have”.
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I ditched Google for DuckDuckGo. Here’s why you should too • WIRED

James Temperton:

»

It all started with a realization: Most the things I search for are easy to find. Did I really need the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithms of Google to assist me? Probably not. So I made a simple change: I opened up Firefox on my Android phone and switched Google search for DuckDuckGo. As a result, I’ve had a fairly tedious but important revelation: I search for really obvious stuff. Google’s own data backs this up. Its annual round-up of the most searched-for terms is basically a list of names and events: World Cup, Avicii, Mac Miller, Stan Lee, Black Panther, Megan Markle. The list goes on. And I don’t need to buy into Google’s leviathan network of privacy-invading trackers to find out what Black Panther is and when I can go and see it at my local cinema.

While I continue to use Google at work (more out of necessity, as my employer runs on G-Suite), on my phone I’m all about DuckDuckGo. I had, based on zero evidence, convinced myself that finding things on the internet was hard and, inevitably, involved a fair amount of tracking. After two years of not being tracked and targeted, I have slowly come to realize that this is nonsense.

DuckDuckGo works in broadly the same way as any other search engine, Google included. It combines data from hundreds of sources, including Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and Bing, with its own web crawler to surface the most relevant results. Google does exactly the same, albeit on a somewhat larger scale. The key difference: DuckDuckGo does not store IP addresses or user information.

Billed as the search engine that doesn’t track you, DuckDuckGo processes around 1.5 billion searches every month. Google, for contrast, processes around 3.5 billion searches per day. It’s hardly a fair fight, but DuckDuckGo is growing. In 2012 it averaged just 45 million searches per month.

«

You can see the growth in DuckDuckGo’s traffic directly. Though I don’t get why he says he continues to use Google at work “more out of necessity”. If search isn’t special on his phone, why on his desktop? Also: DDG’s traffic graph seems to be fractal – the same at every magnification.
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Huawei manages to make smartphones without American chips • WSJ

Asa Fitch and Dan Strumpf:

»

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees export licenses, last month said U.S.-based chip makers were being granted licenses to resume some other deliveries. The department has received nearly 300 license applications, he said.

Meanwhile, Huawei has made significant strides in shedding its dependence on parts from U.S. companies. (At issue are chips from U.S.-based companies, not those necessarily made in America; many U.S. chip companies make their semiconductors abroad.)

Huawei long relied on suppliers like Qorvo Inc., the North Carolina maker of chips that are used to connect smartphones with cell towers, and Skyworks Solutions Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based company that makes similar chips. It also used parts from Broadcom Inc., the San Jose-based maker of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips, and Cirrus Logic Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company that makes chips for producing sound.

While Huawei hasn’t stopped using American chips entirely, it has reduced its reliance on U.S. suppliers or eliminated U.S. chips in phones launched since May, including the company’s Y9 Prime and Mate smartphones, according to Fomalhaut’s teardown analysis. Similar inspections by iFixit and Tech Insights Inc., two other firms that take apart phones to inspect components, have come to similar conclusions.

«

Impressive. How’s it doing on not using Google software, though?
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How a nude ‘Playboy’ photo has been a mainstay in testing tech for decades • Medium

Corinne Purtill:

»

“Once upon a time, I was the centerfold of Playboy,” says the former model, who now goes by the name Lena Forsen, in the film’s final moments. “But I retired from modeling a long time ago. It’s time I retired from tech, too.”

At the peak of Lena’s popularity, the strongest argument in favor of using the image in research was that so many others had done the same. Stripped from its original context, the Lena image was simply a recognizable pattern of pixels that could be manipulated, compressed, and then compared with the results of other compressions of the same image.

“At the height, it was used in everything from journal papers to textbooks,” said Deanna Needell, a mathematics professor at UCLA. “For a long time, I didn’t attend a single conference in image processing where she didn’t appear in someone’s talk. And now it is still, sadly, not uncommon.” To demonstrate that Lena wasn’t the only available face with the right amount of texture and shading, Needell and a colleague used a photograph of the model Fabio Lanzoni in a 2013 paper on image reconstruction.

The real-life implications of a ’70s-era Playboy centerfold being presented as a neutral image was apparent as recently as 2014. Maddie Zug, then a high school junior, was one of a handful of girls in a mostly male artificial intelligence class told to use the Lena image in a coding class assignment.

The teacher emphatically instructed the class not to search for the full image on Google, which of course everyone promptly did. Instantly, the awkward experience of being one of few girls in a room of teenage boys became the intensely awkward experience of being one of few girls in a room of teenage boys snorting and laughing over a picture of a naked lady.

«

The 1970s have so much to answer for. The reason why that photo was used? Men brought Playboy to work.
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How a dog called Peter sparked Malta’s political crisis • The Guardian

Juliette Garside:

»

A week of arrests and resignations, of drama and fury unlike anything Malta has seen in generations, might not have happened but for the keen nose of a police sniffer dog called Peter.

On Wednesday 13 November, the spaniel was screening passengers when he alerted his handlers to the smell of cash. Lots of it.

Customs reportedly found €210,000 (£178,000) in the belongings of a man preparing to board a flight to Istanbul.

The economic crimes unit were called and a day later, the incident led to the arrest of a taxi driver, Melvin Theuma.

Under questioning by police, Theuma made the sensational claim that he had acted as intermediary in the contract killing of Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Now, as a consequence of Theuma’s claims, the EU’s smallest state is in the throes of its biggest political convulsion since the 1960s, when the former British colony became an independent country.

At the heart of it all is the murder of Caruana Galizia, who died two years ago when a bomb planted under the seat of her rental car was detonated near her home in the village of Bidnija.

«

Dogs do not lie. This is why they are good. Malta (where I lived for a while as a child) has really gone to all kinds of hell.
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Facebook issues corrective label on user’s post under new Singapore fake news law • Reuters

Fathin Ungku and John Geddie:

»

Facebook said on Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state.

“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” said the notice, which is visible only to Singapore users.

The correction label was embedded at the bottom of the original post without any alterations to the text.

The Singapore government said on Friday it had instructed Facebook “to publish a correction notice” on a Nov. 23 post which contained accusations about the arrest of a supposed whistleblower and election rigging.

Singapore, which is expected to call a general elections within months, said the allegations were “false” and “scurrilous” and initially ordered user Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review blog, to issue the correction notice on the post.

Tan, who does not live in Singapore and says he is an Australian citizen, refused and authorities said he is now under investigation.

«

Got that? Now read on.
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Facebook’s only Dutch factchecker quits over political ad exemption • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Facebook’s only Dutch factchecker has quit over the social network’s refusal to allow them to highlight political lies as being false.

The online newspaper Nu.nl had been Facebook’s only factchecking partner in the Netherlands since Leiden University dropped out of the programme last year. The website had sole responsibility for marking Facebook and Instagram news content for Dutch users as being false or misleading, in order to help power the social network’s tools that suppress distribution of misinformation.

According to an NPO 3 interview with Nu.nl’s editor-in-chief, Gert-Jaap Hoekman, the relationship ended over Facebook’s decision to ban it from checking content and adverts posted by politicians. “What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?” Hoekman asked.

The organisation has had an uncomfortable relationship with Facebook since May, when Nu.nl labelled an advert from a Dutch politician as “unsubstantiated” – a move that was reversed by Facebook, which enforced its rules against factchecking politicians. But the “final straw”, according to the NPO programme, was when Facebook again pushed the factcheckers to reverse rulings against the far-right Freedom party (PVV) and FvD party.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We value the work that Nu.nl has done and regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business.

“Fighting misinformation takes a multi-pronged approach from across the industry…”

«

…but Facebook doesn’t want to wield any of those prongs.
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Silicon Valley braces for belt-tightening • The Information

Cory Weinberg:

»

Airbnb racked up heavy losses in the first half of this year as it spent heavily on marketing and adding employees. While it recorded a big profit in the third quarter, three people familiar with the matter said, the rest of the year might not make up for the early performance. It isn’t clear whether Airbnb will make cuts, but investors have increasingly been scrutinizing the company’s high overhead expenses as it prepares to go public next year, two of the people said.

Other startups already have taken steps to tighten their belts. Opendoor, a home-buying service valued at $3.8bn, dramatically slowed a planned expansion to new markets this year, and its CEO has talked publicly about trying to be more frugal. Mattress maker Casper, which is likely to go public next year, recently trimmed staff to conserve cash. The changes, described by people close to the companies, haven’t previously been reported.

Rich Boyle, a general partner at venture capital firm Canaan Partners, said startup boards that he sits on have had more discussions in recent months about how to prepare for tougher times, including whether to reduce staff, slow office expansion and invest in fewer new products or services. Those considerations represent a reality check for investors and entrepreneurs accustomed to the last decade of “everything is up and to the right, everything easy to raise,” he said.

The poor IPO performances of Uber and Lyft, and WeWork’s failed attempt to go public, demonstrated that public investors want to see clear pathways to profits. Another factor, he said, was a pullback by SoftBank, which had been plowing money into tech startups since it launched its enormous Vision Fund in 2017.

“There is a sentiment shift,” Boyle said. “We’re entering one of the phases where it’s not growth at all costs.”

«

If SoftBank has finally got some accountants who know the meaning of “mark-to-market” and can read a P/L, that’s probably a good thing, even if it means fewer [insert pointless food/pursuit of choice] for startups. Though one also wonders if this is the first cold wind presaging a much colder business climate for everyone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1200: China forces face scans for mobile, fake news and fake viewers, EU looks again at Google, iPhone = iPod?, and more


Reversing cameras are now obligatory on cars in the US: what’s the economic justification? CC-licensed photo by Maria Palma 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. “The right to carry narwhal tusks and fire extinguishers”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

China due to introduce face scans for mobile users • BBC News

»

People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country’s hundreds of millions of internet users.

The regulation, announced in September, was due to come into effect on Sunday.

The government says it wants to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace”. China already uses facial recognition technology to survey its population. It is a world leader in such technologies, but their intensifying use across the country in recent years has sparked debate.

When signing up for new mobile or mobile data contracts, people are already required to show their national identification card (as required in many countries) and have their photos taken. But now, they will also have their faces scanned in order to verify that they are a genuine match for the ID provided…

…When the regulations were announced in September, the Chinese media did not make a big deal of it.

But online, hundreds of social media users voiced concerns about the increasing amount of data being held on them.
“People are being more and more strictly monitored,” one user of the Sina Weibo microblogging website said. “What are they [the government] afraid of?”

«

Increasingly creepy; but what’s more concerning is that it creates a sort of mission creep for other countries: they can say, when they introduce new biometric requirements, that “it’s not as bad as China’s” – which will be true, but no less intrusive and concerning because of the potential for abuse. (Imagine the Trump administration with a facial recognition database of citizens.)
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Rear Visibility and some unresolved problems for economic analysis • SSRN

Cass Sunstein:

»

Rearview cameras produce a set of benefits that are hard to quantify, including increased ease of driving, and those benefits might have been made a part of “breakeven analysis,” accompanying standard cost-benefit analysis.

In addition, rearview cameras significantly improve the experience of driving, and it is plausible to think that in deciding whether to demand them, many vehicle purchasers did not sufficiently anticipate that improvement.

This is a problem of limited foresight; rearview cameras are “experience goods.” A survey conducted in 2019 strongly supports this proposition, finding that about 56% of consumers would demand at least $300 to buy a car without a rearview camera, and that fewer than 6% would demand $50 or less. Almost all of that 6% consists of people who do not own a car with a rearview camera. (The per-person cost is usually under $50.)

These conclusions have general implications for other domains in which regulation has the potential to improve social welfare, even if it fails standard cost-benefit analysis; the defining category involves situations in which people lack experience with a good whose provision might have highly beneficial welfare effects.

«

The US has made rear-view cameras obligatory since 2014, and (even) the Trump administration backed that in 2018. Sunstein points out that “it is not easy to identify a market failure to justify the regulation”. The long list of “backover” stories (children killed or injured by reversing vehicles) suggests that’s because it’s difficult to value a child’s life.
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Episode 203: Tech Election – Part 2 • Talking Politics podcast

»

We talk about the impact of different online platforms on the general election campaign, from Twitter and Facebook to WhatsApp and TikTok. Is micro-targeting getting more sophisticated? Is viral messaging getting more important? Or are traditional electioneering techniques still driving voter engagement? Plus we ask whether there’s any scope left for a ‘December surprise’. With Charles Arthur, former technology editor of the Guardian, and Jennifer Cobbe, from the Cambridge Trust and Technology Initiative.

«

One comment on this was “you’re usually a world class podcast, but this episode was really boring”. Knock yourself out.
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Sham news sites make big bucks from fake views • BBC News

Vivienne Nunis:

»

Often the sites are not designed to be seen by human eyes at all. The laredotribune.com website also – at first glance – appears to be a regular news site for a city in south Texas. There are stories about local residents and President Trump’s border wall with Mexico.

But the stories have no publication date. There are no contact details for the editorial staff and the site loads slowly due to the large number of ads. Yet the site has had 3.7 million page views over the past three months, according to data from analytics firm SimilarWeb.

Not bad for a news site covering a city of just 260,000 people.

But the audience is fake. Bots are used to give the impression of high traffic, generating very real revenue for the site’s creators.

“We estimate each site is making at least $100,000 [£77,450] a month,” said Vlad Shevtsov, director of investigations at Social Puncher, the firm that exposed a number of fraudulent news sites. The organisation says ad fraud is a million-dollar industry.

Dig a little deeper into the Laredo Tribune’s user data, and there are other clues it is not legitimate. Advertisers might ask why there were 500,000 page views in September, which jumped to a staggering three million views in October.

Ads for major UK brands including Virgin Media, Superdrug and even TV Licensing were all displayed on related sham news sites seen by the BBC.

“We hope more can be done across the industry to clamp down on these instances of pay-per-con advertising fraud,” said a Virgin Media spokesman.

Google says the Laredo Tribune does not breach its advertising rules, and it found no issues with traffic to the site.

“That means that next month, the anonymous owner will get the next payout cheque from Google,” said Mr Shevtsov.

«

Google not realising that the site is fake is a bad sign – for Google, and for everyone else trying to run a legitimate news site.
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Exclusive: EU antitrust regulators say they are investigating Google’s data collection • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

»

EU antitrust regulators are investigating Google’s collection of data, the European Commission told Reuters on Saturday, suggesting the world’s most popular internet search engine remains in its sights despite record fines in recent years.

Competition enforcers on both sides of the Atlantic are now looking into how dominant tech companies use and monetise data.

The EU executive said it was seeking information on how and why Alphabet unit Google is collecting data, confirming a Reuters story on Friday.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s practices relating to Google’s collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” the EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

A document seen by Reuters shows the EU’s focus is on data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers and others.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has handed down fines totalling more than €8bn to Google in the last two years and ordered it to change its business practices.

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Google’s not going to change its business practices.
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On being proud to be British • Medium

Martin Shapland:

»

James Ford is the man wielding the fire extinguisher [against the attacker on London Bridge who killed two people with a knife]. He murdered a 21-yr-old [Amanda Champion, aged 21] who had learning difficulties in 2004, for which he is coming to the end of a lengthy life sentence.

He happened to be at the same event [as the London Bridge attacker] on rehabilitation on day release and helped to stop another man murdering more than he managed. What does it say about Britishness? Are we unredeemable? In another age he would have been put to death for his crime, he’s no hero, but does he, and we, deserve a second chance?

And then there is the attacker. Usman Khan. Previously convicted for acts of terrorism in 2012. Clearly unredeemable and incapable of rehabilitation. Yet he too was British and part of our story.

«

The fact that one man defending the public is a convicted killer, and that the man attacking the public hadn’t killed anyone (because he had been stopped first) is a stunning detail. The parents of Ford’s victim did not, and do not, forgive him; it was in some ways a more brutal murder than those Khan carried out. The death penalty might have satisfied Champion’s parents, yet denied someone their life in this present day if Ford hadn’t been there.
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Scrapping paper car tax discs has cost nearly £300million • Daily Mail

Tom Payne:

»

Scrapping the paper car tax discs has led to a surge in fee dodging and cost nearly £300m, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Ministers claimed moving the system online would cut costs and reduce tax evasion. But the changes have led to a dramatic rise in motorists either deliberately dodging tax or forgetting to pay it. It means the Treasury has lost an estimated £281m since 2014.

Last night, critics described the scheme as a failure and said the millions could have been spent on improving our crumbling roads. Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Getting a piece of paper to stick in the windscreen might seem a quaint idea in the digital age, but what we’ve lost is the daily reminder it provided for all to see when the next payment was due.”

…Roadside surveys by the DVLA reveal that losses from car tax were around £35m in 2013/14 – the last year when discs were in use. But this has risen to £94m in 2019 alone, with an ‘upper estimate’ of £281m since 2014. Some tax will be reclaimed or repaid later, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) said.

…The coloured disc system was overhauled by then-Chancellor George Osborne as part of a ‘Red Tape Challenge’ to streamline services. Every vehicle’s tax status is now kept on a DVLA computer and drivers are automatically posted or emailed reminders. But evidence shows renewal letters can be sent to old addresses or are missed in mountains of junk mail.

Of those found dodging tax, 54% were caught two months after they should have renewed – suggesting the evasion is accidental. The increase is being blamed on another change in the system that requires drivers to pay tax every time a vehicle changes hands.

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I’d guess that intentional dodging is made easier by this – register the vehicle to an old or fake address. But police can check automatically whether a vehicle is taxed. It’s an enforcement gap.
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SMS replacement is exposing users to text, call interception thanks to sloppy telcos • VICE

Joseph Cox:

»

SRLabs didn’t find an issue in the RCS standard itself, but rather how it is being implemented by different telecos. Because some of the standard is undefined, there’s a good chance companies may deploy it in their own way and make mistakes.

“Everybody seems to get it wrong right now, but in different ways,” Nohl said. SRLabs took a sample of SIM cards from a variety of carriers and checked for RCS-related domains, and then looked into particular security issues with each. SRLabs didn’t say which issues impacted which particular telecos.

Some of those issues include how devices receive RCS configuration files. In one instance, a server provides the configuration file for the right device by identifying them by their IP address. But because they also use that IP address, “Any app that you install on your phone, even if you give it no permissions whatsoever, it can request this file. So now every app can get your username and password to all your text messages and all your voice calls. That’s unexpected,” Nohl said.

In another instance, a teleco sends a text message with a six-digit code to verify that the RCS user is who they say they are, but “then give you an unlimited number of tries” to input the code, Nohl said. “One million attempts takes five minutes,” he added, meaning that it could be possible to brute force through the authentication process.

“All of these mistakes from the 90s are being reinvented, reintroduced,” Nohl said. “It is being rolled out for upwards of a billion people already who are all affected by this.”

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This iPhone app will make you nostalgic for the iPod click wheel • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

An iOS developer is building an iPhone app that will turn the smartphone into an iPod Classic with its nostalgic click wheel. Elvin Hu, a design student at Cooper Union college in New York City, has been working on the project since October, and shared an early look at the app on Twitter on Thursday. It essentially turns your iPhone into a fullscreen iPod Classic with a click wheel that includes haptic feedback and click sounds just like Apple’s original device.

It has generated a lot of interest on Twitter, with even the “father of the iPod,” Tony Fadell, noting it’s a “nice throwback.” Hu built the app because he was working on a paper about the development of the iPod at school. “I’ve always been a fan of Apple products since I was a kid,” revealed Hu in an email to The Verge. “Before my family could afford one, I would draw the UI layout of iPhone on lids of Ferrero Rocher boxes. Their products (among other products, such as Windows Vista and Zune HD) have greatly influenced my decision of pursuing design as a career.”

«

It’s a lovely concept, though apparently he’s waiting to see whether Apple will approve it because of patents and IP and so on. Fingers crossed he gets the thumbs-up: it’s exactly what Steve Jobs described about the flexibility of having a screen rather than a keyboard: that you can turn the phone into any app you want. Including the thing it replaced.
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Britain fights its last election, again • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:

»

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s core strategy is to embrace radicalism, and in doing so feed off the publicity it generates, turning Tory attack lines into free campaign commercials. Each Labour policy is actively designed to impose costs, not avoid them, on the minority of Britons who have large assets, income, or wealth, and to redistribute it across the population. Criticism of these policies, therefore, in Labour’s eyes, only serves to elevate them in the public consciousness.

This is, in effect, the same strategy the party employed in 2017, when it won far more seats than expected but still fell well short of a parliamentary majority. It comes through clearly in its latest manifesto, which promises to increase day-to-day government outlays by £80 billion ($103 billion) a year to pay for a slate of new giveaways. The scale of the proposed spending spree means that for every extra pound the Conservatives are proposing to spend if elected, Labour is offering 28. The crux of Labour’s plan, however, is not so much the scale of the spending but the proposal to load all of the extra tax burden onto the top 5% of earners. Corbyn and his aides are betting that the more the Tories attack Labour’s manifesto, the more the 95% of the country that would benefit from the Labour plan will hear about it. In other words, they have taken the strategy that failed to win the last election, and doubled down on it.

Despite emerging from the 2017 contest with the most votes and the most seats, the Tories, by comparison, had thrown away their slender majority in a vote they seemed all but guaranteed to win—and win big. It was a historic debacle that eventually cost Theresa May her job and the Conservative Party the chance to enact the version of Brexit it wanted. This year, under a new leader but with a strikingly similar offer, it is now crystal clear what the Tories have concluded went wrong the first time: Whereas May claimed it was because they allowed Labour to paint them “as the voice of continuity,” Johnson has decided they offered voters far too much change last time.

«

Terrific analysis about the strange times we live in – and how a Lynton Crosby memo from 2017 that was ignored now seems to form the core of the Tories’ approach.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified