Start Up: South Africa’s fake news, India blocks Wayback Machine, BlackBerry smartglasses?, Kalanick sued, and more


Typical commutes are about half an hour. What changes if transport speeds up? Photo by Ennev on Flickr

The Overspill is going on its summer (northern hemisphere) break. Daily posting will resume on August 30th, if we’re all spared.

A selection of 11 links for you. Hoard them. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Google Analytics codes unearthed a network of South African fake news sites • bellingcat

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Last month, a group of South African journalists used this method to uncover a series of websites linked to a company in India and the billionaire Gupta family, who have been accused of running disinformation campaigns against South African news organizations for critical coverage of the Gupta family’s business operations. Summaries of this investigation carried out by a group of South African journalists, including from News24, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, and the Daily Maverick‘s Scorpio investigative unit, can be found here and here.

The investigators found connections through WhoIs records, Google Analytics IDs, and AdSense IDs for ten websites, most of which directly target the veracity of the so-called Gupta Leaks and promoting the narrative of “white monopoly capital” (WMC). These sites, as listed by The South African, are: wmcleaks.com, wmcscams.com, dodgysaministers.com, wmc-scams.com, whitemonopolyafrica.com, whitemonopoly.com, fakeguptaleaks.com, publicopinion.co.za, southafricabuzz.co.za and whitemonopolycapital.com.

These sites put on the appearance of being grassroots South African news and investigative outlets, but are all apparently created by “CNET Infosystem,” a web design company based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India and ran by a man named Kapil Garg.

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Political discourse is so susceptible to this sort of tactic. Fortunately, tracking it is still possible thanks to the need to be public about certain information.
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Internet Archive blocked in India • MediaNama

Nikhil Pahwa:

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In what is an inexplicable instance of censorship, India appears to have blocked access to the Internet Archive (also known as the Internet Wayback Machine). The block seems to be new, and is currently propagating. We checked, and on visiting web.archive.org via Airtel (Delhi, mobile) and MTNL (Delhi, wireline) connections, we’re getting the following boilerplate blocking message:

“Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.”

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The block seems to be about the UIDAI – the official Indian website for the organisation mandated to provide a 12-digit unique identifier for every Indian citizen. But quite why isn’t yet clear – though problems such as leaking of those identifiers via the UIDAI site could be part of it.
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BlackBerry makes its first wearable play with AR smartglasses • Wareable

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As we await AR to hit the big time, it’s finding its feet nicely in enterprise. Vuzix is one of the biggest names in this space right now, and it’s just found an ally… in BlackBerry.

The once-heavyweight of the smartphone world is in a new era where it’s licensing its software rather than developing in-house, and smartglasses are next on the agenda.

Vuzix, which has a lot of pedigree in the smart glasses space will be providing the hardware – the Vuzix M300 – while BlackBerry will be providing its UEM software to keep all the data secure.

Unless you’re in an industry where you might be donning one of these bad boys, this probably won’t matter to you. But it’s interesting to see BlackBerry finally edging into the wearable space.

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BlackBerry spent a billion dollars on BB10, and probably half that much on its abortive entry into the tablet market, for almost zero return. One has to hope for its sake that it’s not staking too much on this.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 to feature force touch • The Korea Investor

Lee Ji-yoon:

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Samsung Electronics’ upcoming Galaxy Note 8 has adopted force touch that allows the phone to read the amount of pressure applied to the screen, ET News reported on Aug. 9.

The bigger-screen Note phone will be unveiled on Aug. 23 in New York before its official Korean launch on Sept. 15. 

The force touch, also called 3-D touch, will use the same solution adopted for the current Galaxy S8 to replace all the functionality of a home button and open a hidden menu with shortcuts to different features.

The S8 has removed a physical home button to have a larger display screen, while a fingerprint scanner is relocated to the back of the device. The Note 8 is also expected to feature the “full-screen display” that covers almost the entire front body of the phone.

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So it’s taken two years to adopt this from Apple?
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Apple refuses to enable iPhone emergency settings that could save countless lives • The Next Web

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The majority of emergency calls today are made from cellphones, which has made location pinging increasingly more important for emergency services. There are many emergency apps and features in development, but the strength of Advanced Mobile Location (AML) is that it doesn’t require anything from the user — no downloads and no forethought; the process is completely automated.

With AML, smartphones running supporting operating systems will recognize when emergency calls are being made and turn on GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and Wi-Fi. The phone then automatically sends an SMS to emergency services, detailing the location of the caller. AML is up to 4,000 times more accurate than the current systems — pinpointing phones down from an entire city to a room in an apartment.

“In the past months, EENA has been travelling around Europe to raise awareness of AML in as many countries as possible. All these meetings brought up a recurring question that EENA had to reply to: ‘So, what about Apple?’” reads EENA’s statement.

If Apple would follow Google’s lead and activate the necessary features for AML, millions of people would be safer. However, Apple hasn’t shown any interest in doing so, according to EENA’s statement:

“For months, EENA has tried to establish contact with Apple to work on a solution that automatically provides accurate location derived from iPhones to emergency services and rescuers. Unfortunately, with no result.”

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The risks of Facebook’s video pivot • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

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Facebook’s strategy here is fairly transparent: as consumption of content on Facebook has shifted from text to images to video, the content consumed has gone from being hosted on Facebook to being hosted elsewhere, notably YouTube. That, in turn, has meant that any ad revenue generated directly from the viewing of those videos has gone into Google’s coffers rather than Facebook’s. As such, it wants to shift that viewing and the associated ad revenue from YouTube to its own platform, much as its Instant Articles initiative has done that for news articles. In the process, it clearly hopes to increase time spent on content hosted on Facebook servers, and generate the higher CPMs that video ads command. That’s the theory.

However, there are a number of risks associated with this strategy, at least some of which stem from the decision to autoplay videos in the News Feed with the sound off. That, in turn, meant that ads could never run before videos as they do on YouTube, and mid-roll advertising was therefore the only viable option to monetize video on the platform. We’ve seen a push in that direction over recent months, and it’s the anecdotal evidence I’m seeing from that push that has me worried here. The chart below illustrates both the theory and the risks associated with this new video pivot:

The theory from the Facebook side is that total time spent will go up, and that the ads people see while watching video will generate higher CPMs. The risks are as follows:

• The time people do spend will shift from the News Feed to the Watch tab
• The nature of ads they will see will go from being native and non-interruptive to being non-native and extremely interruptive
• Facebook will go from ad formats where it keeps essentially all the revenue to models where it has to pass along much of the revenue to content owners and therefore generate lower margins, as Mark Zuckerberg confirmed on the company’s recent earnings call.

All told, there’s a significant risk here that instead of people spending more time on Facebook, people try spending some time in the new Watch tab, which Facebook will no doubt promote heavily as it has with the Marketplace and other recently added tabs, and then be put off by the mid-roll ads which will run in the videos they see there.

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With a quiz to comment, readers test their article comprehension • NRK Beta

Ståle Grut on the six months since the news site’s decision to make commenters take a quiz before being able to comment on stories:

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On average, there is a lot more attempts – both correct and wrong – than actual comments.

It seems many take the quiz to check how much they remember from the story – and not necessarily to leave a comment. Almost as a fun little game after reading.


Comments, correct and wrong answers to 14 quizzes Illustration: NRKbeta

A story that stand out is our explainer on how to like Facebook statuses with a rainbow in connection to pride. There were over a thousand wrong attempts to answer the quiz. Due to a human error, the right answer to one of the questions was not indicated. It made it impossible to pass the quiz. Hence the many logged wrong attempts.

On average, there is a staggering error rate of 72% on the quiz. We also suspect a lot of wrong answers coming from visitors of faraway lands. Most would have a hard time breaking our encryption made of solid Norwegian language.

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Scoop: Benchmark Capital sues Travis Kalanick for fraud • Axios

Dan Primack:

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Key paragraph, per the suit: “Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, to entrench himself on Uber’s Board of Directors and increase his power over Uber for his own selfish ends. Kalanick’s overarching objective is to pack Uber’s Board with loyal allies in an effort to insulate his prior conduct from scrutiny and clear the path for his eventual return as CEO—all to the detriment of Uber’s stockholders, employees, driver-partners, and customers.”

Why it matters: If Benchmark’s suit is successful, Kalanick would be kicked off Uber’s board of directors — thus eliminating any faint hopes of him returning to the company in a substantial role.

What to know: Benchmark was an early investor in Uber, and has a seat on its board of directors. It also helped spearhead the move to have Kalanick resign in June, and tensions between the two have contributed, in part, to the slow pace of finding a replacement. Oh, and venture capital firms don’t usually sue fellow board members of their single most valuable investment.

The suit revolves around the June 2016 decision to expand the size of Uber’s board of voting directors from eight to 11, with Kalanick having the sole right to designate those seats. Kalanick would later name himself to one of those seats following his resignation, since his prior board seat was reserved for the company’s CEO. The other two seats remain unfilled. Benchmark argues that it never would have granted Kalanick those three extra seats had it known about his “gross mismanagement and other misconduct at Uber”.

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Wow.

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New Fitbit smartwatch pictures reveal heart rate shake-up • Wareable

Hugh Langley:

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There are three base colour variants of the watch: silver case with navy strap, rose gold case with blue strap, and a darker case with a black strap. The pictures reveal it will also have the same button configuration as the Fitbit Blaze – two on the right side, one on the left – and like on the Blaze the back of the watch protrudes, presumably to get a better lock on that optical heart rate sensor.

More interesting though is the sensor itself. Fitbit has, like many other wearable companies, traditionally used green optical sensors for tracking heart rate, but these new images reveal two red lights. If it’s also using infra-red, which that bottom blue optical could be, it suggests Fitbit’s smartwatch may have a pulse oximeter for measuring oxygen levels in the blood. It could also use red light technology to get a more accurate read on heart rate, heart rate variability, or other physiological parameters that green PPGs struggle with.

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It’s not beautiful, but those are renders, probably from internal work, rather than the object. Wareable says “a lot is resting on Fitbit delivering with its apps – something it was rumoured to be struggling with”, but I’d question exactly how many apps a smartwatch needs.
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Why even the Hyperloop probably wouldn’t change your commute time • The New York Times

Emily Badger points out that most people commute for about 30 minutes to reach their work:

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The general law of the 30-minute commute is known as Marchetti’s constant, named for the Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti, a mentor to Mr. Ausubel. Mr. Marchetti picked up the work of Yacov Zahavi, a transportation engineer who theorized in the 1970s and ’80s that people have a fixed travel-time budget. We allocate part of our day to getting around. And that amount, about an hour, Mr. Zahavi argued, holds steady no matter where we live or how we travel.

Mr. Marchetti noted supporting historical clues: Ancient Rome, Persepolis and Marrakesh were about five kilometers across, or the maximum distance most people can travel in an hour on foot. He diagramed the growth of Berlin, which appeared to expand concentrically as transportation advances enlarged the land people could cover. He found it not coincidental that modern-day prisons still allow inmates one humane concession — the freedom to pace for an hour outdoors.

“From our anthropological point of view, humans are territorial animals,” said Mr. Ausubel, who wrote numerous papers with Mr. Marchetti on the topic. “So they seek to maximize range, which equates with resources. And those resources can be jobs or education, or fields for rice or wheat, or social life.”

We’re hard-wired to roam farther, they argue, when more speed allows us to. (By this same theory, delays in the New York subway disturb something deeply embedded in the human mind.)

Researchers today are not universally sold on Marchetti’s constant. Some developing-world cities have monstrous commutes. Alex Anas, an economist who has modeled the future growth of cities like Chicago, finds that commute times stay relatively stable even as population and developed land area grow. But that’s because the distribution of jobs and the behavior of workers shift in response to congestion, he says. It’s not because humans have some innate hour-long travel budget. “Economists don’t buy that,” Mr. Anas said.

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How long is your commute? (There’s also the UK Travel Time map – linked here before, but always valuable.
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Apple code reveals iPhone 8’s virtual Home button secrets • Cult of Mac

Killian Bell:

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All kinds of iPhone 8 details have been discovered in Apple’s HomePod firmware ahead of the handset’s official unveiling. We now know what the device will look like, and that it will boast features like facial recognition and tap to wake.

After further digging, developer Steve Troughton-Smith has uncovered more information about the iPhone 8’s virtual Home button. As expected, it will sit at the bottom of its edge-to-edge display in the same area as a physical Home button, but it will be customizable.

Apple’s code suggests that the button indicator will be resizable, and that we’ll have the option to hide it. There is no API that would allow developers to change its color to match the theme of their apps (yet), and apps won’t be able to extend into the Home button area.

Sadly, that means developers won’t be able to put toolbars, shortcuts, and other items in this area. Apple’s plans could change later, but for now, the space is reserved exclusively for the Home button when it isn’t hidden away, which means navigation buttons will remain at the top of the screen.

Fullscreen video will automatically hide the Home button indicator, but it’s not yet clear how videos will be adapted to the iPhone 8’s unique aspect ratio.

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“Apps won’t be able to extend into the Home button area” – except for video? Apple has always had the potential to have a virtual home button, but denying apps the ability to extend into it seems strange. If you’re going to have a bigger screen, use it. (A side note: what a ton of info there is in that firmware release. Absolutely colossal; probably even the Apple insiders who were going to test the HomePod didn’t know about many of the features coming up in the phone.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: In yesterday’s story about Facebook’s system for spotting rising stars in the app world, I missed the point that it owns and uses Onavo, a VPN app, to do this. (John Gruber digs into this.) Another reason to be wary of VPN apps – but how would one know about this sort of use?

Start Up: Facebook’s copy machine, Infowars supplements, live randomly!, Kochs help Techdirt, and more


The right place for a new Foxconn plant – but is the price right? Photo by tbfurman on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The new copycats: how Facebook squashes competition from startups • WSJ

Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman:

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In February 2016, Mr. Rubin and Ms. Sistani launched Houseparty and began to demo it on college campuses. In May 2016, it briefly became the top social-networking app for the iPhone, according to app-research firm Sensor Tower.

Houseparty downloads went from 10,000 to 100,000 in one day and then crashed, unable to handle the load. The app was down for several hours and then glitchy through July, when the team decided it needed a major overhaul.

When Houseparty was at its most vulnerable, Facebook came knocking. Fidji Simo, head of Facebook’s video efforts, contacted Mr. Rubin, according to people familiar with the contact. She wanted to talk about live video, the people say. It was the first sign Facebook was scrutinizing Houseparty.

Mr. Zuckerberg is sensitive to anything that might disrupt Facebook, even the teeniest startup, say current and former executives and employees.

Facebook uses an internal database to track rivals, including young startups performing unusually well, people familiar with the system say. The database stems from Facebook’s 2013 acquisition of a Tel Aviv-based startup, Onavo, which had built an app that secures users’ privacy by routing their traffic through private servers. The app gives Facebook an unusually detailed look at what users collectively do on their phones, these people say.

The tool shaped Facebook’s decision to buy WhatsApp and informed its live-video strategy, they say. Facebook used Onavo to build its early-bird tool that tips it off to promising services and that helped Facebook home in on Houseparty.

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Remember when it was all Apple and Microsoft accusing each other of copying features in their respective desktop operating systems, and doing the same to tiny companies (hence “Sherlocked“)? Nothing much different here.
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How to confirm a Google user’s specific email address (Bug Bounty Submission) • Tom Anthony

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I’ve previously written about identifying whether a user is logged in to a certain social network, and this attack is a variation of that method (albeit more serious, IMHO).

Google login pages often pass a continue parameter in the URL that is used to redirect a user to their intended destination after they complete login. However, if you are already logged in then you just get redirected immediately to the URL specified in the continue parameter.

This fact can be abused to craft a URL that will redirect users who are logged in to an image file, and challenge users who are not logged in with a login page. If you now use this URL as the src element in an img tag, you can use the Javascript onload and onerror functions to determine whether the image loaded correctly or not.

If the image loaded, then the user is logged in, and if it errored then the user is not logged in. This is an known issue but has limited capacity to cause any sort of problem.

However, Google succumbs to a far more dangerous variation where the attacker can also supply an additional parameter specifying an email address. The redirect then fires if the email matches, but otherwise not.

At this point an attacker can just dynamically create loads of image tags (no need to even add them to the page, you can do it without attaching them to the DOM) with onload attributes and wait for a match. In my tests I could check about 1000 emails every 23-24 seconds or so. If a user is on your site for a couple of minutes then you could check many thousands of possible emails.

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This is the demo page. It works. Reported to Google, but they say it’s “intended behaviour”. Still seems risky.
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We looked at Trump’s Twitter interactions for more than a year. A lot of them are suspicious • Media Matters

Nina Mast, Freedom Murphy and Natalie Martinez:

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President Donald Trump tweets … a lot. But along with his usual flurry of tweets attacking the media, lamenting fake news, or criticizing practically anyone who disagrees with him, Trump has another Twitter habit — quoting his supposed supporters’ tweets. A look at over a year of Trump’s retweets, quote tweets, and tweets in which he quoted another Twitter handle has left a lot of questions.

Using the Trump Twitter Archive, Media Matters audited the president’s Twitter handle, @RealDonaldTrump, between April 1, 2016, and July 31, 2017, focusing on retweets, quote tweets, and tweets where @RealDonaldTrump quoted another Twitter handle. We used that list to identify unverified accounts that he quoted or retweeted, which we then checked for the original tweet and suspicious or bot-like activity. If an account seemed suspicious (for example, it posted an unrealistic number of tweets or exclusively pro-Trump messages), we examined its tweeting habits during the weekend of the second presidential debate (October 6 to 10, 2016). Finally, if an account seemed like a bot, we reviewed its tweeting habits between August 2015 and January 2016.

Factors used to identify suspicious behavior included the date the handle was created; the number of tweets sent; the general frequency of tweets and use of hashtags and images; the content and frequency of tweets the weekend of the second debate; and what the account tweeted before the October 2015 primary season.

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There is, certainly, something a bit odd about this. People are making money out of those retweets and quoted tweets. How are they chosen, though? That seems like the next stage. As I keep saying.
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We sent Alex Jones’ Infowars supplements to a lab. Here’s what’s in them • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:

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Alex Jones’ wildly popular suite of Infowars supplements probably won’t kill you, but extensive tests provided to BuzzFeed News have shown that they’re little more than overpriced and ineffective blends of vitamins and minerals that have been sold in stores for ages.

The independent test results are the work of Labdoor, a San Francisco-based lab that tests and grades dietary supplements. Labdoor ran full tests on six popular Infowars supplements to determine the exact make-up of each supplement and screen for various dangerous and illegal chemicals. It also investigated a few of the products that “claimed incredible benefits for what seemed like could just be simple ingredients.”

“We tested samples in triplicate, and wherever possible, cross-checked those results with at least two independent analytical laboratories, so we have complete trust in our conclusions,” Brian Brandley, Labdoor’s Laboratory Director told BuzzFeed News.

All of the test results were largely the same: The products are — more or less — accurately advertised. They don’t contain significantly more or less of a particular ingredient than listed on the bottles, and there are no surprise ingredients. They’re also reasonably safe, meaning they passed heavy metal contaminant screenings and tested free of stimulants, depressants, and other prohibited drugs.

But just because the product’s ingredients matched their labels doesn’t mean they lived up to Jones’ claims.

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I’m shocked, shocked to hear they don’t live up to Jones’s claims, whatever those are.
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Google reveals sites with ‘failing’ ads, including Forbes, LA Times • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

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On June 1, Google rolled out its Ad Experience Report, a tool it’s using to evaluate and score websites based on their ad creative and design. It provides screenshots and videos of ads that have been identified as annoying to users, such as pop-ups and autoplaying video ads with sound, and “prestitial” ads with countdown timers.

So far, Google has identified about 700 sites as warranting corrective action out of around 100,000 sites it’s reviewed so far. Half of the roughly 700 got a “failing” status and the other half a “warning.” Pop-ups were the most common problem Google found, accounting for 96% of violations on desktop and 54% on mobile.

Most of these sites are out of the mainstream, such as entertainment sites checkthesevideos.com and full-serie.biz. But a couple dozen are a who’s who of traditional media. Those listed as failing include Forbes; Tronc-owned Orlando Sentinel, Sun-Sentinel and Los Angeles Times; Bauer Xcel Media’s Life & Style and In Touch Weekly; The Wrap; Chicago Sun-Times; Tribune Broadcasting’s Fox 13 Now; and Sporting News.

A similar number of mainstream sites got warnings. They included Kiplinger, Gizmodo Media Group’s Lifehacker, The Jerusalem Post, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cox Media Group’s WSB-TV in Atlanta, Tronc’s Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, the U.K. Independent, The Daily Caller, Reader’s Digest, All You, Smithsonian, New York Daily News, Salt Lake Tribune and CBS News.

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Basically, warning them that if they don’t change, they’ll die once Chrome gets an adblocker.
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Wisconsin Senate Republican leader raises questions on Foxconn deal, says he doesn’t have votes yet • Milwaukee Sentinel

Patrick Marley, Lee Bergquist and Jason Stein:

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[Scott] Fitzgerald said it was “striking” that a report issued this week by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that state taxpayers would not recoup their investment in Foxconn until 2043. The bureau described that timeline as the best-case scenario, with the Wisconsin plant fully operational and spawning job growth at suppliers and other companies that would come to the area.

“Is it going to be a good deal for taxpayers? A lot of that is going to be based on viability, on how this happens over the next 15, 25 years,” Fitzgerald said. “And what is the payback going to be? And it’s difficult to really measure that right now.”

For his part, Walker on Wednesday downplayed the report’s findings.

“We’ve known it all along,” Walker told Green Bay-area conservative radio host Jerry Bader when asked about the report. “We’ve known this was a big deal.”

Also Wednesday, the head of the state Department of Natural Resources said her agency has hired a coordinator to manage the DNR’s oversight of the massive project. 

Eric Ebersberger, a retired DNR attorney, was heavily involved in the agency’s review of Waukesha’s bid to tap Lake Michigan as a source of drinking water. That experience is relevant to the Foxconn plant, which would need large amounts of water from the lake to produce glass and other components of flat screens. 

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp announced the move at a meeting of the agency board in Milwaukee, saying the DNR is preparing internally for Foxconn. 

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It would take 26 years to pay back? The report notes that there would be a $3bn economic sweetener. There are all sorts of proposed exceptions to environmental regulations too.

I suspect though that given this would be a $10bn investment by Foxconn (per the report) employing more than 10,000 jobs every year, that it might happen.
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The end of typing: the next billion mobile users will rely on video and voice • WSJ

Eric Bellman:

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Instead of typing searches and emails, a wave of newcomers—“the next billion,” the tech industry calls them—is avoiding text, using voice activation and communicating with images. They are a swath of the world’s less-educated, online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans and intuitive apps that let them navigate despite poor literacy.

Incumbent tech companies are finding they must rethink their products for these newcomers and face local competitors that have been quicker to figure them out. “We are seeing a new kind of internet user,” said Caesar Sengupta, who heads a group at Alphabet Inc.’s Google trying to adapt to the new wave. “The new users are very different from the first billion.”…

…Google has revamped the way certain searches look in India. Seek a local cricket star, and the top of the search is crowded with photos and videos instead of long lists of links. Google’s YouTube created apps in India to make it easier for users to share videos directly—helping them avoid data costs and circumvent slow internet speeds.

One five-person Google team took a long train ride through the western Indian state of Maharashtra recently to poll passengers. “How does he get new music?” asked project manager Scott Velicer through a translator. “Ask him if he has trouble getting to know the name of songs he hears on TV.”

The team showed passengers a “low-fidelity prototype,” basically phone screens printed on paper with different apps and instructions, asking what they would do if they saw one of the screens. The group later stood at the Lonavla Station and discussed what it learned. “People here don’t read the text,” so the icons need to be easy to understand, Mr. Velicer said.

Google has also benefited from the dominance of its Android operating system.

Apple has been upping its bet on India, contracting with a manufacturer to assemble handsets locally, rolling out a bigger retail network and investing to support developers of more apps aimed at Indians. It has begun offering Apple Music—available for Android phones—for a lower price than in the U.S.

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Misunderstanding Apple Services • Monday Note

Jean-Lois Gassée:

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the biggest misunderstanding isn’t the theoretical placement [of the revenue from Apple Services] in the Fortune 100 list, or the comparisons to Facebook. It’s the consideration of Apple Services as a self-standing business. Remove “Apple” from “Apple Services”…would this stand-alone “Services” company enjoy the same success were it to service Android phones or Windows PCs?

Apple Services is an important member of the supporting cast that pushes the volume and margins for the main act: Apple Personal Computers. These come in three sizes, small (iPhone), medium (iPad), and large (Mac). If rumors of the addition of a cellular modem are true, we may even see the Watch, today an iPhone accessory, added to the cast as the newest and smallest performer.

Everything else that Apple offers has one raison d’être: fuelling the company’s main hardware act, without which Apple is nothing. As an example, headphones, earphones, loudspeaker sales, and music distribution revenue isn’t the goal (note the fall in music purchases on Horace’s chart above).

With Services, Apple enjoys the benefits of a virtuous circle: Hardware sales create Services revenue opportunities; Services makes hardware more attractive and “stickier”. Like Apple Stores, Services are part of the ecosystem. Such is the satisfying simplicity and robustness of Apple’s business model.

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A lot of people are missing this point.
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Eager to burst his own bubble, a techie made apps to randomize his life • NPR

Alix Spiegel:

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Max’s once beautiful routine suddenly seemed unfulfilling. He felt like he was growing closer to people in his own bubble and becoming isolated from those outside of it.

“There was something … that just made me feel trapped,” he says. “Like I was reading a story that I’d read before or I was playing out someone else’s script.”

How is it that two people can look at the same thing and see something completely different? Alix Spiegel and co-host Hanna Rosin tackle the notion of bubbles and follow two people making radical attempts to break out of them in the latest episode of Season 3 of the NPR podcast Invisibilia.
As any computer developer would do, Max turned to technology to craft his way out — a series of randomization applications.

Max started small, with an app that integrated Uber. It starts like a regular ride-hailing app: He would press a button in the app and a car would arrive. But then, a twist: He couldn’t select a drop-off location; the app would choose a spot within a range without disclosing it. The only thing the rider had to do was enjoy the journey — and hope for a good destination.

From there, Max’s applications became more complex. He built an app that used a Facebook search function for public events to find ones near him. Then the app would randomly choose which event Max would attend.

At first, he was nervous: What if people wouldn’t let him in? But, as a kind of unassuming white guy, he actually didn’t have this problem. (And Max acknowledges this privilege.) Once Max explained how and why he had arrived at these events, hosts usually welcomed him, often with only a few questions asked. Most of the time, people were taken by the idea of Max expanding his bubble.

One night, he got to drink white Russians with some Russians. Another, he attended acroyoga (as in, acrobatics + yoga). A community center pancake breakfast. A networking event for young professionals. The algorithm chose; Max attended.

Most of these events were something that the nonrandomized Max would never have thought to try.

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Since you ask, Max doesn’t have children, no. But adding randomness into your life is a neat idea.
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Koch group, Craigslist founder come to Techdirt’s aid • Axios

David McCabe:

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An eclectic group is financially backing TechDirt, a tech news site being sued for libel by the same lawyer who helped take down Gawker.

Who’s involved: The Charles Koch Foundation, Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark’s CraigConnects, Union Square Ventures, WordPress parent Automattic and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The financial support is worth more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Why this matters: Their backing comes as some news organizations shy away from writing about a powerful or well-resourced person out of fear of a lawsuit — which some have called the Gawker Effect. This helps to chart a path for the types of publishers that can’t survive the kind of libel suits that are becoming more common in the post-Gawker age.

The details: The parent company for Techdirt is facing a libel suit filed by a man who claims he invented email, who is represented by the same lawyer who led the case that resulted in Gawker Media’s bankruptcy. The same person settled with Gawker in 2016. Techdirt’s founder, Mike Masnick, has said that the lawsuit has “already taken a massive toll on us and our ability to function and report.” To help the Techdirt weather the lawsuit, the group of philanthropies, companies and private individuals is funding a year of coverage on the site devoted to free speech issues.

«

Yes, the Charles Koch Foundation is linked to those Koch brothers. Strange to see them ranged against Thiel. But good to see Techdirt getting a serious backer.
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How to take down Kim Jong Un • POLITICO Magazine

Tom Malinowski was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labo(u)r at the US State Department from 2014-2017:

»

Kim Jong Un, like all totalitarian leaders, wants above all to ensure his survival. He is convinced that a nuclear strike capability is necessary to deter the United States and South Korea from threatening his regime, and to extract concessions that might prolong its life. There is nothing crazy about this conviction. And because the matter is existential for Kim, more economic pressure will not change his mind. His regime survived a famine and can risk economic hardship. What he apparently will not risk is following the example of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadhafi, who gave up nuclear programs and found themselves defenseless against foreign interventions that claimed their lives.

But there is an opportunity in Kim’s obsession with survival. While he assumes the United States would not start a catastrophic war to stop his nuclear program, he also knows that were he to start that war, the U.S. would have no reason to hold back. We could, and likely would, destroy his regime. This means that even if we can’t prevent North Korea from gaining the ability to hit us or our allies, we can deter it from actually doing so, and thus have time to pursue, by means more effective than sanctions and less dangerous than war, our ultimate goal of a reunified Korea that threatens no one.

«

Malinowski offers a number of suggestions for what those “more effective than sanctions” options are, though personally I find them unsatisfactory, in that they’re slow. (They’re all things the US and South Korea are doing anyway.) A nuclear North Korea has negotiating power, so the US should negotiate with it – because it can be sure that any opening of North Korea’s regime to outside trade and information will weaken it and eventually undermine it. (I made similar points in a Twitter thread.)

Overall? I think that the risk of actual war with North Korea is minimal, as long as the US keeps calm. (Thanks for the link to Tim Bajarin, who has previously pointed to similar thinking about Kim Jong-un.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: iPhones assemble (all at once)!, tracking tablets, Trump’s fake follower, proper passwords, and more


When women were the “computers”: what discouraged them? Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr.

You can now 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘iPhone 8’ to enter mass production in mid-Sept., launch alongside ‘iPhone 7s,’ come in 3 colours • Apple Insider

»

Rumors about an “iPhone 8” delay may have been unfounded, as analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities indicated on Tuesday that the flagship handset will launch on the same day as the “iPhone 7s” and “iPhone 7s Plus” —albeit in limited quantities and styles.

Kuo’s supply chain rumblings were shared in a research note obtained by AppleInsider. The KGI analyst, who has a strong track record in predicting Apple’s future product plans, indicated that the handset will come in just three colors: black, silver and gold.

Kuo said that all three new iPhones will be announced simultaneously in September, and will share the same launch date. However, he indicated that the so-called “iPhone 8” will be in extremely short supply at launch, with the supply chain expected to produce between 2 million and 4 million units this quarter.

According to Kuo, all of this fall’s new iPhone models will support fast charging. However, consumers may have to opt to spend extra on a Lighting-to-USB-C cable and wall adapter to utilize it —the same approach Apple already takes with the iPad Pro.

He expects production of the “iPhone 8,” which some have taken to calling an “iPhone Pro,” will ramp up quickly, reaching between 45 million and 50 million units this year.

«

What happened is that Kuo saw Apple’s forward guidance, as did everyone else, which forecasts a healthy few metric tonnes of iPhones being sold in the next quarter, and concluded that Apple is confident of getting the top-end OLED phone out with the other two LCD ones.

So that’s something to look forward to.
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When women stopped coding • Planet Money • NPR

Steve Henn:

»

Modern computer science is dominated by men. But it hasn’t always been this way.

A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women. And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged, even as the share of women in other technical and professional fields kept rising.

What happened?

We spent the past few weeks trying to answer this question, and there’s no clear, single answer.

But here’s a good starting place: The share of women in computer science started falling at roughly the same moment when personal computers started showing up in U.S. homes in significant numbers…

…This idea that computers are for boys became a narrative. It became the story we told ourselves about the computing revolution. It helped define who geeks were, and it created techie culture.

Movies like Weird Science, Revenge of the Nerds and War Games all came out in the ’80s. And the plot summaries are almost interchangeable: awkward geek boy genius uses tech savvy to triumph over adversity and win the girl.

In the 1990s, researcher Jane Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programs in the country. She found that families were much more likely to buy computers for boys than for girls — even when their girls were really interested in computers.

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Note to employees from CEO Sundar Pichai • Google blog

Pichai delayed his holiday to deal with the fallout from “that memo”:

»

Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being “agreeable” rather than “assertive,” showing a “lower stress tolerance,” or being “neurotic.”

«

The employee was fired because “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

I wrote about this for CNN:

»

Amid the furor around the Google “man-ifesto” — the male author of which, James Damore, has since left the company after his 10-page thinkpiece on why women aren’t that well suited for coding went viral — there’s one question that nobody seems to have asked.

Why haven’t we heard about any internal pro-diversity manifestos written by women within Google? Or within Uber? Or any of the scores of Silicon Valley companies?

They must exist. Google employs thousands of women, from its chief financial officer Ruth Porat down, and some of them must have thoughts about how to increase the pool of talent from which to draw its future managers and leaders. (Porat, one should acknowledge, was hired from outside.) So why haven’t we heard about them?

«

One other point: the case brought by the US Department of Labor seeking lots of data about Google’s pay to its staff has been reined in by the judge, who says the DoL demands were overbroad, intrusive and insufficiently focussed.
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Tablet screen size trend • ScientiaMobile

»

Two screen sizes segments clearly emerge from the tablet group:

1) full-size, larger tablets (over 9in diagonal screen size), and

2) smaller “mini” tablets (less than 9in diagonal screen size).

The full size segment is the largest market. In particular, the full-size 9.5in to 10in segment has grown from 46.6% in 2014 to 53.6% in 2017 Q2. The largest sizes – over 11in – have not grown. In fact, despite Apple iPad’s power in the market, the larger iPad Pro versions do not seem to have gained much market share.

Back in 2014, the 7-7.5″ was the largest portion of Mini tablet market. Now in 2017, the smaller “mini” segment has shifted away from the 7in to 7.5in size and is predominated by the 7.5in to 8in size. The 7.5in to 8in segment holds 31.8% of the traffic in 2017 Q2.

«

What’s surprising is how the “mini” (8in and below) section has remained roughly static as a share of the whole: about 40%. Apple is effectively discouraging people from buying the iPad mini (7.9in) through its pricing: you can now get a 9.7in iPad for less.
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How Trump fell for fake news • Yahoo News

Rick Newman and Jennifer Rogers:

»

Yahoo Finance ordered a flag from ProTrump45.com to see if it would arrive as promised in 7 to 10 days. The site took our money, through a PayPal account — $30 for the flag, $15 for shipping and $2.40 for tax, for a total of $47.40. But no flag ever arrived. We did get a notice, however, saying, “Your order is on its way,” along with a UPS tracking number. When we contacted UPS, a spokesman told us the tracking number was bogus and the order had been “stopped as fraud.” We did a “who is” search looking up registration details for the Web site and found it had been registered anonymously through a Florida company called Perfect Privacy, essentially masking the site’s real owners.

The emailed order confirmation from ProTrump45 did contain one curious clue, however: an email address that belonged to a student at St. Peter’s University, a small Jesuit school in Jersey City, N.J. An August 5 story on heavy.com, which first raised questions about whether Nicole Mincey was a real person, said the student had been a victim of identity theft who planned to file a police report. But in a phone conversation with Yahoo Finance, the student told us she had been involved with ProTrump45 web site as a blogger and had been recruited to the effort by two people, “Lorraine Elijah” and “Dr. William Byrd,” who followed her on Instagram and invited her to join the Web operation sometime this past spring.

“I joined a group of people online who supported Trump,” the student told Yahoo Finance. “We came up with this idea to make some money off of this. We bought advertising. We bought articles.” The way to make money was selling Trump merchandise on ProTrump45 — hats, T-shirts, flags. The Twitter account would drive traffic to the Web site. “I think Lorraine” — the web site operator who had recruited the student on Instagram — “bought followers for us,” the student said. “I don’t even have the Twitter app on my phone.”

Yahoo Finance chose not to identify the student, who says she has hopes for a successful business career and would suffer if negative publicity linking her to a suspicious Web site and twitter account were irrevocably published on the Internet. Her name is not Nicole Mincey, but there are similarities between the fake name and the real one. We have not been able to independently verify what the student told us.

«

It’s that last sentence that’s the killer. Can nobody get into a car or on a metro and head for New Jersey? Read on for another example of the same stuff.
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I found Nicole Mincey, Trump’s biggest Twitter fan. She isn’t a bot, but she has a ton of secrets • Daily Beast

Ben Collins used Twitter and Facebook to get in touch with the woman who Trump apparently retweeted; she offered to phone him back:

»

About a half-hour later, Nicole Mincy [note the spelling; her real name] called me. The group, she said, was about “10 of us.” They were just called ProTrump45, “full of people with Republican opinions.”

The group reached out to Nicole in January through her Instagram, where she had been posting pro-Trump memes and the occasional picture of herself. It was a woman named Lorraine, specifically, who asked her to join ProTrump45’s blog. Lorraine, she said, was from Texas, and there was another guy named William. Lorraine was selling clothes and writing blogs on ProTrump45.com and they wanted Nicole to help.

“I was the one writing the blog posts. I wrote, like, the second most blogs,” she said.

Lex, the Twitter model from North Arlington? Not real. That’s Lorraine, she said. So is David from South Carolina. So is Chinami, the supposed legal immigrant.

All of @protrump45’s Twitter followers were entirely invented, except for her and a woman named Mary Mack, who went by @MtSaintMarys on Twitter, she said. That account is now suspended for using a stock photo.

Nicole doesn’t even have a Twitter account of her own, she said. Just an Instagram and a Facebook account.

That’s why she and Lorraine and William had a big falling out. They started using Nicole’s identity, and college address, for ProTrump45 business, she claimed.

«

What’s unsatisfactory about this is that even now, with all the hot takes, nobody has actually *met* this woman. Collins follows all the available leads; they’re all dead ends. In this situation, follow the money. Nobody seems to have done that with any success yet.
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No, smartphones are not destroying a generation • Psychology Today

Sarah Rose Cavanagh PhD:

»

A recent article by psychologist Jean Twenge in the Atlantic warns that “the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever” and that “it’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

The articles has been scattered prolifically all over my Twitter and Facebook, with parents crowing, “I KNEW IT!” and popular newsmedia wringing their hands.

«

She details why she disagrees, on three key points. And finally:

»

Yes, we should practice (and preach to our children) moderation in all things, our digital lives included. Yes, we should conduct careful research studies into the effects of “screentime” on developing minds, and we should be open to what those data say. Yes, we should be concerned about adolescent depression and investigate its causes. Yes, we should put down our phones once in awhile and take a walk in the damn woods.

But my suspicion is that the kids are gonna be ok.

«

As I said, I want to know what the effect on infants will be of mothers who ignore them for their black slabs.

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The man who wrote those password rules has a new tip: N3v$r M1^d! • WSJ

Robert McMillan spoke to Bill Burr, who wrote the 2003 advice on passwords – change regularly, use capitals and odd characters:

»

“Much of what I did I now regret,” said Mr. Burr, 72 years old, who is now retired.

In June, Special Publication 800-63 got a thorough rewrite, jettisoning the worst of these password commandments. Paul Grassi, an NIST standards-and-technology adviser who led the two-year-long do-over, said the group thought at the outset the document would require only a light edit.

“We ended up starting from scratch,” Mr. Grassi said.

The new guidelines, which are already filtering through to the wider world, drop the password-expiration advice and the requirement for special characters, Mr. Grassi said. Those rules did little for security—they “actually had a negative impact on usability,” he said.

Long, easy-to-remember phrases now get the nod over crazy characters, and users should be forced to change passwords only if there is a sign they may have been stolen, says NIST, the federal agency that helps set industrial standards in the U.S.

Amy LaMere had long suspected she was wasting her time with the hour a month it takes to keep track of the hundreds of passwords she has to juggle for her job as a client-resources manager with a trade-show-display company in Minneapolis. “The rules make it harder for you to remember what your password is,” she said. “Then you have to reset it and it just makes it take longer.”

When informed that password advice is changing, however, she wasn’t outraged. Instead, she said it just made her feel better. “I’m right,” she said of the previous rules. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

«

Rainbow tables will now have to include “correct horse battery staple”. It turns out too that Burr wrote the guidelines with minimal empirical evidence about what was and wasn’t hard to remember, and to crack.

Wonder how long it will take this advice to filter down, though. 10 years? 15?
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Researchers trick self-driving car cameras using stickers • CNet Roadshow

Andrew Krok:

»

Researchers created two different sorts of attacks on a self-driving car’s systems, using a whole lot of math and a little bit of printing. It involves gaining access to a car’s classifier, a part within its vision system that tells the car what an object is and what it means to the vehicle. If the car’s cameras detect an object, it’s up to the classifier to determine how the car handles said object.

The first kind of attack involves printing out a life-size copy of a road sign and taping it over an existing one. A right-turn sign with a sort of grayed-out, pixelated arrow confused the system into believing it was either a stop sign or an added-lane sign, but not a right-turn sign. Thus, a confused vehicle may attempt to stop when it does not need to, causing additional confusion on the road.

The second kind of attack involved small stickers that give off a sort of abstract-art look. These rectangular stickers, in black and white, tricked the system into believing the stop sign was a 45-mph speed limit sign. It should be fairly obvious that nothing good can come from telling a car to hustle through an intersection at speed, as opposed to stopping like usual.

Of course, this all hinges on whether or not malicious parties have access to a vehicle system’s classifier, which may be the same across different automakers if they all purchase their systems from a single supplier.

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VPN provider accused of sharing customer traffic with online advertisers • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

On Monday, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) — a US-based privacy group — filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accusing one of today’s top VPN providers of deceptive trade practices.

In a 14-page complaint, the CDT accuses AnchorFree — the company behind the Hotspot Shield VPN — of breaking promises it made to its users by sharing their private web traffic with online advertisers for the purpose of improving the ads shown to its users.

Currently, Hotspot Shield is offered as a free and paid product. The free product injects ads in users’ web traffic, and the elite version provides an ad-free VPN experience. The company has always been upfront with this policy, and in an interview with ZDNet last year, AnchorFree’s CEO said that 97% of its estimated 500,000 userbase is using his company’s free VPN service.

In its complaint to the FTC, the CDT is not accusing Anchor Free of secretly injecting ads, as users are well aware of this practice, but of not respecting promises made to its customers.

More specifically, the CDT says that AnchorFree does not respect a pledge made in marketing materials that it won’t track or sell customer information.

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Public works funding falls as infrastructure deteriorates • The New York Times

Binyamin Appelbaum:

»

It’s basically the opposite of a major government infrastructure program.

Government spending on transportation and other public works is in decline as federal funding stagnates and state and local governments tighten their belts.

Such spending equaled 1.4% of the nation’s economic output in the second quarter of 2017, the lowest level on record, according to Census Bureau data.

In West Virginia, where President Trump on Thursday touted a vague $1 trillion infrastructure plan, public works spending has fallen for five straight years.

Nate Orders, who runs a construction company founded by his grandfather to build bridges for the state, said he had been forced to scramble for other kinds of business. Only three of the 15 projects on his current slate are bridges in West Virginia.

“My grandfather would not recognize the business we have today,” he said.

«

Absolute spending is lower than in 2007 in 34 US states. The country is falling apart. And yet it’s hard to find workers because employment in general is at such a high level. And there’s nothing happening with the Trump budget on that front.
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Game of Thrones stars’ personal details leaked as HBO hackers demand ransom • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

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In a five-minute video letter from somebody calling themselves “Mr Smith” to HBO chief executive Richard Plepler, the hackers told the company to pay within three days or they would put online the HBO shows and confidential corporate data they claim to have stolen.

The hackers claim to have taken 1.5TB of data – the equivalent to several TV series box sets or millions of documents – but HBO said that it doesn’t believe its email system as a whole has been compromised, although it did acknowledge the theft of “proprietary information”.

HBO said it is continuing to investigate and is working with police and cybersecurity experts.

The hackers demanded “our six-month salary in bitcoin”, claiming they earn $12m to $15m a year from blackmailing organisations whose networks they have breached. They said they would only deal directly with “Richard” and only send one “letter” detailing how to pay.

Along with the video, the hackers released 3.4GB of files. The dump contained technical data detailing HBO’s internal network and administrator passwords, draft scripts from five Game of Thrones episodes, including this week’s instalment, and a month’s worth of emails from HBO’s vice president for film programming, Leslie Cohen.

The hackers claim it took six months to break into HBO’s network, and that they spend $500,000 a year purchasing so called zero-day exploits that let them break into networks through holes not yet known to Microsoft and other software companies.

«

So professional hackers, as I said last week; but the addition of the ransom, which is new, changes the game somewhat. The problem for the organisation about ransomed digital data is: if you pay up, how do you know they won’t spread it anyway?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: more on the Google man-ifesto, ARKit ahoy, hacking slot machines, Mumbai’s lethal railways, and more


Teens have smartphones. What has that changed? Photo by Photoglovey on Flickr.

You can now 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.

Have smartphones destroyed a generation? • The Atlantic

Jean Twenge is a sociologist, and says the arrival of smartphones has made a huge difference:

»

Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.

Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”

But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

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I’d also love to hear whether any sociologists have begun studying the effects on infants of mothers who are more interested in a black rectangle they’re holding than the infant’s face. That’s the next “smartphone” generation.
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I am disappointed but unsurprised • Medium

Erica Joy:

»

Saying yes to that question [the question being: “do we want this to be an environment where racists and sexists feel safe and supported to share their views?”] (and so it’s clear, choosing not to answer that question is the equivalent of saying yes to it) means a company should give up any notions of being diverse or inclusive. Saying “we want an environment that allows all opinions and a free exchange of ideas” to that question means a company has deemed racism and sexism viable opinions, worthy of being freely exchanged, instead of the hatred and bigotry that they are.

That message will be heard loud and clear by the targets of said hatred and bigotry, and will be antithetical to any other attempts at building a diverse and inclusive company. Employees will tell their friends (or the media in this case) about what the company is really about, and any efforts at improving diversity will be hampered. Inclusion will be a non-starter, since employees cannot feel included in an environment where their peers believe they aren’t worthy of being there and will say so, freely.

Employees cannot advance in a system that is built on peer evaluation if their peers believe them to be fundamentally subpar. Employees cannot feel a sense of belonging or, as Google itself told us, thrive in an environment when they do not feel psychologically safe.

«

As was also pointed out elsewhere, if you have the broadest possible recruitment pool, then you increase your chance of getting the best candidates.
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The Apple ARKit proves the future of augmented reality will be on your phone • WIRED

Jason Tanz:

»

much of the stuff built with ARKit seems downright banal. One app lets you see how a new throw pillow would look on your couch. A menu app shows the proferred food as it might appear on your table. Sure, some developers are filling rooms with virtual water or building portals into alternate dimensions, but it’s the close-to-the-ground stuff that’s generating the most enthusiastic response. One video, which garnered 12,000 likes on the popular @MadeWithARKit Twitter feed, merely shows a digital tape measure unspooling.

That modesty of vision isn’t a handicap. It’s precisely why ARKit apps are more likely to catch on where other, more ambitious approaches have failed. It’s easy to forget, amid all the overheated rhetoric and consciousness-expanding possibilities, but most people don’t want technology to usher them into an entirely new plane of existence. They just want it to solve problems and make their lives easier.
Call it the Inductive Theory of Platform Development—successful consumer technologies don’t start with grand ideas that trickle down into products. They begin as small solutions that expand to become grand ideas.

«

This is absolutely correct, but I don’t think AR will begin and end on the phone. Glasses are such an obvious next move.
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Meet Alex, the Russian casino hacker who makes millions targeting slot machines • WIRED

Brendan Koerner:

»

Alex’s life-changing introduction to slots came about a decade ago, while he was working as a freelance hacker. A Russian casino hired him to learn how to tweak machines manufactured by Novomatic, an Austrian company, so that their odds would favor the house more than usual: The machine had been programmed to pay out 90% of the money it took in, a figure that Alex’s client wanted him to adjust down to 50%.

In the course of reverse engineering Novomatic’s software, Alex encountered his first PRNG. He was instantly fascinated by the elegance of this sort of algorithm, which is designed to spew forth an endless series of results that appear impossible to forecast. It does this by taking an initial number, known as a seed, and then mashing it together with various hidden and shifting inputs—the time from a machine’s internal clock, for example. Writing such algorithms requires tremendous mathematical skill, since they’re supposed to produce an output that defies human comprehension; ideally, a PRNG should approximate the utter unpredictability of radioactive decay.

After wrapping up the casino gig, Alex spent six months teaching himself everything he could about PRNGs—in part because he admired their beauty but also because he knew that such expertise could prove profitable.“I mastered it to the point where I can develop such algorithms myself, on a level I am yet to see in a gambling machine,” says Alex, who will never be accused of lacking confidence. “It’s in my bloodstream now. I feel the numbers; I know how they move.”

In 2008 Alex unleashed his newfound mastery on the gambling world, hiring a small group of employees to “milk” Novomatic machines throughout eastern Europe. (Three years later, Novomatic became the first slots manufacturer to warn its customers that some of its PRNGs had been compromised.)

«

Fascinating read. Nothing seems to be invulnerable apart from real radioactivity.
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John Lanchester reviews ‘The Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu, ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez and ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ by Jonathan Taplin · London Review of Books

John Lanchester:

»

One man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling, and Facebook works hard at avoiding responsibility for the content on its site – except for sexual content, about which it is super-stringent. Nary a nipple on show. It’s a bizarre set of priorities, which only makes sense in an American context, where any whiff of explicit sexuality would immediately give the site a reputation for unwholesomeness. Photos of breastfeeding women are banned and rapidly get taken down. Lies and propaganda are fine.

The key to understanding this is to think about what advertisers want: they don’t want to appear next to pictures of breasts because it might damage their brands, but they don’t mind appearing alongside lies because the lies might be helping them find the consumers they’re trying to target. In Move Fast and Break Things, his polemic against the ‘digital-age robber barons’, Jonathan Taplin points to an analysis on Buzzfeed: ‘In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others.’ This doesn’t sound like a problem Facebook will be in any hurry to fix.

The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. An illuminating YouTube video from Kurzgesagt, a German outfit that makes high-quality short explanatory films, notes that in 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen. This is another area where Facebook’s interests contradict society’s. We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t. As Martínez explains in [the book] Chaos Monkeys, it has two goals: growth and monetisation.

«

Long but definitely worth it, especially for the internet entrepreneur who describes one of the big internet firms as “scuzzy”. And for what Zuckerberg was studying for his other degree – the one not in computer science.
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First evidence that social bots play a major role in spreading fake news • MIT Technology Review

»

How does fake news spread in the first place?

Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Chengcheng Shao and pals at Indiana University in Bloomington. For the first time, these guys have systematically studied how fake news spreads on Twitter and provide a unique window into this murky world. Their work suggests clear strategies for controlling this epidemic.

Diffusion network for the article titled “Spirit cooking: Clinton campaign chairman practices bizarre occult ritual,” published by the conspiracy site Infowars.com four days before the 2016 U.S. election.

At issue is the publication of news that is false or misleading. So widespread has this become that a number of independent fact-checking organizations have emerged to establish the veracity of online information. These include snopes.com, politifact.com, and factcheck.org.

These sites list 122 websites that routinely publish fake news. These fake news sites include infowars.com, breitbart.com, politicususa.com, and theonion.com. “We did not exclude satire because many fake-news sources label their content as satirical, making the distinction problematic,” say Shao and co…

…Having made a judgment on the ownership of each account, the team finally looked at the way humans and bots spread fake news and fact-checked news.

To do all this, the team developed two online platforms. The first, called Hoaxy, tracks fake news claims, and the second, Bolometer, works out whether a Twitter account is most likely run by a human or a bot.

The results of this work make for interesting reading. “Accounts that actively spread misinformation are significantly more likely to be bots,” say Shao and co. “Social bots play a key role in the spread of fake news.”

«

link to this extract


The Kronos needle in the AlphaBay haystack • emptywheel

“emptywheel” (the site has multiple authors) points out that it’s odd how quickly the FBI alighted on the Kronos malware sale on AlphaBay, given how much else there was to look at:

»

look at the overall numbers FBI boasted for AlphaBay when it announced its takedown on July 20, nine days after the indictment targeting Hutchins.

»

AlphaBay reported that it serviced more than 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Around the time of takedown, the site had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals, and more than 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and fraudulent services. By comparison, the Silk Road dark market—the largest such enterprise of its kind before it was shut down in 2013—had approximately 14,000 listings.

The operation to seize AlphaBay’s servers was led by the FBI and involved the cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France, along with the European law enforcement agency Europol.

“Conservatively, several hundred investigations across the globe were being conducted at the same time as a result of AlphaBay’s illegal activities,” Phirippidis said. “It really took an all-hands effort among law enforcement worldwide to deconflict and protect those ongoing investigations.”

«

Of the 40,000 vendors charged within a month of takedown, of the 250K drug listings and the 100K fraudulent services listings, the guy who sold Kronos once for $2,000 (whom Tom Fox-Brewster thinks might be a guy named VinnyK) — and by virtue of American conspiracy laws, Hutchins — were among the first 20 or so known to be charged for using AlphaBay.

«

All the indicators are that someone who was nabbed in the AlphaBay sting was somehow implicated in Kronos, and put Hutchins’s name forward as a co-conspirator. It’s a way to get the feds off your back.
link to this extract


Financial Times returns to Apple’s App Store after six-year hiatus • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

»

The company hopes its new app, available for iPhone and iPad, will help boost subscriber engagement with its content and in turn increase the revenue it is able to extract from its customers over the long term.

“We know that an engaged reader results in a larger lifetime value,” said Cait O’Riordan, the FT’s chief product and information officer. “We want to know if a native app can help drive that engagement number.”

Since 2011, Apple device users have only been able to access the FT’s full range of content via its mobile website. The FT decided to invest in its web offering rather than a “native” iOS app partly because of Apple’s requirement to be paid a 30% cut of any subscription revenue generated from apps in its App Store, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new iOS app will therefore only be accessible to existing FT subscribers. New readers won’t be able to purchase subscriptions from within the app itself, but must instead do so from the FT’s website before logging in.

This model means the FT can avoid giving Apple a cut of subscription revenue and will allow it to collect payment information and other valuable data directly from its subscribers. Spotify and other subscription-based services have taken a similar approach in recent years.

«

The end-run around the subscription problem (Amazon does the same thing on Kindle books) seems like a suitable solution to the problem. One wonder why it took the FT six years to figure this out.

Also – minor point – shouldn’t the final word in the headline be “absence” rather than “hiatus”? The app was withdrawn. It didn’t pause.
link to this extract


An everyday brush with disaster on Mumbai’s crowded railway • FT

Simon Mundy:

»

Samir Zaveri pondered my bloodshot eye and stitched-up shin and shook his head at my good fortune. On a table between us was a sheath of documents detailing the casualties on Mumbai’s trains in recent years — police figures obtained by Zaveri under India’s Right to Information Act.

The statistics are a grim testament to the terrible safety record of the country’s transport network — even as this rising power pursues grand projects such as a $17bn high-speed rail link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

Mumbai’s trains are often described as the city’s “lifeline”, carrying 7m passengers a day — largely people from the sprawling suburbs who work in offices on the narrow peninsula of old Bombay. Yet last year alone, 3,202 people were killed on the system, while a further 3,363 suffered amputations or other serious injuries.

About a third of these casualties result from people walking over train tracks in the absence of boundary walls. Most others, Zaveri says, stem from overcrowding on a network that packs about 5,560 passengers on to each 12-car train in peak hours, against a rated safe capacity of 3,522.

Zaveri lost both legs aged 17 after slipping on the track. While sitting in a disabled carriage in 2006, looking around at others whose limbs were lost on the railways, he decided to act. The result was a series of court petitions, arguing that the railway authorities were breaching their constitutional duty to protect their passengers’ lives.

«

This article’s intro (lede to Americans) deserves some sort of award. It reads:

»

You gain a certain perspective on India’s safety challenges from lying on a Mumbai railway platform, under a surging crowd, while a moving train cuts into your lower leg.

«

Overall, the article goes to show that driverless cars are only a small fraction of the problem.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: an LTE Apple Watch?, Pentagon bans DJI drones, Google sought Snapchat, reactions on Google, and more


Hidden Figures: maybe someone at Google needs to watch this more and write “man-ifestos” less. Photo by minhee.cho on Flickr.

You can now 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.

If you use a browser extension [particularly VPNs], your full Internet history may be for sale – and easily de-anonymized • Privacy Online News

Glyn Moody:

»

The research consisted of some social engineering by the journalist Svea Eckert, followed by data analysis by Andreas Dewes. Eckert set up a Web site and LinkedIn profile for a fake company called Meez Technology, allegedly based in Tel Aviv, which purported to offer “data-driven consulting”. Using Meez Technology as cover, Eckert contacted Web analytics companies and data brokers, asking for Internet browsing histories of German citizens, which she said Meez Technology was interested in acquiring for its data analysis.

In the end, one gave her 14 days’ free access to a month’s worth of “clickstream data” – the complete browser histories – as a sample of what it could offer. The information included 3 billion URLs from three million German users, spread over 9 million different sites. Many companies said they were unable to supply URLs for German users, but were able to offer this information for people in the US and UK.

Once the researchers obtained their dataset, Dewes tried to de-anonymize the individuals it referred to. For some users, this was simple. Dewes had the complete URL, not a truncated portion, so it often showed data that was transmitted to the site in question. Sometimes that included the user’s name. For example, when someone visits their own analytics page on Twitter, the URL contains their Twitter username. Since it is only visible to them and Twitter, that’s not usually a problem. But when Internet browsing datasets include the full URL, it is, because it means that all the URLs linked to an otherwise anonymous user can now be associated with the person identified through one of them – in this case, Twitter. Out of the 3 million anonymous profiles obtained by the researchers, over 100,000 individuals could be identified in this way.

«

link to this extract


Someone thinks they’ve solved the mystery behind who Donald Trump thanked on Twitter • Mashable

»

Sure, fake news runs rampant now more than ever—but don’t let it distract you from another threat: fake Twitter accounts. 

When Donald Trump tweeted his appreciation on Saturday to a “supporter” named Nicole Mincey/@protrump45, Twitter user @Rschooley debunked the account’s identity, explaining in a thread exactly why “Nicole” and a variety of other Twitter users were in fact fakes, not actual Trump supporters. 

Buckle up—this gets interesting. 

«

It is interesting: the person behind this account, and a number of linked accounts, uses a site called Placeit.com to grab stock photos and slot pro-Trump slogans into “drop image here” spaces. They build up a big network of bots. And they sell merchandise off it.

Now, the question is: how much due diligence did the White House’s social media manager, who one assumes did the retweet rather than Trump, do before the shout out to this “supporter”? If none – that’s lazy. If they knew this was a front to sell stuff, that’s worse because it’s promoting a business using the White House account.

So either lazy or venal. And meanwhile, a huge bot network using stolen or faked pictures, making money out of social media partisanship. What a world.
link to this extract


Exclusive: here’s the full 10-page anti-diversity screed circulating internally at Google • Gizmodo

Kate Conger with the authentic scoop on the “man-ifesto”, which can be summed up through its own TL:DR:

»

• Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

• This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

• The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

• Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression

• Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

• Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

«

You can also get an idea of his thinking via his (zero chance it’s a woman author) framing of political positions:

»

Left Biases: Compassion for the weak; Disparities are due to injustices; Humans are inherently cooperative; Change is good (unstable); Open; Idealist

Right Biases: Respect for the strong/authority; Disparities are natural and just; Humans are inherently competitive; Change is dangerous (stable); Closed; Pragmatic

«

So left-wing people are idealists, while right-wing ones are pragmatic? Google’s “open” credo makes it left-wing? It’s a really bizarre collection of assertions which wouldn’t look out of place in a university junior common room. I wonder if Google is looking at its recruiting systems in light of this.
link to this extract


So, about this Googler’s manifesto • Medium

Yonatan Zunger was until recently a senior person at Google:

»

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique. The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.

«

One begins to see the problem, though. Google (and so many other companies) make you prove yourself at the low-level field, in writing code, and then promote people to the engineering process level. Men, particularly intense narrow-vision men, might excel at that first process. Then in the next one they’re awful. And so you see screwups like Google Buzz.
link to this extract


A Googler’s anti-diversity screed reveals tech’s rotten core • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

reactions to the screed are sound, but they risk missing a larger problem: The kind of computing systems that get made and used by people outside the industry, and with serious consequences, are a direct byproduct of the gross machismo of computing writ large. More women and minorities are needed in computing because the world would be better for their contributions—and because it might be much worse without them.

Workplace equity has become a more visible issue in general, but it has reached fever pitch in the technology sector, especially with respect to women. When the former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published an explosive accusation of sexism at that company earlier this year, people took notice. When combined with a series of other scandals, not to mention with Uber’s longstanding, dubious behavior toward drivers and municipalities, the company was forced to act. CEO Travis Kalanick was ousted (although he remains on the board, where he retains substantial control)…

…If you rolled back the clock and computing were as black as hip-hop, if it had been built from the ground up by African American culture, what would it feel like to live in that alternate future—in today’s alternate present? Now run the same thought experiment for a computing forged by a group that represents the general population, brown of average color, even of sex, and multitudinous of gender identity.

Something tells me the outcome wouldn’t be Google and Twitter and Uber and Facebook…

As my colleague Mark Guzdial puts it, women used to avoid computer science because they didn’t know what it is. Now they avoid it because they know exactly what it is.

«

And Bogost points out, Google struggles to achieve a truly diverse workplace. People complain about affirmative action, but can’t see the disaffirming action they carry out all the time.
link to this extract


Apple plans to release a cellular-capable Watch to break iPhone ties • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Scott Moritz and Ian King:

»

Intel Corp. will supply the LTE modems for the new Watch, according to another person familiar with the situation. That’s a big win for the chipmaker, which has been trying for years to get its components into more Apple mobile devices. Qualcomm Inc. has been the main modem supplier for iPhones and other Apple mobile gadgets, but the two companies are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute. Apple added Intel as a modem supplier for some iPhones last year.

Apple is already in talks with carriers in the U.S. and Europe about offering the cellular version, the people added. The carriers supporting the LTE Apple Watch, at least at launch, may be a limited subset of those that carry the iPhone, one of the people said. However, AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. in the U.S. plan to sell the device, according to other people familiar with the matter. The new device could still be delayed beyond 2017 – indeed, the company had already postponed a cellular-capable smartwatch last year. Apple, Intel and the carriers declined to comment.

«

It “could still be delayed”? Schrödinger’s Watch. This would make sense, but only in the limited situations – as I see it – where you don’t have your phone with you. When is that? In my experience, when you are out exercising. While a lot of people who have a Watch might use it to exercise, I’m not so sure many of them would want a data-capable Watch just for getting messages or similar while out and about.

Unless it could really do apps – such as Uber and so on. That might change things a little.
link to this extract


‘Cyber vulnerabilities’ prompt US Army to ban ‘all use’ of DJI drones • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

»

The US Army appears to have issued a global order banning its units from using drones made by Chinese firm DJI, citing “cyber vulnerabilities”.

The memorandum, apparently issued by the US Army’s Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, orders all US Army units with DJI products to immediately stop using them.

“Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products,” the memo read.

In the memo, soldiers are also ordered to remove all batteries and storage media from their DJI drones and await further instructions.

DJI told The Register: “We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision. We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the US Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues.”

The firm’s spokesman added: “We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities’.”

«

Probably the rumours that DJI drones are beaming data back to China. Could that be it, by any chance?
link to this extract


Google offered to buy Snapchat for at least $30bn in early 2016, insiders say • Business Insider

Alex Heath:

»

Three people, including people inside and close to the company, separately confirmed they had heard the chatter and price tag, with one calling it an “open secret” among Snap’s upper ranks and certain tech industry circles.

Business Insider first heard the rumor of Google’s $30bn-plus interest in Snap last year and heard further tales of the discussions from more insiders over the past several days.

It’s unclear how formal the discussions these insiders say happened may have been, but Snap and Google have long been close. Informal discussions between companies are frequent in the tech world, especially surrounding major events, like an initial public offering or a large round of fundraising.

Google’s initial offer would have been discussed just before Snap raised its Series F round of private funding in May 2016, valuing the company at $20 billion. CapitalG, the growth equity fund managed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, ended up quietly participating in the round.

«

Yet another big fish that got away from Google. Hard to feel it would have gone well inside it, though.
link to this extract


Apple has proven me wrong about HomeKit • The Verge

The ever-demonstrative Internet of Shit:

»

Ikea, which announced its own smart lighting system in 2016, looks to be one of the first companies to take advantage of this change: it’ll add HomeKit support, presumably via a software update, later this year. So there should be no need to pay for replacement hardware like when Philips required users to buy a HomeKit-compatible version of its Hue hub. In the future, these HomeKit-via-software updates could mean products from Nest get HomeKit compatibility, simply because the company will be able to expand its user base retrospectively. What remains to be seen is how many device makers will follow the charge.

There’s one other key feature that makes HomeKit interesting: if device makers want to use it, they’re required to integrate directly with Apple’s Home app and can’t force you to use a third-party app exclusively. That’s huge, simply because it grants you the freedom to avoid touching the device maker’s software on your phone if you don’t want it, and it allows you to interact with the smart home directly through Apple’s app without an intermediary. In theory, it means you really own your devices, and they shouldn’t just break if the company that makes them disappears since you’ll still have a direct connection with each device, thanks to HomeKit.

HomeKit still assumes everyone in your house has an iPhone in their pocket all the time, but with the announcement of the Apple HomePod smart speaker, that changes as well. Android-loving family and friends can just use their voice to tap into your smart home, which brings it on par with Amazon and Google (albeit at a far higher price of $349) when it ships later this year.

«

This begins to make sense in a comprehensive, ecosystem way. Whether it’s enough to catch up with Amazon is another question, but Ikea’s smart home system is highly regarded.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Brit ‘Wannacry’ hero arrested in US, Google’s bad app crackdown, ransomware’s future, slower tablets, and more


William Gibson isn’t just a severed head floating in blackness; he has some thoughts to offer about dystopias. Photo by Frédéric Poirot on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

William Gibson talks ‘Archangel,’ apocalypses, and dystopias • Vulture

»

Abraham Riseman: How do you account for the recent surge in popular fiction about the collapse of civilization into dystopia or Armageddon?

William Gibson: This could be a case of consumers of a particular kind of pop culture trying to tell us something, alas. Seriously, what I find far more ominous is how seldom, today, we see the phrase “the 22nd century.” Almost never. Compare this with the frequency with which the 21st century was evoked in popular culture during, say, the 1920s.

AR: Do you mean it’s ominous because people are so pessimistic that they can’t even imagine a future?
WG: Well, that’s the question — why don’t we? I don’t know.

AR: Why do you think we, as a culture, are so endlessly obsessed with stories about last-ditch attempts to stave off the end of the world?
WG: The end of the world is universal shorthand for whatever we don’t want to happen. We have very little control over anything much at all, individually, so fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency.

AR: What grim future do you fear most? A brutal dystopia? A nuked-out wasteland? A chaotic world war?
WG: I don’t think of those as very distinct states. It’s certainly possible to have all three at once.

«

Lots to mull over in this one.
link to this extract

 


Google Play will now downrank poorly performing apps • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

Google today announced it’s rolling out a change to its Play Store so that better-performing apps – meaning those that experience fewer crashes and those that don’t drain your smartphone battery – will be ranked higher than apps with bugs and other performance issues.

The goal with this new ranking algorithm is to ensure that the best apps are being promoted, which in turn leads to increased app usage and engagement, the company says.

The impetus for this change came after Google realized that around half of the 1-star reviews on the Google Play Store were about app stability problems.

Apps that don’t work well frustrate users, who often turn to the reviews to leave a complaint. Over time, a number of bad reviews and low star ratings can impact the app’s place in the charts and search results. But if an app is popular enough, a large number of installs can still, to some extent, override its negative reviews and push the app back up into a higher position than it rightly deserves.

«

First comment I saw on Twitter about this: “Does that mean the Facebook app is going to be removed?”
link to this extract

 


The campaign against Facebook and Google’s ad “duopoly” is going nowhere • Buzzfeed

Alex Kantrowitz:

»

Snap’s stock skyrocketed the day it hit the public markets, and investors celebrated — but only briefly. Snap’s first earnings report came in well below Wall Street expectations, and its stock cratered. The company’s shares now trade $4 below their IPO price.

Snap’s poor performance can be traced back in part to Facebook’s decision to ruthlessly copy nearly every part of its product. But the story doesn’t end there. Advertisers, some of whom have publicly criticized Facebook and Google on a range of issues from brand safety to misleading metrics, don’t seem to be allocating money to competitors like Snap in a way that would facilitate the competition they claim to desire.

“Pretty much everyone will say it is much healthier to have multiple players competing with each other,” Randall Rothenberg, CEO and president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry trade group, told BuzzFeed News. “After they’ve said that, they all go and they pay into a handful of dominant players.”

With Snap struggling, advertisers are starting to name new companies for the role it was supposed to fill. “Amazon is going to be an increasingly important force and one we have to better understand,” Martin Sorrell, CEO of ad agency holding company WPP, said last month. And some are even pointing to the Verizon-owned AOL and Yahoo as possible challengers.

But if anything, dollars are moving away from challengers into the big platforms’ pockets. “We’ve moved millions of dollars going into Snapchat into Instagram Stories ads because they’re less expensive and have a much higher view-through rate,” one ad agency executive told BuzzFeed News.

«

This is a little depressing, to be honest.
link to this extract

 


Briton who stopped WannaCry attack arrested over separate malware claims • The Guardian

Alex Hern and Sam Levin:

»

Marcus Hutchins, the 23-year-old British security researcher who was credited with stopping the WannaCry outbreak in its tracks by discovering a hidden “kill switch” for the malware, has been arrested by the FBI over his alleged involvement in another malicious software targeting bank accounts.

According to an indictment released by the US Department of Justice on Thursday, Hutchins is accused of having helped to create, spread and maintain the banking trojan Kronos between 2014 and 2015.

The Kronos malware was spread through emails with malicious attachments such as compromised Microsoft word documents, and hijacks credentials like internet banking passwords to let its user steal money with ease.

Hutchins, who is indicted with another unnamed co-defendant, stands accused of six counts of hacking-related crimes as a result of his alleged involvement with Kronos. “Defendant Marcus Hutchins created the Kronos malware,” the indictment, filed on behalf of the eastern district court of Wisconsin, alleges.

Hutchins, better known online by his handle MalwareTech, had been in Las Vegas for the annual Def Con hacking conference, the largest of its kind in the world. He was at the airport preparing to leave the country when he was arrested, after more than a week in the the city without incident.

«

This is utterly weird. Here’s the indictment, via Motherboard. It names (but obscures) the name of someone else who was apparently in Wisconsin. It sounds like the other person has fingered Hutchins. Whether that’s true is a different matter.
link to this extract

 


China cracks down after investigation finds massive peer-review fraud • Science

»

[China’s Ministry of Science and Technology’s] MOST’s 27 July announcement marked the culmination of an investigation into the mass retraction this past April of 107 papers by Chinese authors that appeared in a single journal, Tumor Biology. The papers, published between 2012 and 2016, were pulled after editors found “strong reason to believe that the peer review process was compromised,” Editor-in-Chief Torgny Stigbrand, of Umeå University in Sweden, wrote on 20 April on the website of the publisher Springer. (Springer, an arm of Springer Nature, published Tumor Biology until December 2016; the journal is now operated by SAGE Publications.)

Investigators say the authors engaged in an all-too-common scam. Tumor Biology allowed submitting authors to nominate reviewers. The Chinese authors suggested “experts” and provided email addresses that routed messages from the journal back to the researchers themselves, or to accomplices—sometimes third-party firms hired by the authors—who wrote glowing reviews that helped get the papers accepted.

The MOST investigation focused on 101 papers for which there was evidence of faked peer review, according to a summary of a press conference posted on the agency’s website. Investigators concluded that for 95 of the papers third party agencies had provided phony experts or false reviews. In six cases, one or more of the authors perpetrated the fraud themselves.

«

The scientific process working as it should; the demand for publication as a measure of success producing perverse consequences as you might expect. (Thanks to Walt French for the link.)
link to this extract

 


Xiaomi becomes world’s No.1 wearables vendor in Q2 2017 • Strategy Analytics

»

Steven Waltzer, Industry Analyst at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global wearables shipments reached 21.6 million units in Q2 2017, rising 8% year-on-year from 20.0m in Q2 2016. Strong demand for low-cost fitnessbands in China and premium smartwatches across the United States drove the uptick.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Xiaomi shipped 3.7 million wearables worldwide in Q2 2017, rising 23% annually from 3.0m units in Q2 2016. Xiaomi captured 17% global marketshare and overtook Fitbit and Apple to become the world’s largest wearables vendor.

“Xiaomi’s Mi Band fitness trackers are wildly popular in China, due to their highly competitive pricing and rich features such as heart-rate monitors, step-counters and calendar alerts. Fitbit shipped 3.4m wearables for 16% marketshare worldwide in Q2 2017, almost halving from 29% a year ago. Fitbit is at risk of being trapped in a pincer movement between the low-end fitnessbands sold by Xiaomi and the fitness-led, high-end smartwatches sold by Apple.”

«

Xiaomi’s fitness bands are probably making some good money. Might even be saving its margins. But the comparison purely on units, done for public consumption (since detailed reports likely have prices), isn’t useful. Apple shifted 2.8m Watches, by this estimate. That’s more than any other smartwatch vendor. It’s increasingly hard to see Android Wear OEMs even taking part in this space. Though the one that’s got problems is Fitbit: number sold cratering, and Hail-Mary-pass-smartwatch still some months away.
link to this extract

 


Transcripts of Trump’s calls with Mexico and Australia • Washington Post

Greg Miller, Julie Vitkovskaya and Reuben Fischer-Baum:

»

‘This deal will make me look terrible’: Full transcripts of Trump’s calls with Mexico and Australia

«

Oh my. I’m linking to this because it’s an important document, in its time, because it demonstrates – in the starkest form – how astonishingly bad Trump is at diplomacy, otherwise known as persuading people to do what you want them to do.

Such as this, from Trump to Mexico’s Pena Nieto:

»

Because you and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall. From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out.

«

Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall. (Not that there will be a wall, but anyway.)
link to this extract

 


Stolen nude photos and hacked defibrillators: is this the future of ransomware? • The Guardian

Alex Hern is at Defcon in Las Vegas:

»

Kleczynski, and his colleague, Adam Kujawa, who directs research at Malwarebytes, predict that criminals will evolve new ways of encouraging victims, both corporate and individual, to pay up rather than simply restoring from back-ups and ignoring the payment request.

New on the scene is a form of ransomware known as “doxware,”. “Basically what it says is ‘pay, or we’ll take all the stuff we encrypted and we’ll put it online with your name on it’,” says Kujawa.

The name comes from “doxing”, the term for publishing private information on the internet to bully, threaten or intimidate, and the idea of automating it isn’t hypothetical. A number of similar attacks have already occurred in the wild. At one end of the spectrum was the Chimera ransomware, which hit German companies in 2015. The malware encrypted files and asked for around £200 ($260) to return them, but also came with the warning that if victims did not pay up, “we will publish your personal data, photos and videos and your name on the internet”.

Chimera, however, didn’t actually have the capability to publish anything online – the warning was bluster, designed to scare victims into paying up. But in other cases, the threat of publishing data is very real.

In May, hackers stole files from a Lithuanian plastic surgery clinic, containing highly personal information about 25,000 former clients: names, addresses and procedures performed, as well as passport scans, national insurance numbers and nude photos of patients. They put the database online through the encrypted network Tor, and asked for payments from individual patients to remove their personal information from the site. Prices started at €50 for those patients who just had names and addresses in the site, but rose to €2,000 for the more invasive information stolen.

«

link to this extract

 


Tablet market decline slows in second quarter as low-cost tablets offer temporary relief • IDC

»

Once touted as the savior of the market, detachable tablets also declined in the second quarter as consumers waited in anticipation of product refreshes from high-profile vendors like Apple and Microsoft. However, with new product launches towards the end of the second quarter, the detachable market is expected to maintain a stronger position in the second half of the year.

“There’s been a resetting of expectations for detachables as competing convertible notebooks offered a convincing and familiar computing experience for many,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “To date, the 2-in-1 market was bifurcated as Apple and Microsoft led with detachables while the PC vendors led with convertibles. Though that is slowly changing as smartphone vendors and traditional PC vendors begin to offer compelling alternatives, the pace has been rather slow as Surface and iPad Pro still dominate shelf space and mindshare.”

Market turmoil aside, three of the top five vendors managed to increase share and grow on an annual basis with price being the largest driving factor. However, these gains may be temporary as the replacement cycle of tablets is still long (closer to traditional PCs rather than smartphones) and first-time buyers have become a rare commodity. With downward pressure on pricing from big name brands, “whitebox” tablet vendors and smaller brands are starting to turn their attention away from tablets and IDC expects this trend to continue.

«

Apple, Huawei and Amazon all saw growth; total market shrank by 3.4%. Samsung is stuck in the middle – isn’t cheap, brand isn’t strong enough. It stayed steady, but it hasn’t done anything significant in the tablet market for some time. Strategy Analytics reckons Samsung’s sales declined.

Next big question: will Apple put OLED in tablets? Or is that an expense too far?
link to this extract

 


HBO hack: insiders fear leaked emails as probe widens • Hollywood Reporter

Tatiana Siegel:

»

On July 27, Richard Plepler’s worst corporate nightmare unfolded. The HBO CEO learned that his company’s network had been breached by an apparently coordinated cyberattack that experts explained could expose a staggering 1.5 terabytes of data. That would be roughly seven times the size of the epic 2014 hack of Sony Pictures.

The attack was sophisticated, insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter, targeting specific content and data housed in different locations, suggesting multiple points of entry. Even more chilling, there was no ransom demand, say sources, leaving the motive in question and raising the specter that video footage, internal documents or even email correspondence could be leaked.

Two days later, HBO sent an alarming email on a Saturday to its 2,500-plus employees, notifying them that the company had been hit, followed by a second email warning staff not to open suspicious emails. On July 30, hackers going by the name of little.finger66 boasted to the media about pulling off “the greatest leak of cyber space era” [sic]. As a teaser, they provided a link to a script for an Aug. 6 episode of Game of Thrones and promised much more. At the same time, unaired episodes of Ballers and Room 104 began surfacing online.

To put in context the 1.5 terabytes — or 1,500 gigabytes — claim, in the Sony case, about 200 gigabytes of data was released online, a damaging deluge that brought the studio to its knees and led to the ouster of then co-chair Amy Pascal. “A traditional business-grade DSL link would take about two weeks at full blast to exfiltrate that much data,” says Farsight Security CEO Paul Vixie, noting that a finished Blu-ray is about 30 gigabytes. “If not for video and sound, a corporation the size of HBO might fit [entirely] in a terabyte, including all the email and spreadsheets ever written or stored.”

«

No threats; no ransom; no destruction of data. This looks like professional hackers trying to get content for piracy networks to me. Entirely unlike the Sony hack.
link to this extract

 


Smartphone volumes decline slightly in Q2 2017 amid anticipation of strong second half product launches • IDC

IDC, unlike Counterpoint (which reckoned there was 6% growth), thinks smartphone volumes declined by 1.3% to 341.6m in Q2:

»

While the smartphone industry contracted slightly in the second quarter, it is worth noting that the leading vendors all saw positive shipment growth. Samsung and Apple both held shares relatively constant from the second quarter a year ago, while the other three vendors rounding out the top 5 – Huawei, OPPO, and Xiaomi – all grew shares. The one change in terms of ranking within the top 5 was Xiaomi slightly outpacing vivo, but not by much.

“In my opinion, the biggest change in the second quarter is the size of the contraction among the ‘Others’ outside of the top 5 OEMs,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “It’s no secret that the smartphone market is a very challenging segment for companies to maintain or grow share, especially as already low average selling prices declined by another 4.3% in 2016. The smaller, more localized vendors will continue to struggle, especially as the leading volume drivers build out their portfolio into new markets and price segments.”

As we look toward the second half of 2017, IDC expects to see two quarters of positive year-over-year growth, leaving 2017 as a rebound year. Samsung is riding momentum from the Galaxy S8 products, with the presumed August announcement of the Note 8 right around the corner. In parallel, anticipation continues to build for the next round of iPhones that the industry expects Apple to announce in September. Outside of these two industry leaders, the companies to watch will continue to be the next three to five OEMs and how they navigate to position themselves in growing markets.

«

“Others” (not Samsung, Apple, Huawei, OPPO, vivo, Xiaomi) shrank by 16%. This is starting to look like the same thing as the PC market.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: what’s a TV antenna?, pop-up inventor apologises, China’s smartphone power, and more


CRISPR gene editing has been used to edit the germline of embryonic cells. The next question is: should it be licensed? Photo by ZEISS Microscopy on Flickr.

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

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

In breakthrough, scientists edit a dangerous mutation from genes in human embryos • The New York Times

Pam Belluck:

»

The study, published in the journal Nature, comes just months after a national scientific committee recommended new guidelines for modifying embryos, easing blanket proscriptions but urging the technique be used only for dire medical problems.

“We’ve always said in the past gene editing shouldn’t be done, mostly because it couldn’t be done safely,” said Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-led the committee. “That’s still true, but now it looks like it’s going to be done safely soon,” he said, adding that the research is “a big breakthrough.”

“What our report said was, once the technical hurdles are cleared, then there will be societal issues that have to be considered and discussions that are going to have to happen. Now’s the time.”

Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, reported that they repaired dozens of embryos, fixing a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life.

If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free but also would not transmit the disease to descendants.

The researchers averted two important safety problems: They produced embryos in which all cells — not just some — were mutation-free, and they avoided creating unwanted extra mutations.

“It feels a bit like a ‘one small step for (hu)mans, one giant leap for (hu)mankind’ moment,” Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist who helped discover the gene-editing method used, called CRISPR-Cas9, said in an email.

«

(The study isn’t paywalled.) CRISPR is coming, and perhaps a lot faster than many people have expected. The key question will be whether it will be done on the germline – the embryos that are then implanted, or egg or sperm cells that are then used to create embryos.
link to this extract


On the death of Bassel Khartabil • MIT Media Lab

Joi Ito:

»

I was devastated to learn yesterday that my friend Bassel Khartabil Safadi, a mentor, former colleague, and open source developer, was executed by the Syrian government. All of us at the Media Lab send our heartfelt condolences to his family, and join the community mourning this great loss.

I first met Bassel in 2009 while working at Creative Commons, an organization dedicated to open access to content on the Internet. Bassel was our main technical contact in the Middle East and he played a vital role in the open access movement in Syria. On a road trip from Beirut to Damascus, he boasted about the beauty and history of his hometown and it did not disappoint. I remember meeting his many interesting and eclectic friends: artists, architects, engineers, and how Bassel set up websites dedicated to their work. I appreciated his values, his humor, and his devotion to his country. Bassel was, above all, someone who loved Syria and worked to bring one of the oldest cities in the world into the 21st Century.

«

Terribly sad; and only one tiny fragment of the awful waste of the Syrian civil war.
link to this extract


Millennials unearth an amazing hack to get free TV: the antenna • WSJ

Ryan Knutson:

»

Dan Sisco has discovered a technology that allows him to access half a dozen major TV channels, completely free.

“I was just kind of surprised that this is technology that exists,” says Mr. Sisco, 28 years old. “It’s been awesome. It doesn’t log out and it doesn’t skip.”

Let’s hear a round of applause for TV antennas, often called “rabbit ears,” a technology invented roughly seven decades ago, long before there was even a cord to be cut, which had been consigned to the technology trash can along with cassette tapes and VCRs.

The antenna is mounting a quiet comeback, propelled by a generation that never knew life before cable television, and who primarily watch Netflix , Hulu and HBO via the internet. Antenna sales in the U.S. are projected to rise 7% in 2017 to nearly 8 million units, according to the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group.

Mr. Sisco, an M.B.A. student in Provo, Utah, made his discovery after inviting friends over to watch the Super Bowl in 2014. The online stream he found to watch the game didn’t have regular commercials—disappointing half of his guests who were only interested in the ads.

“An antenna was not even on my radar,” he says. He went online and discovered he could buy one for $20 and watch major networks like ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS free…

…Carlos Villalobos, 21, who was selling tube-shaped digital antennas at a swap meet in San Diego recently, says customers often ask if his $20 to $25 products are legal. “They don’t trust me when I say that these are actually free local channels,” he says.

Earlier this year, he got an earful from a woman who didn’t get it. “She was mad,” he recalls. “She says, ‘No, you can’t live in America for free, what are you talking about?’”

«

Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.
link to this extract


The man who invented pop-up ads says ‘I’m sorry’ • Forbes

Jay McGregor:

»

Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented pop-up ads, has apologised to the world in a lengthy explanation of his original intentions.

Writing for The Atlantic, Zuckerman explains that he had unintentionally created one of the most hated forms of advertising on the web.

In the late 90s Zuckerman worked for Tripod.com, a website that marketed content and services to graduates. Tripod later changed business model after the initial concept failed to catch on, becoming a webpage-hosting provider and “proto-social network” instead.

Tripod tried a number of revenue streams to keep the business going including; selling merchandise, a subscription service and even a paid-for magazine. But what really worked was advertising, and this is where it all began.

As Zuckerman explains in his essay: “At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad.

“It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”

«

The Zuckerman article is great, and I highly recommend it. It just didn’t lend itself to a succinct extract. Also, you now have a pub quiz question: “the popup ad was invented because a car advertiser found itself associated with what?”
link to this extract


Google and Facebook’s ad-supported internet isn’t sustainable in India, Africa and rest of the global south • Quartz

»

As billions more digital citizens connect this decade, a critical question arises: Does the internet’s current business model work in newly-connected regions?
 
Research shows the ad-supported internet of developed economies isn’t sustainable in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.
 
The answer is “no.” Increasingly, research and practice show the ad-supported internet of developed economies isn’t sustainable in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. And so billions of new users face an inflection point: miss out on the richness of the internet. Or, develop new business models to ensure the web remains open and accessible.

In the United States, the UK and other regions with lengthy access pedigrees, the success of an ad-supported internet maps to a handful of factors. Digital advertisers are operating in robust economies with ample consumer spending. Users are typically equipped with modern hardware and abundant data plans, allowing them to effortlessly stream video and navigate thickets of tabs and browser windows. This lets publishers track activity and show lots of targeted, high-value advertisements. As a result, Facebook earns a quarterly average revenue per user (ARPU) of $19.81 in the U.S. and Canada, compared to just $1.41 in Africa and Latin America. Indeed, almost half of Facebook’s revenue comes from just 12% of its users, many in North America.

In emerging markets, low disposable incomes make audiences much less valuable to advertisers. Audiences in Nigeria will pay 1/10 or less for an ad compared to one in the U.S. And many low-income users have feature phones or low-end smartphones that struggle to access modern websites and apps. These are further limited in their use by the high costs of data. The result is that for much of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, “going online” and engaging with digital content and services is a fundamentally different experience than it is in the West.

«

There’s an associated report: “Paying Attention to the Poor: Digital Advertising in Emerging Markets“.
link to this extract


Q2 2017: Chinese brands now contributing to almost half of global smartphone shipments • Counterpoint Research

»

Commenting on the growth of Chinese brands, Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research said, “Chinese brands have been successful in not only cementing their positions in their home country, but also managing to expand beyond mainland China at the same time. Most of these players took offline as the primary channel strategy to enter new markets. In addition they have backed their channel strategies with aggressive marketing spend in both above-the-line and below-the-line campaigns. This has made them accessible to partners, including operators, in new territories. These brands will continue to expand their reach beyond China during the second half of this year. India, South Asia and Africa will be the key focus geographies to drive additional scale and market share. The geographic diversification will also help offset any turbulence in the domestic China market, which is increasingly saturated.”

Commenting on vendor performance during the quarter Research Analyst, Shobhit Srivastava, noted, “The competitive landscape is now changing drastically across many regions. In developed markets the top three brands are strengthening their hold. In emerging markets meanwhile, rankings continue to be volatile, with new players also entering the top ten rankings within a few quarters of launch. This has led to various strategies by OEMs during the quarter to counter competition. These includes ODM tie-ups, operator tie-ups in prepaid markets, cutting down excessive portfolios and even offering devices for free (Jiophone launch). We expect further innovation (and desperation) in go-to-market strategies by different OEMs struggle for traction in fast-moving market environments.”

«

Huawei is looking like it will overhaul Apple some time in the next year.

link to this extract


Why Google stores billions of lines of code in a single repository • Communications of the ACM

Rachel Potvin and Josh Levenberg:

»

Google’s monolithic software repository, which is used by 95% of its software developers worldwide, meets the definition of an ultra-large-scale4 system, providing evidence the single-source repository model can be scaled successfully.

The Google codebase includes approximately one billion files and has a history of approximately 35 million commits spanning Google’s entire 18-year existence. The repository contains 86TB of data, including approximately two billion lines of code in nine million unique source files. The total number of files also includes source files copied into release branches, files that are deleted at the latest revision, configuration files, documentation, and supporting data files; see the table here for a summary of Google’s repository statistics from January 2015.

In 2014, approximately 15 million lines of code were changed in approximately 250,000 files in the Google repository on a weekly basis. The Linux kernel is a prominent example of a large open source software repository containing approximately 15 million lines of code in 40,000 files.14

Google’s codebase is shared by more than 25,000 Google software developers from dozens of offices in countries around the world. On a typical workday, they commit 16,000 changes to the codebase, and another 24,000 changes are committed by automated systems. Each day the repository serves billions of file read requests, with approximately 800,000 queries per second during peak traffic and an average of approximately 500,000 queries per second each workday. Most of this traffic originates from Google’s distributed build-and-test systems.

«

First the numbers are astonishing; then the processes by which colossal problems are avoided. The automated systems alone are worth considering.
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Struggling Americans once sought greener pastures—now they’re stuck • WSJ

Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg on how people aren’t moving for jobs any more in the US:

»

For many rural residents across the country with low incomes, government aid programs such as Medicaid, which has benefits that vary by state, can provide a disincentive to leave. One in 10 West Branch residents lives in low-income housing, which was virtually nonexistent a generation ago. Civic leaders here say extended networks of friends and family and a tradition of church groups that will cover heating bills, car repairs and septic services—often with no questions asked—also dissuade the jobless and underemployed from leaving.

Tom Quinn, president of the local Kirtland Community College, says the rationale boils down to: “I’ve got good social services. I’m stuck in one big rut. If you ask me to go to Indianapolis, I can’t—even if there’s a job there.”

“People can’t move,” says Mandi Chasey, county economic development director.

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

Janna E. Johnson and Morris M. Kleiner of the University of Minnesota found in a nationwide study that barbers and cosmetologists—occupations that tend to require people to obtain new state licenses when they relocate—are 22% less likely to move between states than workers whose blue-collar occupations don’t require them.

«

Remarkable: a combination of housing costs, healthcare costs, and weird licensing. Since when did a barber require a licence? Why?
link to this extract


Theranos low on cash after settlement with Walgreens • WSJ

Christopher Weaver and Michael Siconolfi:

»

Theranos said Tuesday it settled a lawsuit by the Walgreen Co. unit of Walgreens Boots Alliance that claimed the blood-testing firm breached their contract and misled the drugstore chain about its capabilities.

Neither Theranos nor Walgreens would disclose terms of the settlement, though people familiar with the matter said the amount was more than $25 million. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that a tentative settlement had been reached, calling for Theranos to pay Walgreens less than $30m.

The embattled Silicon Valley firm told investors in June that it had about $54m left on hand. It was spending about $10m a month then, but anticipated further reducing its burn rate.

Theranos in June was seeking to raise about $50m from existing investors. The company declined to comment on whether it had succeeded in doing so, or on its current cash position. It isn’t clear when Theranos will make the payments to Walgreens.

Theranos also maintains insurance policies that could cover certain settlement and legal costs, according to court records.

«

Would investors really put another $50m into Theranos, knowing all that they do? Do they feel the sunk cost is so big already ($686m, according to Crunchbase) that another fifty million dollars won’t hurt much more?
link to this extract


Botched release of beta HomePod OS reveals details of new 2017 iPhones and HomePod • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»

How in the world does something like this happen? My understanding is that Apple is (or at least was) on the cusp of a widespread deployment of prototype HomePods to employees. Someone prepared an over-the-air software update and because it was intended to be distributed only to Apple employees, the OS was compiled without all the usual flags set to omit code that pertains to unreleased hardware. (Kind of makes sense, insofar as HomePod itself is unreleased hardware.) Building the OS without those flags set may not have been a mistake. But distributing it via a world-readable server was.

«

I’ve heard rumours for some years that a select few Apple staff were testing some sort of smart speaker at home. This leaked deployment explanation would make sense. Apple does have an occasional talent for premature ejaculation of details like this.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the smart speaker bubble, iPads up!, hacking Alexa, more iPhone leaks, Facebook’s non-bots, and more


LEGO’s augmented reality with boxes is just a start – and Apple’s hoping to capitalise. Photo by antjeverena on Flickr.

You can now 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. So there you are. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tim Cook: augmented reality will make iPhone ‘even more essential’ • CNBC

Josh Lipton and Todd Haselton:

»

Speaking with CNBC after Apple’s earnings report on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that augmented reality is going to make smartphones even more important to users.

“The smart phone is becoming even more important to people because it’s going across so much of your life and you can tell by some of the things we did at WWDC that that will only continue,” Cook told CNBC’s Josh Lipton. “And with things like AR… I think it becomes even more essential than it currently is. I know it’s hard to believe, but I think that’s the case.”

Apple introduced ARKit during WWDC in June, which allows developers to create augmented reality apps. Millions iPhones already on the market will be able to take advantage of the new apps, which will allow users to peer through their iPhones into a world overlaid with new information and objects.

Imagine, for example, seeing a restaurant’s menu while standing outside on the street, or overlaying dinosaurs in the living room for your kids to interact with.

«

That’s insufficiently imaginative. Imagine measuring a room by pointing your phone at its corners; seeing exactly what a piece of furniture from a catalogue will look like in that exact room; seeing the ratings for wines on the shelf; hearing an extract from a CD based on its cover; price comparison in public spaces; figuring out tips. (Take a look at the tweets of Luke Wroblewski for more.)

Basically, journalists are both too imaginative and insufficiently imaginative about the potential here.
link to this extract


Apple’s Q3 FY17 financial results • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

»

Apple announced its third-quarter financial results for fiscal 2017 today. In the most recent quarter, the company earned $45.4bn in revenue, up from $42.4bn in the year-ago quarter.

«

The most surprising – to most people – element was iPad sales, which grew by 2% in revenue and 15% in units year-on-year, implying that the newly cheaper pricing for the 9.7in basic iPad (now cheaper than the iPad mini) is driving sales. Here are the graphs; plenty more where these came from.


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Hack that turns Amazon Echo into a spying device can’t be fixed by software patch • Motherboard

Louise Matsakis:

»

The Amazon Echo can be turned into a spying tool by exploiting a physical security vulnerability, according to Mark Barnes, a researcher at cybersecurity firm MWR InfoSecurity. His research shows how it’s possible to hack the 2015 and 2016 models of the smart speaker to listen in on users without any indication that they’ve been compromised.

The issue is unfixable via a software update, meaning millions of Echos sold in 2015 and 2016 will likely have this vulnerability through the end of their use.

Barnes executed the attack by removing the bottom of the smart speaker and exposing 18 “debug” pads, which he used to boot directly into the firmware with an external SD card. Once the hack is complete, the rubber base can be reattached, leaving behind no evidence of tampering.

With the malware installed, Barnes could remotely monitor the Echo’s “always listening” microphone, which is constantly paying attention for a “wake word.” (The most popular of these is “Alexa.”) Barnes took advantage of the same audio file that the device creates to wait for those keywords.

“I’m listening to that same file. I’m effectively listening the same way that processor is listening for a keyword,” he told me in a phone interview.

It’s important to note that Amazon Echo speakers come with a mute button, which turns off the microphone completely. Hitting the button would prevent hackers from being able to listen in on a compromised Echo. It would also prevent the normal use of the device until it is unmuted.

«

Only affects 2015 and 2016 Echo. So hey, Amazon recommends buying a new one!
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SEC asks Twitter why it doesn’t disclose daily user number • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:

»

The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked Twitter Inc. a question that many investors also have: why not disclose your number of daily active users?

Twitter reports the number of monthly active users, which stood at 328 million for two quarters. The company tells investors to focus instead on the percentage growth of people who use it daily, which has increased more than 10% in each of the last three quarters. But Twitter doesn’t say what that percentage represents.

In a May 10 letter, the SEC asked for Twitter to explain that choice, and “tell us how the percentage change information provides an investor with a clear understanding of user engagement on your platform.”

In the company’s lengthy response, it argued that showing growth was more important than showing the number. In fact, Twitter said, showing the number of DAUs would invite unfair comparison to Facebook, which calculates its number including people who use its separate Facebook messaging application. “Investors would not be able to compare performance between the Company and this other company,” San Francisco-based Twitter wrote. Facebook has six times the number of monthly users as Twitter.

«

Yeah, just trying to slide around that one.
link to this extract


New iPhone leaks show tap to wake, attention detection, and virtual home button • The Verge

Thuy Ong:

»

A potential “attention detection” feature is also mentioned in the [HomePod firmware] code, with some speculating that may mean the phone will remain silent for notifications if it knows you’re looking at the screen already. Facial references such as “mouthstretch,” “mouthsmile,” and “mouthdimple” were also found, which are most likely a nod to Apple’s rumored facial recognition feature that can even detect faces in the dark using infrared.

A “tap to wake” feature has also been discovered, and should be similar to the Windows Phone function that allows users to double-tap the screen to wake the phone.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The home button looks to be gone in favor of a virtual one, but some held out hope that though Troughton-Smith didn’t find evidence of an ultrasound Touch ID, a fingerprint sensor under the display was still a possibility. Troughton-Smith shot that down too, tweeting, “I mentioned ultrasound, yes, but I searched for much, much more. There is no evidence whatsoever of any new kind of Touch ID.” The virtual home button is called the “home indicator,” and will most likely be hidden in certain contexts such as when watching a video.

«

Matt Birchler looked back at the leaks last year, and found that by this time of the year pretty much everything about the new phones had leaked, one way or another. Apple is helping along by releasing this firmware, of course. What I don’t get is why Apple released HomePod firmware.
link to this extract


Amazon suspends sales of Blu phones due to privacy concerns • CNET

Alfred Ng:

»

The online retailing giant told CNET that it was suspending sales of phones from Blu, known for making ultra-cheap Android handsets, due to a “potential security issue.”

The move comes after security firm Kryptowire demonstrated last week how software in Blu’s phones collected data and sent it to servers in China without alerting people. Blu defended the software, created by a Chinese company called Shanghai Adups Technology, and denied any wrongdoing. A company spokeswoman said at the time it “has several policies in place which take customer privacy and security seriously.” She added there had been no breaches. 

Blu said it was in a process of review to reinstate the phones at Amazon. 

The issue of privacy and how data is collected is a hot topic thanks to a year’s worth of reports about Russian hacking and its intrusion into the 2016 presidential race, as well as news in the last few months about ransomware attacks that hijack people’s computers, to be unlocked (if you’re lucky) for a fee.

Amazon, for one, wasn’t taking any chances. 

“Because security and privacy of our customers is of the utmost importance, all BLU phone models have been made unavailable for purchase on Amazon.com until the issue is resolved,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon directed customers to contact Blu’s customer support. 

«

Do people know that their data is going to end up on Google or Amazon servers? I wonder. This seems more like an OMG CHINA reaction – though I think I would have the same reaction, to be honest.
link to this extract


No, Facebook did not panic and shut down an AI program that was getting dangerously smart • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

»

In recent weeks, a story about experimental Facebook machine learning research has been circulating with increasingly panicky, Skynet-esque headlines.

“Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” one site wrote. “Facebook shuts down down AI after it invents its own creepy language,” another added. “Did we humans just create Frankenstein?” asked yet another. One British tabloid quoted a robotics professor saying the incident showed “the dangers of deferring to artificial intelligence” and “could be lethal” if similar tech was injected into military robots.

References to the coming robot revolution, killer droids, malicious AIs and human extermination abounded, some more or less serious than others. Continually quoted was this passage, in which two Facebook chat bots had learned to talk to each other in what is admittedly a pretty creepy way.

Bob: I can i i everything else

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i everything else

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

The reality is somewhat more prosaic. A few weeks ago, FastCo Design did report on a Facebook effort to develop a “generative adversarial network” for the purpose of developing negotiation software… The bots were never doing anything more nefarious than discussing with each other how to split an array of given items (represented in the user interface as innocuous objects like books, hats, and balls) into a mutually agreeable split.

«

Ho hum.
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Google says AI better than humans at scrubbing extremist YouTube content • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

»

The company is using machine learning along with human reviewers as part of a mutli-pronged approach to tackle the spread of extremist and controversial videos across YouTube, which also includes tougher standards for videos and the recruitment of more experts to flag content in need of review.

A month after announcing the changes, and following UK home secretary Amber Rudd’s repeated calls for US technology firms to do more to tackle the rise of extremist content, Google’s YouTube has said that its machine learning systems have already made great leaps in tackling the problem.

A YouTube spokesperson said: “While these tools aren’t perfect, and aren’t right for every setting, in many cases our systems have proven more accurate than humans at flagging videos that need to be removed.

“Our initial use of machine learning has more than doubled both the number of videos we’ve removed for violent extremism, as well as the rate at which we’ve taken this kind of content down. Over 75% of the videos we’ve removed for violent extremism over the past month were taken down before receiving a single human flag.”

One of the problems YouTube has in policing its site for illicit content is that users upload 400 hours of content every minute, making filtering out extremist content in real time an enormous challenge that only an algorithmic approach is likely to manage, the company says.

«

Machines beat humans at yet another strategy game.
link to this extract


Talking speakers just arrived—and there’s already a bubble • WSJ

Li Yuan:

»

Within a day of Apple announcing its voice-activated HomePod speaker in June, Song Shaopeng, founder of smart-speaker technology startup Sugr Electronics Corp., fielded calls from three electronics manufacturers with the same request. All wanted his help to make HomePod-like products…

…An added inducement to jump in [to the smart speaker space] is that Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s smart speakers don’t offer voice interfaces in Chinese—and those are hard to build…

Smart speakers aren’t just hardware. They require complex software to recognize and execute voice commands and provide content ranging from weather forecasts, traffic reports, music, news, books and services from shopping to payment. The speakers are supposed to interact with users and learn their preferences over time.

That means heavy research and development.

“It’s like when you were trying to build a smartphone in 2007 only to find that you had to build the Android operating system and the mobile apps running on the phone too. It’s not something for small startups,” says Mr. Song, the Sugr founder.

Ximalaya’s owner, Shanghai Zendai Ximalaya Network Technology Co., partnered with the new AI subsidiary of app developer Cheetah Mobile Inc., which hired more than 200 engineers to work on the smart speaker.

“It was a lot of work,” says Mr. Li, the vice president. He says they used over 80,000 different voices to ensure the speaker understands when people call its name “Xiaoya.” When they changed the cover fabric for the speaker, the voice recognition rate fell from 90% to 10%. They then spent a month rewriting the algorithm.

«

1) it’s only when Apple gets into it that Chinese companies feel it’s validated
2) these versions will be the worst of all worlds – won’t have the Apple sound quality (reported to be very high) but won’t have Alexa’s combination of voice recognition quality and home ordering, nor Google’s voice recognition quality and, um, Google content.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the AI conundrum, Motorola shuns Facebook, Russia bans VPNs, CRISPR on humans, and more


The next top-end iPhone now seems certain to have facial recognition. But what about fingerprints? Photo by theilr on Flickr.

You can now 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 12 links for you. August already? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Artificial intelligence is stuck. Here’s how to move it forward • The New York Times

Gary Marcus:

»

Even the trendy technique of “deep learning,” which uses artificial neural networks to discern complex statistical correlations in huge amounts of data, often comes up short. Some of the best image-recognition systems, for example, can successfully distinguish dog breeds, yet remain capable of major blunders, like mistaking a simple pattern of yellow and black stripes for a school bus. Such systems can neither comprehend what is going on in complex visual scenes (“Who is chasing whom and why?”) nor follow simple instructions (“Read this story and summarize what it means”).

Although the field of A.I. is exploding with microdiscoveries, progress toward the robustness and flexibility of human cognition remains elusive. Not long ago, for example, while sitting with me in a cafe, my 3-year-old daughter spontaneously realized that she could climb out of her chair in a new way: backward, by sliding through the gap between the back and the seat of the chair. My daughter had never seen anyone else disembark in quite this way; she invented it on her own — and without the benefit of trial and error, or the need for terabytes of labeled data.

Presumably, my daughter relied on an implicit theory of how her body moves, along with an implicit theory of physics — how one complex object travels through the aperture of another. I challenge any robot to do the same.

«

Marcus suggests an international effort. Isn’t that what Open.AI is meant to be?
link to this extract


iPhone 8 infrared face detection and general device design revealed in HomePod firmware • Mac Rumors

»

Late last week, Apple released early firmware for its HomePod smart speaker, which won’t be launching to the public until December. HomePod will run a version of iOS, and the firmware released by Apple corresponds to iOS 11.0.2.

One iOS developer has dug into the firmware and discovered that it also contains hints of what we can expect for other devices. Most importantly, the firmware includes numerous references to infrared face detection within the BiometricKit framework that is currently home to Touch ID authentication, supporting claims that the iPhone 8 will rely at least in part on facial recognition. Developer Steven Troughton-Smith has also confirmed these discoveries…

…Other references point to infrared capture in BiometricKit, pointing toward the rumored infrared sensors on the front of the iPhone being involved in capturing images for authentication, rather than using visible light through a traditional camera.

Various references point toward the code name for this functionality being “Pearl,” while the code name for the iPhone 8 is “D22.” The iOS 11.0.2 HomePod firmware also includes a glyph for this D22 device representing an iPhone that looks much like the rumored iPhone 8, featuring a full-front display with a notch cut out at the top for the earpiece and sensors.

The iPhone 8 is expected to debut around the usual September timeframe, but availability may be delayed somewhat due to production difficulties. Apple has reportedly been trying to incorporate Touch ID fingerprint sensing beneath the device’s display, but some rumors have suggested Apple has had difficulty achieving that goal and may instead switch to facial recognition for authentication purposes.

«

I agree with John Gruber that “iPhone 8” isn’t likely to be the name for the OLED phone; “iPhone Pro” (his choice) or “iPhone X” seems much more likely, while LCD versions called iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will come out too.

But that raises the question of whether the iPhone X/Pro will have fingerprint unlock, as its lower-end siblings will. If it doesn’t, that’s going to require some amazing face unlocking.
link to this extract


Motorola’s Huckfeldt: Facebook didn’t ‘move the needle’ in re-launch campaign • Mediapost

Larissa Faw:

»

Motorola, along with agency partners Ogilvy and Motomentum, a custom Publicis Media shop, is shifting the Moto Z campaign strategy away from social and digital media.

“We spent quite a lot on Facebook last year,” says Jan Huckfeldt, VP, global marketing & communications, Motorola, adding the social network even touted the partnership’s success as a case study in an earnings call.

However, Motorola discovered that this strategy didn’t “move the needle overall,” he says. “We were disappointed it did not grow enough.”

The Moto Z campaign is part of a re-launch  effort by Motorola and parent Lenovo that re-introduced the iconic catchphrase “Hello Moto” and aligned with social media influencers.

“When we launched for the first time, we were only distributed in Verizon which is only 35% of the distribution channel,” says Huckfeldt. “So we said, ‘Let’s be as targeted as possible'” by targeting the “low-hanging fruit” of Android users.

It turns out, however, that when a brand like Motorola needs to revive its entire identity, “digital and social are not good tools,” he says. “When consumers are going through content, when something doesn’t have a hook, they just skip it. It doesn’t break through the clutter.”

«

Surprising.
link to this extract


Two sides to Apple’s China story • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan offers you a choose-your-own-narrative take on Apple’s removal of VPN apps in China:

»

Apple Inc.’s decision to remove VPN apps in China is selling out.

Apple Inc.’s decision to remove VPN apps in China is pragmatic.

By removing the means by which users skirt the Great Firewall, Apple is actually “aiding China’s censorship efforts,” because it is doing some of the hard work for the government.

By removing the means by which users skirt the great firewall, Apple is not really “aiding China’s censorship efforts,” but merely following the law by halting access to unlicensed apps.

«

But the final paragraphs are identical:

»

CEO Tim Cook has made it clear that the world’s most populous nation is extremely important to Apple, with the Greater China region accounting for almost 30% of sales. He’s betting a lot on China and can’t afford to screw it up now.

«

link to this extract


Putin bans VPNs to stop Russians accessing prohibited websites • Reuters

Polina Devitt:

»

President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that prohibits technology that provides access to websites banned in Russia, the government’s website showed on Sunday.

The law, already approved by the Duma, the lower house of parliament, will ban the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and other technologies, known as anonymizers, that allow people to surf the web anonymously. It comes into force on Nov. 1.

Leonid Levin, the head of Duma’s information policy committee, has said the law is not intended to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens but is meant only to block access to “unlawful content,” RIA news agency said.

«

link to this extract


Uber’s search for new CEO hampered by deep split on board • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:

»

Over the past few weeks, Ms. Whitman met with several Uber board members individually, offering advice on how to address the company’s problems. The members were encouraged by the discussions, and some believed that she was a natural fit for the vacant chief executive role. And after weeks of searching for a top candidate, they were eager to try to win her over.

That group did not include Mr. Kalanick. He and several of his allies had a competing agenda that included their own preferred candidates for the top job and the possibility of returning Mr. Kalanick into an operational role, perhaps even as chief executive. His surrogates had also recently begun talks with the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank about an investment in Uber that could provide Mr. Kalanick a route to regaining power.

Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, announced via Twitter that she was taking herself out of the running to succeed Mr. Kalanick. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The jockeying between factions has put billions of dollars on the line, as the Uber board fights over control of the $70 billion ride-hailing giant. Interviews with more than a dozen people close to the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential, indicate that board members’ relationships have been damaged by leaks, shifting wildly as alliances are forged and then broken.

The backbiting has taken a toll. After it was reported that she was a candidate for the chief executive job, Ms. Whitman said last Thursday that “Uber’s C.E.O. will not be Meg Whitman.” She made her announcement in a series of messages on Twitter just as the Uber board was holding a quarterly meeting, at which they had planned to call a vote on whether to appoint her to the job.

«

They might as well give Isaac a seat on the board, since he knows as much as anyone there.
link to this extract


Summer of Samsung: a corruption scandal, a political firestorm—and a record profit • Bloomberg

Brad Stone, Sam Kim and Ian King:

»

“What’s good for Samsung is good for South Korea” was once an overriding national sentiment. Following the Korean War, chaebol drove the country’s development into a global economic power. Now, polls show that domestic support for them has collapsed, amid fresh accusations that they’ve been illegally buying influence. The government formed by Moon Jae-in after [former president] Park’s removal includes prominent chaebol critics who are agitating for greater shareholder rights and less family control.

Inside Samsung Electronics, the anger looks like just another obstacle in a series of them. The company remains confident of its engineering prowess, but it has been working to transform a hierarchical culture that has long prized loyalty, tireless work, and deference. Although this culture has been well-suited to a hardware company, executives know it will have to change if Samsung Electronics is to compete with Silicon Valley in technologies such as cloud services and artificial intelligence.

The shift may take place, depending on the outcome of Lee’s trial, without the guiding hand of Samsung’s longtime stewards.

«

Long read, but worthwhile background. Bloomberg (Business Week) does an in-depth piece on Samsung every couple of years.
link to this extract


Wearables: not dead, but need focus • CNBC

Christina Farr:

»

industry experts I spoke to in recent weeks aren’t quite ready to pull the plug on the trend. Investors are still taking meetings with wearables startups, and entrepreneurs continue to develop new hardware products.

Why? Well, it’s a combination of factors.

Health and fitness seems to be the most sticky application for wearables, an IDC report found. And it has the potential to be a real business, if companies can deliver insights from the growing volume of data. And if these insights are proven to drive long-term behavior change by convincing users to walk more or eat healthier, that’s the holy grail.

“I still think the data play is interesting, though it’s hard to bet on hardware,” said Stephen Kraus, a health investor with Bessemer Venture Partners who is continuing to meet with wearables start-ups.

Thus far, wearables makers have made money through consumer sales and enterprise contracts. But, in the future, these companies might find new revenue opportunities from other health industry stakeholders.

“Ultimately, the signal out of these devices will be large enough that it will matter to practitioners and pharmaceutical companies,” Kraus predicted.

«

Apple’s doing OK at it. Everyone else, not so much at the moment. Is it going to be another iPod market.
link to this extract


First human embryos edited in US • MIT Technology Review

Steve Connor:

»

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

Until now, American scientists have watched with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

«

This would allow one to get rid of genetic disease, of course. A sidenote: Steve Connor is one of the best science journalists in the world. So this exclusive is reliable, and remarkable.
link to this extract


Al Gore: ‘The rich have subverted all reason’• The Guardian

Carole Cadwalladr:

»

“In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to first fix the government crisis,” he says. “Big money has so much influence now.” And he says a phrase that is as dramatic as it is multilayered: “Our democracy has been hacked.” It’s something I hear him repeat – to the audience in the ballroom, in a room backstage, a few weeks later in London, and finally on the phone earlier this month.

What do you mean by it exactly? “I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,” says Gore, “have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn’t. It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial groups. It’s clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat.”

«

link to this extract


First proof that Facebook dark ads could swing an election • New Scientist

Timothy Revell:

»

the first study detailing the process from start to finish is finally shedding some light. “This is the first time that I’ve seen all the dots connected,” says Joanna Bryson, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Bath, UK.

At the heart of the debate is psychographic targeting – the directing of political campaigns at people via social media based on their personality and political interests, with the aid of vast amount of data filtered by artificial intelligence.

Though Facebook doesn’t explicitly provide the tools to target people based on political opinions, the new study shows how the platform can be exploited. Using combinations of people’s interests, demographics, and survey data it’s possible to direct campaigns at individuals based on their agreement with ideas and policies. This could have a big impact on the success of campaigns.

“The weaponised, artificially intelligent propaganda machine is effective. You don’t need to move people’s political dials by much to influence an election, just a couple of percentage points to the left or right,” says Chris Sumner at the Online Privacy Foundation, who is presenting the work this week at DEF CON in Las Vegas.

No one yet knows how much this can permanently change people’s views. But Sumner’s study clearly reveals a form of political campaigning with no checks and balances.

«

link to this extract


Google’s new program to track shoppers sparks a federal privacy complaint • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg:

»

A prominent privacy rights watchdog is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a new Google advertising program that ties consumers’ online behavior to their purchases in brick-and-mortar stores.

The legal complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to be filed with the FTC on Monday, alleges that Google is newly gaining access to a trove of highly sensitive information — the credit and debit card purchase records of the majority of U.S. consumers — without revealing how they got the information or giving consumers meaningful ways to opt out. Moreover, the group claims that the search giant is relying on a secretive technical method to protect the data — a method that should be audited by outsiders and is likely vulnerable to hacks or other data breaches.

“Google is seeking to extend its dominance from the online world to the real, offline world, and the FTC really needs to look at that,” said Marc Rotenberg, the organization’s executive director.

Google called its advertising approach “common” and said it had “invested in building a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users’ data remains private, secure and anonymous.”

The Washington Post detailed Google’s program, Store Sales Measurement, in May. Executives have hailed it as a “revolutionary” breakthrough in advertisers’ abilities to track consumer behavior. The company said that, for the first time, it would be able to prove, with a high degree of confidence, that clicks on online ads led to purchases at the cash register of physical stores.

«

The data protection horse has long since bolted in the US.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Pandora’s Australian halt, Apple cuts VPN apps in China, Charlie Gard truths and fictions, and more


The US Department of Energy had a presence in Second Life. That might be all that’s left soon. Photo by rikomatic on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Pandora shuts down in Australia and New Zealand after five years • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»

The digital radio company, which launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2012, is officially closing down its app and website in the territories on Monday (July 31).

Approximately 5m registered customers in the region will be locked out of their accounts, having received a message from Pandora which tells them: “We’re honored to have connected so many listeners with the music they love these past few years. Thank you for your loyalty and the opportunity to serve you.”

The cost-cutting move will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on Pandora’s global active monthly listener count, which was last officially pegged at 76.7m in Q1.

However, it sets up the beginning of a new US-focused era at Pandora, which offloaded ticketing arm Ticketfly to Eventbrite for $200m last month – while selling an effective 16% stake in its business to SiriusXM for a $480m investment.

«

That noise you hear is the fat lady clearing her throat.
link to this extract


P&G cuts more than $100m in ‘largely ineffective’ digital ads • WSJ

Alexandra Bruell and Sharon Terlep:

»

Procter & Gamble said that its move to cut more than $100m in digital marketing spend in the June quarter had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.

Almost all of the consumer product giant’s advertising cuts in the period came from digital, finance chief Jon Moeller said on its earnings call Thursday. The company targeted ads that could wind up on sites with fake traffic from software known as “bots,” or those with objectionable content.

“What it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective, where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands,” he said.

«

That’s from a total spent of $2.45bn, it seems. It’s not cutting back on Facebook spending, though. Seems like worse news for ad tech companies than the big two of Facebook and Google.
link to this extract


Apple says it is removing VPN services from China App Store • Reuters

Cate Cadell:

»

Apple says it is removing virtual private network (VPN) services from its app store in China, drawing criticism from VPN service providers, who accuse the U.S. tech giant of bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators.

VPNs allow users to bypass China’s so-called “Great Firewall” aimed at restricting access to overseas sites.

In January, Beijing passed laws seeking to ban all VPNs that are not approved by state regulators. Approved VPNs must use state network infrastructure.

In a statement on Sunday, an Apple spokeswoman confirmed it will remove apps that don’t comply with the law from its China App Store, including services based outside the country.

Beijing has shut down dozens of China-based providers and it has been targeting overseas services as it bids to tighten its control over the internet, especially ahead of the Communist Party congress in August…

…”We view access to Internet in China as a human rights issue and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profit,” Sunday Yokubaitis, president of Golden Frog, which oversees VyprVPN told Reuters on Sunday…

…VPN providers say that while the apps are not available on the store, users are still able to manually install them using VPN support built into Apple’s operating system.

«

What’s not clear: whether already-installed copies of those apps will vanish from users’ handsets.
link to this extract


Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House • Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis:

»

A month after the election Pyle [Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, which, upon inspection, proved to be a Washington, D.C., propaganda machine funded with millions of dollars from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries] arrived for a meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Deputy Secretary Sherwood-Randall, and Knobloch. Moniz is a nuclear physicist, then on leave from M.I.T., who had served as deputy secretary during the Clinton administration and is widely viewed, even by many Republicans, as understanding and loving the D.O.E. better than any person on earth.

Pyle appeared to have no interest in anything he had to say. “He did not seem motivated to spend a lot of time understanding the place,” says Sherwood-Randall. “He didn’t bring a pencil or a piece of paper. He didn’t ask questions. He spent an hour. That was it. He never asked to meet with us again.”

Afterward, Knobloch says, he suggested that Pyle visit one day each week until the inauguration, and that Pyle agreed to do it—but then he never showed up, instead attending a half-dozen meetings or so with others. “It’s a head-scratcher,” says Knobloch. “It’s a $30-billion-a-year organization with about 110,000 employees. Industrial sites across the country. Very serious stuff. If you’re going to run it, why wouldn’t you want to know something about it?”

There was a reason Obama had appointed nuclear physicists to run the place: it, like the problems it grappled with, was technical and complicated. Moniz had helped lead the U.S. negotiations with Iran precisely because he knew which parts of their nuclear- energy program they must surrender if they were to be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. For a decade before Knobloch joined the D.O.E., in June 2013, he had served as president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “I had worked closely with D.O.E. throughout my career,” he says. “I thought I knew and understood the agency. But when I came in I thought, Holy cow.”

«

When Michael Lewis writes about a topic, it’s something to pay attention to. This is a very long article – save it for your lunch hour perhaps – but it’s very important. The closing lines:

»

if you are seeking to preserve a certain worldview, it actually helps to gut science. Trump’s budget, like the social forces behind it, is powered by a perverse desire—to remain ignorant. Trump didn’t invent this desire. He is just its ultimate expression.

«

link to this extract


Charlie Gard: facts, medicine, and right-wing fictions • Medium

I wrote about this case, which has created a huge amount of misunderstanding – a lot of it in the US, but quite a lot in the UK too. Here’s the first of three key misconceptions:

»

“there was a treatment”.

No, there wasn’t. The specific variant of mitochondrial DNA depletion disease which Charlie Gard had, RRM2B, affects both muscle and brain, and has never been effectively treated, much less reversed or “cured”. There is no known cure for mitochondrial disease, though there are treatments of varying efficacy for some variants. If you know someone who was “treated” and is now “better”, it was a less aggressive variant. (A doctor of genetics told me on Twitter that this is an incredibly rare variant of the range of diseases, and “one of the most catastrophic”. This variant affects the DNA in the nucleus so that the mitochondrial DNA is not renewed, which means that the cells progressively can’t generate energy. RRM2B is so rare there have only been about 20 documented cases ever.)

“TK2”, another variant of MDDS, doesn’t affect the brain as RRM2B does. Professor Michio Hirano (on whom more later) has had some limited success treating TK2 patients. But he’s never tried treating a RRM2B patient. (Unsurprising, given its rarity.)

«

There is more, including the legal points. I’ve had a lot of responses from doctors and lawyers – so far (on Sunday) all positive. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this story.
link to this extract


Social media and Charlie Gard: populism versus public services? • LSE Polis

Ranjana Das is a senior lecturer at Surrey University:

»

My research on the social media presence of this community [supporting the parents’ wishes re Charlie Gard] has shown up some pretty classical markers of populist politics which individuals, most of whom very emotionally affected by Charlie’s case, have been displaying, and I argue that these findings hold implications for public relationships to healthcare that we now need to consider in a constantly mediated society. Populism has long been discussed as an ideology which posits an image of the forgone, or left-behind as the opposition to the establishment peopled by ‘the elites’.

The role of the media is key here of course. Kramer’s use of media populism defines it as the use of “stylistic and ideological elements by some media, viz. the construction and favouritism of in-groups, hostility toward, and circumvention of the elites and institutions of representative democracy, sentiments (thus on an emotionalizing, personalizing, and ostentatiously plainspoken discourse.”

It is precisely this that the social media campaign around Charlie Gard has demonstrated.

«

link to this extract


Sci-Hub’s cache of pirated papers is so big, subscription journals are doomed, data analyst suggests • Science

Lindsay McKenzie:

»

There is no doubt that Sci-Hub, the infamous—and, according to a U.S. court, illegal—online repository of pirated research papers, is enormously popular. (See Science’s investigation last year of who is downloading papers from Sci-Hub.) But just how enormous is its repository? That is the question biodata scientist Daniel Himmelstein at the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues recently set out to answer, after an assist from Sci-Hub.

Their findings, published in a preprint on the PeerJ journal site on 20 July, indicate that Sci-Hub can instantly provide access to more than two-thirds of all scholarly articles, an amount that Himmelstein says is “even higher” than he anticipated. For research papers protected by a paywall, the study found Sci-Hub’s reach is greater still, with instant access to 85% of all papers published in subscription journals. For some major publishers, such as Elsevier, more than 97% of their catalog of journal articles is being stored on Sci-Hub’s servers—meaning they can be accessed there for free.

Given that Sci-Hub has access to almost every paper a scientist would ever want to read, and can quickly obtain requested papers it doesn’t have, could the website truly topple traditional publishing? In a chat with ScienceInsider, Himmelstein concludes that the results of his study could mark “the beginning of the end” for paywalled research.

«

The “beginning of the end” has been predicted for science paywalls many times. We’ll see if this marks that true start.
link to this extract


Update your Android now – many holes fixed including ‘BroadPwn’ Wi-Fi bug • Naked Security

Paul Ducklin:

»

The most intriguing [Android] bug this month, however, is an RCE flaw in the Broadcom Wi-Fi code that’s used by Android devices equipped with certain Broadcom wireless chips.

According to Google, “a proximate attacker [could] execute arbitrary code within the context of the kernel”.

In plain English, that means a crook who’s within Wi-Fi range could fire off booby-trapped network packets at your Wi-Fi hardware, trigger a bug in the wireless device…

…and end up with the same programmatic powers as the Android operating system on your device…

…What we can’t tell you is when the vendors of devices other than Google’s own Nexus and Pixel phones will be ready with their patches – if you’re worried, ask your vendor or the carrier who supplied your device.

Also, we can’t give you a handy list of the thousands of different Android devices out there that not only include Broadcom wireless cards but also have firmware that’s affected by the BroadPwn bug.

Once again, if you are worried, ask your supplier or mobile carrier.

«

So it looks as though, as long as your Android phone gets the July 2017 security fixes, it will be protected against the BroadPwn attack. Unknown: when/whether your Android phone will get those.
link to this extract


Oh shit, Will.i.am could soon be in charge of your smart home • Gizmodo UK

Rhett Jones:

»

Among Will.i.am’s gadgets that haven’t taken off, he’s released: a $315 iPhone case that had its own app called i.am+foto.sosho, a smart watch that was actually a smart cuff that was actually two smart cuffs that you wear at the same time, and, most recently, some high-end headphones that make you look like you’re wearing two of Lieutenant Uhura’s earpieces at the same time. In 2016, he launched another smart watch that required you to pay $28 a month for some sort of service and it had no apps. “The last paradigm was the apps thing,” he said at the time. And he was right. And it still is.

That shit’s in the past and Will is all about the future. The future is smart homes. 2017 is expected to be “the year of the smart home” and one recent report estimates that the tech will have a compound annual growth rate of 13.61% through 2023. Will.i.am’s company, i.am+ announced today that it has acquired the beleaguered smart home device maker Wink and together they are going to control everything in your house.

«

In general, Will.i.am getting into a sector is a good sign for the sector, but not for him.
link to this extract


Pebble, webOS design exec joins Google to lead Home, Chromecast design • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

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Before joining Pebble, [Liron] Damir led the webOS design efforts at HP, and then at LG. webOS was initially developed as a mobile operating system to take on Android and iOS, but HP scrapped these efforts when it realized that it couldn’t compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung. The company sold webOS to LG in early 2013, which ended up using the operating system for its smart TVs.

Damir is joining the Google Home group at an interesting time. Google Home itself launched as a product without a screen, and Chromecast has been positioned as a device without an on-screen user interface, instead relying on mobile apps for content selection and control.

However, Google demonstrated at its developer conference in May that it is working on closely integrating both products, which will require more complex on-screen interfaces.

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Damir was briefly at Andy Rubin’s Essential – which seems to be leaking executives at an amazing rate.
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Apple agreed to pay €1.7bn to Nokia for patents • Nokiamob

“Stipe”:

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In today’s financial results, Nokia mentioned that it had increased cash inflow thanks to an “up-front cash payment of approximately EUR 1.7 billion, part of which was recognized in the second quarter 2017 results.” When Nokia announced back in May that it settled all litigation with Apple, they also said that they will update its capital structure optimization program, as one reader pointed out, which means Apple agreed to pay a big one-time amount.

We contacted Nokia to confirm if the “up-front cash payment of €1.7bn ($2bn) (of which a part was recognized in Q2 results)” is from Apple, and Nokia’s PR team confirmed that and invited us to join the investor webcast at 2pm CEST here for more details.

We can conclude that Nokia scored a good deal with Apple.

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Nokia confirmed it’s from Apple in the conference call. Hardly as if Apple can complain the amount is confidential, given its size and those involved.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified