Start Up No.1689: Nigeria’s pandemic-fuelled cybercrime boom, the US trust deficit, Ofgem’s failure, NSO faces new bans, and more

Samsung’s iconic Galaxy Note – which forged the way for “phablets” – won’t be made any more, reports suggest. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns 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. On the correct day this time. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How the pandemic pulled Nigerian university students into cybercrime • The Record

Olatunji Olaigbe:


even now [Kayode’s] descent into cybercrime can sound rational given the nightmare of trying to stay afloat amid the pandemic in Nigeria. 

“I needed to do something. I needed to survive,” Kayode said. “I’m not justifying my decision, but there’s something in being at home, doing nothing, but paradoxically doing everything in your capacity to stay alive, yet you are kind of dying, that makes you care less about others.” 

Nigeria represents one of the largest economies in the world and the largest in Africa. Although oil and agriculture are still the country’s largest industries, its tech ecosystem is one of the world’s fastest growing.

But according to Trading Economics, the average Nigerian salary is 43,200 naira (about $105) a month, still far behind that of many other countries with strong tech sectors. Meanwhile, the country’s jobless rate is the second highest in the world—quadrupling in the last five years and surging to 33.3% from 27.1% amid the pandemic, Bloomberg reported in March.

Young Nigerians have been hit the hardest by the epidemic’s unemployment crisis—driving many to online crime and forcing cultural re-evaluation of its morality, according to Oludayo Tade.

“It creates this orientation that this society does not take care of us, so we have to take care of ourselves,” said Tade, who researches and teaches sociology and criminology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. 

Kayode seems like an unlikely criminal at first glance. 

In high school, he says, he was an A student and served as his school’s social prefect, while also representing his school in academic competitions. And he scored well enough on the Nigerian equivalent of the SAT’s to land a spot at the University of Ilorin, one of the country’s most elite educational institutions—where I also attend.

But as Kayode was in the middle of first semester exams for his sophomore year in March 2020, the Academic Staff Union of University embarked on a two-week warning strike—citing unmet demands and disagreement with the federal government. Then the pandemic struck Nigeria, and the federal government imposed an indefinite nationwide lockdown. University students were encouraged to leave their dorms and go home until education resumed.

That wasn’t so easy for Kayode. 


Doesn’t have to be cybercrime: plenty got work as essay writers, for richer but less capable people in other countries.
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A trust recession is looming over the American economy – The Atlantic

Jerry Useem:


The economists Paul Zak and Stephen Knack found, in a study published in 1998, that a 15% bump in a nation’s belief that “most people can be trusted” adds a full percentage point to economic growth each year. That means that if, for the past 20 years, Americans had trusted one another like Ukrainians did, our annual GDP per capita would be $11,000 lower; if we had trusted like New Zealanders did, it’d be $16,000 higher. “If trust is sufficiently low,” they wrote, “economic growth is unachievable.”

…Add to the disruption and isolation of the pandemic a political climate that urges us to meditate on the distance—ethnic, generational, ideological, socioeconomic—separating us from others, and it’s not hard to see why many Americans feel disconnected.

What has suffered most are “weak ties”—relationships with acquaintances who fall somewhere between stranger and friend, which sociologists find are particularly valuable for the dissemination of knowledge. A closed inner circle tends to recycle knowledge it already has. New information is more likely to come from the serendipitous encounter with Alan, the guy with the fern in his office who reports to Phoebe and who remembers the last time someone suggested splitting the marketing division into three teams, and how that went.

Some evidence suggests that having more weak ties can shorten bouts of unemployment. In a famous 1973 survey, the Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter discovered that, among 54 people who had recently found a new job through someone they knew, 28% had heard about the new position from a weak tie, versus 17% from a strong one. When the weak ties fall away, our “radius of trust”—to borrow Fukuyama’s term—shrinks.

That’s a problem for individual employees, as much as they may appreciate the flexibility of working anywhere, anytime. And it’s a problem for business leaders, who are trying to weigh the preferences of those employees against the enduring existence of the place that employs them. They don’t want to end up like IBM. It saved $2bn making much of its workforce remote as early as the 1980s, only to reverse course in 2017, when it recognised that remote work was depressing collaboration. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently wondered whether companies were “burning” some of the face-to-face “social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”


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Poor regulation, not price cap, to blame for energy market mayhem • Financial Times

Helen Thomas:


Bulb [which went bust earlier this week, leaving 1.7 million customers in the lurch] wasn’t a “tease and squeeze” merchant, attracting customers with low fixed rates before flipping them close to the price cap. It had one variable tariff. But it had grown very quickly and was perennially lossmaking, thinly-capitalised and in effect sold energy at cost. Its gross margin in the year to March 2019 was 1%.

Its position had looked precarious for some time. The going-concern statement in its March 2020 accounts implied it was reliant on a letter from parent company Simple Energy Limited (which only holds Bulb) guaranteeing support for another 12 months.

It had a £55m loan facility (again guaranteed by its parent). Compare that to Octopus Energy, which at the time had a similar number of customers, with its £340m of committed funding in its April 2020 accounts. While Octopus’s risk discussion of wholesale prices provides details on a “strict and sophisticated” hedging policy, the word “hedging” doesn’t even feature in Bulb’s similar disclosure.

The reality is Bulb probably didn’t have the balance sheet to follow the paint-by-numbers template provided by the regulator for protection consistent with the assumptions in the price cap. It wasn’t required to do so and it’s not clear how much it did hedge.

…The mistake [in regulation] was capping retail prices while allowing companies chasing growth at any cost to take huge amounts of commodity price risk that was in effect backstopped by the state. Recent moves in power prices would have probably meant some failures under most regimes, reckons Peter Atherton, a sector consultant. But the politics of energy mean ultimately “the government is the supplier of last resort — always has been, always will be”, he said.

A regulatory environment that priced in that risk to the taxpayer would have policed existing rules more vigorously. It would have set a much higher bar for new entrants, much earlier. And it would have set tougher requirements on hedging wholesale price risk.


The energy market will look different – less choice, for sure – next year. Shows how important it is not just to regulate, but to do it well.
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Amid NSO scandal, Israel said to ban cyber tech sales to 65 countries • The Times of Israel


The [Israel] Defense Ministry has dramatically scaled back the number of countries to which Israeli companies can sell cyber technologies amid global fallout over Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, according to a report Thursday.

The updated November list consists of 37 countries, down from 102, according to the Calcalist business news daily.

Countries with questionable human rights records, including Israel’s new allies Morocco and the UAE, have been removed, the report said.

Other dropped countries include Saudi Arabia and Mexico. The Saudis allegedly used NSO’s Pegasus spyware to monitor Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Mexico has also been said to use the surveillance technology on journalists and activists.

However, India — which was also accused of using NSO technology on journalists, opposition politicians, and activists — remains on the updated list.

The new rules are expected to deal a serious blow to Israel’s cyber technology industry, according to the report.

NSO Group has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments spy on dissidents and rights activists. NSO insists its product is meant only to assist countries in fighting crime and terrorism.


How your product is “meant” to be used and how it’s actually used tend to be two different things. This is going to put NSO in a really tough spot. Imagine a fire sale, though: who would buy Pegasus? Who would oversee the bidding? Increasingly, Pegasus looks like one of the most valuable single pieces of software in the world. You have to hope they’ve got fantastic security, bot computing and physical.
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Galaxy Note 20 production to end, killing the series for good • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:


2021 marked a big year for the Galaxy Note series, but not in a good way. Rather, it was the beginning of the end as Samsung prioritized its foldables over the Galaxy Note line. Now, the death of the Note seems set in stone, as Samsung reportedly has no plans for a 2022 Galaxy Note, and is also planning to end production of the Galaxy Note 20. [There was no new Note released in 2021.]

ET News reports that Samsung has pretty much confirmed the end of the Galaxy Note series through two actions. Firstly, Samsung apparently has no plans for a Galaxy Note device in its 2022 roadmap. Likely, that means the only flagship-tier Galaxy smartphones coming next year will be the Galaxy S22 series and new foldables.

On top of that, Samsung will also apparently end production on its Galaxy Note 20 series entirely by the end of 2021. Until now, production on the Galaxy Note 20 has continued as the device has still been selling. In 2021, the series reportedly sold around 3.2 million devices, around a third the number of Note devices sold in 2020.

Of course, we know well at this point that the Galaxy S22 Ultra will act as a spiritual successor to the Galaxy Note series, with the device adopting a design closer to the Note 20 series as well as using the same built-in stylus. The Galaxy Fold series also inherits the S Pen, but still lacks a good place to store it.


Iconic in its time, but the exploding batteries in autumn 2016 were very much the beginning of the end.
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Will glow-in-the-dark materials someday light our cities? • Knowable

Kurt Kleiner:


These materials that glow strongly for hours open possibilities, such as “glow-in-the-dark” cities lighted by luminescent pavements and buildings. Since 19% of all global energy use is for lighting, and in Europe about 1.6% specifically for street lighting, the potential energy savings are large, write building engineer Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues in the 2021 Annual Review of Materials Research.

One problem with the approach is that most luminescent material won’t glow all the way through the night. Better materials could help solve that problem, says Pisello, of the University of Perugia, who studies energy-efficient building materials. In the meantime, existing materials could be combined with electric lighting that would come on long enough to recharge the road markings before switching off again.

Luminescent paint could also provide outdoor area lighting. Pisello’s lab developed such a glow-in-the-dark paint and in a 2019 report, simulated what would happen if they painted a public path near a railway station with it. By glowing throughout the night, the paint would reduce energy needed for lighting by about 27% in the immediate area, the scientists found.

If this conjures worries of entire cities glaring throughout the night and adding to harmful light pollution, Pisello says that is unlikely. Luminescent materials would likely only replace existing lighting, not add to it. The colour of the glowing materials could be chosen to avoid the blue frequencies that have been found especially harmful to wildlife.


Tempted to say “no” reflexively to the headline, but the story is more persuasive.
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Tolkien estate blocks JRR Token crypto-currency • BBC News


Lord of the Rings creator JRR Tolkien’s estate has successfully blocked a crypto-currency called JRR Token.

Lawyers representing the estate said the product, launched in August, infringed the author’s trademark, with websites selling and promoting the crypto-currency, and, featuring rings, hobbit holes and a wizard like Gandalf.

The US-based developer paid the estate’s legal costs, which the lawyers said were “significant”.
The estate filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), one day after tokens for the crypto-currency ($JRR) went on sale aiming to “organise the people towards a common goal of making JRR Token ‘The One Token That Rules Them All'”.

This was very similar to the “one ring to rule them all” line from The Lord of The Rings book, the lawyers said.

And the domain name, registered in February 2021, was “specifically designed to mislead” people into believing it had a legitimate commercial connection with the author.


As TV producer Willard Foxton Todd quipped: he’s a non-fungible Tolkien.
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Scientists call for travel ‘code red’ over Covid variant found in southern Africa • The Guardian

Hannah Devlin and Ian Sample:


The variant, which was only identified on Tuesday, initially sparked concern because it carries an “extremely high number” of mutations that could allow it to evade immunity. The latest data, presented by South African scientists on Thursday, revealed the variant also appears to be more transmissible and is already present in provinces throughout the country.

Ewan Birney, the deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and a member of Spi-M, which advises the UK government, called for urgent “code red” – or “red list-type” – travel restrictions to be placed on southern Africa while the new variant’s transmissibility is investigated, saying it posed a risk of the pandemic regaining momentum.

He urged countries not to repeat the mistake of failing to act quickly. “What we’ve learnt from the other situations like this – some have turned out OK and some haven’t – is that whilst we’re [investigating] you have to be reasonably paranoid,” he said.

The new strain, B.1.1.529 [now dubbed “nu” by the WHO], was identified after a surge of cases in Gauteng, an urban area containing Pretoria and Johannesburg. Initially the cluster of cases, centred on a university, was assumed to be due to an increase in socialising.

However, this week the variant was identified as a potential, more ominous, cause of the increase. The first detected cases of the variant were collected in Botswana on 11 November and a case has also been found in Hong Kong – a 36-year-old man who tested positive while in quarantine after a trip to South Africa.

In the past 48 hours, South African scientists reviewed PCR test data from the Gauteng region and discovered the new variant appeared to be behind the increase in cases, having risen to account for around 90% of cases in a matter of weeks.


When have travel restrictions ever prevented these variants from spreading, though? Endemic, pandemic, this virus spreads. The concern is if this is even more infectious than delta. The UK government put South Africa on the “red list” – quarantine required – on Thursday evening. With that in mind, the next question is…
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Has the UK reached herd immunity? • Unherd

Tom Chivers:


here’s the note of caution. Herd immunity isn’t a fact about the virus: it’s an interaction between the virus and our behaviour. As an epidemiologist told me the last time I wrote about Covid case numbers, it’s much harder to predict the course of a pathogen when R is near 1. You can get unpredictable outbreaks in local patches, sub-populations with lower vaccination levels. Minor behaviour changes (more people socialising indoors as it gets colder? Christmas?) can push R up and alter things significantly. 

In response to that piece of mine, the forecasting site Metaculus put together some predictions for what was going to happen in the coming months — will we have further restrictions like Plan B or something more extreme; how high will the number of people in hospital get over winter, that sort of thing. 

Metaculus’s forecasts have a pretty good record in the pandemic so far. They think that Plan B-style restrictions are more likely than not before February 2022, and that there’s a good chance (≈25%) of more stringent ones, including a ban on household mixing at Christmas (≈20% chance). They also think that hospitalisations are likely to go up fairly significantly from their current level. (You can see their other relevant predictions here and here.)

So while we may be at or near herd immunity, we’re also in a knife-edge situation where changes in behaviour could change things quite a lot, and change the threshold for what counts as herd immunity.


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My most dangerous climb 🧗🏽‍♀️climbing an E9 with next to no trad experience • YouTube

Anna Hazelnutt:


Once Upon a Time in the Southwest is a beautiful, 50 meter slab on the Devonshire coast in England. It’s a benchmark E9 (6c) trad climb known for its exposure, world-class techy slab movements, and of course, its flakey holds!


The grade – E9 – essentially means “this is Olympics-style difficult, but also with a risk of serious injury if you get things wrong”. And she does get things wrong, because it’s only her second or third time where she isn’t just clipping to bolts drilled into the rock. She’s hand-placing the “gear” into cracks in the rock, from which it can be prone to fall out if you mishandle the rope. As she does.
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Christmas shopping? Let me recommend Social Warming, my latest book, about the creeping effects of social media on society, politics and journalism.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1688: Argentina embraces right to be forgotten, Facebook’s non-average effects, India fertility rate drops, and more

The US has put 27 Chinese companies on a blacklist for quantum computing technology, amid concerns that they could in future lead to military uses cracking encryption. CC-licensed photo by IBM Research 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. What have you done to my reactor? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Maradona’s stardom and a jar of cocaine trapped Natalia Denegri online • Rest of World

Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Leo Schwartz:


The year is 1997, but the backing band looks trapped in the ’80s, all gas station sunglasses and button-downs. Although they play their instruments, the synthetic pop music sounds like a karaoke track. [Natalia] Denegri bounces around in a black halter top and skin-tight jeans, clutching a microphone, then reaches the chorus. “Who gave it to me?” she belts. “That’s what I want to know.”

The reference is not lost on the off-screen crowd, which erupts in exaggerated laughter, drowning out Denegri. “Attention in the studio!” implores the host, but the audience is too far gone.

Today, Denegri is a celebrated Argentinian actress and TV host, but this video is from a darker chapter of her life, when she was a young socialite trapped in the intoxicating orbit of football demigod Diego Maradona. The year before her ill-advised performance, Denegri was caught up in a scandal that gripped the nation, involving Maradona’s agent and a jar filled with cocaine. Her song, “Who Gave It To Me,” was a dirty double entendre referencing the episode, which is why the audience responded with such glee. She was 21 years old at the time. 

“As the years went by, I realized how I was used. I was a minor,” Natalia Denegri told Rest of World. “I had no idea what I was saying.”

She would rather everyone forget about that period of her life, when she became the spectacle of Argentina — sexualized, ridiculed, and denigrated in every corner of pop culture. She wants the video of her performance, and other links associated with her past, to be de-indexed from Google — removed from the search giant’s pages, so that they won’t so easily be found. 

The result is a high-profile legal case on the “right to be forgotten” — the first such case in Argentina, and one that embodies an ongoing debate between individual privacy and public interest, in a country where memory holds a particularly special significance.


There’s a special poignancy about this topic in a country where people were made to vanish by the government for a long time. And, as the story makes clear, the judges have been making distinctions in their rulings around precisely that point.

But it still revolves around one question: if the content still exists on the original sites (as happens here and in Europe), what has really been removed? Only the ease of finding it. Not its existence.
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US blacklists Chinese quantum computing companies • Financial Times

Demetri Sevastopulo:


The US has placed a dozen Chinese groups involved in quantum computing and other advanced technologies on an export blacklist, saying they pose a risk of gaining access to critical American technologies for the People’s Liberation Army.

The move, which makes it almost impossible for US companies to sell technologies to the listed companies, targeted a total of 27 entities, including 12 in China and two affiliated firms in Japan and Singapore. In addition to quantum computing, the list included companies in the semiconductor and aerospace industries.

Eight of the Chinese groups were specifically targeted to prevent them from accessing sensitive quantum-related technology, the US commerce department said, arguing they could help the PLA improve counter-stealth and counter-submarine applications and facilitate efforts to break US encryption.

The actions mark the latest effort by the Biden administration to make it more difficult for China to secure cutting-edge technologies with military applications. Last month, US intelligence officials warned American companies about Chinese efforts to access technology in areas including quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

“This is a sensible move and an important reminder of the scope and scale of China’s efforts to achieve technological breakthroughs that erode US national security,” said Martijn Rasser, a former CIA official who heads the technology and national security programme at the Center for a New American Security think-tank.


The concern about quantum computing being that it could crack encryption in the blink of an eye. But it’s so far still completely impossible to say whether it’s near or far from doing that.
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The thousands of vulnerable people harmed by Facebook and Instagram are lost in Meta’s ‘average user’ data • The Conversation

Joseph Bak-Coleman is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington:


As a researcher who studies collective behavior, I see no conflict between the research (methodological quibbles aside), leaks and people’s intuition. Social media can have catastrophic effects, even if the average user only experiences minimal consequences.

To see how this works, consider a world in which Instagram has a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effect on the well-being of users. A majority, those already doing well to begin with, find Instagram provides social affirmation and helps them stay connected to friends. A minority, those who are struggling with depression and loneliness, see these posts and wind up feeling worse.

If you average them together in a study, you might not see much of a change over time. This could explain why findings from surveys and panels are able to claim minimal impact on average. More generally, small groups in a larger sample have a hard time changing the average.

Yet if we zoom in on the most at-risk people, many of them may have moved from occasionally sad to mildly depressed or from mildly depressed to dangerously so. This is precisely what Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen reported in her congressional testimony: Instagram creates a downward spiraling feedback loop among the most vulnerable teens.

The inability of this type of research to capture the smaller but still significant numbers of people at risk – the tail of the distribution – is made worse by the need to measure a range of human experiences in discrete increments. When people rate their well-being from a low point of one to a high point of five, “one” can mean anything from breaking up with a partner who they weren’t that into in the first place to urgently needing crisis intervention to stay alive. These nuances are buried in the context of population averages.


Subtle point, easily missed. Small average changes can mask big variations.
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Germany’s incoming government unveils plans to legalize cannabis and phase out coal • CNN

Sheena McKenzie, CNN:


(CNN)Three German political parties have sealed a deal for a new government, with left-leaning Olaf Scholz the proposed next chancellor following lengthy coalition negotiations and a historic election that sees Angela Merkel stepping down after 16 years at the helm.

The incoming government’s vision for Germany includes plans to legalize cannabis. It also aims to phase-out coal by 2030 and have at least 15 million electric cars on the road by the same year. Mandatory Covid-19 vaccines would also be considered, amid soaring cases in the country.

Under the agreement announced in Berlin on Wednesday, Scholz, of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), will head a three-party coalition with partners the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. It follows a close September election and two months of negotiations to form a new government.


The stunning thing, though, is that they plan to phase out nuclear next year, and also aims to have 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (and have stopped its coal use at the same time). Utterly crazy: why not keep the nuclear plants going? Then you could stop the coal plants a lot sooner.

You have to ask: what are they smoking?
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UK risks Christmas alcohol shortage due to lack of drivers • Reuters (via Yahoo)

James Davey:


Britain could face a shortage of alcohol this Christmas unless the government steps up its efforts to address a lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, the wine and spirits industry warned on Wednesday.

The prospect of limited alcohol lines follows panic buying at Britain’s fuel pumps, soaring heating prices and shortages of items ranging from consumer electronics to crisps and vegan sausage rolls.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said 49 businesses including Moët Hennessy UK, Laurent-Perrier UK, Pernod Ricard UK, C&C Group and Matthew Clark, had put their names to a letter to transport minister Grant Shapps calling on him to take urgent action over HGV driver shortages and freight disruption.

“There is mounting concern amongst our membership that unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos,” said WSTA CEO Miles Beale.

“We are already seeing major delays on wine and spirit delivery times which is pushing up costs and limiting the range of products available to UK consumers.”


Supply chain slippage: now it’s serious.
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India’s fertility rate drops below 2.1, contraceptive prevalence up: NFHS • Hindustan Times

Rhythma Kaul and Anonna Dutt:


India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR), or the average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime, has declined from 2.2 to 2 while the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) has increased from 54% to 67%, according data from the National Family Health Survey-5. The union health ministry released data for Phase-2 of the survey on Wednesday; data from Phase-1 was released in December 2020.

A TFR of 2.1 is termed the replacement rate, and means there will be neither an increase, nor a decrease in population.

As per the fourth edition of the survey conducted between 2015 and 2016, the TFR was 2.2. The fifth survey was conducted between 2019 and 2021 in two phases and reflects gains made in population control.

VK Paul, member (health), NITI Aayog, said NFHS-5 shows momentum towards achieving sustainable development goals is getting further accelerated. “Data from the survey would help the government achieve Universal Health Coverage,” he added.


Indian population flatlines? You’d never have expected that. Put it together with China doing much the same and you have a strange, ageing world ahead.
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Meta delays encrypted messages on Facebook and Instagram to 2023 • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:


The owner of Facebook and Instagram is delaying plans to encrypt users’ messages until 2023 amid warnings from child safety campaigners that its proposals would shield abusers from detection.

Mark Zuckerberg’s social media empire has been under pressure to abandon its encryption plans, which the UK home secretary, Priti Patel, has described as “simply not acceptable”.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has said private messaging is the “frontline of child sexual abuse online” because it prevents law enforcement, and tech platforms, from seeing messages by ensuring that only the sender and recipient can view their content – a process known as end-to-end encryption.

The head of safety at Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, announced that the encryption process would take place in 2023. The company had previously said the change would happen in 2022 at the earliest.

“We’re taking our time to get this right and we don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023,” Antigone Davis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “As a company that connects billions of people around the world and has built industry-leading technology, we’re determined to protect people’s private communications and keep people safe online.”


There’s an interesting thread by David Thiel, ex-Facebook, to be read alongside it: he says Facebook was rushing ridiculously to try to implement this.
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Wear OS shoots up the market-share charts, now in striking distance of Apple • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Counterpoint Research has a new report detailing the smartwatch market, and Wear OS is a huge winner. Just three months ago, Google and Samsung teamed up to resurrect Wear OS, with the new Wear OS 3.0 debuting on the Galaxy Watch 4. Counterpoint’s latest data has the partnership down as a resounding success, with Wear OS market share rocketing from 4% in Q2 2021 to 17% in Q3 2021.

Google and Samsung’s team-up was a complete reboot of both companies’ smartwatch strategies. Google was floundering at the bottom of the sales charts, having seemingly lost interest in Wear OS for years. The last major OS release was Wear OS 2.0 in 2018, and that had been stagnating on the market for years.

The major Wear OS tech partners from the early days, like Samsung, LG, Sony, and Motorola, had left the platform, with only fashion brands like Fossil hanging around to make watches. Qualcomm was the main SoC provider, and while Apple was revolutionizing the power you can get from a smartwatch SoC, Qualcomm wasn’t really putting in a full effort and strangled the Wear OS market for years with sub-par chips.


Basically, the market is less split – Wear OS now has all of what was Samsung’s share. However, Counterpoint doesn’t include absolute figures (which would anyway be estimates) so one can’t tell whether the overall market is growing or static.
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Do recipe apps keep my data private? • The Washington Post

Tatum Hunter:


Paper-and-ink cookbooks come with a few advantages compared to recipe apps: extra information about origins and ingredients, not having to incorporate your beeping phone into any good-for-the-soul cooking time, says cookbook author and critic Paula Forbes.

There’s also a third benefit: Analog cookbooks aren’t sending streams of information about you to third-party advertisers.

A new report from Mozilla Foundation, creator of the “Privacy Not Included” holiday shopping guide, found personal data streaming out of popular Android recipe apps, including precise location, detailed device information as well as scrolling and tapping behavior. Allrecipes Dinner Spinner, Recipes Home — Easy Recipes and Shopping List and Food Network Kitchen were the worst offenders in terms of the number of data requests from advertisers, according to the report.

It’s the latest example of the constant, behind-the-scenes monitoring that powers many of the apps we know and love. App-makers give your data to ad companies, which then combine that information with your activity on totally separate apps to target you with better ads.

…The most egregious tracking came from Recipes Home, according to Becca Ricks, the Mozilla researcher behind the report. She observed several different trackers, including Google and Facebook, collecting data from the app. Some advertisers collected her phone’s battery level, whether it was charging and whether headphones were plugged in, she said. One tracker repeatedly asked the app for data on how long people look at different ads.


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Sometimes live audio apps for rich people…are worse • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick follows up on Business Insider’s piece about Clubhouse’s gradual submergence, and says he never liked its premise, unlike Facebook or Twitter or TikTok:


These massive companies might now control the internet thanks to the network effect of their currently huge audiences, but those audiences were built by average users. The magic alchemy of populating a functioning social network was done outside of Silicon Valley. Though it’s being limited all the time, users still have some power over platforms. There is, at least in theory, a world were Facebook/Meta could cease to exist if enough people stop using their products.

Clubhouse, by the very fact both its initial user base and its subsequent hype was basically dreamt up by Silicon Valley insiders, was, in my opinion, a test of whether or not venture capitalists had enough influence to dream up a new — honestly, very bad — social network and force it upon the rest of the internet. And, though they got very close to making “fetch” happen, so to speak, they, thankfully, failed.

How can we determine Clubhouse has failed? Well, per The Verge’s Hot Pod newsletter, only 40,000 people tuned in to listen to Oprah earlier this month. Seems not great. Also, the best way to find out if your social network has failed is by looking at the successes of similar, but divergent apps. In this case, both Twitter Spaces and Discord have dominated the live audio space this year. And both have done it in ways that don’t feel tied to West Coast Peloton owners missing the intimacy of a conference call during quarantine. Twitter Spaces and Discord, also, most crucially, wait for it… had user bases built organically over many years!

It’s also weirdly fitting that the NFT and, now, DAO boom aren’t happening on Clubhouse, but Discord. It’s clearly a sign that Clubhouse — in its current form — is cooked, but, also, the entire blockchain mania right now is, in many ways, just the new Clubhouse gold rush.


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Does Windows on Arm have a future? • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:


While Microsoft has continued to plod along the WoA [Windows on Arm] path for the past five years, it has little to show for its efforts. 

In 2016, Microsoft wanted to give Intel some incentive (probably on the price and performance fronts), so it signed up Qualcomm to help build the WoA platform. There have been several announcements and a handful of Windows Arm PCs since. But that’s about it. 

The Windows PCs out there with Arm processors don’t have compelling power/battery life stories, in spite of rather fantastical battery-life claims by some PC makers (including Microsoft). And Microsoft has struggled to get x64 app emulation to work on Arm PCs, limiting their appeal.

On the server front, things seem a bit more promising. Microsoft officials have publicly said the company has several server-side Arm partners (including Qualcomm) and is running Windows Server on Arm servers inside its own datacenters. Microsoft is reportedly working on its own Arm chip for servers.

To be clear: I haven’t heard any rumors about Microsoft throwing in the towel on Windows on Arm PCs. And this year, it got Office working on Windows 11 on Arm devices using its ARM64EC technology. 

I’m just not sure Arm’s promises are going to justify continued investments by Microsoft and its partners to make WoA PCs a real alternative to x64 PCs.


Surprising, at least to me, that Apple should be so much better than Microsoft at code translation: it has now created two very successful translators, both called Rosetta, in the past 15-odd years, once for the transition to Intel from PowerPC (a similar instruction set concept to Arm), and now to Arm from Intel. I’m guessing that Microsoft would have to include 32-bit x86 programs to have any hope, whereas Apple has just thrown them overboard.
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If you want to buy someone a Christmas book, I’d recommend Social Warming, my latest book. Unsurprisingly.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1687: Apple sues NSO over Pegasus, how Clubhouse rose and fell, Sweden moots bitcoin mining ban, and more

Ever wondered why Apple’s cheaper accessories cost $19 – not more, not less? Turns out there’s a psychological reason. CC-licensed photo by nsuan-iphone 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 available as an NFT. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple sues Israeli spyware maker NSO Group • The New York Times

Nicole Perlroth:


Apple, for the first time, seeks to hold NSO accountable for what it says was the surveillance and targeting of Apple users. Apple also wants to permanently prevent NSO from using any Apple software, services or devices, a move that could render the company’s Pegasus spyware product worthless, given that its core business is to give government clients full access to a target’s iPhone or Android smartphone.

Apple is also asking for unspecified damages for the time and cost to deal with what the company argues is NSO’s abuse of its products. Apple said it would donate the proceeds from those damages to organizations that exposed spyware.
Since NSO’s founding in 2010, its executives have said they sell spyware to governments only for lawful interception, but a series of revelations by journalists and private researchers have shown the extent to which governments have deployed NSO’s Pegasus spyware against journalists, activists and dissidents.

Apple executives described the lawsuit as a warning shot to NSO and other spyware makers. “This is Apple saying: If you do this, if you weaponize our software against innocent users, researchers, dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will give you no quarter,” Ivan Krstic, head of Apple security engineering and architecture, said in an interview on Monday.

“Thousands of lives were saved around the world thanks to NSO Group’s technologies used by its customers,” an NSO representative said in a statement Tuesday. “Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments the lawful tools to fight it.”


Related: Technology Review says the French were close to buying Pegasus (the French deny it); and Facebook was given leave to sue NSO too a few days ago, over its hacking into WhatsApp.
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Why $19 is Apple’s favourite price for accessories • WSJ

Dalvin Brown:


Analysts say $19 is also a sweet spot for well-to-do consumers willing to pay extra for basic tech products and services. “When you go below $20, those people don’t think twice about it, even if [the item] could be competitively priced at $1,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at venture-capital firm Loup Ventures.

The cost is also low enough to be an aspirational purchase for shoppers seeking products that make them feel special.

“Apple wants to make sure that their consumers constantly feel nice,” said Abir Syed, partner at e-commerce consulting firm UpCounting. Even if shoppers aren’t getting a good deal, he said, “they just feel fancy.”

But there’s a catch. Selling cables, adapters and polishing cloths far below $20 might put them in “cheap” territory. A lot of Apple’s success is based on its products’ positioning as an attainable luxury, something that costs a bit more but is justifiably worth it.

“At $19, you get the charm-pricing benefits [of a price ending in ‘9’], but it also sends the signal that this is a premium product,” Mr. Syed said.

Much of this pricing depends on where shoppers are doing their shopping. If you’re on Apple’s website or in an Apple store, you’re not bargain hunting the way you might be if you were shopping for a specific item on Amazon or at Walmart.

“A vast majority of people would say $20 is absurd for a dust cloth on Amazon,” Mr. Syed said. “At Apple, there’s a bit less of a comparison happening.”

In the case of Apple’s polishing cloth, selling it at $19 creates more demand than pricing it at $9, experts say. The $19 cloth became an internet meme shortly after Apple introduced it, which might help explain its hard-to-get status. And you likely won’t be paying less for it soon.


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Inside the rise and fall of Clubhouse, a poster child of pandemic hype • Business Insider

Kali Hays and Melia Russell:


In May 2020, when the pandemic raged, the comedian and TV writer Marlena Rodriguez got an invite to a new app called Clubhouse that offered the homebound online masses a way to spend some of their suddenly abundant time.

In the ensuing months, Rodriguez jousted in a chat room with the celebrity Ashton Kutcher, gained more than 13,000 followers, and started a party room on Fridays that frequently swelled to over 1,000 people. She wrote a play, “Once Upon a Clubhouse,” and hired actors to perform it on the app. “I was in love,” she said.

Today, “I question why I’m even still on Clubhouse,” Rodriguez said. Her Friday-night room has dwindled to about 30 people.

More than any other startup, Clubhouse epitomizes the venture-capital-backed euphoria that swept the tech industry since lockdowns shut millions of people inside and pushed them online for connection, entertainment, and information. Marc Andreessen has called the app “the Athenian agora come to life,” referring to the hub of democracy in ancient Greece. It has raised more than $100m from his firm and other top VCs, garnering a $4bn valuation.

But with vaccinations rising and more people returning to normal life, Clubhouse has been hit particularly hard. Daily downloads of the app have plunged more than 90% since a peak in June, while daily average users are down almost 80% since February, Apptopia data indicated.

Insider interviews with creators, advertisers, VCs, and others in the tech industry show a platform struggling to build an audience and keep it. Moneymaking opportunities are also slim, which makes the app a tough sell for creators and users as there are many other options online and off.


Plus it’s been copied on other platforms, notably Twitter with its Spaces offering. Nice while it lasted, Clubhouse.
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Europe must ban Bitcoin mining to hit the 1.5C Paris climate goal, say Swedish regulators • Euronews

Tom Bateman:


Erik Thedéen, director of the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, and Björn Risinger, director of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, said cryptocurrency’s rising energy usage is threatening Sweden’s ability to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Between April and August this year, the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining in the Nordic country rose “several hundred%,” and now consumes the equivalent electricity of 200,000 households, Thedéen and Risinger said.

In an open letter, the directors of Sweden’s top financial and environmental regulators called for an EU-wide ban on “proof of work” cryptocurrency mining, for Sweden to “halt the establishment” of new crypto mining operations and for companies that trade and invest in crypto assets to be prohibited from describing their business activities as environmentally sustainable.

…The growth of crypto mining brings with it an opportunity cost, Thedéen and Risinger said, as Sweden’s renewable energy is diverted away from industrial, transport and domestic uses, and into Bitcoin and other tokens.

“It is currently possible to drive a mid-size electric car 1.8 million kilometres using the same energy it takes to mine one single Bitcoin,” they said. “This is the equivalent of forty-four laps around the globe. 900 bitcoins are mined every day. This is not a reasonable use of our renewable energy”.


This is going to become a recurrent refrain in the next few years, I think.
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The BABADEDA Crypter: an emerging crypter targeting the crypto, NFT, and DeFi communities • Morphisec Security

Hido Cohen and Arnold Osipov:


As well as using cryptocurrency themselves to extract ransoms, cybercriminals are now also tailoring malware to exploit the booming market for NFTs and crypto games. In a discovery of critical importance to anyone familiar with this space, Morphisec Labs have encountered a new campaign of malware targeting cryptocurrency enthusiasts through Discord. 

Crucially, the crypter that this campaign deploys, which we have termed Babadeda (a Russian language placeholder used by the crypter itself which translates to “Grandma-Grandpa”), is able to bypass signature-based antivirus solutions. Although some variants of this crypter have been noted by other vendors, Morphisec is the first to fully disclose how it works.

For victims, this makes infections highly likely — and dangerous. We know that this malware installer has been used in a variety of recent campaigns to deliver information stealers, RATs, and even LockBit ransomware.


They have a detailed breakdown of how the malware gets onto your (well, someone else’s) machine. It seems that it’s an empty shell that you can pour something into. Noteworthy that it’s the crypto field that’s being targeted now: fewer law enforcement types around. Though transfers are easier to track.
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About 600 Google employees sign manifesto against widened vaccine mandate • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:


The Biden administration has ordered US companies with 100 or more workers to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid-19 by Jan. 4. In response, Google has asked its more than 150,000 employees to upload their vaccination status to its internal systems by Dec. 3, whether they plan on coming into the office or not, according to internal documents viewed by CNBC. The company has also said that all employees who work directly or indirectly with government contracts must be vaccinated – even if they are working from home.

“Vaccines are key to our ability to enable a safe return to office for everyone and minimize the spread of Covid-19 in our communities,” wrote Chris Rackow, Google VP of security, in an email sent near the end of October.

Rackow stated the company was already implementing requirements, so the changes from Biden’s executive order were “minimal.” His email gave a deadline of Nov. 12 for employees to request exemptions for reasons such as religious beliefs or medical conditions, and said that exceptions would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

The manifesto within Google, which has been signed by at least 600 Google employees, asks company leaders to retract the vaccine mandate and create a new one that is “inclusive of all Googlers,” arguing leadership’s decision will have outsized influence in corporate America. It also calls on employees to “oppose the mandate as a matter of principle” and tells employees to not let the policy alter their decision if they’ve already chosen not to receive the Covid-19 shot.


Let’s see, 600 of 150,000 is 0.4%. Unless those people are in absolutely crucial positions (say, called Brin or Page), Google could just say buh-bye. There’s no halfway house between a presidential mandate requiring 100% compliance and, well, anything else. No different, in its way, from care home workers facing the same deadline – but at far lower salaries.
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AirTag competitor Tile getting acquired by location sharing app Life360 • MacRumors

Juli Clover:


Tile, known for its range of Bluetooth-based tracking accessories that compete with the AirTag, is being acquired by location tracking service Life360, Tile announced today.

Tile will continue to be operated as a standalone brand under Tile CEO CJ Prober, but Tile says that when the acquisition is completed, it will be able to leverage Life360’s 33 million smartphone users to grow Tile’s Finding network by 10x. Tile’s network is the equivalent of Apple’s Find My network, leveraging nearby devices to locate lost items.

Life360 has what it calls a “family safety platform” that allows family members to keep tabs on one another with tracking software on smartphones. It’s primarily used by parents to track their children and teenagers, and it has raised privacy concerns.

With the Tile acquisition, Life360 founder Chris Hulls says that Life360 will be able to provide an “all-encompassing solution” for locating people, pets, and things with cross-platform tracking and combined service for tracking items and people.


Acquisition price $205m. Which strikes me as a lot of money: I’ve never noticed Tile having much of an impact anywhere, and even if you use a 10x multiple that suggests it was doing $20m in revenue per year. Can’t think there are that many people using the Premium version (£30 per year). Especially not when Apple’s AirTags don’t need a subscription and have a bigger network.
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Facebook knew its algorithms were biased against people of colour • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Nitasha Tiku and Craig Timberg:


Last year, researchers at Facebook showed executives an example of the kind of hate speech circulating on the social network: an actual post featuring an image of four female Democratic lawmakers known collectively as “The Squad.”

The poster, whose name was scrubbed out for privacy, referred to the women, two of whom are Muslim, as “swami rag heads.” A comment from another person used even more vulgar language, referring to the four women of color as “black c—s,” according to internal company documents exclusively obtained by The Washington Post.

The post represented the “worst of the worst” language on Facebook — the majority of it directed at minority groups, according to a two-year effort by a large team working across the company, the document said. The researchers urged executives to adopt an aggressive overhaul of its software system that would primarily remove only those hateful posts before any Facebook users could see them.

But Facebook’s leaders balked at the plan. According to two people familiar with the internal debate, top executives including Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan feared the new system would tilt the scales by protecting some vulnerable groups over others. A policy executive prepared a document for Kaplan that raised the potential for backlash from “conservative partners,” according to the document. The people spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.

The previously unreported debate is an example of how Facebook’s decisions in the name of being neutral and race-blind in fact come at the expense of minorities and particularly people of color. Far from protecting Black and other minority users, Facebook executives wound up instituting half-measures after the “worst of the worst” project that left minorities more likely to encounter derogatory and racist language on the site, the people said.


Amazing how Kaplan’s name always pops up when right-wing interests are threatened, and subsequently they’re salved.
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If you want a deeper understanding of why we respond as we do to content on social networks, and what it’s doing to society, politics and journalism, read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Qualcomm has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM – expiring soon • XDA Developers

Rich Woods:


Last week, we reported that MediaTek is planning to build a chipset for Windows on ARM. As it turns out, the Windows on ARM chipset space could be even hotter than that, because there’s a reason that we’ve only seen Qualcomm SoCs in ARM PCs so far. Qualcomm actually has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM, and speaking with people familiar with it, we’ve learned that the deal is set to expire soon.

Other than the fact that Microsoft has publicly said that anyone who wants to can build a Windows on ARM chip, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Qualcomm didn’t just start building PC chips hoping that Microsoft would compile Windows to support it. No, these two companies worked together to make it happen. Because of that, Qualcomm gets to enjoy a bit of exclusivity.

One thing I wasn’t able to learn is when the deal will expire, only that it’s the thing holding back other chip vendors from competing in the space. It’s possible that Samsung might want to throw its hat into the ring with its Exynos processors too, especially given its recent partnership with AMD for graphics power. This is also presumably why Apple Silicon Macs aren’t officially supported for running Windows 11, so hopefully that will change as well.

…Between MediaTek’s Executive Summit and Qualcomm’s Investor Day, there’s been a very clear message that ARM SoC vendors absolutely believe that the ‘Wintel’ partnership is going to fade and that the transition to ARM isn’t just happening, it’s inevitable.


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‘Buy the Constitution’ aftermath: everyone very mad, confused, losing lots of money, fighting, crying, etc • Vice

Jordan Pearson and Jason Koebler:


The community of crypto investors who tried and failed to buy a copy of the U.S. Constitution last week has descended into chaos as people are realizing today that roughly half of the donors will have the majority of their investment wiped out by cryptocurrency fees. Meanwhile, disagreements have broken out over the future of ConstitutionDAO, the original purpose of the more than $40m crowdfunding campaign, and what will happen to the $PEOPLE token that donors were given in exchange for their contributions.  

Over the weekend, the next steps of the project repeatedly changed. In the immediate aftermath of the Sotheby’s auction, in which ConstitutionDAO lost to hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin, the founders of the project asserted on its official Discord that, though they lost, “we still made history tonight.”  

“We have educated an entire cohort of people around the world—from museum curators and art directors to our grandmothers asking us what eth is when they read about us in the news —about the possibilities of web3,” an admin of the project posted on Thursday.

Many donors are indeed getting an education about Ethereum and web3, but it’s certainly not all positive as the community tries to quickly come up with a reason it should exist at all after failing in its initial goal.


The problem being that if they try to get a refund, it’ll essentially get eaten up by “gas fees” – the charge for doing the transfer. Which we always get told isn’t an issue for cryptocurrencies compared to those Evil Fiat Currencies. (Update: the Constitution DAO is going to close down, and everyone can get refunded. Or try to.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1686: redefining sharks via Reddit, the Long Boom in retrospect, Facebook Papers will be public, and more

In the UK, the seventh-biggest energy supplier has gone into administration, leaving just six standing – and millions in limbo. CC-licensed photo by MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Not identified as a shark. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Multiple marine biologists are telling you it’s not a shark • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick, once more, for dammit he’s insightful:


What I think this whole episode does illustrate, however, is how, essentially, every mechanism on the internet is broken, possibly irreparably. Let’s summarize:

A content creator learns a fun fact about a shark. The content creator either googles the name of the shark and tweets out the first picture they see or they’re sent that photo from someone else. But it’s the wrong photo because an SEO farm run by random man from Wales has inserted the “misinformation” into Google’s search results. The content creator, though, has to mute the Twitter thread they’ve created because it’s gone too viral for anyone to actually follow.

It’s also still doing traffic, so the content creator, when they finally learn that the tweet is incorrect, doesn’t actually delete the tweet. Then dozens of verified experts attempt to debunk the incorrect tweet, except all they’ve done is trick Twitter’s trending algorithms to further promote the tweet because of the attention being driven to the post.

The current landscape of the internet is essentially a series of levers and automations because the largest companies responsible for how we use the web are operating at a scale that can no longer be properly moderated by human beings. Which means, increasingly, that if a glitch makes its way into the system — in this instance, a photo of a monkfish incorrectly labeled as a shark — there is no chance for that glitch to be removed. And, even more confoundingly, if human beings do try and intervene, it only makes the glitch worse. idk seems bad!


Seems like the perfect way for this to end would be for the monkfish at issue to be officially reclassified as a shark.
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1997: The Long Boom: a history of the future, 1980–2020 • WIRED

Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden, writing in July 1997:


A BAD MEME—A contagious idea—began spreading through the United States in the 1980s: America is in decline, the world is going to hell, and our children’s lives will be worse than our own. The particulars are now familiar: Good jobs are disappearing, working people are falling into poverty, the underclass is swelling, crime is out of control. The post-Cold War world is fragmenting, and conflicts are erupting all over the planet. The environment is imploding—with global warming and ozone depletion, we’ll all either die of cancer or live in Waterworld. As for our kids, the collapsing educational system is producing either gun-toting gangsters or burger-flipping dopes who can’t read.

By the late 1990s, another meme began to gain ground. Borne of the surging stock market and an economy that won’t die down, this one is more positive: America is finally getting its economic act together, the world is not such a dangerous place after all, and our kids just might lead tolerable lives. Yet the good times will come only to a privileged few, no more than a fortunate fifth of our society. The vast majority in the United States and the world face a dire future of increasingly desperate poverty. And the environment? It’s a lost cause.

But there’s a new, very different meme, a radically optimistic meme: We are watching the beginnings of a global economic boom on a scale never experienced before. We have entered a period of sustained growth that could eventually double the world’s economy every dozen years and bring increasing prosperity for—quite literally—billions of people on the planet. We are riding the early waves of a 25-year run of a greatly expanding economy that will do much to solve seemingly intractable problems like poverty and to ease tensions throughout the world. And we’ll do it without blowing the lid off the environment.


It’s wonderfully wild and overdone: “In 2020, humans arrive on Mars… the four astronauts touch down and beam their images back…” The printed article has Ten Scenario Spoilers. Pretty much all of which, unlike the scenarios in the article, have in fact happened.
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We’re making the Facebook Papers Public. Here’s why and how • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron, Andrew Couts, and Shoshana Wodinsky:


The documents, captured by whistleblower Frances Haugen and first reported by the Wall Street Journal, were also handed to members of a Senate Commerce subcommittee chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut who last month called Instagram “a breeding ground for eating disorders and self harm.” And it’s from here that Gizmodo and some 300 other mostly Western journalists derived their access.

We believe there’s a strong public need in making as many of the documents public as possible, as quickly as possible. To that end, we’ve partnered with a small group of independent monitors, who are joining us to establish guidelines for an accountable review of the documents prior to publication. The mission is to minimize any costs to individuals’ privacy or the furtherance of other harms while ensuring the responsible disclosure of the greatest amount of information in the public interest.


[List of great and good omitted]


While our group is itself largely American, our first decision was to require local experts when reviewing any document focused on another country. One of the committee’s chief responsibilities is to vet local experts to work alongside our reviewers.

The internet was a much smaller place when Facebook arrived in 2004. Back then, beyond hookups and house parties, the social network held little sway over events in the real world. Unrecognizable today from its origin as a dorm-room novelty, Facebook is now one of the richest and most influential companies on the planet and the most pervasive information platform ever created. A tentacular machine that has altered the face of politics and life itself on a global scale. At its best, Facebook is a tool that connects billions, narrowing the divide between disparate peoples and cultures in ways previously unimaginable. At its worst, it has served as history’s most efficient delivery system for toxic propaganda, empowering bigots and extremists to commit egregious crimes against humanity, quite literally being wielded as an instrument of war.


Will this all have been squeezed dry by the news orgs by the time it reaches the general public? And the disinformation that will come out of making them public will be amazing to see.
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The role of Facebook and other social media in the disruption of elections, journalism and ordinary life is part of our modern landscape. Understand it better by reading Social Warming, my latest book, and find explanations – and more.

The UK government’s plan to reform data-protection laws are terrifying • openDemocracy

Alex Stobart:


Personal data is personal. It’s about living human beings. But with its ‘reform’ proposals, the UK government aims to put citizens’ data up for sale on global markets. A commodity to be traded. Like pork bellies or copper or debt.

The ‘Data: A New Direction’ consultation, which ends this Friday (November 19), has introduced the biggest wholesale attack on the rights of UK citizens in decades.

In his ministerial foreward to the consultation paper, published in September, then culture secretary Oliver Dowden said reforms are needed because existing General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) inherited from Europe are “unnecessarily complex or vague”. He said the government wants to end the “persistent uncertainty” that has prevailed since their introduction. But it uses even greater vagueness, apparently deliberately: words like ‘responsible’ (which appears 52 times in the consultation) and ‘safeguards’ (95 times) every time it’s introducing an attack on citizen rights – which the consultation never bothers to define. And, if implemented, it will produce even more uncertainty, which will last much longer than just three years.

The government justifies its proposals on the grounds that it is tackling ‘consent fatigue’, encouraging research and promoting the benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Consent fatigue stems from the relentless series of requests to a citizen to accept something, such as a privacy policy or cookies, with no real explicit sense or value, over and over again, to drive them into submission. Again, there are also users that show a tendency to simply accept the privacy policy without even reading it extensively, which is related to ‘consent fatigue’.

This focus ignores the vast majority of organisations in the UK that collect personal data for the purpose of providing a service, which is allowed for by GDPR if it is in performance of a contract, and where there is no evidence of a need for reform.


This has been largely overlooked, because it’s described in such arcane and roundabout language. Dowden has since been fired, to be replaced by Nadine Dorries, who gives the impression she wouldn’t know data if it drove over her foot.
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Apple just provided the perfect example of why you can’t trust App Store review scores • The Verge

Sean Hollister:


You pissed off people by somewhat breaking your app, and they’re leaving angry reviews. How can you salvage your reputation? Apple just found one incredibly effective way — get listeners to submit better reviews by interrupting their podcast experience with an in-app prompt to submit a rating.

That’s how the Apple Podcasts app went from a publicly embarrassing 1.8-star score all the way to 4.6 stars in a little over a month without any actual fixes, as developer and App Store watchdog Kosta Eleftheriou points out. And it’s still going up: according to AppFigures data, the app has been getting thousands of ratings every day since November 9th, with the vast, overwhelming majority of them issuing a 5-star score.

The app has made it to 4.7 stars overall as of this writing and is firmly the No. 1 App Store search result for “podcast.” It looks far more desirable to a new user than it might have before. AppFigures estimates 6,292 five-star ratings were submitted on November 17th alone.

If you think there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, you might be right — it could definitely be that people who bother to submit reviews tend to be angry, and a lot of people who love Apple Podcasts and never bothered to look it up in the App Store (remember, it’s preinstalled!) are finally balancing things out.

But do those people actually love Apple Podcasts? Because if you really look at the reviews, it seems like some funny business is going on. There are new, positive reviews, but they aren’t reviews of the Apple Podcasts app at all — they’re reviews of podcasts themselves.


The Apple Podcasts app is absolutely, utterly, incredibly terrible. Forgets whether you’ve started listening to a podcast. Doesn’t play podcasts in the order you expect. Doesn’t let you easily reorder what you’re going to listen to. I hate it, but feel it would be Slog Work to shift over to another one (Marco Arment’s Overcast is the obvious alternative).
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Ableton: inside the music software company everyone wants to buy • Billboard

Steve Knopper:


Before Ableton Live, dance music pioneers like Richie Hawtin had to build up what Detroit electronic music festival promoter Jason Huvaere calls “a spaceship of gear,” from samplers to drum machines. After the software started to catch on, though, Huvaere recalls taking Hawtin to visit Skrillex, who blew his mind when he told him, “Yeah, I’m pretty much using Ableton.”

The software allowed DJs to use their laptops to load into Ableton Live samples, snippets of original music or effects, then manipulate them live while performing. They could speed up or slow down a track, or add buzzing effects or bass drops, all with a few clicks. This audio manipulation congealed into a new sound that Michaelangelo Matos described as “a crisp, computery flutter — the seemingly true voice of the tinny, bright machines making it,” in his 2015 history of electronic music, The Underground Is Massive. Matos says this latest generation of EDM stars, who improvise with Ableton Live, create “laptop music.”

By making it easier to manipulate music, Ableton Live also freed a new generation of DJs — Skrillex, deadmau5, Steve Aoki — from behind their decks to dance, jump and, in Aoki’s case, smash cakes into the faces of their fans. Skrillex emerged as the “f–king Herbie Hancock of Ableton,” as Diplo calls him, reimagining the potential of Ableton Live the way Jimi Hendrix reinvented the electric guitar. As with Auto-Tune, the impact of Ableton Live goes far beyond DJs and even electronic music.

“It created a completely new type of producer,” says Huvaere. “It gave access to a versatile tool that would do what people want without spending thousands and thousands of dollars and training.” In recent years, Ableton’s reach has grown beyond DJs and other electronic-music tinkerers to the entire community of artists and songwriters.


Ableton has turned down huge paydays in order to remain an independent company. (Paywalled article. Sadly, the Javascript on my browser broke, leaving me able to read it.)
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Prestigious UK Global Talent fast-track scheme for scientists hasn’t received any applications since it launched • New Scientist

Jason Arunn Murugesu:


Not a single scientist has applied to a UK government visa scheme for Nobel prize laureates and other award winners since its launch six months ago, New Scientist can reveal. The scheme has come under criticism from scientists and has been described as “a joke”.

In May, the government launched a fast-track visa route for award-winners in the fields of science, engineering, the humanities and medicine who want to work in the UK. This prestigious prize route makes it easier for some academics to apply for a Global Talent visa – it requires only one application, with no need to meet conditions such as a grant from the UK Research and Innovation funding body or a job offer at a UK organisation.

The number of prizes that qualify academics for this route currently stands at over 70, and includes the Turing Award, the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science International Awards, and various gongs awarded by professional or membership bodies both in the UK and elsewhere.

“Winners of these awards have reached the pinnacle of their career and they have so much to offer the UK,” said home secretary Priti Patel when the prestigious prize scheme launched in May. “This is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.”

But a freedom of information request by New Scientist has revealed that in the six months since the scheme was launched, no one working in science, engineering, the humanities or medicine has actually applied for a visa through this route.


Something something sunlit uplands.
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Bulb Energy enters ‘special administration’ after collapse • The Guardian

Jillian Ambrose:


The energy regulator drew up plans over the weekend to put the company into a process designed to protect Bulb’s 1.7 million household customers and ensure continuity of supply, according to industry sources.

Bulb told its staff that it would continue to operate “with no interruption of service or supply to members” and urged customers not to worry “as your energy supply is secure and all credit balances are protected”.

The company’s collapse has been long expected by industry rivals after it struggled to find new investment, or a willing buyer, before the UK’s looming winter energy crisis.

“It has been like watching a zombie movie – you know they’re walking dead but you couldn’t be sure when they’d stop moving,” one senior industry source said. “They’ve long been dicing with death but the recent events in the energy market have been a catalyst for what would have happened anyway.”

Bulb blamed the surge in energy market prices ignited by the global gas crisis for scuppering its plans to raise funds to fuel its ongoing growth, which included new businesses in France, Spain and Texas.

“When we started exploring fundraising options, we were delighted to receive lots of interest from investors to fund our business plans and future growth,” the company said in a blogpost on Monday. “However, the rising energy crisis in the UK and around the world has concerned investors who can’t go ahead while wholesale prices are so high.”


What’s unusual here is that the energy regulator cannot persuade other (surviving) energy companies to take those customers on, because those companies would all lose money supplying them because of the price cap introduced by the regulator. Hence the “special administration” – aka a form of quiet nationalisation where the government pays the deficit.

Bulb is the biggest supplier to have gone bust out of the 21 (!!) to go out of business since the start of September. There are now only six left that are solvent.
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NFT makers are trying to build the next Disney • The Verge

Adi Robertson:


In the online auction market OpenSea, you can pay around $600 to buy a portrait of a robot in streetwear — and, if you’re lucky, a stake in a new media empire.

The robot is called a TARS, and it’s part of the Voguverse, an elaborate 37th-century mythos involving space arcologies, a nuclear war, and interstellar travel. The portrait is one of countless digital assets being sold as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. But by pairing its fictional universe with a blockchain-based ledger, the creators think they can tap into a new way to tell stories.

As NFTs explode in popularity, entrepreneurs are imagining an entire media industry that’s built around them. At its most ambitious, the vision is sometimes dubbed a “decentralized Disney”: a world of fictional crossovers like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many spinoffs but where different characters and creative properties are owned by a panoply of fans, not a single company. Talent agencies, comics authors, and countless NFT enthusiasts are buying in.

What does owned mean? Many are still figuring that out.


Many, it turns out, don’t understand the difference between having static ownership of an object, and having ownership of the copyrights and trademarks immanent in that object – the right to make derivative works, for example.

For an example of how loose their understanding is, they might want to consider their use of TARS, an acronym that more people would associate with a robot in the Christopher Nolan film Interstellar.
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How $6.6bn of billionaire Elon Musk’s fortune could overcome world hunger • World Economic Forum

Johnny Wood:


Billionaire Elon Musk challenged the United Nations (UN) to show how $6bn of his fortune could be used to overcome world hunger, prompting the UN’s World Food Programme to produce a detailed plan.

Musk’s challenge was sparked by earlier comments from World Food Programme chief, David Beasley, who told CNN that 2% of Musk’s wealth could end world hunger.

In a tweet, the world’s richest man suggested he would sell stock in his electric car manufacturing company Tesla and donate the billion-dollar proceeds if the UN could demonstrate exactly how his money would be spent.

Responding to the tweet, Beasley urged billionaires like Musk to step up and support the fight against hunger, giving a breakdown of how $6.6bn could help avert catastrophe. The UN plan outlines how the money – a small percentage of Musk’s fortune estimated in the hundreds of billions – could support 42 million people threatened with famine in 43 of the world’s worst-hit countries for a year.


The WFP article detailing how the $6.6bn would be allocated is from November 3, and this article is from November 19.

Do we expect to see a Twitter poll by Musk on this one too, or will he just sell stock and fund it? If he does fund it, I think we could count it as one of humanity’s greatest successes, and all sparked by social media.
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April 2005: Effects of Skin Pigmentation on Pulse Oximeter Accuracy at Low Saturation • American Society of Anesthesiologists

Bickler et al in April 2005:


Results: At 60-70% Sao2, Spo2 (mean of three oximeters) overestimated Sao2 (bias +/- SD) by 3.56 +/- 2.45% (n = 29) in darkly pigmented subjects, compared with 0.37 +/- 3.20% (n = 58) in lightly pigmented subjects (P < 0.0001). The SD of bias was not greater with dark than light skin. The dark-light skin differences at 60-70% Sao2 were 2.35% (Nonin), 3.38% (Novametrix), and 4.30% (Nellcor). Skin pigment-related differences were significant with Nonin below 70% Sao2, with Novametrix below 90%, and with Nellcor at all ranges. Pigment-related bias increased approximately in proportion to desaturation.

Conclusions: The three tested pulse oximeters overestimated arterial oxygen saturation during hypoxia in dark-skinned individuals.


Just pointing out that yesterday’s item about pulse oximeters overestimating blood oxygen levels in darker skins is not new; as Adrian M points out, this study (the first he could find on the topic) is 16 years old, and there are plenty of followups confirming the finding. Bickler, meanwhile, is still going strong, with a paper published earlier this year on Covid and low oxygen blood levels.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1685: how Facebook and Google funded fake news in Myanmar, Iran’s hackers hit US papers, Norway’s EV problem, and more

We know that pulse oximeters work pretty well for measuring blood oxygen levels when used on white skin. But what about other groups? CC-licensed photo by slgckgc on Flickr.

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

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation • MIT Technology Review

Karen Hao:


Before Instant Articles, articles posted on Facebook would redirect to a browser, where they’d open up on the publisher’s own website. The ad provider, usually Google, would then cash in on any ad views or clicks. With the new scheme, articles would open up directly within the Facebook app, and Facebook would own the ad space. If a participating publisher had also opted into monetizing with Facebook’s advertising network, called Audience Network, Facebook could insert ads into the publisher’s stories and take a 30% cut of the revenue. 

Instant Articles quickly fell out of favor with its original cohort of big mainstream publishers. For them, the payouts weren’t high enough compared with other available forms of monetization. But that was not true for publishers in the Global South, which Facebook began accepting into the program in 2016. In 2018, the company reported paying out $1.5 billion to publishers and app developers (who can also participate in Audience Network). In 2019, that figure had reached multiple billions.

Early on, Facebook performed little quality control on the types of publishers joining the program. The platform’s design also didn’t sufficiently penalize users for posting identical content across Facebook pages—in fact, it rewarded the behavior. Posting the same article on multiple pages could as much as double the number of users who clicked on it and generated ad revenue.

Clickbait farms around the world seized on this flaw as a strategy—one they still use today.

Clickbait actors cropped up in Myanmar overnight. With the right recipe for producing engaging and evocative content, they could generate thousands of US dollars a month in ad revenue, or 10 times the average monthly salary—paid to them directly by Facebook.


Did Facebook know about this? Yes, certainly from 2019, according to internal Facebook documents. A terrific piece which, again, points to the way that Facebook and Google don’t understand the disparities in income and attitude between the US and the global south.
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Since we’re on the topic of Facebook and Myanmar, I have a whole chapter on the topic in Social Warming, my latest book. It explains why social networks amplify outrage, and why we seem to like that. And much, much more.

Iranian hackers broke into newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises ahead of 2020 election • WSJ

Dustin Volz:


Iranian hackers last year infiltrated the computer systems of Lee Enterprises Inc., a major American media company that publishes dozens of daily newspapers across the U.S., as part of a broader effort to spread disinformation about the 2020 presidential election, according to people familiar with the matter.

On Thursday, the Justice Department said the alleged hackers broke in to the digital systems of an unnamed media company in fall 2020 and tested how to create false news content. People familiar with the matter on Friday identified the company as Lee Enterprises, a publicly traded company headquartered in Davenport, Iowa, and one of the largest newspaper chains in the U.S.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation warned the unnamed company about the intrusion, prosecutors said. The day after the November presidential election, the hackers tried to get back into the media company’s system but failed, prosecutors said. The federal charging document in the case doesn’t indicate the hackers successfully published fake information under the unnamed media company’s news brands.


Then again, after the 2020 election they didn’t have to worry – the Americans were generating all the misinformation and disinformation they could.
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‘Racist’ oxygen device may explain why Covid hit minorities so hard • The Sunday Times

Ben Spencer:


what explains the remaining 33% to 50% of extra Covid deaths seen among minorities? Some might be due to the vulnerability of certain racial groups to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which in turn raises the risk of Covid. But experts believe that a “structural racism”, an “unintentional racial discrimination”, is also to blame.

The way the health system is set up — both in Britain’s NHS and across the global medical sector — is tilted against those who do not happen to be white.

This is most strikingly seen in the design of pulse oximeters — the small devices clipped to the end of a finger to measure oxygen levels in the blood. Used in every ward in every hospital in Britain, as well as in GP surgeries and private homes, they are fundamental to the monitoring and diagnosis of patients.

Yet despite their ubiquity, oximeters do not work as well for patients with dark skin. They measure how light is absorbed by the tissue of a finger. But dark skin absorbs more light than light skin, skewing the results.

Scientists have warned for years of this problem, and in some areas doctors take it into account to mentally adjust the results at the bedside. But doctors acknowledge that awareness of the issue is patchy at best, and with so much monitoring now automated, these adjustments are not always possible.

Last year researchers at the University of Michigan found 12% of black patients who were considered to have safe oxygen levels were in fact dangerously hypoxic.

Of course, doctors do not rely on oximetry alone and can compensate for the problems. They use temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and symptoms to form a picture of a patient’s health. But at the height of the pandemic, when hospitals were under strain and access to ventilators was limited, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that black and Asian people were denied lifesaving treatment because the device clipped to the end of their finger was designed for someone of a different race.


Again proving that technology is not good nor bad, but neither is it neutral.
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Steve Wozniak’s startup Privateer plans to launch hundreds of satellites to study space debris • Space

Mike Wall:


Orbital debris is already tracked by a number of organizations, including the US military and private companies such as LeoLabs. Privateer wants to contribute to these efforts and help ramp them up, eventually creating the “Google Maps of space,” as Fielding told TechCrunch last month.

To make this happen, Privateer, which is still in “stealth mode” at the moment, plans to build and analyze a huge debris dataset that incorporates information from a variety of sources.

“We want to basically be a company that’s focused on decision intelligence by aggregating massive quantities of disparate and heterogeneous information, because there’s something to be gained in the numbers,” said Jah, a space debris expert who’s also an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin.

Privateer will purchase some of this information, crowdsource some of it and gather still more using its own satellites, Jah said. The first of those satellites is on track to launch this coming February, he added.

This information will lead to much more than a census of space junk, if all goes according to plan. The company intends also to characterize debris objects, nailing down their size, shape and spin rate, among other features.

“The catalogs of objects out there all treat things like they’re spheres,” Jah said. “We’re going to take it beyond the sphere, to what the thing more realistically looks like and is.”


I feel that launching satellites in order to investigate satellite debris that can wreck satellites has an innate flaw, as concepts go.
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Norway is running out of gas-guzzling cars to tax • WIRED

Morgan Meaker:


In Norway, the most progressive electric vehicle policies in the world started with a pop group, an environmentalist, and a small red Fiat Panda. It was 1988 when activist Frederic Hauge, along with fellow green campaigners from the band A-ha, traveled to the Swiss city of Bern, where they found the red Fiat. A previous owner had converted the car to run off a lead battery, and the group planned to use the vehicle to persuade the Norwegian government to encourage electric vehicle uptake.

The Fiat became the centerpiece of a nine-year campaign in which Hauge and members of A-ha drove the car on Norway’s toll roads without paying. The fines racked up, and when they remained unpaid, the vehicle would be impounded and sold at auction, where Hauge would buy it back and repeat the cycle of toll dodging. A-ha’s celebrity members added glitz to the crusade against toll fees for EVs and Hauge—who has led an environmental group called Bellona since 1986—courted press attention to demand incentives for electric cars. “By being a positive vigilante, he made the media and also the politicians aware of the electric car,” says Øyvind Solberg Thorsen, director of Norway’s Road Traffic Information Council, which publishes statistics about the country’s roads and vehicles.

Eventually, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the incentives the group campaigned for started to materialize, handing EVs a superior status on Norway’s roads. Rules were introduced that exempted EVs from all toll charges and parking fees and allowed them to skip traffic by using bus lanes. More meaningfully, purchases of new EVs were exempted from hefty taxes—including VAT and purchase tax—meaning a new Volkswagen e-Golf cost €790 ($893) less than a VW Golf with a combustion engine.

The problem was that people responded to the policy so well that it eradicated an important source of income for the government, says Anette Berve, spokesperson for the Norwegian Automobile Federation, a group representing car owners. “So this is a clash of two different goals.”


So now various car taxes are being reintroduced on EVs. Death and taxes: those two most certain things. (“And nurses,” as an Australian journalist I knew liked to say.)
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A look at the intimate details Amazon knows about us • Reuters News Foundation

Chris Kirkham and Jeffrey Dastin:


As a Virginia lawmaker, Ibraheem Samirah has studied internet privacy issues and debated how to regulate tech firms’ collection of personal data. Still, he was stunned to learn the full details of the information Inc has collected on him.

The e-commerce giant had more than 1,000 contacts from his phone. It had records of exactly which part of the Quran that Samirah, who was raised as a Muslim, had listened to on Dec. 17 of last year. The company knew every search he had made on its platform, including one for books on “progressive community organizing” and other sensitive health-related inquiries he thought were private.

“Are they selling products, or are they spying on everyday people?” asked Samirah, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Samirah was among the few Virginia legislators who opposed an industry-friendly, Amazon-drafted state privacy bill that passed earlier this year. At Reuters’ request, Samirah asked Amazon to disclose the data it collected on him as a consumer.

The company gathers a vast array of information on its U.S. customers, and it started making that data available to all upon request early last year, after trying and failing to defeat a 2018 California measure requiring such disclosures. (U.S. Amazon customers can obtain their data by filling out a form on


(This is the UK equivalent for the data request. It’s under Account – Browse help topics (lower part of the page) – Privacy – Request Your Personal Information).

You wouldn’t be surprised that Amazon knows a lot about you, of course.It’s the extent. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin outbid a group of crypto investors for copy of US Constitution • WSJ

Kelly Crow:


Chicago hedge-fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin said he won a $43.2m first-edition copy of the US Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction on Thursday—and now he intends to lend it to a free Arkansas art museum.

The 53-year old founder and chief executive of Citadel caused a stir Thursday when he outbid a large group of cryptocurrency investors who had crowdfunded more than $40m earlier in the week in a frenzied attempt to win the document, the last surviving first edition in private hands.

The group, organized as ConstitutionDAO, pooled funds from more than 17,000 people over a 72-hour period, with the median donation hovering around $206. ConstitutionDAO said it sought to take the Constitution copy and make it accessible to the public.

“The US Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” Mr. Griffin said in a statement issued by Sotheby’s. “That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate.”


So it’s going to be accessible to the public, and Sotheby’s doesn’t have to quibble with crypto junk.
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Twitter rolls back AMP support, no longer sends users to AMP pages • Search Engine Land

Henry Powderly:


If you are noticing less traffic to your website’s AMP pages coming from Twitter, turns out there is a reason for that: Twitter has subtly updated its AMP guidelines page on its Developer site to say support for AMP will be phased out by the fourth quarter.

How that might affect you. Previously, if a mobile user clicked on a link to your site, Twitter would redirect them to the AMP version of that page if an AMP version was available. Now, that won’t happen and users will just load the native mobile/responsive version of your content.

We’ve heard anecdotally that publishers have been seeing AMP traffic fall, especially since Google started putting non-AMP pages in its Top Stories section. But it was David Esteve, audience development specialist and product manager at Marfeel, and technical SEO consultant Christian Oliveira who spotted the update in Twitter’s documentation.

Looking at our own data, we’ve seen sharp Twitter referral declines since August. But, traffic completely bottomed out in November suggesting the rollout is complete.


SEL is turning off its own AMP pages because it’s no longer a requirement to appear in Google’s “Top Stories” carousel.

Can’t see AMP lasting that much longer on this basis. Announced October 2015, began appearing in mobile results February 2016. It’s just about survived five years, but the revelation that it was a key piece of manipulation for header bidding on ads makes it look doomed.
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How Twitter got research right • The Verge

Casey Newton talked to Twitter’s research team about their work, which included this:


Responsible AI is hard in part because no one understands fully understands decisions made by algorithms. Ranking algorithms in social feeds are probabilistic — they show you things based on how likely you are to like, share, or comment on them. But there’s no one algorithm making that decision — it’s typically a mesh of multiple (sometimes dozens) of different models, each making guesses that are then weighted differently according to ever-shifting factors.

That’s a major reason why it’s so difficult to confidently build AI systems that are “responsible” — there is simply a lot of guesswork involved. [Lead for machine learning ethics and responsibility at Twitter, Rumman] Chowdhury pointed out the difference here between working on responsible AI and cybersecurity. In security, she said, it’s usually possible to unwind why the system is vulnerable, so long as you can discover where the attacker entered it. But in responsible AI, finding a problem often doesn’t tell you much about what created it.

That’s the case with the company’s research on amplifying right-wing voices, for example. Twitter is confident that the phenomenon is real but can only theorize as to the reasons behind it. It may be something in the algorithm. But it might also be a user behavior — maybe right-wing politicians tend to tweet in a way to elicit more comments, for example, which then causes their tweets to be weighted more heavily by Twitter’s systems.

“There’s this law of unintended consequences to large systems,” said Williams, who previously worked at Google and Facebook. “It could be so many different things. How we’ve weighted algorithmic recommendation may be a part of it. But it wasn’t intended to be a consequence of political affiliation. So there’s so much research to be done.


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When the traffic firehose is pointed at you • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick dug into “Thinkarete”, which was one of the most-shared publishers on Facebook in Q3:


So let’s put it all together.

The “Thinkarete” online brand appears to have been created by a food blogger from Utah. Between 2013-2014, there was a flurry of activity around the web — a website publishing original recipes, the launch of the Thinkarete Lifestyle Facebook page, and bylines on other blogs. The Thinkarete Facebook page, however, slowly became more and more important, as the other parts of the Thinkarete brand atrophied. The Thinkarete Facebook even went through a period where it was posting freebooted BuzzFeed Tasty videos, likely to capitalize on the Facebook video boom. The Allfood and the Lynda’s Kitchen domains were both registered in 2014. And, in 2016, the operation incorporated.

Navigating the Thinkarete Facebook page is impossible now because of the spam from Lyndas Kitchen. In fact, CrowdTangle couldn’t even generate a decent report because of the amount of links being shared to the page. But, after scrolling through Thinkarete’s videos section and the Allfood Instagram page, what seems clear is that the blogger running these pages was experimenting — food videos, Pinterest-optimized recipes, E-commerce links, vaguely conservative memes. We even found what are likely family photos and videos buried deep in Thinkarete’s socials, which, we obviously aren’t linking to here, but they seem to have been forgotten about amid all the optimizing. The entire Thinkarete brand seemed to be this woman’s online side project, which had largely morphed over time into a drop-shipping scheme. Then, last summer, the Facebook firehose was pointed directly at the page.

This is an objectively terrifying idea. To pass no judgment on the blogger who was playing around with these tools — you know, get that passive income — but imagine if you woke up one day, posted something to your Facebook page, and suddenly had more viewers than the Super Bowl. Because that’s what appears to have happened here. Facebook flipped a switch, favoring comments and reactions over shares, and suddenly a food blogger from Utah became the largest publisher in the country, if not the world.


Utterly random. That’s the world we now live in: there’s no sense to it because it’s all shaped by algorithms that have no idea what they’re actually dealing with.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1684: Facebook’s “virus of lies”, FTC queries Nvidia’s ARM buy, votes for six-year-olds?, Ford gets chippy, and more

The Brent Bravo oil rig is decommissioned now, but as a functional rig its ramshackle nature led to two avoidable deaths. CC-licensed photo by Rab Lawrence on Flickr.

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Social media creating virus of lies, says Nobel winner Maria Ressa • The Guardian

Rebecca Ratcliffe:


Social media platforms are biased against facts and creating “a virus of lies” that threatens all democracies, the Nobel peace prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa has said.

Ressa, one of the Philippines’ most prominent journalists, said social media platforms were “manipulating our minds insidiously, creating alternate realities, making it impossible for us to think slow”.

Focusing simply on moderating social media content was a distraction, she said, and it was the design of platforms, and the algorithms they used to promote content, that were in need of an overhaul.

Speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue, Ressa accused social media companies of misusing arguments around freedom of speech. “It’s a freedom of reach issue, not a freedom of speech issue,” she said.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong with our information ecosystem. Because the platforms that deliver the facts are actually biased against the facts,” she added, pointing to Facebook as the world’s largest delivery platform for news.


Naturally I reference Ressa, and the experience of Rappler (her magazine in the Philippines) in Social Warming. The irony, of course, is that Rappler began on Facebook. And that the Philippines was probably the first place where Facebook was used to sway an election through all sorts of manipulation, bots and misinformation. When Ressa talks, it’s worth listening.
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Divorce does funny things • The Paris Review

Tabitha Lasley wrote a book, Sea State, about the men who work on offshore oil rigs, and this is a little extract:


He smiled, displaying large, rounded teeth. Many of the men I’d met looked worn out by the physicality of their work, but this man emitted an air of wholesome good health. He must have been in his late forties, at least, to have worked on Piper Alpha, but in the dim light of the lobby, he appeared almost ageless.

“We’ve had a lot of deaths on the Brents over the years. We had the Chinook disaster forty-five people who’d left the Brent Delta. There were two guys killed down the leg of the Brent Bravo. During the last downturn.”

The man explained that oil companies were expected to deliver nominations—specific quantities of oil and gas—to the grid. Failure to do so incurred penalties. But there is a constant tension between production and compliance. Platforms become fatigued over time. Battered by the elements, their structures need continued maintenance. Routine maintenance often puts operations on hold, and during downturns, companies will deploy quick fixes. In 1999, it was alleged that Shell had a protocol known as TFA: “Touch Fuck All.” Permits apparently came with TFA scrawled across them, meaning workers should leave equipment alone, rather than risk a shutdown. Shell commissioned an internal audit, which corroborated the allegations and recommended immediate intervention. But the auditor was transferred, and the report did not surface again until 2006, shortly before a fatal accident inquiry into the Brent Bravo deaths.


Do read the rest of the piece, and then discover the sheriff’s report into the two deaths in Brent Bravo. (You can probably begin reading that at item 12, “Events of 11 September 2003”.
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US regulator raises concerns over Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm • Financial Times

Richard Waters:


Nvidia disclosed the pushback from American regulators as it announced its latest quarterly earnings to Wall Street late on Wednesday. It said that the Federal Trade Commission had “expressed concerns” about the Arm transaction, and that it was in discussions with the agency about “remedies to address those concerns”.

The US chipmaker did not reveal what had prompted the opposition, or what concessions it had offered. The deal, which was announced 14 months ago, has attracted opposition from some big American tech companies that worry Nvidia will limit their access to Arm’s chip designs, giving it an unfair advantage in big chip markets such as data centres and cars.

Nvidia has already made an offer to UK and EU regulators to guarantee not to cut Arm’s customers off, or to change the list of Arm products they have access to, according to one person familiar with its position. But the offer was not sufficient to prevent London and Brussels from moving ahead with extended investigations, and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has said it does not believe any “behavioural” remedies like this can be effective.

Nvidia could face further headaches in China, where some local chipmakers are reported to have complained to regulators about the deal. The company said on Wednesday that a formal antitrust process had not even started there yet, though it said the deal had been “under review” by Chinese authorities.


At least this is the first time that we’ve had some idea of what the regulators object to.
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The shareholder fight that forced Apple’s hand on repair rights • The Verge

Maddie Stone:


But Apple didn’t change its policy [on user repairs] out of the goodness of its heart. The announcement follows months of growing pressure from repair activists and regulators — and its timing seems deliberate, considering a shareholder resolution environmental advocates filed with the company in September asking Apple to re-evaluate its stance on independent repair. Wednesday is a key deadline in the fight over the resolution, with advocates poised to bring the issue to the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve.

Apple spokesperson Nick Leahy told The Verge that the program “has been in development for well over a year,” describing it as “the next step in increasing customer access to Apple genuine parts, tools, and manuals.” Leahy declined to say whether the timing of the announcement was influenced by shareholder pressure.

Activist shareholders believe that it was. “The timing is definitely no coincidence,” says Annalisa Tarizzo, an advocate with Green Century, the mutual fund company that filed the right-to-repair resolution with Apple in September. As a result of today’s announcement, Green Century is withdrawing its resolution, which asked Apple to “reverse its anti repair practices” and evaluate the benefits of making parts and tools more available to consumers.

That’s exactly what Apple seems to be doing with its new Self Service Repair program.


Given how large companies operate, the idea that Apple rushed to do this when the resolution was brought forward is unlikely. Two months isn’t enough to get anything like this done. But it could have accelerated the announcement; Apple would have chosen to get ahead of the resolution, even while it tries to figure out the precise details of what it will do.
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Facebook isn’t telling you how popular right-wing content is on the platform • The Markup

Corin Faife:


Data from The Markup’s Citizen Browser project shows that during the period from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2021, outlets like The Daily Wire, The Western Journal, and BuzzFeed’s viral content arm were among the top-viewed domains in our sample. 

Citizen Browser is a national panel of paid Facebook users who automatically share their news feed data with The Markup.

To analyze the websites whose content performs the best on Facebook, we counted the total number of times that links from any domain appeared in our panelists’ news feeds—a metric known as “impressions”—over a three-month period (the same time covered by Facebook’s Q3 Widely Viewed Content Report). Facebook, by contrast, chose a different metric, calculating the “most-viewed” domains by tallying only the number of users who saw links, regardless of whether each user saw a link once or hundreds of times.

By our calculation, the top performing domains were those that surfaced in users’ feeds over and over—including some highly partisan, polarizing sites that effectively bombarded some Facebook users with content.

These findings chime with recent revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has repeatedly said the company has a tendency to cherry-pick statistics to release to the press and the public.

“They are very good at dancing with data,” Haugen told British lawmakers during a European tour.


Facebook’s response, in part: “The focus of the Widely Viewed Content Report is to show the content that is seen by the most people on Facebook, not the content that is posted most frequently.”

The question then is which is the better measure: if someone sees the same link three or four times, is that three or four impressions, or just one? And which has more effect?
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Facebook is bad at moderating in English. In Arabic, it’s a disaster • Rest of World

Marwa Fatafta:


Arab activists and journalists, many of whom use Facebook to document human rights abuses and war crimes, are routinely censored and booted off the platform — most commonly under the pretext of terrorism. 

This is especially pronounced in times of political crisis and violence. Let’s not forget Facebook’s mass censorship of Palestinian voices during the height of Israeli violence and brutality in the months of May and June 2021. Most notably, Facebook deleted content reporting on Israeli forces violently storming into Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, throwing stun grenades and tear gas at worshippers, because company staff mistook “Al-Aqsa” for a terrorist organization. 

Such arbitrary mistakes are disturbingly common. Across the region, Facebook’s algorithms incorrectly deleted Arabic content 77% of the time. In one instance, Facebook’s Oversight Board overturned the erroneous removal of a post shared by an Egyptian user on the violence in Israel and Palestine from a verified Al Jazeera page. Not only was the content wrongfully removed for allegedly violating the platform’s Dangerous Individuals and Organisations (DIO) Community Standard, but the user was also disproportionately punished with a read-only account restriction for three days, disabling his ability to livestream content, and prohibiting him from using advertising products on the platform for 30 days. 

Digital rights advocates have demanded transparency on these designations. The Oversight Board also recommended Facebook to publish the list, but Facebook refused, citing safety concerns. The Intercept recently revealed the full list, and again, to no one’s surprise, “the DIO policy and blacklist … place far looser prohibitions on commentary about predominately white anti-government militias than on groups and individuals listed as terrorists, who are predominately Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim.”


Long gone are the days when Zuckerberg eagerly believed that getting Israelis and Palestinians onto Facebook would mean they could resolve their differences.
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Hate speech in Myanmar continues to thrive on Facebook • Associated Press

Sam McNeil and Victoria Milko:


Years after coming under scrutiny for contributing to ethnic and religious violence in Myanmar, Facebook still has problems detecting and moderating hate speech and misinformation on its platform in the Southeast Asian nation, internal documents viewed by The Associated Press show.

Three years ago, the company commissioned a report that found Facebook was used to “foment division and incite offline violence” in the country. It pledged to do better and developed several tools and policies to deal with hate speech.

But the breaches have persisted — and even been exploited by hostile actors — since the Feb. 1 military takeover this year that resulted in gruesome human rights abuses across the country.

Scrolling through Facebook today, it’s not hard to find posts threatening murder and rape in Myanmar.

One 2 1/2 minute video posted on Oct. 24 of a supporter of the military calling for violence against opposition groups has garnered over 56,000 views.

“So starting from now, we are the god of death for all (of them),” the man says in Burmese while looking into the camera. “Come tomorrow and let’s see if you are real men or gays.”


These are part of what I think we’ll call the Haugen Documents, to which the AP has access. But really, Facebook: you’ve seen how it goes in Myanmar. You’ve been publicly shamed over it. Does nothing work?
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• We can’t escape social media
• So it makes sense to understand it better:
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• How long ago did Facebook know it could affect elections – and what did it do about it?

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

Votes for children! Why we should lower the voting age to six • The Guardian

Professor David Runciman:


Indeed, I believe there is a strong case for lowering the voting age to six, effectively extending the franchise to any child in full-time education. When I have made this case, as I have done in recent years in a variety of different forums, I am always struck by the reaction I get. It is incredulity. What possible reason could there be to do something so seemingly reckless and foolhardy? Most audiences recognise that our democracy is growing fractious, frustrated and frustrating. Our political divisions are wide and our institutions seem ill-equipped to handle them. But nothing surely could justify allowing children to join in. Wouldn’t it simply make everything worse?

It would not. In fact, it might make things better. But to understand why, we first need to understand the nature of the problems our democracy faces, and in particular, the generational divide that has become an increasingly important factor in politics over recent decades.


I’ve heard David (who I know) make this argument a few times. In case you think he’s some random guy on the internet, he’s also professor of politics at Cambridge University. And his point about demographics is key to this argument. After all, if some people are too young to vote, isn’t that also an argument that some people are too old to vote? Scoff at the headline all you like, but read the piece and see if you can refute his argument.
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Ford steps into the chips business • WSJ

Mike Colias:


The semiconductor shortage has scuttled output of millions of planned vehicles industrywide this year. Some car executives have said they are taking steps to get a better handle on their chip supplies, a critical piece of the supply chain into which they have had little visibility.

The parts crisis is also driving deeper cooperation between the semiconductor and auto industries with executives from both sectors establishing closer ties to address challenges and working together to introduce new products.

Ford’s move would go a step further by eventually bringing some chip development in-house. The Dearborn, Mich.-based auto maker said designing its own chips could improve some vehicle features—such as automated-driving capabilities or battery systems for electric vehicles—and potentially help Ford sidestep future shortages.

“We feel like we can really boost our product performance and our tech independence at the same time,” said Chuck Gray, Ford’s vice president of vehicle embedded software and controls.

Part of the agreement with GlobalFoundries is intended to enhance near-term chip supplies for Ford, which has been hit especially hard by the supply crunch relative to many other auto makers. The joint-development work is aimed at producing higher-end chips that would go into vehicles several years out, Mr. Gray said.

Semiconductors are used to electronically control many functions in cars, from engine calibration to steering and air-bag deployment. Those computer chips have been scarce this year as auto makers compete for supply with producers of other consumer goods, including electronics and appliances.


GlobalFoundries was founded in 2009 as a spinoff from AMD, but only went public this October. Of note: it’s the only semiconductor maker with operations in Europe and the US and Singapore. It’s also a “Trusted Foundry” for the US government. All down to Ford to design some good chips, then. (The link should make the article free to read, at least if you click through from the Overspill website; can’t promise what Mailchimp will do to it.)
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Hackers backed by Iran are targeting US critical infrastructure, US warns • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


In May, the attackers targeted an unnamed US municipality, where they likely created an account with the username “elie” to further burrow into the compromised network. A month later, they hacked a US-based hospital specializing in health care for children. The latter attack likely involved Iranian-linked servers at 91.214.124[.]143, 162.55.137[.]20, and 154.16.192[.]70.

Last month, the APT [advanced persistent threat] actors exploited Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities that gave them initial access to systems in advance of follow-on operations. Australian authorities said they also observed the group leveraging the Exchange flaw.

The hackers may have created new user accounts on the domain controllers, servers, workstations, and active directories of networks they compromised. Some of the accounts appear to mimic existing accounts, so the usernames are often different from targeted organization to targeted organization. The advisory said network security personnel should search for unrecognized accounts with special attention on usernames such as Support, Help, elie, and WADGUtilityAccount.

The advisory comes a day after Microsoft reported that an Iranian-aligned group it calls Phosphorous is increasingly using ransomware to generate revenue or disrupt adversaries. The group employs “aggressive brute force attacks” on targets, Microsoft added.

Early this year, Microsoft said, Phosphorus scanned millions of Internet IP addresses in search of FortiOS systems that had yet to install the security fixes for CVE-2018-13379. The flaw allowed the hackers to harvest clear-text credentials used to remotely access the servers. Phosphorus ended up collecting credentials from more than 900 Fortinet servers in the US, Europe, and Israel.


So we’re now at the stage where aggressive state hacking is background noise.
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Clubhouse launches bug bounty program with $3,000 on offer for critical vulnerabilities • The Daily Swig

Adam Bannister:


Clubhouse, the audio-based chatroom application, has rolled out a public bug bounty program on HackerOne.

Financial rewards for unearthing critical flaws are pegged at $3,000, while ‘high’ severity bugs will command bounties of $1,500. Bug hunters could get $500 and $100, respectively, for valid ‘medium’ and ‘low’ severity bugs.

In a blog post published to coincide with the program’s launch, Clubhouse said: “While many bug bounty programs promise high rewards for catastrophic-level discoveries, our approach keeps the scope broad so we can address as many bugs as possible. To that end, if you can help us fix bugs that could cause harm to our community, you’ll be eligible to earn a bounty.”


“Usage is dropping. What can we do to increase engagement?”

“How about encouraging hackers to spend more time using the platform?”

In its way, it is cheaper than a marketing drive. I’d love to know how Clubhouse’s financials are looking, because Google Trends suggests it’s fallen off people’s radar. Except, that is, in those hotbeds of social media familiar to everyone – Somalia and Mongolia.
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The chase for fusion energy • Nature

Philip Ball:


There are now more than 30 private fusion firms globally, according to an October survey by the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) in Washington DC, which represents companies in the sector; the 18 firms that have declared their funding say they have attracted more than US$2.4bn in total, almost entirely from private investments (see ‘Fusion funding’). Key to these efforts are advances in materials research and computing that are enabling technologies other than the standard designs that national and international agencies have pursued for so long.

The latest venture at Culham — the hub of UK fusion research for decades — is a demonstration plant for General Fusion (GF), a company based in Burnaby, Canada. It is scheduled to start operating in 2025, and the company aims to have reactors for sale in the early 2030s. It “will be the first power-plant-relevant large-scale demonstration”, says GF’s chief executive Chris Mowry — unless, that is, its competitors deliver sooner.

Designed by British architect Amanda Levete, GF’s prototype plant illustrates the way fusion research has shifted from gargantuan state- or internationally funded enterprises to sleek, image-conscious affairs driven by private companies, often with state support. (GF will receive some UK government funding; it has not disclosed how much.)

In this respect, advocates of fusion technology say it has many parallels with the space industry. That, too, was once confined to government agencies but is now benefiting from the drive and imagination of nimble (albeit often state-assisted) private enterprise. This is “the SpaceX moment for fusion”, says Mowry, referring to Elon Musk’s space-flight company in Hawthorne, California.

“The mood has changed,” says Thomas Klinger, a fusion specialist at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, Germany. “We can smell that we’re getting close.” Investors sense the real prospect of returns on their money: Google and the New York City-based investment bank Goldman Sachs, for instance, are among those funding the fusion company TAE Technologies, based in Foothill Ranch, California, which has raised around $880m so far. “Companies are starting to build things at the level of what governments can build,” says Bob Mumgaard, chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Two points. First: JET, also in Culham, had perhaps $800m of funding (half to build it) during its lifetime. ITER, its successor, could cost between €20bn and €60bn. That’s multi-government funding, but it tends to be slow, and less urgently goal-driven than venture capital. Which is the second point: if VC money succeeds in giving us fusion, will it be too cheap to meter, or too expensive for any but the richest to use?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: well OK you want to know why this is late. I did prepare all the links earlier on Thursday because I was, mirabile dictu, playing for the local squash team at an away match that involved a 150-mile round trip, and fully intended to then assemble and schedule the post when I got back, but somehow at 11.30pm didn’t have the presence of mind to do so. So this is late. Apologies. (I got thoroughly squashed, but the team won, thanks for asking.)

Start Up No.1683: Apple offers DIY fixes, Amazon cuts up Visa, Taiwan proposes deepfake porn laws, peak phosphorus?, and more

The nation of Singapore seems to be sliding towards becoming a surveillance state run by its ruling party. CC-licensed photo by maja kuzmanovic on Flickr.

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

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

Beginning next year, Apple will send you parts and tools to fix your iPhone and Mac at home • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:


Here’s a pleasant — and frankly unexpected — update from Apple. The company just announced Self Service Repair, a new program designed to let users perform common repairs on devices at home. Through the program, users with damaged devices will be sent “Apple genuine” tools and components — same as the ones they use at the Genius Bar.

The company will also be offering up online repair manuals (text, not video), accessible through the new Apple Self Service Repair Online Store. The system is similar to the one the company rolled out for Independent Repair Providers (of which there are currently 2,800 in the U.S. plus 5,000 Apple Authorized Service Providers), beginning with the iPhone 12 and 13, focused on display, battery and camera fixes. A similar service for M1 Macs will be launching “soon” after.

…Performing these tasks at home won’t void the device’s warranty, though you might if you manage to further damage the product in the process of repairing it — so hew closely to those manuals.


That’s quite the warning, isn’t it. A very big step by Apple, though it seems more likely this will enable a cottage industry of repairers (who previously existed but were stymied by Apple’s designs of the past few years) than everyone DIYing their cracked screens. But maybe it will create a whole new generation of Haynes manuals. Though iFixit is sort of like that already.
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Scientists say we need to look into solar geoengineering now—before it’s too late • Singularity Hub

Edd Gent:


One major plank of geoengineering is the idea of removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere, either through reforestation or carbon capture technology that will scrub emissions from industrial exhausts or directly from the air. There are limits to nature-based CO2 removal, though, and so-called “negative emissions technology” is a long way from maturity.

The other option is solar geoengineering, which involves deflecting sunlight away from the Earth by boosting the reflectivity of the atmosphere or the planet’s surface. Leading proposals involve injecting tiny particles into the stratosphere, making clouds whiter by spraying sea water into the atmosphere, or thinning out high cirrus clouds that trap heat.

In theory, this could reduce global warming fairly cheaply and quickly, but interfering with the Earth’s climate system carries unpredictable and potentially enormous risks. This has led to widespread opposition to even basic research into the idea. Earlier this year, a test of the approach by Sweden’s space agency was cancelled following concerted opposition.

But this lack of research means policymakers are flying blind when weighing the pros and cons of the approach, researchers write in a series of articles in the latest issue of Science. They outline why research into the approach is necessary and how social science in particular can help us better understand the potential trade-offs.

In an editorial, Edward A. Parson from the University of California, Los Angeles, notes that critics often point to the fact that solar geoengineering is a short-term solution to a long-term problem that is likely to be imperfect and whose effects could be uneven and unjust.


This really is one from the Department Of Bad Ideas. Don’t know what it will do, can’t reverse it, but hey, why not?
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YouTube co-founder predicts ‘decline’ of the platform following removal of dislikes • The Verge

James Vincent:


[Jawed] Karim has been getting his own message out in an unusual way: by editing the description to the first video ever uploaded to YouTube, a banal clip titled “Me at the zoo” which stars the 25-year-old Karim himself. Karim originally edited the description of the video a few days ago to read: “When every YouTuber agrees that removing dislikes is a stupid idea, it probably is. Try again, YouTube [face palm emoji].” But this morning he changed this description once again to give a more detailed condemnation:

“The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform,” writes Karim. “Why? Because not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. […] The process works, and there’s a name for it: the wisdom of the crowds. The process breaks when the platform interferes with it. Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre?”

It’s not the first time Karim has used the “Me at the zoo” video as an informal billboard for his opinions on the platform. In 2013, when YouTube announced it would use Google Plus to power comments — a move which many saw as a way for the search giant to force increased engagement for its doomed social network — Karim changed the video’s description to read: “why the fuck do i need a google+ account to comment on a video?”


Predicting the decline of YouTube is a brave move. Predicting it over the removal of visible dislikes, even braver.
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No links about the blue site today! But YouTube certainly counts as a social network. How do they affect us? What do social networks do to democracy and journalism? Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Notes on newsletters • Benedict Evans

He’s thinking about email, and Substack, and discovery:


How many lists can we all sign up to, after all? And who owns the reader?

The most striking thing for me, though, is that the history professor making $1m from her Substack (and note that ‘her Substack’ is their brand, not hers) reminds me almost exactly of the developer who put a Tetris clone on the iPhone app store in 2008 and made a fortune. Good luck trying that now. In every new, empty channel, the first people to offer something good can get rich. Once the channel fills up, the dynamics change. This happened to SEO, SEM, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts, D2C, Youtube, Tiktok and now newsletters. This is the cycle of life on the internet – any tool that makes it easy for everyone to create and reach an audience also means you’re competing with all the other everyones.

So, what does any content platform do when it has 100m users and 1m creators? The leader boards break, and search probably breaks too. Now what? Apple’s app store was paralysed by that for years. Yahoo’s directory was killed by search. FB built algorithms. Now see Substack. How does discovery work at scale? That isn’t just a high-quality problem – ‘what happens when there is more stuff on your platform than anyone can look at?’ is an essential, existential question. It can define the whole of what your product really means. What happens when email fills up – where does Substack’s own reader fit in?


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Singapore’s tech-utopia dream is turning into a surveillance state nightmare • Rest of World

Peter Guest:


It’s a place where pilot projects hint at a future — just over the horizon — where the intractable problems of today are automated out of existence. Where vertical farms and “NEWater” made from treated sewage cut the island’s reliance on neighbouring Malaysia for food and water. Where robots care for the elderly and drones service freighters. Where warehouses and construction sites are staffed by machines, obviating the need for the migrant workers who make Singapore function, but make Singaporeans uncomfortable. Technology keeps them safe, fed and independent; secure in a scary world, but connected to it through telecoms and air travel.

That safety requires constant vigilance. The city must be watched. The smart cameras that are being trialled in Changi [jail] are just a part of a nationwide thrust towards treating surveillance as part of everyday life. Ninety-thousand police cameras watch the streets. By the end of the decade, there will be 200,000. Sensors, including facial recognition cameras and crowd analytics systems, are being positioned across the city. The technology alone isn’t unique — it’s used in many countries. But Singapore’s ruling party sees dangers everywhere, and seems increasingly willing to peer individually and en masse into people’s lives. 

“What [technology] will do for people is make our lives a hell of a lot easier, more convenient, more easily able to plug into the good life,” Monamie Bhadra Haines, an assistant professor at the Technical University of Denmark, who studies the intersection between technology and society. “But … the surveillance is what is here, now.”


Very fine piece pointing out how easily this stuff slides from “for your own good” (surveilling prisoners in case they harm themselves) to “for our own good” (surveilling everyone in case they harm the ruling party).
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Amazon to stop accepting UK-issued Visa credit cards • The Guardian

Hilary Osborne:


James Andrews, from the comparison website, said the decision would come as a blow to the millions of UK shoppers who had Visa credit cards, including customers of Barclaycard and HSBC.

“With American Express also rejected by many UK retailers, that means people looking for rewards on their spending or trying to split the cost of shopping with a 0% purchase card on Amazon will be effectively forced to choose a Mastercard,” he said.

“Hopefully, Visa and Amazon work out their differences before the ban comes into force on 19 January but in the meantime it would be wise to check your cards now.”

Card fees have long been an issue of contention between providers and retailers, and this month Visa and Mastercard increased their quoted fees for “card-not-present” (CNP) payments on credit cards to merchants in the EU after the removal of caps post-Brexit.

The British Retail Consortium said companies faced an estimated £150m increase in the cost of accepting cross-border card payments, with British retailers shouldering an extra £36.5m in fees, equivalent to £100,000 every day.

The Federation of Small Businesses said its members had experienced soaring fees in recent years.

Its national chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “Small businesses are almost always charged more for card terminals than big corporates – so when online giants start throwing down the gauntlet, you know the situation is becoming critical.”


It’s not immediately obvious, but Amazon transactions are very CNP – you’re not even required to give your CVV (the three-digit number on the back). That means a lot of risk for Amazon. But it’s the interchange fees it’s annoyed about. If you want a truly financial wonkish take, Tom Noyes has it for you: the Amazon-Visa row isn’t just a UK thing, and it’s been going on for ages.
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Taiwan proposes maximum seven-year prison term for deepfake porn images • Taiwan News

Matthew Strong:


Producers and distributors of deepfake footage replacing the faces of pornographic actors with those of other people could receive a prison sentence of up to seven years, according to a proposal unveiled by the Ministry of Justice.

The authorities promised a crackdown after a web influencer faced charges for allegedly using the faces of celebrities in porn videos. He reportedly made NT$10m (US$359,000) in profits from the illegal venture.

The proposed legislation still foresaw different levels of prison sentencing depending on the nature of the crime, CNA reported. The seven-year maximum sentence would be reserved for the production and distribution of deepfake images with a profit motive, the Ministry of Justice said. It added that five years would be the maximum term if no payment was involved.

If a couple shot an intimate video and one of the partners distributed it without the other’s consent, the maximum prison sentence would be two years.


First mention here of deepfake porn: December 2017. I guess four years isn’t slow in legislative terms.
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Pulp Fiction’s Quentin Tarantino sued by Miramax over NFT project • CBR (Comic Book Resources)

Keegan Prosse:


Miramax filed a lawsuit against Quentin Tarantino following the Pulp Fiction director’s recent announcement he plans to sell NFTs based on the 1994 cult film.

“Tarantino’s conduct has forced Miramax to bring this lawsuit against a valued collaborator in order to enforce, preserve, and protect its contractual and intellectual property rights relating to one of Miramax’s most iconic and valuable film properties,” the company wrote in its lawsuit, according to THR. “Left unchecked, Tarantino’s conduct could mislead others into believing Miramax is involved in his venture.”

The production company further alleged that Tarantino’s plan to release Pulp Fiction NFTs “could also mislead others into believing they have the rights to pursue similar deals or offerings” and explained that “Miramax holds the rights needed to develop, market, and sell NFTs relating to its deep film library.”

While Tarantino’s attorney responded by arguing the director was acting within his “Reserved Rights,” Miramax accused Tarantino of intentionally disregarding the agreement he signed and attempting to devalue the NFT rights to Pulp Fiction moving forward.

…Tarantino announced in early November that he planned to auction off a number of uncut scenes and original scripts from Pulp Fiction as NFTs. Among the collectibles are seven uncut scenes, original handwritten scripts and exclusive audio commentary from Tarantino. The director said at that time the NFTs would be built by the blockchain ecosystem known as the Secret Network and would be auctioned off on the marketplace OpenSea. As with all NFTs, each offering would come with a unique certificate of ownership.


I like how the headline clarifies that it’s Pulp Fiction’s Quentin Tarantino, to distinguish him from all the other Quentin Tarantinos out there. However now that the lawyers for the film studios are involved in NFTs, things can only get worse.
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Peak phosphorus is worse than climate change • Climate Conscious

Dustin T. Cox:


Phosphorus is a nutrient that is key to life, but the world has a finite supply, and that supply is running perilously short. Some studies estimate that global phosphorus reserves will run out within 50–100 years. And, as early as 2030, world phosphorus production will likely reach its peak. When that happens, food prices will steadily climb in conjunction with rising fertilizer costs. When the supply runs out, crops will fail and the food web will collapse. Phosphorus depletion is, therefore, an extinction level emergency more pressing than even global warming.

Seven nations control 90% of the world’s phosphorus supply. Morocco alone controls 75%, while the US, China, and a handful of other nations each have considerable reserves. The price of phosphorus has increased dramatically in the last 60 years, rising from $80 per ton in 1961 to over $700 per ton in 2015. Given the uneven distribution of phosphorus throughout the world, wealthy nations will likely starve last, though political strife and wars for food could imperil even the most insulated countries. PRIO (Peace Research Institute Olso) rates hunger as one of the most “reliable predictors of civil war.” If that is true, then even relatively stable nations, like the US, can expect their citizens to one day fight for their food.

… all 94 million acres of American corn crops are fertilized with phosphorus. Furthermore, each crop is reared through “insurance based farming” — the practice of “heaping on” phosphorus at a rate nine times greater than what we consume in food. The left over phosphorus, rather than finding its way to innovative phosphorus capture systems in American sewage processing facilities, remains in the soil, washes to the sea, and pollutes rivers, lakes, and streams.


From the abstract of the linked article (from 2009):


modern agriculture is dependent on phosphorus derived from phosphate rock, which is a non-renewable resource and current global reserves may be depleted in 50–100 years. While phosphorus demand is projected to increase, the expected global peak in phosphorus production is predicted to occur around 2030.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1682: the reality the ‘Constitution’ bid, the bad methane news, Russia admits satellite destruction, and more

The government of Greenland is suspending oil exploration because it would contribute to climate change. CC-licensed photo by NASA on The Commons 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. Still not in orbit. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

ConstitutionDAO: a $20m stupid Ethereum trick • Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard:


“DAO” stands for Decentralised Autonomous Organization. You get a pile of cryptocurrency, and holders with the right tokens to vote decide what to do with the crypto.

DAOs have a less than illustrious history of crashing and burning in fraud and hacks — it turns out that “code is law” is not very smart. So ConstitutionDAO is doing things more simply and elegantly — they’ve set up a multi-signature address with thirteen signers, where all the ETH gets deposited. It’s just a crowdfunding. The “DAO” bit’s connection to the money is more of an idea, you understand.

The completely and utterly centralised control of the project in all practical terms has led to some disappointment amongst those who bought the “DAO” pitch — but hey, it’s not like they can do anything about it.

The ConstitutionDAO founders say they’re setting up a Delaware LLC to front for this unincorporated bunch o’ guys who just got sent $5m of ETH. Everything is a gentleman’s agreement so far, worth only the paper it’s not written on. If ConstitutionDAO doesn’t win the auction, the funds will be returned via Juicebox, the platform they’re collecting the money on.

If ConstitutionDAO does win, what happens then? From the FAQ:


Will the core team receive any of the raised funds for themselves or get compensated in any way from this?

The core team has not received or pre-minted any tokens. Following the purchase of the Constitution, we intend to submit a proposal to be voted on by the community. While this is unusual, we believe that it establishes a precedence of mutual trust between the core team and the backers of the ConstitutionDAO.


Notice how this doesn’t answer the question.

On the ConstitutionDAO Discord chat, Will Papper, one of the multisig signers, says


Delaware LLC. Minimal operating agreement for now while we finalize details. The LLC allows us to bid on the Sotheby’s auction. Sotheby’s does not allow DAOs themselves to bid. “ConstitutionDAO LLC” but it’s still being set up. Need to consult more with securities lawyers we work with on this (since fractionalized ownership could be a security).



There’s a lot of misreporting around this. Essentially the LLC gets the money. Whether it gives it back or does anything trustworthy is up to them.
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Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions • Space

Tereza Pultarova:


Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal. 

Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories. 

“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told “These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”

Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.


So, after the recent report that emissions have been lower than we thought for a few years, we’re now discovering that emissions (and especially methane) have probably been higher than we thought. Which would explain the rapid warming. Right?
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Russia acknowledges anti-satellite test, but says it’s no big deal • Ars Technica

Eric Berger:


it remains difficult to fully explain the country’s decision to destroy a satellite and create a cloud of debris that could very well threaten the International Space Station, as independent observations suggest.

Various theories have emerged to explain Russia’s actions, but as of Monday evening senior US officials were still scrambling to comprehend Russian motivations. Certainly, the selection of this satellite, in this orbit, was not made by chance. However, the decision to hit the Tselina-D satellite, also known as Cosmos 1408, may have been taken by Russia’s defense ministers without consulting the civil space operators of the space station.

One dark theory is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now concluded that Russia’s space industry has fallen hopelessly behind the United States and China, and the gap will only further widen in future years. Because of this strategic and economic disadvantage, Putin has calculated that the best option for Russia is to deny certain orbits to these competitors. With Monday’s test, then, he sent his counterparts a message that he still retains some control in space—what you can destroy, Putin believes, you can control.

In the near term it seems likely that the US government, in concert with other spacefaring partners, will offer some sort of response. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called the test unacceptable and said Russia must be held accountable for its actions. In the long term, this only heightens existing concerns about debris and the sustainability of high-trafficked orbits near Earth.


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Inside Reality Labs Research: meet the team that’s working to bring touch to the digital world • Facebook Research

Andrew Bosworth, in charge of Meta’s metaverse effort:


Imagine working on a virtual 3D puzzle with a friend’s ultra-realistic 3D avatar. As you pick up a virtual puzzle piece from the table, your fingers automatically stop moving as you feel it within your grasp. You feel the sharpness of the cardboard’s edges and the smoothness of its surface as you hold it up for closer inspection, followed by a satisfying snap as you fit it into place.

Now imagine sitting down to work at a café and having a virtual screen and keyboard appear in front of you. The virtual keyboard conforms to the size of your hands and the space you have available, and it’s easily personalized to suit your preferences. You can feel the click of each keystroke, as well as the edges of the virtual keys on your fingertips, making it as easy as typing on a perfectly-sized physical keyboard.

How would these experiences enhance your connection to the virtual world? What would they do for your ability to be productive or perform any action in the metaverse?


Here’s something I wrote in October 2002:


The cube felt rubbery, although it didn’t strictly exist. As I moved the pencil-like mouse in my hand, a cursor moved too in the virtual room where the cube sat. A little manoeuvring and the cursor was beneath the cube. Move the pencil (called a “phantom”) upwards, and suddenly there was the sensation of weight, and the cube moved upwards on the screen. With a little practice, I could flip it upwards and catch it. The surface seemed to give, like rubber; the weight felt like a small ball, perhaps a golf ball.

A few minutes later another cursor appeared, and moved to the opposite side of the cube. Then we both pushed at the same time, and the cube rose. It was the first transmission of “touch” over the internet, demonstrated simultaneously in London and Massachusetts yesterday. The other cursor belonged to Jung Kim, a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Touch Lab” in Boston.


Yes, that’s 19 years.
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The AGI hype train is running out of steam • The Next Web

Thomas Macaulay:


The AGI hype train has hit some heavy traffic.

While futurists and fundraisers used to make bullish predictions about artificial general intelligence, they’ve become quieter lately. Peter Thiel — the tech billionaire and rumored vampire — says Silicon Valley big brains have lost enthusiasm for AGI.

“Elon’s not talking about it anymore and Larry [Page] is off to Fiji and doesn’t seem to be working on it quite as hard,” Thiel said at a recent event.

Thiel described Musk as “a weathervane for the zeitgeist,” who’s stopped talking about AGI because interest has declined.

Scientists are also increasingly skeptical. A recent study paper posited that AGI is “in principle impossible,” while other researchers have mocked the term’s proponents.

“I have yet to come across work on AGI that I can take seriously,” tweeted Abeba Birhane, a cognitive scientist based at University College Dublin.


If like me you missed the “Larry Page is off to Fiji” bit, he’s hanging out a few miiles off Viti Levu.
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Qualcomm says it will have chips to take on Apple silicon in nine months • iMore

Stephen Warwick:


Qualcomm says that it is going to release new chips next year that can keep up with M-series Apple chips like M1 Pro and M1 Max, and the M1 featured in devices like the MacBook Air with M1 and 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1.

Chief Technology Officer Dr. James Thompson spoke at Qualcomm’s 2021 investor event, where he revealed the plan.

Qualcomm supplies Apple with some hardware, providing modems for devices like the iPhone 13 and its other best iPhones.

Thompson said Qualcomm would release new “arm-compatible” SoC’s designed by Nuvia, which it bought for $1.4bn in 2021. The company boasts former Apple engineers who worked on Apple silicon, and in July Qualcomm chief executive Cristiano Amon said he thought Qualcomm could have the best chip on the market by next year. According to Thompson today, the new chips will be unveiled in about nine months, and be ready for devices in 2023.


Ah, so what Thompson is really saying is that in 2023 Qualcomm will have chips that “can keep up” with chips Apple released in 2020 (since the M1 Pro/Max chips are just more-CPU-core-more-GPU-core versions of the M1). And of course Qualcomm has never produced a chip that can power a smartwatch as well as Apple’s. But maybe adding Nuvia will change that.
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Greenland suspends oil exploration because of climate change • Associated Press


The left-leaning government of Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it is “a natural step” because the Arctic government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

No oil has been found yet around Greenland, but officials there had seen potentially vast reserves as a way to help Greenlanders realize their long-held dream of independence from Denmark by cutting the annual subsidy of 3.4bn kroner ($540m) the Danish territory receives.

Global warming means that retreating ice could uncover potential oil and mineral resources which, if successfully tapped, could dramatically change the fortunes of the semiautonomous territory of 57,000 people.

“The future does not lie in oil. The future belongs to renewable energy, and in that respect we have much more to gain,” the Greenland government said in a statement. The government said it “wants to take co-responsibility for combating the global climate crisis.”

The decision was made June 24 but made public Thursday.


Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.
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What it’s like living in the coldest town on Earth • WIRED

Jenna Garrett:


It gets down to well below zero in Oymyakon, Russia, long known as the coldest inhabited place on Earth. If that kind of climate is hard to wrap your brain around, such a temperature is so cold that people here regularly consume frozen meat, keep their cars running 24/7 and must warm the ground with a bonfire for several days before burying their dead.

It’s hard to know why anyone would want to live in such a place, and harder still to imagine why anyone would want to visit. But photographer Amos Chapple just couldn’t resist.

“I shoot travel photos aimed at the news sections of papers and need a headline to hang a story on,” the New Zealander said. “‘The coldest place on Earth’ is pretty irresistible.”

He traveled more than 10,000 miles to reach this village of 500 residents tucked away in a remote corner of Siberia. It’s so nasty that planes can’t land during the winter, and it takes two days to arrive by car from Yakutsk, the nearest major city (it’s 576 miles away). Chapple spent several weeks shooting in Oymyakon and Yakutsk during the long, dark month of January in 2013 and 2014. His remarkable photos capture the cold, bleak landscape and the hardy residents who brave unimaginable conditions.

Oymyakon sits at a 63.4608° N, 142.7858° E latitude, just a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle. It’s dark – completely, utterly dark – for up to 21 hours a day during the winter, and the temperature averages -58. That’s balmy compared to one February in 1933, when Oymyakon earned its title as the coldest place on Earth when the mercury plunged to -90.

Here arctic chill is simply a fact of life, something to be endured. People develop a variety of tricks to survive. Most people use outhouses, because indoor plumbing tends to freeze. Cars are kept in heated garages or, if left outside, left running all the time. Crops don’t grow in the frozen ground, so people have a largely carnivorous diet—reindeer meat, raw flesh shaved from frozen fish, and ice cubes of horse blood with macaroni are a few local delicacies.

Chapple found it difficult to speak with the people he encountered, as many people were rushing as fast as possible from one oasis of warmth to another. Those willing to chat warned him about the rampant alcoholism, particularly during the holiday months.


Remains a complete puzzle why you would live there. Or even take a job there. Other places exist, after all.
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The ‘psychology of regret’ helps explain why vaccine mandates work • The Washington Post

Adam Galinsky is a professor of ethics:


To combat vaccine hesitancy, we need to grasp its psychological roots. Alongside skepticism of institutions and experts, exposure to misinformation, and other often-cited reasons for resisting vaccines sits a clear emotional explanation: Many people are afraid that they’ll make a bad decision. They’re influenced by the psychology of anticipated regret. Understanding this reaction can help us get more shots into arms, removing one of the final obstacles to controlling the virus.

It’s widely understood that when humans make decisions, they engage in a cost-benefit analysis. But psychologists have shown that people also conduct a less-rational calculation involving the regret they might experience. When deciding which of two roads to go down, they not only consider the statistical probabilities but also implicitly imagine their reactions to worst-case scenarios. In these analyses, potential bad outcomes weigh heavier on the mind than equally likely positive possibilities.

When do people anticipate feeling the most regret? When outcomes will derive from actions they take (as opposed to the consequences of declining to act), research shows. Psychologists — notably Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on decision-making — have demonstrated these tendencies in a series of experiments. For example, Kahneman found that people anticipate feeling more regret if they were to lose money by switching to a new stock vs. taking a loss on their current stock. And this regret is maximally intensified when we freely choose to take action — we are not ordered or coerced — and when it involves new or experimental activities. For example, Kahneman found that people anticipate more regret when imagining an accident that occurs while driving home along a new route compared with driving on one’s normal route. Anticipated regret is why people often prefer to stand still rather than move forward.

Anticipated regret sheds light on why vaccine-hesitant people seem more comfortable taking their chances with the virus rather than getting the shot, a decision that is not rational given the relative likelihood of experiencing severe effects of covid-19 vs. severe vaccine side effects.


Awaiting with interest how many (or few) care home staff will choose not to be vaccinated, and hence fired, following the passage of their mandatory vaccination deadline in the UK. Early estimates suggested thousands would.
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Vizio’s profit on ads, subscriptions, and data is double the money it makes selling TVs • The Verge

Richard Lawler:


It’s been less than a year since Vizio became a publicly traded company, and one consequence of that is we know more about its business than ever before. The TV maker released its latest earnings report on Tuesday and revealed that over the last three months, its Platform Plus segment that includes advertising and viewer data had a gross profit of $57.3m. That’s more than twice the amount of profit it made selling devices like TVs, which was $25.6m, despite those device sales pulling in considerably more revenue.

When Vizio filed to go public, it described the difference between the two divisions. While Devices is easy to understand — 4K TVs, soundbars, etc. — Platform Plus is a little more complicated. It counts money made from selling ad placements on its TV homescreens, deals for the buttons on remotes, ads that run on streaming channels, its cut from subscriptions, and viewer data that it tracks and sells as part of the InScape program.

The company says shipments of its TVs fell to 1.4m in 2021 compared to 2.1m in 2020, a drop of 36%. CEO William Wang told investors on the call that he sees “pretty healthy inventory” going into the holiday season, so anyone planning to pick up a value-priced TV or soundbar should have some decent options available.

That spike in Platform Plus revenue, which shot up 136% compared to last year, did a lot to help Vizio make up the difference as profits from TVs dipped compared to last year.


Smart TVs in the sense that getting people to install them is a smart move.
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No examples of social networks putting people at loggerheads (thank goodness). But even so, why not buy my book Social Warming, to understand what they’re doing.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1681: Russia creates dangerous space debris cloud, has Google folded its Fold?, quit doomscrolling!, and more

Air pollution in Delhi is pushing the top of the scale. Is burning more coal really going to help? CC-licensed photo by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier 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. Standard orbit. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russia blows up a satellite, creating a dangerous debris cloud in space • The Verge

Loren Grush:


This morning, Russia destroyed one of its own satellites with a ground-based missile, creating thousands of pieces of debris that have spread out into Earth orbit, according to the US State Department. The US has identified more than 1,500 trackable pieces of debris from the event, and many thousands of smaller ones that cannot be traced, Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, said during a briefing.

The news comes amid reports from Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, independently verified by The Verge via NASA’s live feed, that the astronauts living on board the International Space Station had to shelter in place this morning due to a cloud of space debris that seems to be passing by the station every 90 minutes, the time it takes for the ISS to orbit the Earth. NASA has yet to confirm if the debris field passing the ISS is the same one created by the Russian anti-satellite, or ASAT, test, and the agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, the State Department indicated that the debris field is a danger to the space station. “This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” Price told reporters. “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long term sustainability of our space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”


Yes, it’s the plot of Gravity, but now as real life. (Also the backstory, partly, of Wall-E.) Astonishingly stupid of Russia: the standard method is to make the satellite’s orbit decay so that it burns up.
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India’s pollution board says prepare for emergency steps as Delhi’s smog worsens • Reuters

Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj:


India’s federal pollution control board on Friday ordered states and local bodies to be in “complete readiness” for emergency measures to tackle New Delhi’s worsening smog conditions due to a drop in temperature and wind speeds.

A thick haze of toxic smog hung over the Indian capital, exacerbated by a spike in the burning of crop waste in surrounding farmlands.

It reduced visibility and the Air Quality Index (AQI) hit 470 on a scale of 500, according to the federal pollution control board. This level of pollution means the air will affect healthy people and seriously impact those with existing diseases.

According to the pollution board’s “Graded Response Action Plan”, air quality remaining “severe” for 48 hours must prompt states and local bodies to impose emergency measures that include shutting down schools, imposing ‘odd-even’ restrictions on private cars based on their number plates, and stopping all construction.

In a circular late on Friday, the board said the government and private offices should reduce the use of private transport by 30% and advised the city’s residents to limit outdoor exposure.

“Meteorological conditions will be highly unfavourable for dispersion of pollutants till November 18, 2021 in view of low winds with calm conditions during the night,” the board said.


According to a report on the radio, children born in Delhi are in effect 20-a-day smokers. The air quality is shocking. And yet India moved to retain coal burning at COP26.
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Lenders brace for more problems at NSO after US blacklisting • Financial Times

“FT Reporters”:


Law firms Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are independently working with creditor groups who are scouring credit agreements to see what recourse they may have against NSO, which faces severe restrictions on business with US companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

The US said it sanctioned the company for selling its military-grade spyware, Pegasus, to foreign governments that used these tools to carry out “transnational repression” of journalists, activists and embassy workers.

In response, lenders say they have tried to sell the loan on to other investors but have struggled to find willing buyers even at a discounted price. Most recently, quotes were around 70 cents on the dollar for the company’s $350m term loan maturing in 2025, according to a person familiar with the matter. Bloomberg News earlier reported the trading price of the loan.

At the same time, the creditor groups have been careful not to antagonise NSO’s management.

Shalev Hulio, the co-founder of the company, stepped down as CEO just before the commerce department designation, but still enjoys the support of the Israeli government, which will probably lobby the White House to reverse or soften the blacklist, people familiar with the matter said.


I bet you would be careful not to antagonise NSO’s management. They’d probably drop Pegasus on your phone in an eyeblink and your personal life would be all over the internet within hours.
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Has Google dropped the Pixel Fold? • Display Supply Chain Consultants

Ross Young:


DSCC has confirmed with its supply chain sources that Google has decided not to bring the Pixel Fold to market. Not in 2021 and reportedly not in the first half of 2022. Our sources indicated that Google believed the product wouldn’t be as competitive as it needed to be. They likely figured that competing against Samsung in the US and Europe in a small niche market facing higher costs than their primary competitor, would stack the odds against this project. I point out regional differences as in China, where Samsung is not as strong, we do expect to see many competing products with similar form factors from Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, Huawei and Honor.

In terms of hardware, the Pixel Fold was expected to be the same size as the Galaxy Z Fold 3 with LTPO and variable refresh up to 120Hz. Unlike the Z Fold 3, it was not expected to have color on encapsulation nor an under panel camera. In addition, there were rumors that the cameras were not going to be state-of-the-art. According to, the Pixel Fold cameras were expected to be a step down from the recently released Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.


I like how the headline is unsure but the story is certain. Take your pick of Fold certainty. I didn’t think it sounded like a smart idea, given how tiny the market is, how terrible Microsoft’s effort has been, and how small Google’s smartphone efforts (drops in a bucket) are.
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How will Facebook keep its metaverse safe for users? • Financial Times

Hannah Murphy:


The man leading Facebook’s push into the metaverse has told employees he wants its virtual worlds to have “almost Disney levels of safety”, but also acknowledged that moderating how users speak and behave “at any meaningful scale is practically impossible”.

Andrew Bosworth, who has been steering a $10 billion-a-year budget to build “the metaverse”, warned that virtual reality can often be a “toxic environment” especially for women and minorities, in an internal memo from March seen by the Financial Times.

He added that this would be an “existential threat” to Facebook’s ambitious plans if it turned off “mainstream customers from the medium entirely”.

The memo sets out the enormous challenge facing Facebook, which has a history of failing to stop harmful content from reaching its users, as it tries to create an immersive digital realm where people will log on as 3D avatars to socialise, game, shop and work.

Bosworth, who will take over as Facebook’s chief technology officer next year, sketched out ways in which the company can try to tackle the issue, but experts warned that monitoring billions of interactions in real time will require significant effort and may not even be possible. Reality Labs, the division headed by Bosworth, currently has no head of safety role.


I’m presently more persuaded by the view of Ben Thompson (of Stratechery) that the “metaverse”, or more likely metaverses, will principally be corporate, certainly in their first incarnations – like the first commercial PCs. They’ll be relatively bulky, and clunky, and bring benefits for narrow applications, rather than being all-purpose. (Thompson discusses this at length with John Gruber on the latest episode of Gruber’s Talk Show.)

Given that, the need for moderation essentially doesn’t exist, because you’ll have the heavy breath of HR on your neck, with everything you do and say recorded and replayable.
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Speaking of Facebook, you could consider:
• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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

The devious fossil fuel propaganda we all use • Mashable

Mark Kaufman:


Another heralded environmental advertising campaign, launched three decades later in 2000, also won a laudatory advertising award, a “Gold Effie.” The campaign impressed upon the American public that a different type of pollution, heat-trapping carbon pollution, is also your problem, not the problem of companies drilling deep into the Earth for, and then selling, carbonaceous fuels refined from ancient, decomposed creatures. British Petroleum, the second largest non-state owned oil company in the world, with 18,700 gas and service stations worldwide, hired the public relations professionals Ogilvy & Mather to promote the slant that climate change is not the fault of an oil giant, but that of individuals.

It’s here that British Petroleum, or BP, first promoted and soon successfully popularized the term “carbon footprint” in the early aughts. The company unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life — going to work, buying food, and (gasp) traveling — is largely responsible for heating the globe. A decade and a half later, “carbon footprint” is everywhere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a carbon calculator. The New York Times has a guide on “How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Mashable published a story in 2019 entitled “How to shrink your carbon footprint when you travel.” Outdoorsy brands love the term.

“This is one of the most successful, deceptive PR campaigns maybe ever,” said Benjamin Franta, who researches law and history of science as a J.D.-Ph.D. student at Stanford Law School.


The best manipulation is the sort you’re not even aware you’re agreeing with.
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‘I sniffed out good news like a bloodhound’: how I broke my doomscrolling habit • The Guardian

Pandora Sykes:


George Resch loves two things in this world: “Making people think a little bit more positively, and making them laugh.” A former fence salesman from Long Island, New York, Resch is now the creator of the wildly popular (2.5 million followers) positive news outlet Tank’s Good News, set up in September 2017 after he saw a picture of an old woman being rescued from her living room in Texas during the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. Inspired by the image’s portrayal of “triumph in the tragedy” – she was on the back of a jet ski doing a double thumbs up – Resch, 41, began posting similar images: a young woman food shopping for an elderly couple too scared to get out of their car during peak pandemic in Oregon, or the homecoming queen who gave her crown to a recently bereaved classmate. Resch believes the appeal of his posts is simple: “It’s a hit of dopamine when you’re scrolling through doom and gloom.” Every day, he is inundated with messages from people saying he has saved their life.

…Speaking to friends, I realise that many of them are looking for, if not an escape, then a breather. They have secret joy rituals. Emily begins her day with videos of orcas, finding calm in their expansive inky blackness. Rosie watches videos of nuns on TikTok. Mary, a lawyer, and Andrew, a yoga instructor, have set up a side project called Hello Stranger, where they leave stamped blank postcards with Mary’s address written on them, around London, with a small note at the top asking people to share some happy news. To date, they have left 500 postcards and received 300 back. For those of us who feel anxious when anything is left unresolved, simple acts of routine, or completion, can be a vital salve. A woman goes shopping. An orca crashes its tail. A room of nuns hole-punch a sheet of unleavened bread with military efficiency, to create perfectly rounded communion wafers, over and over again.

The term “doomscrolling” was coined in a tweet in 2018, but popularised by business journalist Karen Ho in spring 2020, after she noticed how many people were hunched over their screens consuming excessive amounts of negative news, with faces like Munch’s Scream. Ho started by simply asking her followers every night on Twitter: “‘Hey, are you doomscrolling?’ and people were like, ‘Ohhhh, that’s what I’m doing!’” In response, she issued simple, daily self-care reminders – take a break from the screen, stop slouching, stretch your legs, grab a glass of water – and in autumn of last year, created @doomscroll_bot on Twitter to send regular reminders.


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Ex-security chief: we have privatised our cyber security. The winners are the hackers • Prospect Magazine

Ciaran Martin founded and led the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre:


When the Queen opened the new National Cyber Security Centre in 2017, a senior government minister confided to me, at the margins of the festivities, their concern that the launch of this new department in GCHQ to fight digital threats represented “the nationalisation of cyber security.” But the opposite problem is emerging: we are privatising national security risk.

The US fuel crisis is a case in point. When Colonial Pipeline was hit, it wasn’t the pipeline controls that were hacked but the company’s corporate systems. It was the company, not the hackers, who shut down the pipeline, apparently because it could not run its services profitably because of the damage done to its business processes.

This was a decision that the company was perfectly entitled to take. But while it did not consult the US government beforehand, it fell to the US government to deal with the fallout. Washington had to suspend safety regulations concerning the transport of fuel by road and issue guidance to citizens to prevent panic buying and the storing of fuel in unsafe containers. It then sent the FBI after the hackers. Yet it had no involvement in any of the decisions that made such actions necessary; those were taken by the firm’s executives.

Colonial, it should be said, broke no rules. And that’s the point. Insufficient protection of its pipeline—a critical national asset—caused social disruption that clearly met the threshold of a national security threat. But there is nothing—yet—in the regulations governing this critical sector that requires firms to do better (and Republicans in Washington are starting to push back against suggestions for tighter controls). The unspoken message behind the Colonial case is that businesses can choose how to respond, whatever the consequences, and the government will pick up the tab.

The real lesson of 2021 is that digital vulnerabilities in a range of private and public organisations can be exploited to cause significant disruption and, potentially, serious social harm. That lesson will not be lost on authoritarian states that have better cyber capabilities than a few greedy Russian thugs. This year has revealed, among other things, that you can cause energy chaos in parts of America and a healthcare crisis in an EU member state with a few lines of malicious code of medium sophistication.


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Emails reveal new details of Trump White House interference in CDC Covid planning • POLITICO

Erin Banco:


The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has conducted interviews over the last several months about how former President Donald Trump and his closest confidantes, including former White House adviser Scott Atlas and son-in-law Jared Kushner, tried to steer the course of the federal response, sidestepping the interagency process.

On Friday, the committee released emails and transcripts with former senior CDC officials about the White House’s attempts to sideline the agency at critical moments at the beginning of the U.S. outbreak.
The emails and transcripts detail how in the early days of 2020 Trump and his allies in the White House blocked media briefings and interviews with CDC officials, attempted to alter public safety guidance normally cleared by the agency and instructed agency officials to destroy evidence that might be construed as political interference.

The documents further underscore how Trump appointees tried to undermine the work of scientists and career staff at the CDC to control the administration’s messaging on the spread of the virus and the dangers of transmission and infection.


This is worth noting because of the breadth and depth of the interference revealed. Deborah Birx was frequently denigrated for allowing herself to be pushed around by Trump and his team. She clearly knew that was happening – yet judged it would be worse for everyone if she left than if she stayed. That in itself tells you that the things she foresaw happening without her were really, really terrible.

America still hasn’t come to terms with the extent to which Trump and his team ran a mafia operation.
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US 3G service is set to end in 2022, rendering useless old cellphones, life alerts and early model Kindles • The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski:


The wireless networks that underpin an assortment of devices, including life-alert alarms, older cellphones and tablets, are about to shut down, an action that consumer advocates say will leave some of society’s most vulnerable people without critical communications tools.

When they were rolled out nearly two decades ago, 3G wireless networks served as the bedrock of an explosion in cellphones and connected devices. Many devices have moved to 4G networks and newer phones are now moving onto 5G.

But a motley assortment still relies on the more rudimentary 3G service — ranging from location sensors that track school buses to connected breathalyzers police use to monitor convicted drunk drivers — and consumer advocates are urging the Federal Communications Commission to slow the change, which is set to start in February.

Older and low-income Americans are more likely to be affected by the shift, these advocates say. If they don’t upgrade in time, their phones and life-alert devices won’t be able to call 911 or other emergency services, government regulators warn.


Amazing to think that 3G is 20-year-old infrastructure now. (In the US, it’s nearly old enough to drink.) The first 4G phones began appearing in 2010, but as the article points out, it’s the relatively low-bandwidth products that still count as ongoing infrastructure which really need 3G. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1680: FBI site used for email spoofing, find that dog 2021-style, Ukraine goes crypto, newsletter overload, and more

A close examination of James Bond’s travel behaviour suggests he’s really not careful enough about hygiene. That could be life-shortening. 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 11 links for you. Not being phased down. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hoax email blast abused poor coding in FBI website • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed today that its domain name and Internet address were used to blast out thousands of fake emails about a cybercrime investigation. According to an interview with the person who claimed responsibility for the hoax, the spam messages were sent by abusing insecure code in an FBI online portal designed to share information with state and local law enforcement authorities.

Late in the evening on Nov. 12 ET, tens of thousands of emails began flooding out from the FBI address, warning about fake cyberattacks. Around that time, KrebsOnSecurity received a message from the same email address.

“Hi its pompompurin,” read the missive. “Check headers of this email it’s actually coming from FBI server. I am contacting you today because we located a botnet being hosted on your forehead, please take immediate action thanks.”

A review of the email’s message headers indicated it had indeed been sent by the FBI, and from the agency’s own Internet address. The domain in the “from:” portion of the email I received — — corresponds to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division (CJIS).

…In response to a request for comment, the FBI confirmed the unauthorized messages, but declined to offer further information.

…“I could’ve 1000% used this to send more legit looking emails, trick companies into handing over data etc.,” Pompompurin said. “And this would’ve never been found by anyone who would responsibly disclose, due to the notice the feds have on their website.”

Pompompurin says the illicit access to the FBI’s email system began with an exploration of its Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP), which the bureau describes as “a gateway providing law enforcement agencies, intelligence groups, and criminal justice entities access to beneficial resources.”


Question now is whether the FBI will go after him for demonstrating that the site was terribly flawed, with a one-time password provided in the HTML of the page and a form you could edit – an utterly amateurish error.
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Cabbage, lost and found • Rory’s Always On Newsletter

Rory Cellan-Jones got a message on Friday that Cabbage, his family’s beloved (and ageing, like us all) rescue collie had gone missing with five other dogs when the dogwalker’s van they were in was stolen:


By now it was late afternoon and my wife Diane and I were feeling pretty gloomy, desperately worried about what was happening to Cabbage in the hands of malevolent strangers. If they were dog thieves rather than just opportunists grabbing a relatively modern van they would quickly realise that a 15 year old crossbreed was worth nothing to them – and what would they do then?

Then there was at last something which seemed to offer hope. The press office at Ford UK called me to explain that they needed to be put in touch with Brett. They explained that his Transit Van, like all. recent Fords, had a feature which allowed owners to track their vehicles via a smartphone app.

It turned out that Brett had once had this app but had forgotten his password. But he got a new one and quickly found that he was being given a location for the van – or at least where it had been at 1020 in the morning.

It was in Park Royal, one of London’s few industrial areas and pretty close to where the van had been stolen. Just as I was about to talk to Radio 4’s PM and then go on the ITV London regional news programme I got a text from India telling me they were heading to the place pinpointed by the app and were just ten minutes away.

“Be careful”, I texted back. I realised I could be on air just as they found the dogs – or came face to face with whoever had stolen the van.


Together with his tweets and the use of the app, this was a Very Modern Dog Recovery. (I suspect Cabbage just found the day perplexing: not a proper walk, but among dog friends, but not in quite the usual place. It’s the humans who had an absolutely appalling time.)
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Ukraine wants to be the crypto capital of the world • The New York Times

David Segal and Ivan Nechepurenko:


A buccaneering 37-year-old educated in a British private school, Michael Chobanian is fluent both in English and the folkways of Ukraine, which he regards as a largely lawless frontier and which he likes to traverse in his black Ferrari 612. He is the founder of Kuna, one of Eastern Europe’s first cryptocurrency exchanges. To him, his native country is a terrific place to run a business, as long as you have the nerve to navigate a system rife with corruption.

Chief among the upsides, he explains in his office overlooking the Dnieper River, is the sort of freedom not seen in developed nations for hundreds of years.

Like, you can get away with murder.

“In this country, you can kill a person and you will not go to jail, if you have enough money and you’re connected,” he said, sipping tea on a plush leather sofa. “If you are not connected, it will cost you more.”

The anything-goes ethos has dogged Ukraine for years, and now the government is hoping to bury it, with an assist from cryptocurrency. In early September, the Parliament here passed a law legalizing and regulating Bitcoin, step one in an ambitious campaign to both mainstream the nation’s thriving trade in crypto and to rebrand the entire country.


How will legalising crypto bury its reputation for anything-goes? In passing: Ukraine is described in the article as the second-poorest nation in Europe. World Atlas puts it at the lowest in 2019. So does World Population Review using 2020 figures.
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The US is making its biggest investment in broadband internet ever • Popular Science

Shira Feder:


The government has allocated $42.4bn towards a Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program, which is just what it sounds like, says [director of infrastrcture policy at the Center for American Progress, Kevin] DeGood. In areas without internet service, or with spotty, intermittent service, there will be an auction in which private companies can bid on how much money they would need in order to build out real broadband internet access. 

The Pew Research Center consistently finds that affordability is a huge barrier to broadband adoption in the United States. A program called the Affordable Connectivity Fund seeks to address this, allocating $14.2bn to provide a $30 monthly subsidy to bring down the cost of monthly internet access charges for households that are at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. [That is, households whose income is less than double the poverty line level.] This program is a continuation of the $3.2bn Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, or EBBP, started during the pandemic to help low-income Americans get online.

Two billion dollars will go towards making sure indigenous communities have access to the internet, and $2.75 billion will go towards “digital equity plans,” like computer labs for your local library.

…One of the provisions in the bill is to give the government more authority to demand better data from these private network providers. Unlike road maps, where experts can look at a map and see where there is or isn’t a road, with the internet, experts can examine a map and see that fiber optic cable has been laid down, but not know who is accessing that cable.

Our estimate is “based on guesses as to whether or not people are being served based on fiber maps and other wireline technology,” says DeGood. Just because a line might pass by someone’s property doesn’t mean they automatically have internet access.


One thing I bet it isn’t going to fix is the monopolistic practices that leave no effective rivalry for services in any given location.
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China CPI and PPI: the world’s second largest economy has a big inflation problem • CNN

Laura He:


Last week, China’s Ministry of Commerce issued a notice directing local governments to encourage families to stock up on food and other daily essentials as bad weather, energy shortages and Covid-19 restrictions threatened to disrupt supplies. The sudden warning sparked panic buying among the public and frenzied online speculation.

Authorities attributed the rise in consumer inflation to surging costs for vegetables and gas.

Vegetable prices jumped 16% in October, mainly due to heavy rainfall and rising transportation costs, according to a statement from Dong Lijuan, a senior statistician for the NBS. Extreme weather has hurt crops, and authorities have acknowledged that the cost of transiting across regions could rise because of strict measures intended to contain outbreaks of Covid-19.

Gasoline and diesel prices rose more than 30%, Dong said. An ongoing energy crunch was also the major contributor to the rise in producer price inflation, as the cost of coal mining and processing has risen.

The world’s second largest economy is already growing at the slowest pace in a year as the energy woes, shipping disruptions and a deepening property crisis take their toll.

Rising inflation in the country is also triggering global concerns. The soaring producer inflation is “fueling upward pressure on global inflation,” considering China’s role as the world’s factory and its importance to the global supply chain, according to Ken Cheung, chief Asian foreign exchange strategist for Mizuho Bank.


Wonder if rising energy prices favours renewables, which have essentially no ongoing costs apart from maintenance – there’s no fuel required for solar panels or wind turbines or wave systems. But the delay from demand to installation is inevitably long (though it’s a lot quicker to install a solar farm or a wind turbine – now up to 15MW for a single tower! – than a CCGT plant.)
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International travel has reopened: here’s why you shouldn’t go right now • Frequent Business Traveler

Jonathan Spira:


The reopening of international borders has given rise to family reunions and the activation of long-dormant travel plans to Europe but such trips come with a fairly large caveat: “Avoid travel” recommendations from Austria to the former Yugoslavia are now in place.

“Because of the current situation,” the CDC writes on its travel-advisory website, “even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants.”

The situation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is referring to is both dire and real: Europe is in the early stages of another major surge.

This raises the question as to whether the situation is as bad as the numbers from the World Health Organization suggest or is the CDC being a bit alarmist.

As outlined below, the numbers show that the  situation is, in fact “dire,” as noted by Landeshauptmann Thomas Stelzer of Oberösterreich, or Upper Austria.

Unlike the surge in March, when vaccination programs were still getting underway in some countries, there is no singular explanation this time around.  Countries in Central and Eastern Europe, many which were behind the Iron Curtain, a low vaccination rate is the likely cause.  Indeed, Bulgaria, Russia, and Slovenia have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the developed world.


It’s coming to something when Frequent Business Travel(l)er is telling you not to travel.
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No time to die: an in-depth analysis of James Bond’s exposure to infectious agents • ScienceDirect

Graumans, Stone and Bousema (in the Netherlands and UK):


Global travelers, whether tourists or secret agents, are exposed to a smörgåsbord of infectious agents. We hypothesized that agents pre-occupied with espionage and counterterrorism may, at their peril, fail to correctly prioritize travel medicine. To examine our hypothesis, we examined adherence to international travel advice during the 86 international journeys that James Bond was observed to undertake in feature films spanning 1962–2021.

Scrutinizing these missions involved ∼3113 min of evening hours per author that could easily have been spent on more pressing societal issues. We uncovered above-average sexual activity, often without sufficient time for an exchange of sexual history, with a remarkably high mortality among Bond’s sexual partners (27.1; 95% confidence interval 16.4–40.3). Given how inopportune a bout of diarrhea would be in the midst of world-saving action, it is striking that Bond is seen washing his hands on only two occasions, despite numerous exposures to foodborne pathogens. We hypothesize that his foolhardy courage, sometimes purposefully eliciting life-threatening situations, might even be a consequence of Toxoplasmosis.


“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to wash your hands!”

Also worth pointing out that he’s exposed to lots of other pathogens (well, poisons) via enemies, including digitalis in Casino Royale and something undisclosed in You Only Live Twice (which kills his bedmate instead). And surely it would be Blofeld who’d be at risk of toxoplasmosis? (Thanks G for the link.)
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A good newsletter exit strategy is hard to find • Vanity Fair

Delia Cai:


or anyone looking to get out of the game without an Atlantic–sized landing pad—or who hasn’t quite budgeted for the possibility of issuing subscription refunds—the cost of quitting might well be prohibitive. Casey Lewis, who writes the youth culture newsletter “After School,” told me she once looked into putting her paid newsletter on hold during a bout of freelance busyness and calculated the potential amount she’d refund. “You’re talking about $5,000 to $7,000, and you’re talking about writers who are living paycheck to paycheck,” she told me. “I ended up talking myself off that cliff.”

…In my view—both meta and biased as it will be for a former Substack poster child who never actually dabbled in matters of paid subscription herself—the cleanest newsletter exit by far is the one executed by Nick Quah, who sold his podcast trade newsletter “Hot Pod” to The Verge this summer and joined the Vox Mediaverse himself as Vulture’s podcast critic. (Disclosure: Warzel, Quah, and I were part of the Sidechannel newsletter Discord together.) Quah got the best of both worlds: the big full-time media job and the ability to see his newsletter brand live on—without any of the messy business of having to issue prorated refunds, as Warzel did, because The Verge simply took the “Hot Pod” subscription over (they did not have an existing paid product to merge it with).

When I called Quah up to ask how, exactly, he figured out how to get off the newsletter ride, Quah laughed and told me, “it’s harder to stay on.” Early this year, he’d been writing “Hot Pod” for almost seven years and felt incredibly burned out.


Speaking as a journalist who was each day having to write rather more than just a daily newsletter (The Overspill’s Start Up predecessor Boot Up, at The Guardian, was one of just multiple things I was writing each day), I do understand how one can get burnt out by the relentless demand for moarcontentcontentcontent. There’s an inevitable cyclicality to this: people move away from “jobs” to be independent, then move back. It helps having an organisation behind you – as Charlie Warzel’s move away from the New York Times to Substack and now on board The Atlantic, mentioned in this piece, shows.
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Fifty per cent of Facebook Messenger’s total voice traffic comes from Cambodia. Here’s why • Rest of World

Vittoria Elliott and Bopha Phorn:


In 2018, the team at Facebook had a puzzle on their hands. Cambodian users accounted for nearly 50% of all global traffic for Messenger’s voice function, but no one at the company knew why, according to documents released by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

One employee suggested running a survey, according to internal documents viewed by Rest of World. Did it have to do with low literacy levels? they wondered. In 2020, a Facebook study attempted to ask users in countries with high audio use, but was only able to find a single Cambodian respondent, the same documents showed. The mystery, it seemed, stayed unsolved.

The answer, surprisingly, has less to do with Facebook, and more to do with the complexity of the Khmer language, and the way users adapt for a technology that was never designed with them in mind.

In Cambodia, everyone from tuk-tuk drivers to Prime Minister Hun Sen prefers to send voice notes instead of messages. Facebook’s study revealed that it wasn’t just Cambodians who favor voice messages — though nowhere else was it more popular. In the study, which included 30 users from the Dominican Republic, Senegal, Benin, Ivory Coast, and that single Cambodian, 87% of respondents said that they used voice tools to send notes in a different language from the one set on their apps. This was true on WhatsApp — the most popular platform among the survey respondents — along with Messenger and Telegram. 

One of the most common reasons? Typing was just too hard.

In Cambodia’s case, there has never been an easy way to type in Khmer. While Khmer Unicode was standardized fairly early, between 2006 and 2008, the keyboard itself lagged behind. The developers of the first Khmer computer keyboard had to accommodate the language’s 74 characters, the most of any script in the world.


This is also common in India, where illiteracy rates have long meant that people used Google (and YouTube) voice search rather than typing. It’s an idea that frequently astonishes people in San Francisco.
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Want to understand more about Facebook (and other social networks’) role in developing countries? Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Apple silicon roadmap reveals plans for Mac Pro, MacBook Air • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:


Apple has already finalised the second generation of Mac processors, and the third generation is expected to be made with a new 3-nanometer process, according to a report in The Information citing people with direct knowledge of the plans.

The report says that the second-generation chips will use an “upgraded version” of the 5-nanometer process used for the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max found in recent Apple Silicon Macs. But unlike those first-generation chips, some of the second-generation chips will have two dies instead of one, allowing for more processor cores.

A second-generation chip with just one die will be included in the long-rumored, redesigned MacBook Air as well as in iPads. That chip is code-named Staten. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro will feature more powerful second-generation chips code-named Rhodes. The second-generation chips have already been finalized and are ready to enter trial production, according to The Information’s sources.

But the sources also say we haven’t seen the end of the first generation. The next Mac Pro’s processor would be part of the generation that began with the M1. Code-named Jade, it will be based on the high-end MacBook Pro’s M1 Max, but it will have two dies instead of one.


It’s hardly unexpected that Apple has finalised the design; the surprise would be if it hadn’t.

The revised Mac Pro will be a beast, though it’s still an open question whether it will allow external GPUs.

Separately, we used to await updates to Macs based on Intel’s, and before that IBM/PowerPC’s (quite public) chip cycles. For the first time in more than 30 years we have zero visibility, apart from these reports, about where we are in Apple’s chip update cycle.
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Apple’s new Digital Legacy feature lets you choose who gets your iCloud data • The Verge

Jennifer Pattison Tuohy:


Apple is solving a complicated problem with its latest iOS update: right of survivorship. Until now, when a loved one or family member dies, there was no easy way to access their iCloud account and absolutely no way of unlocking their phone without knowing their passcode. According to the iCloud terms of service, the deceased person’s data goes with them even with a death certificate.

With the new Digital Legacy program, first announced at WWDC earlier this year and arriving in iOS 15.2, you can designate up to five people as Legacy Contacts. These individuals can then access your data and personal information stored in iCloud when you die, such as photos, documents, and even purchases.

To activate Digital Legacy, Apple still requires proof of death and an access key. Still, it’s a much more simplified process than before, which could require a court order confirming a right to inheritance, and even then, there was no guarantee you would get access to the data.

This has been a complicated situation for Apple, which has long touted its core principles of protecting users’ privacy. Grieving parents and spouses railing against the company for not giving them access to their spouses’ photos isn’t a good look. But neither is doling out people’s data willy-nilly.

Both Google and Facebook have systems in place for designating account access to other people, and it’s good to see Apple catching up here.


The next problem they’ll have to grapple with (right?) is what happens if the person who died was the administrator of the Family account which gave everyone their Apple Music, Apple TV+, shared iCloud storage, etc? Can that be transferred?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified