Start Up No.1722: now there’s AI that builds AI, FTC fines review-throttling site, blockchain 13 years on, and more


If you’re wondering why Neil Young is threatening to remove his music from Spotify, a Radiohead song title offers a clue. CC-licensed photo by Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine on Flickr.

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


Neil Young asks Spotify to remove music over vaccine disinformation • Rolling Stone

Andy Greene:

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Neil Young posted a since-deleted letter to his management team and record label demanding that they remove his music from Spotify. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” he wrote. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he continued. “They can have [Joe] Rogan or Young. Not both.” Young is referencing the steady stream of misinformation about vaccines that Joe Rogan has peddled on The Joe Rogan Experience. Last month, 270 doctors, physicians, and science educators signed an open letter asking Spotify to stop spreading Rogan’s baseless claims.

“With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE, which is hosted exclusively on Spotify, is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence,” the letter reads. “Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, though the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Young removed most of his music from Spotify several years ago because he felt the sound quality on the service was too low, but he ultimately relented.

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Young’s animus here is easily explained: he survived catching polio in 1952, aged seven, in the last big outbreak in Ontario. (Though his animus about sound quality is harder to explain, unless he was chained to a gramophone for a year afterwards.)

Shows though that Spotify can’t escape politics if it chooses to host podcasts. Rogan was always going to bring trouble in his wake.
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Researchers build AI that builds AI • Quanta Magazine

Anil Ananthaswamy:

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Artificial intelligence is largely a numbers game. When deep neural networks, a form of AI that learns to discern patterns in data, began surpassing traditional algorithms 10 years ago, it was because we finally had enough data and processing power to make full use of them.

Today’s neural networks are even hungrier for data and power. Training them requires carefully tuning the values of millions or even billions of parameters that characterize these networks, representing the strengths of the connections between artificial neurons. The goal is to find nearly ideal values for them, a process known as optimization, but training the networks to reach this point isn’t easy. “Training could take days, weeks or even months,” said Petar Veličković, a staff research scientist at DeepMind in London.

That may soon change. Boris Knyazev of the University of Guelph in Ontario and his colleagues have designed and trained a “hypernetwork” — a kind of overlord of other neural networks — that could speed up the training process. Given a new, untrained deep neural network designed for some task, the hypernetwork predicts the parameters for the new network in fractions of a second, and in theory could make training unnecessary. Because the hypernetwork learns the extremely complex patterns in the designs of deep neural networks, the work may also have deeper theoretical implications.

For now, the hypernetwork performs surprisingly well in certain settings, but there’s still room for it to grow — which is only natural given the magnitude of the problem. If they can solve it, “this will be pretty impactful across the board for machine learning,” said Veličković.

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Just putting this on our collective radars: AI building AI has that slightly concerning feel to it.
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Fashion Nova will pay $4.2m as part of settlement of FTC allegations it blocked negative reviews of products • US Federal Trade Commission

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Online fashion retailer Fashion Nova, LLC will be prohibited from suppressing customer reviews of its products and required to pay $4.2m to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that the company blocked negative reviews of its products from being posted to its website.

The FTC alleged in a complaint that the California-based retailer, which primarily sells its “fast fashion” products online, misrepresented that the product reviews on its website reflected the views of all purchasers who submitted reviews, when in fact it suppressed reviews with ratings lower than four stars out of five. The case is the FTC’s first involving a company’s efforts to conceal negative customer reviews.

“Deceptive review practices cheat consumers, undercut honest businesses, and pollute online commerce,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Fashion Nova is being held accountable for these practices, and other firms should take note.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, Fashion Nova used a third-party online product review management interface to automatically post four- and five-star reviews to its website and hold lower-starred reviews for the company’s approval. But from late-2015 until November 2019, Fashion Nova never approved or posted the hundreds of thousands of lower-starred, more negative reviews. Suppressing a product’s negative reviews deprives consumers of potentially useful information and artificially inflates the product’s average star rating.

The FTC also announced that it is sending letters to 10 companies offering review management services, placing them on notice that avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews violates the FTC Act. In addition, the FTC has released new guidance for online retailers and review platforms to educate them on the agency’s key principles for collecting and publishing customer reviews in ways that do not mislead consumers.

This is the second case the FTC has brought against Fashion Nova in recent years. In April 2020, the FTC announced that Fashion Nova agreed to pay $9.3m to settle allegations that the company failed to properly notify consumers and give them the chance to cancel their orders when it failed to ship merchandise in a timely manner, and that it illegally used gift cards to compensate consumers for unshipped merchandise instead of providing refunds.

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This has stirred up certain sections of American Twitter, because it seems to amount to the government telling companies what they can and can’t publish, which moves into First Amendment territory. Maybe Fashion Nova should redefine itself as a social network, and claim Section 230 lets it pick and choose reviews?
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An update to the Twitter Transparency Center • Twitter blog

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In terms of legal demands from governments, in the six month period covered in this report, Twitter received 43,387 legal demands to remove content, specifying 196,878 accounts. This is the largest number of accounts ever subject to removal requests in a reporting period since releasing our first transparency report in 2012.

Of the total global volume of legal demands, 95% originated from only five countries (in decreasing order): Japan, Russia, Turkey, India, and South Korea. We withheld or required account holders to remove some or all of the reported content in response to 54% of these global legal demands.

…Twitter required account holders to remove 4.7m Tweets that violated the Twitter Rules. Of the Tweets removed, 68% received fewer than 100 impressions prior to removal, with an additional 24% receiving between 100 and 1,000 impressions. [So 10% got more than 1,000 impressions.] In total, impressions on these violative Tweets accounted for less than 0.1% of all impressions for all Tweets during that time period.

In these six months, Twitter permanently suspended 453,754 unique accounts for violations of our child sexual exploitation (CSE) policy — 89% of those accounts were proactively identified and removed by deploying a range of internal tools and/or by utilizing the industry hash sharing (e.g., PhotoDNA) prior to any reports filed via the designated CSE reporting channel.

In the first half of 2021, Twitter suspended 44,974 unique accounts for promotion of terrorism and violent organizations — 93% of those accounts were proactively identified and removed.

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Long Covid: doctors find ‘antibody signature’ for patients most at risk • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

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Doctors have discovered an “antibody signature” that can help identify patients most at risk of developing long Covid, a condition where debilitating symptoms of the disease can persist for many months.

Researchers at University hospital Zurich analysed blood from Covid patients and found that low levels of certain antibodies were more common in those who developed long Covid than in patients who swiftly recovered.

When combined with the patient’s age, details of their Covid symptoms and whether or not they had asthma, the antibody signature allowed doctors to predict whether people had a moderate, high or very high risk of developing long-term illness.

“Overall, we think that our findings and identification of an immunoglobulin signature will help early identification of patients that are at increased risk of developing long Covid, which in turn will facilitate research, understanding and ultimately targeted treatments for long Covid,” said Onur Boyman, a professor of immunology who led the research.

The team studied 175 people who tested positive for Covid and 40 healthy volunteers who acted as a control group. To see how their symptoms changed over time, doctors followed 134 of the Covid patients for up to a year after their initial infection.

Blood tests on the participants showed that those who developed long Covid – also known as post-acute Covid-19 syndrome (Pacs) – tended to have low levels of the antibodies IgM and IgG3. When Covid strikes, IgM ramps up rapidly, while IgG antibodies rise later and provide longer-term protection.

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The breadth and depth of research that has been done into this disease, in just three years, is amazing really.
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Blockchain: the most poorly adopted platform in recent history? • Medium

Kristian Kielhofner, pointing out that bitcoin is turning 13 this month, and comparing it to the launch of the World Wide Web in 1993:

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On release of the web, the entire potential user base in the United States was essentially 8% of the US population — 21 million people (and likely much lower virtually everywhere else in the world). Even if you add in corporate and academic users in terms of user adoption things are not looking good for the World Wide Web…

Kids these days may not understand what the early years of the web/internet were like. You needed at least several thousand dollars (in 2021 money) of computer hardware that you had to order from a catalog and wait weeks for and/or be close enough to a store that sold computers. You needed a phone line (back when you paid for even “local” calls) and not to mention an ISP (my first ISP in 1995 was a long distance phone call)! If you don’t know what long distance is back in the day you had to pay per minute when you had to call outside of your local area. When you were on the internet your whole house couldn’t get phone calls unless you added another phone line at great expense.

Then once you got this far you had the fun of Hayes modem commands (potentially IRQ conflicts and jumpers), CHAT scripts, getting a TCP/IP stack to work, etc, etc. Yet, somehow, people saw the value and potential of the web and jumped through all of these ridiculous hoops. My first internet connection was basically 1.5KB/sec — all for very ROUGH web pages that in many cases took literally minutes to load (assuming your modem didn’t randomly drop the connection).

It didn’t take long for things to get better. Internet speeds got faster. More applications were developed. More users got online. All because the internet was delivering so much value and growing so rapidly people (companies) were digging ditches around the world for fiber and dispatching ships across the world’s oceans to lay submarine fiber — all to support the rapidly increasing functionality and use of the internet (web) and laying the groundwork (literally) for all things to come.
Just how much use? Let’s look at some web statistics from 2006, 13 years after the release of the WWW:
• Over 1 billion worldwide users
• 73% of the US Population.

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By contrast, best estimates say that Coinbase has about 9 million daily active users, with 11% maret share, hence ~100 million daily active users of crypto exchanges. From a multi-billion addressable market.
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Chip shortage leaves US companies dangerously low on semiconductors, report says • WSJ

Josh Zumbrun and Alex Leary:

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U.S. manufacturers and other companies that use semiconductors are down to less than five days of inventory for key chips, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, citing the results of a new survey.

In 2019, companies typically maintained 40 days of inventory for key chips, according to the Commerce Department report. Now for the same chips—defined as 160 products that companies identified as being the most challenging to acquire—companies are operating with fewer than five days of inventory, the report said.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the survey results show the urgency for Congress to approve the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which includes $52bn to boost domestic chip production.

“We aren’t even close to being out of the woods as it relates to the supply problems with semiconductors,” Ms. Raimondo told reporters Tuesday. “The semiconductor supply chain is very fragile, and it is going to remain that way until we can increase chip production.”

…The thin inventories are a source of particular concern because of how a single shutdown can then ripple through the supply chain. With these wafer-thin inventories, a closure of an overseas factory earlier in a company’s supply chain, for more than a few days, can cause it to exhaust its inventories.

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Google drops FLoC after widespread opposition, pivots to “Topics API” plan • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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After widespread opposition from the rest of the Internet, Google is killing its “FLoC” plans.

The company wants to get rid of the third-party web cookies used for advertising tracking, so it proposed FLoC (“Federated Learning of Cohorts”), which would have let its browser track you for the benefit of advertising companies. With FLoC dead, Google is floating another proposal to track users for advertisers. This time, the system is called the “Topics API.” There are currently no implementation details, but Google has posted info about the Topics API in a blog post, in developer docs, on a GitHub page, and on a “Privacy Sandbox” site.

Google’s Topic API plans are just now being shared with the world, and the company says the next step is to build a trial implementation and gather feedback from the Internet. Hopefully, the EFF, Mozilla, the EU, and other privacy advocates that spoke out about FLoC will chime in on Google’s new plan. The Topics API gives users more control over the tracking process, but if your core complaint was that browser makers should not build user tracking technology directly into the browser for the benefit of advertising companies, you’ll still find fault with Google’s plan. Google is the world’s biggest advertising company, and it’s using its ownership of the world’s biggest browser to insert its business model into Chrome.

…FLoC worked by grouping people with similar browsing histories together into a “cohort” and would make assumptions about that group for advertising purposes. One of the concerns was that these groups could be small enough to individually track users, which is what third-party cookies do today. Google says that Topics should be broad enough to ensure that users are not individually tracked and to further reduce fingerprinting. Google says that “5 [percent] of the time, a random topic (chosen from the full set of topics) is provided.”

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Google is forcing me to dump a perfectly good phone • Vice

Aaron Gordon is – he says – abandoning Android:

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for the past six years, Google has made the Pixel line of phones. They are Google-made phones, meaning Google can’t blame discontinuing security updates on other manufacturers, and yet, it announced that’s exactly what it would do. 

The planned obsolescence is frustrating enough, and I’m certainly annoyed that I have to spend hundreds of dollars on a new phone when I really shouldn’t have to. It still boggles my mind that we can fashion a bunch of precious metals together to send invisible messages to people anywhere in the world. For millions of years, these metals formed underground, and then, with great ingenuity and exploitation, those metals were mined, transported, and sold as amazing and necessary technology, making Google incredibly rich. And Google has decided it will only put those rocks to use for three measly years before turning those rocks into something even less valuable than rocks. It’s now garbage. 

I will recycle the phone when I’m done with it, but I’m also under no illusions about the likelihood that process will yield anything useful. Maybe one day we’ll get better at recycling phones, but because companies like Google want the phones to be as compact, energy efficient, and alluring as possible, they are put together in a way that makes them difficult to take apart whenever Google decides they will no longer function reliably as phones. Which, again, it has done after just three years.

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His rationale for switching to an iPhone is longer security update support (up to seven years).

The number of people switching between Android and iOS is tiny compared to the total. The number switching because they’re annoyed at the lack of security updates is even smaller (though probably a good chunk of the former). But it was Gordon’s point about the waste of rare metals that chimed for me. People hang on to their phones for longer and longer now: three years is by no means unusual. Security updates don’t matter for most people; for journalists, it’s different.
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The rise of the crypto mayors • The New York Times

David Yaffe-Bellany:

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The ballooning popularity of Bitcoin and other digital currencies has given rise to a strange new political breed: the crypto mayor. Eric Adams, New York’s new mayor, accepted his first paycheck in Bitcoin and another cryptocurrency, Ether. Francis Suarez, Miami’s mayor, headlines crypto conferences. Now even mayors of smaller towns are trying to incorporate crypto into municipal government, courting start-ups and experimenting with buzzy new technologies like nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, to raise money for public projects.

Their growing ranks reflect the increasing mainstream acceptance of digital currencies, which are highly volatile and have fallen in value in recent days. The mayors’ embrace of crypto is also a recognition that its underlying blockchain technology — essentially a distributed ledger system — may create new revenue streams for cities and reshape some basic functions of local government.

“Mayors rationally want to attract high-income citizens who pay their taxes and impose few costs on the municipality,” said Joseph Grundfest, a business professor at Stanford. “Crypto geeks fit this bill perfectly.”

But as with many ambitious crypto projects, it’s unclear whether these local initiatives will ultimately amount to much. So far, most are either largely symbolic or largely theoretical. And the mayors’ aims are partly political: crypto boosterism has a useful bipartisan appeal, garnering popularity among both antigovernment conservatives and socially liberal tech moguls.

“You can do these things because you want to be associated with dudes with AR-15s, or you want to be associated with Meta,” said Finn Brunton, a technology studies professor at the University of California, Davis, who wrote a 2019 book about the history of crypto. “A lot of it is hype and hot air.”

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The “rise” seems to consist of a total of three mayors (though New York and Miami aren’t tiddlers). For the opposing view, which isn’t in here, read Mark Headd’s quick thoughts about this. He’s not a fan.

Also, “high-income citizens who pay their taxes”? I though the crypto-libertarian impulse was to avoid taxes at all costs.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1721: Google sued over location ‘dark patterns’, Dutch fine Apple, even yet another NFT hacking for profit, and more


Why is it that decades-old songs by groups such as The Police have fans among much younger listeners – to the extent it crowds out newer music?CC-licensed photo by Elvire.R. on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. They’re very tasty. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


D.C., Washington, Texas and Indiana sue Google, alleging it deceived customers about location data • The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski:

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Attorneys general from D.C. and three states plan to sue Google on Monday, arguing that the search giant deceived consumers to gain access to their location data.

The lawsuits, expected to be filed in the District of Columbia, Texas, Washington and Indiana, allege the company made misleading promises about its users’ ability to protect their privacy through Google account settings, dating from at least 2014. The suits seek to stop Google from engaging in these practices and to fine the company.

The complaints also allege the company has deployed “dark patterns,” or design tricks that can subtly influence users’ decisions in ways that are advantageous for a business. The lawsuits say Google has designed its products to repeatedly nudge or pressure people to provide more and more location data, “inadvertently or out of frustration.” The suits allege this violates various state and D.C. consumer protection laws.

“Google uses tricks to continuously seek to track a user’s location,” said D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D). “This suit, by four attorneys general, on a bipartisan basis, is an overdue enforcement action against a flagrant violator of privacy and the laws of our states.”

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The suit might not succeed, but it’s all part of the constant pressure that Google and Facebook are under.
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Dutch regulator says Apple’s plan for third-party in-app payments is insufficient, fines Apple €5m • MacRumors

Sami Fathi:

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The Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has ruled that Apple’s plan to allow App Store dating apps to use third-party payment methods for in-app purchases does not sufficiently meet the requirements of a previous ruling. As a result, the ACM has hit Apple with an initial €5m fine as a consequence, and fines will continue to be assessed at €5m per week up to a maximum of €50m until Apple complies.

Last week, following Apple’s announcement that dating apps in the Dutch App Store would have the option to let users use third-party payments for in-app purchases, the ACM said it would assess whether those changes meet the requirements of a previous ruling. The ACM had previously ruled that Apple’s App Store is unfair and Apple was engaging in anti-competitive business practices.

Apple’s announced changes fail to “satisfy the requirements,” the ACM said today in a press release. “At the moment, dating-app providers can merely express their ‘interest’. In addition, Apple has raised several barriers for dating-app providers to the use of third-party payment systems,” the ACM added, alluding to the fact that dating apps must first ask and receive approval for a special App Store entitlement to point users to third-party payment methods.

Apple’s plan also appears to require developers to choose between offering a third-party in-app purchase option or being able to direct users to outside payment options, and the ACM says Apple must allow developers to offer both options.

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So hard to figure out whether Apple can afford €50m, though it looks like a sacrifice to principle; one very much doubts that it’s getting that much revenue from Dutch dating apps.
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iCloud sync is randomly breaking • Revert to Saved

Craig Grannell:

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A week or so ago, [the Mac/iOS app] Cloud Battery stopped working for me. The app syncs device battery status across iCloud, providing alerts across all your devices — handy when one needs charging. Having just updated a bunch of them, I figured this was a bug in a nice but not critical piece of indie software and thought nothing more of it.

Then I needed to use Transloader for something. It worked – at first. But then it started throwing up sync errors. On iPhone, the app noted these were 503s. If you’re not familiar with arcane error codes, this one states a server is not able to handle a request. Since the ‘server’ in this case is iCloud, that was a concern. I switched two devices to a spare account and Transloader worked fine. I finished my work, albeit a day behind.

Then Soulver failed — suddenly and very badly. I needed to restart my iMac so was shutting down all my apps. Soulver threw up a permissions error. A week of input was wiped out in an instant. This was a shock on multiple fronts: in part because of the data loss, but also because Soulver is one of the most robust apps I use. It had never failed before.

I swapped messages with the app’s creator, who was mortified. I sent grabs of my iCloud Drive folder where Soulver’s ‘sheetbook’ was stored, which now had an exciting and mysterious new file. I moved the sheetbook to local storage and had had no further problems. I tested the old one several times on iCloud, and it went wrong half a dozen times. The culprit was clearly iCloud.

I griped about this on Twitter. It turned out, I wasn’t alone.

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Seems this has been going on since May 2021, and Apple either doesn’t know how to fix it or doesn’t know it’s happening.
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OpenSea bug allows attackers to get massive discount on popular NFTs • Coindesk

Eliza Gkritsi:

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A bug on the non-fungible tokens (NFT) marketplace OpenSea has allowed at least three attackers to secure massive discounts on several NFTs and make a huge profit.

The bug, which was discovered as early as Dec. 31, 2021, allowed the attackers to buy NFTs at older, lower prices, and sell them for a hefty profit. Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic wrote in a blog post that one attacker called jpegdegenlove “paid a total of $133,000 for seven NFTs – before quickly selling them on for $934,000 in ether. Five hours later, this ether was sent through Tornado Cash, a ‘mixing’ service that is used to prevent blockchain tracing of funds.”

NFTs are digital assets on a blockchain that represent ownership of virtual or physical items. OpenSea is one of the largest marketplaces for NFTs. Elliptic estimates the market value of the affected NFTs to be over $1 million.

Jpegdegenlove partially reimbursed two of the victims, sending them back a total of $75,000 on Monday, Elliptic said. Some users have been transferring their listed assets to other wallets to take them off the market place whilst avoiding the delisting fee, founder of NFT project freshdrops_io tweeted back in December.

But even though the item may appear to be off the OpenSea front end, it is still accessible on OpenSea APIs and Rarible, another NFT marketplace. CoinDesk could not reach OpenSea for comment on this story.

One NFT from the popular Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) collection was listed under its July 2021 price of 23 ether, and the attacker was able to sell it for 135 ether, making a quick profit of more than 100 ether, tweeted Tal Be’ery, Chief Technology Officer of ZenGo crypto wallet.

Asked about the bug, an OpenSea Discord admin confirmed to CoinDesk that “if you had an open listing that you never cancelled, or didn’t hit its expiration, it still exists.”

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Such an incredible oversight. On the plus side, the profit is a lot less now that the crypto market has dropped so precipitously.
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Cracking a $2 million crypto wallet • The Verge

Kim Zetter, on a pair of people who got some junkcoins in 2018, forgot the PIN to their hardware wallet, then wanted to get into it – except it would wipe after 16 failed attempts:

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The cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis estimates that more than 3.7 million Bitcoins worth $66.5bn are likely lost to owners. Currency can be lost for many reasons: the computer or phone storing a software wallet is stolen or crashes and the wallet is unrecoverable; the owner inadvertently throws their hardware wallet away; or the owner forgets their PIN or dies without passing it to family members.

As the value of their inaccessible tokens rapidly rose in 2020, Reich and his friend were desperate to crack their wallet. They searched online until they found a 2018 conference talk from three hardware experts who discovered a way to access the key in a Trezor wallet without knowing the PIN. The engineers declined to help them, but it gave Reich hope.

“We at least knew that it was possible and had some directional idea of how it could be done,” Reich says.

Then they found a financier in Switzerland who claimed he had associates in France who could crack the wallet in a lab. But there was a catch: Reich couldn’t know their names or go to the lab. He’d have to hand off his wallet to the financier in Switzerland, who would take it to his French associates. It was a crazy idea with a lot of risks, but Reich and his friend were desperate.

COVID and lockdowns slowed their plans in 2020, but in February 2021, with the value of their tokens now $2.5m, Reich was making plans to fly to Europe, when suddenly they found a better option: a hardware hacker in the US named Joe Grand.

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I linked yesterday to a 36-year-old who believed she could increase her money tenfold in a few hours, and handed everything over to fraudsters. It’s hard not to think that the “financier in Switzerland” who wanted the physical hardware came from the same group. The rest of the story is quite fun, though.
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How big was the Tonga eruption? • Reuters

Manas Sharma and Simon Scarr:

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Breaking down the stages of the eruption into intervals allows us to plot the expansion of the enormous plume of material that volcanologists call an “umbrella cloud”.

Around the time of the initial eruption, a cloud measuring 38 km (24 miles) wide is thrust into the atmosphere. Its diameter already measures almost twice the length of Manhattan, New York. One hour later, it appears to measure around 650 km wide, including shock waves around its edge.

The scale of the umbrella cloud is comparable to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and is one of largest of the satellite era, according to Michigan Tech volcanologist Simon Carn in a NASA blog post.

The satellite images of the event show mostly ocean with scattered islands of Tonga and Fiji barely noticeable. Gauging the actual size of the eruption is difficult when in such a remote part of the South Pacific.

Here, we take the cloud of volcanic material and place it over well-known land masses and coastlines to get a true sense of just how big the eruption was.

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Pretty much covers France, or alternatively England. Big question whether we (or possibly the southern hemisphere) will now have a cool, rainy summer due to ash thrown into the jetstream and beyond.
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How Tonga’s broken internet cable will be mended • BBC News

Jane Wakefield:

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An undersea fibre-optic cable which connects Tonga to the rest of the world was severed during the eruption of a volcano.

New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs says it could take more than a month to repair the 49,889km (31,000miles) of cable in the South Pacific. The undersea eruption – followed by a tsunami – led to Tonga’s 110,000 people being cut off.

A 2G wireless connection has been established on the main island, using a satellite dish from the University of the South Pacific. But the service is patchy, and internet services run slowly.

The cable, which is operated by Tonga Cable, is believed to have broken about 37km (23 miles) offshore.
According to Reuters, fault-finding conducted by the company in the aftermath of the volcano seemed to confirm a cable break.

The process of mending it is actually quite simple, according to principal engineer at Virgin Media, Peter Jamieson, who is also vice-chairman of the European Subsea Cable Association.
“They will send a pulse of light from the island and a machine will measure how long it takes to travel and this will establish where the break is,” he explained. [A broken fibre reflects the light back to its source. – Overspill ed.] Then a cable-repair boat will be sent to the location of the first break.

It will use either an ROV (remotely-operated underwater vehicle) or a tool known as a grapnel (basically a hook on a chain) to retrieve the broken end. That will be re-joined to fresh cable on board the boat and then the same process will happen at the other end of the break. If all goes well, the whole process will take between five and seven days.

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Is old music killing new music? • The Atlantic

Ted Gioia:

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Old songs now represent 70% of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.

The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5% of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.

I encountered this phenomenon myself recently at a retail store, where the youngster at the cash register was singing along with Sting on “Message in a Bottle” (a hit from 1979) as it blasted on the radio. A few days earlier, I had a similar experience at a local diner, where the entire staff was under 30 but every song was more than 40 years old. I asked my server: “Why are you playing this old music?” She looked at me in surprise before answering: “Oh, I like these songs.”

Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact. In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead. Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona fide hits can pass unnoticed by much of the population.

…A decade ago, 40 million people watched the Grammy Awards. That’s a meaningful audience, but now the devoted fans of this event are starting to resemble a tiny subculture. More people pay attention to streams of video games on Twitch (which now gets 30 million daily visitors) or the latest reality-TV show. In fact, musicians would probably do better getting placement in Fortnite than signing a record deal in 2022. At least they would have access to a growing demographic.

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Wordle: the archive

»

This is an archive for Wordle by Josh Wardle built on Katherine Peterson’s WordMaster

Made with love by Devang Thakkar.

«

The layout is nicer than the working version (which is presently on word 220). If time is dragging, or 24 hours too long to wait for your hit, here you go. (Note: uses American spelling.)
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The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902 did not go as planned • Atlas Obscura

Shay Maunz on how the French colonial authorities, having laid nine miles of sewers in Hanoi that provided the perfect breeding ground for rats, hired locals to get rid of them:

»

The bloodshed started swiftly. In the last week of April, 1902, 7,985 rats were killed—and that was just the beginning. The assassins continued to gain experience in the month of May, pushing the death toll above 4,000 each day. By the end of the month, the numbers were even more astounding. On May 30 alone, 15,041 rats met their end. In June, daily counts topped 10,000, and on June 21, the number was 20,112.

Let’s let that sink in: 20,112 rats killed in a single day.

…Eventually, the colonists realized that, even with this small army of paid rat killers, they were failing to make a dent in the rat population.

They proceeded to Plan B, offering any enterprising civilian the opportunity to get in on the hunt. A bounty was set—one cent per rat—and all you had to do to claim it was submit a rat’s tail to the municipal offices. That way, the government wouldn’t be overrun with bulky rat corpses. “I always think about that,” Dr. Vann says. “Who is the poor guy counting all these rat tails?”

The French were especially pleased with this arrangement because they’d been encouraging entrepreneurialism in Vietnam. And at first, it seemed to be working. Tails poured in. French ingenuity triumphed again.

But then there started to be curious sightings, all around town: rats, alive and healthy, running around without their tails.

«

The entrepreneurialism got even more inventive. A very cautionary tale. Sorry.
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September 2016: Five ways of the corporate psychopath • Psychology Today

Dale Hartley:

»

The Inuit people of Alaska have a word, kunlangeta, for “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women — someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” Anthropologist Jane Murphy revealed this in a study published in 1976. When she asked how the Inuit people dealt with a kunlangeta, one man told her, “Someone would have pushed him off the ice when no one was looking.”

«

American readers (👋) may be wondering why “kunlangeta” is suddenly the talk of the town in the UK – well, of London, especially of Whitehall. It’s because Dominic Cummings, whom Substack preserve, used it obliquely to refer to Boris Johnson in his latest missive, as he explained that he was going to submit his evidence to the latest inquiry into Johnson’s behaviour in writing, so there could be no disagreement about its contents. (“It’s clear talking to people in No10 and 70 Whitehall that many officials are desperate to shove the kunlangeta off the ice this week,” he wrote.)

Have to say, those Inuits have a way with language. And that it’s interesting to discover that personality types are preserved through time and space. Before I’d looked it up I thought “kunlangeta” meant something like “walrus”, or possibly “dead meat”.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1720: faster internet means less Big Society, how the Covid-19 dashboard was built, the trouble with earbuds, and more


An old sort-of favourite on Apple’s desktop Mac OS X, the Dashboard, was phased out – but now it’s needed more than ever as widgets proliferate. CC-licensed photo by Ben Ramsey on Flickr.

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

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


Faster internet speeds linked to lower civic engagement in UK • The Guardian

Robert Booth:

»

Faster internet access has significantly weakened civic participation in Britain, according to a study that found involvement in political parties, trade unions and volunteering fell as web speeds rose.

Volunteering in social care fell by more than 10% when people lived closer to local telecoms exchange hubs and so enjoyed faster web access. Involvement in political parties fell by 19% with every 1.8km increase in proximity to a hub. By contrast, the arrival of fast internet had no significant impact on interactions with family and friends.

The analysis of behaviour among hundreds of thousands of people led by academics from Cardiff University and Sapienza University of Rome found faster connection speeds may have reduced the likelihood of civic engagement among close to 450,000 people – more than double the estimated membership of the Conservative party. They found that as internet speeds rose between 2005 and 2018, time online “crowded out” other forms of civic engagement.

The study’s authors have also speculated that the phenomenon may have helped fuel populism as people’s involvement with initiatives for “the common good”, which they say are effectively “schools of democracy” where people learn the benefit of cooperation, has declined.

Other studies have shown that social media engagement has strengthened other kinds of civic engagement, for example by helping to organise protests and fuelling an interest in politics, even if it does not manifest in traditional forms of participation.

However, politics conducted online has been found to be more susceptible to “filter bubbles”, which limit participants’ exposure to opposing views and so foster polarisation.

«

This appears to be the study, though nobody troubles to link to it 🙄. Not so much “bowling alone” as “internetting alone”.
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Over 90 WordPress themes, plugins backdoored in supply chain attack • Bleeping Computer

Bill Toulas:

»

A massive supply chain attack compromised 93 WordPress themes and plugins to contain a backdoor, giving threat-actors full access to websites.

In total, threat actors compromised 40 themes and 53 plugins belonging to AccessPress, a developer of WordPress add-ons used in over 360,000 active websites.

The attack was discovered by researchers at Jetpack, the creators of a security and optimization tool for WordPress sites, who discovered that a PHP backdoor had been added to the themes and plugins.

Jetpack believes an external threat actor breached the AccessPress website to compromise the software and infect further WordPress sites.

«

It would be really nice – like, really nice – if WordPress were a lot more robust against this sort of thing, which goes on all the time. I was looking at a site about the Brexit referendum, and it was rotten with bitcoin spam. People set up sites and forget them, and leave security holes wide open. WordPress has been a boon, but also a security nightmare.
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How the UK COVID-19 dashboard was built, using Postgres and Citus for millions of users • Microsoft Tech Community

Claire Giordano:

»

The list of people who rely on the UK Coronavirus dashboard is quite long: government personnel, public health officials, healthcare employees, journalists, and the public all use the same service.

»

“While ministers and scientists are able to see individual data sets before the public, the dashboard itself is an example of truly democratized, open-access data: the latest graphs and someone sitting at home in Newcastle sees the latest trends and graphs for the first time at 4pm, the same moment as Boris Johnson [the Prime Minister] in his office in Downing Street does.”
—The i newspaper, 12 February 2021, Behind the scenes of the coronavirus dashboard

«

In addition to exemplifying the value of open-access data, the UK Coronavirus dashboard is open source. All of the software, and the SQL queries themselves, can be found on GitHub, under the MIT license with the data available under the Open Government License 3.0.

Accessibility is another important design principle. The dashboard is designed for people with different disabilities. The interface is simple to use and enables anyone to navigate the data, letting you visualize trends over time and across geographic regions.

This post is a deep dive into how the UK Coronavirus analytics dashboard came to be, and why it’s architected the way it’s architected. In this post you’ll learn about the database challenges the team faced as the dashboard needed to scale—with an eye toward how the UKHSA team uses Azure, the Azure Database for PostgreSQL managed service, and the Citus extension which transforms Postgres into a distributed database.

«

One million users per day, 70m hits per day. A real triumph for open data, I’d say.
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Apple should bring back Dashboard • 512 Pixels

Stephen Hackett:

»

The design of Dashboard [which was an “under-the-desktop” virtual layer, which featured “widgets” consisting of simple HTML and CSS] got toned down over time, and eventually it wasn’t even enabled by default on clean macOS installations. Keyboards that once shipped with a dedicated Dashboard shortcut were slowly phased out. By the time Apple finally pulled the plug on Dashboard in macOS Catalina, most of the widgets that once graced this corner of the OS had died off. The party had packed up years earlier, leaving just a small percentage of users still relying on the feature.

Apple killed off Dashboard at exactly the wrong time. Just one year after Catalina killed Dashboard, Apple started allowing developers to bring their iOS widgets over to the Mac in macOS Big Sur. Sadly, they all got stuffed into the slide-out Notification Center user interface.

Notification Center is a real mess. Even on a Pro Display XDR, you get three visible notifications. That’s it. Anything older is hidden behind a button, regardless of how many widgets you may have in the lower section of the Notification Center column.

Apple needs to rethink this and let this new class of widgets breathe, being able to use the entire screen like the widgets of yore could. Bringing back Dashboard is an obvious solution here, and I’d love to see it make a return.

«

As Hackett points out, the old widgets did offer a small amount of interactivity, which the new ones don’t – they’re just a static window onto whatever they point at. An odd regression.
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Lawmakers target bitcoin and crypto’s carbon footprint • Buzzfeed News

Sarah Emerson:

»

For years, cryptocurrency has rivaled entire nations in terms of energy use, and US lawmakers are just now starting to investigate how crypto mining operations could be undermining global efforts to combat climate change.

This question was the subject of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday that broadly examined the carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. The panel addressed a growing refrain that certain types of crypto transactions are catastrophically energy intensive and are extending the lifetime of fossil fuel resources. Committee members also questioned some of the promises made by crypto boosters, such as the claim that miners can actually help stabilize energy grids.

“Our focus now needs to be reducing carbon emissions overall, and increasing the share of green energy on the grid,” subcommittee Chair Rep. Diana DeGette said during introductory remarks. While the unique demands of crypto “present potential benefits,” DeGette continued, “it’s important to understand the degree to which this is actually being done.”

The hearing marks one of the few times that lawmakers have discussed crypto’s climate implications on a bipartisan stage. Last year, six crypto company executives testified before the House Financial Services Committee; one of those CEOs, Bitfury’s Brian Brooks, appeared again on Thursday as a panel witness alongside other crypto CEOs and former government officials.

“Crypto’s energy consumption is a feature, not a bug,” said witness John Belizaire, CEO of data center developer Soluna Computing, claiming that “the narrative of [crypto’s] threat to the grid is wrong.”

«

Gonna disagree with you there, John. The noise about banning mining – and, more to the point, rising interest rates and inflation – seems meanwhile to have spooked (some) owners of crypto, which saw big selloffs on Friday.
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I tried to fix my wireless earbuds. It did not go well • Financial Times

Alexandra Heal:

»

Of the 54 million tonnes of e-waste generated globally in 2019, less than one-fifth was formally recycled. Small electronics epitomise the problem. They’re easy to hoard, cheap to replace and have been neglected by government recycling targets, which are based on weight. The issue will only become more acute as smaller and smaller electronics proliferate in our daily lives. (Global spending on wearable tech has nearly doubled since 2019 and is forecast to grow at a similar rate.) “Every piece of dust makes a mountain,” says Ruediger Kuehr, a sustainability researcher at United Nations University, the research arm of the UN.

Right now, mass-market electronics don’t get much smaller than earbuds. Unlike plug-in earphones, an earbud’s dependence on a battery gives it a limited life span and requires a complex chemistry of critical raw materials such as lithium and cobalt. The magnets in the charging cases are likely to contain neodymium, another rare earth material. For Michael Rohwer from the US business sustainability network BSR, earbuds represent the most difficult part of the e-waste conundrum. “The number of headphones you’ve been through in your life is probably staggering. Earbuds take that problem to the next level.”

Holding up my lifeless pair, I wondered what the world was going to do with the looming deluge of dead sets. If everyone else was going to stuff them in a drawer too, could something be done? I resolved to try to fix them and, pretty quickly, found myself falling down a very tiny, very deep rabbit hole.

«

Long story short, you’re not going to fix those suckers. Let someone else recycle them when, inevitably, they die.
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How BBC News topped 20m Instagram followers – and why it’s not on TikTok • Press Gazette

Charlotte Tobitt:

»

BBC News crossed 20m followers on Instagram in December – the first news account in the world to do so.

The closest news account on the platform is CNN with 16.3m followers. The next biggest UK-based newsbrand is The Guardian on 4.9m.

Although all major newsbrands saw their Instagram accounts grow as the Covid-19 pandemic led to a demand for trusted news sources, BBC News has done particularly well out of it.

BBC News head of social Jeremy Skeet told Press Gazette there is a simple formula of four things that have helped the account grow:

• “laser-like focus” on the audience
• regular posting
• creating more explainers especially in relation to Covid-19, and
• using text on images.

“Obviously we’ve tweaked various things as we’ve gone along,” he said. “But fundamentally, I think that’s what’s driven our growth and lots of other people’s growth.”

«

The decision not to use TikTok (and to abandon Snapchat) is that the audience is… younger. Skeet said of that:

»

“We’re only going to go on to these platforms if editorially we think they’re the right platforms to be on and we can create the content that would work on this platform and work for BBC News. We haven’t really got the resources to do video solely for TikTok so we’re not going to do that.”

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Debate: Lawfare and UK Court System • Hansard, the record of the UK Parliament

Last week David Davis attracted a lot of attention for calling for Boris Johnson to resign. But this debate that he instigated is, to me, far more important:

»

Early in 2021, Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny published a video investigation into President Putin’s palace on the Black sea. In the video, he waved a copy of “Putin’s People” by Catherine Belton, a much respected Financial Times journalist at the time. Just two months later, Belton and her publisher were suddenly served with a series of lawsuits, filed over the course of six weeks by four Russian billionaires and the state-run company Rosneft—that, I think, gives away that the Russian state is involved.

Media lawyers with decades of experience in such cases said that they had never seen a legal onslaught of such scale and intensity. Those cases dragged on for over a year, and the cost of that year alone ran into the millions—£1.5 million for Catherine Belton alone. If the case had gone on, it would have cost millions more.

One of those suing Belton—the final one—was Roman Abramovich, the multi-billionaire owner of Chelsea football club. Abramovich claimed that Belton’s book alleged that he had a corrupt relationship with the Russian President and was making payments into Kremlin slush funds. An identical suit was also filed in an Australian court by Abramovich, to effectively double the cost of defending the case and to further intimidate HarperCollins.

It is worth reminding people of Mr Abramovich’s background and the character of the man. We are speaking here of the man who manages President Putin’s private economic affairs, according to the Spanish national intelligence committee. This is a man who was refused a Swiss residency permit, due to suspected involvement in money laundering and contacts with criminal organisations. Abramovich was also deemed a danger to public security and a reputational risk to Switzerland.

«

What he says is protected under Parliamentary privilege (so he can’t be sued, and happily nor can I if I just report it accurately). The allegations in the debate are absolutely appalling. It’s clear that reforms of the damages and costs system is needed.
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The nanotechnology revolution is here — we just haven’t noticed yet • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»

Another example of modern nanomachines manipulates light rather than electricity. A new kind of lens, known as a “metalens,” has been shown in the laboratory to be able to bend and shape light in ways that used to require a whole stack of conventional lenses, says Juejun Hu, an associate professor of materials science at MIT. The advantage of metalenses is that they are thin and nearly flat—at least to the naked eye.

Under an electron microscope, the surface of a metalens looks like a plush carpet. At this scale, the metalens is clearly covered with minuscule pillars—each one-thousandth the width of a human hair—sticking up from its surface. This texture allows a metalens to bend light in a way that’s analogous to the way that conventional lenses do. (The way these little silicon “fibers” work is novel enough that they forced physicists to rethink their understanding of how light and matter interact.)

A handful of startups are translating metalens technology to commercial applications. Among them is Metalenz, which just announced a deal with semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics to make 3-D sensors for smartphones. This application of metalenses could allow a greater variety of phone manufacturers to achieve the kind of 3-D sensing that enables Apple’s Face ID technology.

Unlocking your phone with your face is just the beginning, says Metalenz CEO Robert Devlin. Metalenses also have abilities that can be difficult to reproduce with conventional lenses. For example, because they facilitate the detection of polarized light, they can “see” things conventional lenses can’t. That could include detecting levels of light pollution, allowing the cameras on automobile safety and self-driving systems to detect black ice, and giving our phone cameras the ability to detect skin cancer, says Mr. Devlin.

«

I wish, I so wish, that there were more attention paid (as Chris does) to this real, and really important, stuff than to vanity concepts like NFTs.
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ICO criticises government-backed campaign to delay end-to-end encryption • Computer Weekly

Bill Goodwin:

»

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has stepped into the debate over end-to-end encryption (E2EE), warning that delaying its introduction leaves everyone at risk – including children.

The privacy watchdog said end-to-end encryption plays an important role in safeguarding privacy and online safety, protecting children from abusers, and is crucial for business services.

The intervention follows the launch of a government-funded campaign this week that warns that social media companies are “blinding themselves” to child sexual abuse by introducing end-to-end encrypted messaging services.

Stephen Bonner, the ICO’s executive director of innovation, said the discussion on end-to-end encryption had become too unbalanced, with too much focus on the costs, without weighing up the significant benefits it offers.

“E2EE serves an important role both in safeguarding our privacy and online safety,” he said. “It strengthens children’s online safety by not allowing criminals and abusers to send them harmful content.

“It is also crucial for businesses, enabling them to share information securely and fosters consumer confidence in digital services.”

«

The ICO and the Home Office being at odds probably isn’t that new, but outright contradicting a message really is.
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Fraudsters hijack Instagram accounts to scam others • BBC News

Beatrice Pickup and Shari Vahl:

»

[Nicole Reeves, 36] had come across a video posted by her friend and former colleague Shaks, 27, who also lives in Bristol. In the video he explained how he had invested £500 and received £5,000 back.

She messaged who she thought was her Shaks via Instagram, and he confirmed that it was true. Ms Reeves was then instructed to contact a profile called Shanny_Powell1_ on Instagram. She was told that she could benefit from fluctuations in currency and that if she invested £500 she would get £5,000 within an hour.

Having transferred the funds, she was told she had been chosen for a special bonus and would be receiving £20,000, but only if she could find some more money to pay for ‘taxes’. In total, Ms Reeves transferred a total of £1,200 to an account in Jamaica using a money transfer website.

She said: “I kept thinking to myself, this is real, I’ve verified it, I’ve watched my friend in this video and I’ve spoken to him through Instagram on a message, so it’s got to be real.” Ms Reeves then received a phone call from someone who claimed to be a manager.

He asked her to record a video of herself, to tell everyone how great the investment was and showing appreciation to ‘Shanny Powell’.

She was told that she would receive the money once she had recorded the video. Finally, she was persuaded to hand over her Apple ID, password, and then the one time passcode that appeared on her phone. She was told this was to prove her identity.

“Things started to happen in front of my face. Everything started going absolutely crazy,” she said. “Things were happening to my Instagram account which I was getting logged out of and I was locked out of my phone.” Ms Reeves never received any of the money promised.

«

I know I should be sympathetic but honestly, how can you reach the age of 36 and think that you can increase the value of your money tenfold in an hour? And then to hand over everything including your 2FA codes. Astonishing.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1719: Djokovic’s strange ‘biotech’ investment, Covid’s air loss, NFT site drop kills NFTs, crypto miners under fire, and more


Once the darling of the stock market, exercise company Peloton has seen a dramatic drop in demand – and expected profits. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster on Flickr.

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

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


Peloton to pause production of its Bikes, treadmills as demand wanes • CNBC

Lauren Thomas:

»

Peloton is temporarily halting production of its connected fitness products as consumer demand wanes and the company looks to control costs, according to internal documents obtained by CNBC.

Peloton plans to pause Bike production for two months, from February to March, the documents show. It already halted production of its more expensive Bike+ in December and will do so until June. It won’t manufacture its Tread treadmill machine for six weeks, beginning next month. And it doesn’t anticipate producing any Tread+ machines in fiscal 2022, according to the documents. Peloton had previously halted Tread+ production after a safety recall last year.

The company said in a confidential presentation dated Jan. 10 that demand for its connected fitness equipment has faced a “significant reduction” around the world due to shoppers’ price sensitivity and amplified competitor activity.

Peloton has essentially guessed wrong about how many people would be buying its products, after so much demand was pulled forward during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now left with thousands of cycles and treadmills sitting in warehouses or on cargo ships, and it needs to reset its inventory levels.

The planned production halt comes as close to $40bn has been shaved off of Peloton’s market cap over the past year. Its market value hit a high of nearly $50bn last January.

«

It’s lost eighty percent of its market cap? (Market cap being the market’s guess about the net present value of its total future profits.) But it gets worse:

»

However, Peloton said, the latest forecast doesn’t take into account any impact to demand the company might see when it begins to charge customers an extra $250 in delivery and setup fees for its Bike, and another $350 for its Tread, beginning at the end of this month.

«

Benedict Evans suggested it’s another GoPro – madly fashionable for a while, and then just a tiny niche.
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What sort of ‘biotech’ company has Novak Djokovic invested in? • Thread Reader App

Dr Darren Saunders is a biomedical scientist, and he’s taken a closer look at that company Novok Djokovic and his wife have invested in to find a “cure” for Covid:

»

Here’s the site of Novak’s “biotech” company QuantBioRes. The inclusion of “Quant” (ie quantum) in the name is a massive red flag 🚩🚨
quantbiores.com.

The second red flag is the liberal sprinkling of words like “resonant” and “frequencies” through the word salad on that site. (Let’s just park the false staement that coronaviruses are retroviruses for now).

So, if you haven’t fgured it out yet, Novak’s “biotech company” is working on homeopathy as a cure for COVID.

I’ve read the “discover more” section about their innovatove technology (I highly reccomend against this), here are a few choice quotes… “During this rapid research effort, we will identify the common component of proteins responsible for initial infection for all related RNA viruses and then design a vaccine based on this component and thus create the cure.”

Guys, this isn’t how biochemistry works

«

Possibly – just possibly – Djokovic is better at tennis than biomedical investment. (Thanks Toby A.)
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Covid loses 90% of ability to infect within 20 minutes in air – study • The Guardian

Linda Geddes:

»

Coronavirus loses 90% of its ability to infect us within 20 minutes of becoming airborne – with most of the loss occurring within the first five minutes, the world’s first simulations of how the virus survives in exhaled air suggest.

The findings re-emphasise the importance of short-range Covid transmission, with physical distancing and mask-wearing likely to be the most effective means of preventing infection. Ventilation, though still worthwhile, is likely to have a lesser impact.

“People have been focused on poorly ventilated spaces and thinking about airborne transmission over metres or across a room. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but I think still the greatest risk of exposure is when you’re close to someone,” said Prof Jonathan Reid, director of the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre and the study’s lead author.

“When you move further away, not only is the aerosol diluted down, there’s also less infectious virus because the virus has lost infectivity [as a result of time].”

Until now, our assumptions about how long the virus survives in tiny airborne droplets have been based on studies that involved spraying virus into sealed vessels called Goldberg drums, which rotate to keep the droplets airborne. Using this method, US researchers found that infectious virus could still be detected after three hours. Yet such experiments do not accurately replicate what happens when we cough or breathe.

«

Not peer-reviewed, but makes a lot of sense. And drier air is even more effective at deactivating it. (No mention of washing hands, eh.)
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People can’t see some NFTs on Twitter and crypto wallets after OpenSea goes down • Vice

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

»

OpenSea, one of the most popular marketplaces for non-fungible tokens or NFTs, is suffering a “database outage,” the company announced on Thursday. As a result, several services which rely on OpenSea’s APIs, including the popular crypto wallet MetaMask, are having trouble displaying NFTs.

“We’re caching that data so their outage doesn’t wipe the wallet,” MetaMask co-founder Dan Finlay told Motherboard in an email. “We store what NFTs the user has in the wallet. OpenSea’s outage means we are currently not auto-detecting new NFTs that are sent to the user’s wallet, although users can always tell the wallet about NFTs they have by entering its address manually.”

In other words, because OpenSea is down, some NFT owners who just bought their tokens may not be able to see their expensive JPEGs even in their crypto wallet. 

“We are experiencing technical issues leading to a site outage. Teams are currently investigating,” the company wrote around 9 a.m. ET. As of this writing, OpenSea published an update saying “a fix has been implemented and we are monitoring the issue. Programmatic access remains disabled.”

Some people are taking advantage of this situation to make the point that the NFT market and the so-called web3 is not as decentralized as its supporters often argue.

«

Er, yeah. It’s centralised as the Facebook/YouTube/Twitter tri-opoly, for all the denials.
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Georgia’s mountainous cryptocurrency problem • Eurasianet

Giorgi Lomsadze :

»

Svaneti is best known for its towering, snowy peaks, picturesque stone-hewn hamlets, and strict traditional code of honor. Increasingly, however, it is also known for cryptocurrency production.

Some residents have been taking advantage of a government program providing free electricity to mountain regions, with the aim of keeping the remote communities alive, and using the subsidized power to churn out virtual money in their medieval towers.

Georgia has emerged as an unlikely global cryptocurrency hotspot, with prospectors attracted to the country’s laissez-faire business environment and cheap electricity needed for the power-hungry process of “mining” the virtual money. Svaneti – with its free electricity for households and discounts for businesses – is an especially appealing base for the industry.

While that has allowed some in Svaneti to make a mint in the virtual economy, it has meant that many others in the hardscrabble region suffer from the resulting power outages. The region has no natural gas supply, meaning that electricity (along with wood) is used for heating in winter. Svaneti’s other new economic hope – tourism – suffers particularly from the frequent power outages, which affect hotels, restaurants, and ski lifts.

Svaneti’s cryptocurrency frenzy peaked in 2019, when the power company and police were forced to go door to door to disconnect consumers who had gotten involved in cryptocurrency mining. Energo Pro said it then took offline about five million laris [$1.6 million] worth of mining hardware.

But miners were undeterred, and last year the region’s electricity consumption returned to 2019 levels, the company said. The regional capital of Mestia and nearby towns consume almost four times more power than the seven megawatt hours they are expected to.

Mountain dwellers are not the only Georgians using electricity subsidies for cryptocurrency: monasteries, too, have become unlikely outposts of virtual mining. In a dump last year of security services’ surveillance files, one revelation was the extent to which the clergy had gotten involved in the crypto business.

«

Keep going…
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EU should ban energy-intensive mode of crypto mining, regulator says • Financial Times

Eva Szalay:

»

A top EU financial regulator has renewed calls for a bloc-wide “ban” on the main form of bitcoin mining and sounded the alarm over the rising proportion of renewable energy devoted to crypto mining.

Erik Thedéen, vice-chair of the European Securities and Markets Authority, told the Financial Times that bitcoin mining had become a “national issue” for his native country Sweden and warned that cryptocurrencies posed a risk to meeting climate change goals in the Paris agreement.

Thedéen said that European regulators should consider banning a mining method known as “proof of work” and instead nudge the industry towards the less energy-intensive “proof of stake” model to cut down on the sector’s vast power usage.

Bitcoin and ether, the two largest cryptocurrencies by volume, both rely on a proof of work model, requiring all participants on the blockchain digital ledger to verify transactions. Miners, who use sprawling data centres filled with fast computers to solve complex puzzles, are rewarded for recording transactions with newly minted coins.

That requires significantly more energy than the proof of stake model, where the number of parties signing off trades is much smaller.

“The solution is to ban proof of work,” said Thedéen, who is also director-general of Sweden’s Financial Supervisory Authority and chair of sustainable finance for international body Iosco. “Proof of stake has a significantly lower energy profile.”

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Keep going…
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Russia proposes ban on use and mining of cryptocurrencies • Reuters

Elena Fabrichnaya and Alexander Marrow:

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Russia’s central bank on Thursday proposed banning the use and mining of cryptocurrencies on Russian territory, citing threats to financial stability, citizens’ wellbeing and its monetary policy sovereignty.

The move is the latest in a global cryptocurrency crackdown as governments from Asia to the United States worry that privately operated and highly volatile digital currencies could undermine their control of financial and monetary systems.

Russia has argued for years against cryptocurrencies, saying they could be used in money laundering or to finance terrorism. It eventually gave them legal status in 2020 but banned their use as a means of payment.

In a report published on Thursday, the central bank said speculative demand primarily determined cryptocurrencies’ rapid growth and that they carried characteristics of a financial pyramid, warning of potential bubbles in the market, threatening financial stability and citizens.

The bank proposed preventing financial institutions from carrying out any operations with cryptocurrencies and said mechanisms should be developed to block transactions aimed at buying or selling cryptocurrencies for fiat currencies.

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“Mechanisms”. Blocking the IPs of cryptocurrency exchanges, so they’re unreachable in Russia? Have to block all the VPNs too. That’s going to inconvenience the ransomware operators.
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More than half a billion people worldwide subscribe to music •Midia Research

Mark Mulligan:

»

The global base of music subscribers continues to grow strongly with 523.9 million music subscribers at the end of Q2 2021, which was up by 109.5 million (26.4%) from one year earlier. Crucially, this was faster growth than the prior year. There is a difference between revenue and subscribers – with ARPU [average revenue per user] deflators, such as the rise of multi-user plans and the growth of lower-spending emerging markets – but growth in monetised users represents the foundation stone of the digital service provider (DSP) streaming market. So, accelerating growth at this relatively late stage of the streaming market’s evolution is clearly positive.

Spotify remains the DSP with the highest market share (31%), but this was down from 33% in Q2 2020 and 34% in Q2 2019. With Apple Music being a distant second with 15% market share, and Spotify adding more subscribers in the 12 months leading up to Q2 2021 than any other single DSP, there is no risk of Spotify losing its leading position anytime soon – but the erosion of its share is steady and persistent.

Amazon Music once again out-performed Spotify in terms of growth (25% compared to 20%), but the standout success story among Western DSPs was YouTube Music, for the second successive year. Google was once the laggard of the space, but the launch of YouTube Music has transformed its fortunes, growing by more than 50% in the 12 months leading up to Q2 2021. YouTube Music was the only Western DSP to increase global market share during this the period. YouTube Music particularly resonates among Gen Z and younger Millennials, which should have alarm bells ringing for Spotify, as their core base of Millennial subscribers from the 2010s in the West are now beginning to age.

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Ageing Millennials! A new problem. Though Mulligan admits he had thought that by now we’d be up to a billion subscribers. Nothing like.
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Police in this tiny Alabama town suck drivers into legal ‘black hole’ • al.com (Alabama)

John Archibald:

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Ramon Perez came to court last month ready to fight the tickets he’d been handed by Brookside police, including one for rolling through a stop sign and another for driving 48 mph in a 40 zone.

He swore he’d seen the cop from a distance and was careful as he braked. “I saw him and we looked eye to eye,” the Chelsea business owner said. “There’s no way I was going to run that stop sign.”

When he got to court Dec. 2, he saw scores of people just like him lining up to stand before Judge Jim Wooten, complaining of penny-ante “crimes” and harassment by officers. He saw so many people trying to park in the grassy field outside the municipal building that police had to direct traffic. He figured there was no point. “I saw the same attitude in every officer and every person,” he said. “That’s why I hesitated to fight it. They were doing the same thing to every person that was there. They own the town.”

Perez, it appears, was right. Months of research and dozens of interviews by AL.com found that Brookside’s finances are rocket-fuelled by tickets and aggressive policing. In a two-year period between 2018 and 2020 Brookside revenues from fines and forfeitures soared more than 640% and now make up half the city’s total income. And the police chief has called for more.

The town of [population] 1,253 just north of Birmingham reported just 55 serious crimes to the state in the entire eight year period between 2011 and 2018 – none of them homicide or rape. But in 2018 it began building a police empire, hiring more and more officers to blanket its six miles of roads and mile-and-a-half jurisdiction on Interstate 22.

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Also: drives people into debt, which is shown to encourage them into crime.. so policing causes crime.
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Polar bears on Kolyuchin Island, Chukotka, Russia • YouTube

They’re such passive-looking creatures who, of course, could rip you to shreds in moments. Amazing drone footage; stills from it have appeared and made people think they were taken by an excessively brave (or foolish) human photographer. The drone looks imperilled enough. (Via John Naughton.)
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: plenty of reaction to the Royal Society’s proposal about leaving “misinformation” on social media, and my comments on it. A couple of responses. First from HW:

It’s difficult.

Vaccines are a good example, from a public policy perspective the messaging needs to be clear, “vaccines work and are safe”.

From a scientific perspective that message would probably be “Vaccines drastically reduce the risk of serious illness and somewhat reduce the risk of transmission. For the overwhelming majority most indications show them to be safe. Past data on other vaccination programs suggests that most problems with vaccines show up in the first three months suggesting that longer term worries about safety should be seen in that perspective”.

In the social media driven world we now inhabit the nuance in the scientific perspective leaves plenty of space for questioning by well meaning and ill meaning types alike.

Of course on top of that you can add the paranoid and conspiracy minded to boot.

And from Wendy G:

Because to have trust in science requires showing your work? Because one year’s scientific consensus (ulcers are caused by stress, continents do not move, silicon implants are safe) may be next year’s misinformation?

Maybe what we need to mandate is confidence intervals.

Start Up No.1718: should social media ban misinformation?, Afghans try cryptocurrency, London drivers face road pricing, and more


As in chess, human poker players now rely on computers to show them the best way to play in all sorts of game situations. CC-licensed photo by World Poker Tour on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. Is it still January? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How AI conquered poker • The New York Times

Keith Romer:

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One of the earliest and most devoted adopters of what has come to be known as “game theory optimal” poker is Seth Davies’s friend and poker mentor, Jason Koon. On the second day of the three-day Super High Roller tournament, I visited Koon at his multimillion-dollar house, located in a gated community inside a larger gated community next to a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. On Day 1, Koon paid $250,000 to play the Super High Roller, then a second $250,000 after he was knocked out four hours in, but again he lost all his chips. “Welcome to the world of nosebleed tourneys,” he texted me afterward. “Just have to play your best — it evens out.”

For Koon, evening out has taken the form of more than $30 million in in-person tournament winnings (and, he says, at least as much from high-stakes cash games in Las Vegas and Macau, the Asian gambling mecca). Koon began playing poker seriously in 2006 while rehabbing an injury at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he was a sprinter on the track team. He made a good living from cards, but he struggled to win consistently in the highest-stakes games. “I was a pretty mediocre player pre-solver,” he says, “but the second solvers came out, I just buried myself in this thing, and I started to improve like rapidly, rapidly, rapidly, rapidly.”

In a home office decorated mostly with trophies from poker tournaments he has won, Koon turned to his computer and pulled up a hand on PioSOLVER. After specifying the size of the players’ chip stacks and the range of hands they would play from their particular seats at the table, he entered a random three-card flop that both players would see. A 13-by-13 grid illustrated all the possible hands one of the players could hold. Koon hovered his mouse over the square for an ace and queen of different suits. The solver indicated that Koon should check 39% of the time; make a bet equivalent to 30% the size of the pot 51% of the time; and bet 70% of the pot the rest of the time. This von Neumann-esque mixed strategy would simultaneously maximize his profit and disguise the strength of his hand.

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Interesting that it’s 13×13 (Go is 19×19), but that’s a clever way to display it. And that’s another game where computers have become crucial. (If you tried to play against them, you’d get slaughtered – there’s no such thing as a tell with a computer, which is part of how AlphaGo thrashed Lee Sedol.)
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Major solar farm coming to coal country • EcoWatch

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes:

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A solar farm atop a former coal mine in Martin County, Kentucky, may be a sign of things to come. A $231m solar project covering hundreds of acres is slated to take over the former Martiki coal mine in Appalachia, a place that has been greatly defined by its natural beauty and the contrasting dirty business of coal mining. Its neighbor to the west, Johnson County, is famous for the singers and coal miner’s daughters Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle.

Throughout the country, coal mining jobs have continuously decreased since the mid-1980s, from about 175,000 to around 40,000 in 2021, and Martin County is no stranger to poverty since coal mining began fading into lore. The unemployment rate in the county is almost twice the national average and about a third of the population lives in poverty. Once employing thousands of coal miners, the county had only 26 left by its most recent tally.

Due to their stark economic situation, many former coal workers have embraced the transition to employment in renewable energy, even as some have doubts as to the severity of the climate crisis.

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Will generate enough energy for 33,000 homes, and employ.. 250-300 people, for 12-18 months. Not a lot, is it? They’re pretty simple and quick to put together.
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Social media bans of scientific misinformation aren’t helpful, researchers say • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

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The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of sciences. On Wednesday, it published a report on what it calls the “online information environment,” challenging some key assumptions behind the movement to de-platform conspiracy theorists spreading hoax info on topics like climate change, 5G, and the coronavirus.

Based on literature reviews, workshops and roundtables with academic experts and fact-checking groups, and two surveys in the UK, the Royal Society reached several conclusions. The first is that while online misinformation is rampant, its influence may be exaggerated, at least as far as the UK goes: “the vast majority of respondents believe the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, that human activity is responsible for climate change, and that 5G technology is not harmful.” The second is that the impact of so-called echo chambers may be similarly exaggerated and there’s little evidence to support the “filter bubble” hypothesis (basically, algorithm-fueled extremist rabbit holes). The researchers also highlighted that many debates about what constitutes misinformation are rooted in disputes within the scientific community and that the anti-vax movement is far broader than any one set of beliefs or motivations.

One of the main takeaways: The government and social media companies should not rely on “constant removal” of misleading content is not a “solution to online scientific misinformation.” It also warns that if conspiracy theorists are driven out of places like Facebook, they could retreat into parts of the web where they are unreachable. Importantly, the report makes a distinction between removing scientific misinformation and other content like hate speech or illegal media, where removals may be more effective:

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… Whilst this approach may be effective and essential for illegal content (eg hate speech, terrorist content, child sexual abuse material) there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of this approach for scientific misinformation, and approaches to addressing the amplification of misinformation may be more effective.

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Really not persuaded by this. Misinformation is a parasite, a virus, on the algorithmic (and natural) feedback loops in platforms. Deplatforming abusive people works; why shouldn’t deplatforming content that has the same effect?
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Starving Afghans use crypto to sidestep bank sanctions and the Taliban • The Intercept

Lee Fang:

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When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August of last year, Fereshteh Forough feared that the group would close her school in Herat, the country’s third-largest city. Code to Inspire, an NGO Forough founded, was teaching computer programming to young Afghan women, and the Taliban oppose secondary education for women.

Months later, the picture is much different — and worse — from what Forough imagined. The school survived, becoming mostly virtual, but has transformed from a coding boot camp into a relief organization. The biggest risk for Forough’s students wasn’t lack of education, it was hunger. Forough looked for a way to provide emergency checks to the women but was stymied by banks that don’t want to risk violating severe US sanctions.

JPMorgan Chase repeatedly blocked her attempts to transfer money, she said, and she grew increasingly alarmed by students who said they couldn’t access cash at local Afghan banks — many of which have closed or imposed strict withdrawal limits. In response, she turned to cryptocurrency to provide monthly emergency payments to help students afford enough food to survive.

“Since September, we’ve been sending cash assistance, about $200 per month, for each family, because the majority of our students have said their family lost their jobs. They are the sole breadwinner of the family,” explained Forough, whose family fled Afghanistan in the early 1980s, during the Soviet occupation, and now lives in New Hampshire. Code to Inspire pays its recipients in BUSD, a so-called stablecoin whose value is tied to the US dollar, and then the women convert it to afghanis, the local currency, at money exchanges. “We created a safe way for our girls to cash out their crypto and pay for expenses, so they can pay for medical expenses and food and everything that’s needed.”

There are several advantages to using crypto: Afghans fleeing the Taliban can take their assets with them without risk. Humanitarian agencies seeking to bypass banks and discreetly avoid the Taliban can provide cash directly to those in need. Smugglers and intermediaries who may steal or try to resell aid packages can be circumvented if aid is given directly through a digital transaction.

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I’d love to know how widespread this is, and of course it’s only another way of hiding money; the ancient system of hawala does the same task, but it’s paper-based. The BUSD might be a little easier to transfer, of course.
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London mayor wants daily driving charge of up to £2 • BBC News

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London’s mayor says he needs to charge drivers a “small” daily fee of up to £2 for “all but the cleanest vehicles” to help hit climate change targets.

The road pricing proposal is part of a push by Sadiq Khan to encourage people towards public transport, walking, cycling or electric vehicles.

The RAC called the plan “poorly timed” with cleaner vehicles being “too expensive for most people”.
Longer term, Mr Khan says he needs to bring in a pay-per-mile system.

He is also considering charging drivers from outside the capital who wish to travel into Greater London, widening out the current charging zone. Mr Khan said he was “not willing to put off action”.

A report commissioned by City Hall found that a 27% reduction in London’s car traffic was required by 2030 to meet net-zero ambitions.

It stated that London faces severe impacts of climate change, with an increase in extremes such as last summer’s flash floods which closed hospitals, hit Tube stations and flooded homes and businesses, as well as deadly heatwaves.

Road user charging would be a “simple and fair scheme” that could replace existing fees such as the congestion charge and the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), according to the report.

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The pay-per-mile solution is going to be interesting, because it means a lot more surveillance than needed for the present ULEZ zone, where you only need to see if a car enters it, and whether or not it’s exempt.

There are comments on the story. Read them if you want to feel concerned about education levels.
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We will miss the BBC when it’s gone • Ed West

Ed West presents a right-winger’s view of the BBC, and attitudes around it:

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Nostalgia plays a big part in people’s reflective [Overspill Ed: perhaps “reflexive”?] defence of an institution they love against a government they (quite reasonably) loathe. Some have been sharing a 40-year-old advert featuring a man from a long-distant age whose comedy would never see the light of day today (and who is no longer a fan of the Beeb). For others, love of the institution runs so deep that they see it as essential as the fire service. Or road building. (I actually agree with Wallace, but unironically, that road pricing is a great idea.)

But a major national broadcaster is not an essential service, its existence depends on some deeper spiritual need, and none of the arguments for the licence fee address the question. Many have argued what great value the BBC is for only 43p a day, which may be true, but that’s a consumer selling point, an argument to subscribe (and I certainly would); it doesn’t at all answer the question as to why other people should be forced to.

If the BBC makes all these programmes well via forced subscription, it could surely do so in the open market; if the argument is for broadcasting high culture – and almost no one is making that – then that could be produced by a much smaller corporation, as with the fact-based news that Snow writes of. I’m sceptical about the BBC’s ability to produce high culture at any rate, partly for the ideological reason that most high culture is the work of men born within the empire of Charlemagne; but partly because the British cultural elite have a sort of reverse-Bolshevik prejudice that high culture is anti-working class.

The case for a national broadcaster rests on the belief that there is something especially important and significant about the nation, that the British people remain distinctive enough that they need something to reflect this ideal, and promote it. The idea that Reith’s contemporaries believed in.

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The “if you can do it when you’re handed money, you’ll manage it in the open market” argument is plain wrong. The BBC’s hugely diverse radio output (which doesn’t even require the licence fee) can’t exist as a commercial entity, and if it could, then it would suck (advertising) money away from the existing commercial stations. West makes some good points, but nobody is grasping the nettle here: you can’t make the BBC happen without substantial public funding, and if it stops, even for a moment, it will take decades to get started again.
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Does the BBC offer a model for public service digital platforms? • Bennett Institute

The economist Diane Coyle (who is married to ex-BBC technology journalist Rory Cellan-Jones, and served as a trustee of the BBC from 2007-2014, until the Tory government abolished her role) :

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There is no doubt a debate is needed about whether the Licence Fee should be replaced with a different mechanism, whether a household tax or a charge on purchases of devices (as used to be the case). Whatever the outcome, competition needs to occur on the basis of the business models too: different financial incentives will lead to different behaviours, increasing quality, variety and choice.

This point applies to other online markets where (as I argue in a forthcoming paper in Philosophy) most of the revenues of most tech companies come from selling advertising. This drives behaviours like tracking individuals, amassing personal data, and favouring whatever will drive viral clicks. These are arguably the main source of many of the online harms governments – including in the UK – are grappling with now. There is nothing wrong with funding a service through selling advertising as long as there is another business model operating in the market.

So rather than attacking the BBC, the UK Government – and others – should be considering whether a mixed economy that has worked so well in broadcasting markets can work in online markets, particularly social media. As others have also pointed out, there is a case to be made for a publicly-funded, public purpose and independent competitor of scale in the online world.

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If you’re not going to put a continuing fee on the ownership of a TV, then you’ll need to put a continuing fee on something else. (I suspect a one-off price on devices wouldn’t work.) A surcharge on broadband, according to speed?
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Djokovic bets on a COVID cure as he quests for tennis history • Reuters

Nikolaj Skydsgaard:

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The Serbian superstar, who became a focus of the global vaccine debate over his failed attempt to enter Australia without being inoculated, holds a majority stake in a Danish biotech firm aiming to develop a treatment to counter COVID-19, the company’s CEO told Reuters. read more

QuantBioRes boss Ivan Loncarevic, who described himself as an entrepreneur, said the tennis player’s acquisition of the 80% stake was made in June 2020 but declined to say how much it was.

The company is developing a peptide, which inhibits the coronavirus from infecting the human cell, expects to launch clinical trials in Britain this summer, according to Loncarevic, who stressed the firm was working on a treatment, not a vaccine.

The CEO said the company had about a dozen researchers working in Denmark, Australia and Slovenia. According to the Danish company register, Djokovic and his wife Jelena own 40.8% and 39.2% of the company, respectively.

A spokesperson for Djokovic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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To be honest, we’ve got a treatment for Covid. It’s called three vaccine doses. That, however, doesn’t seem to suit Djokovic.

(Meanwhile, new joke doing the rounds: Djokovic has been hired as the England cricket team’s new batting coach. “Yes, he’s new to the game, but it took Australia more than a week to get him out,” said the head of the English Cricket Board.)
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Democrats unveil bill to ban online ‘surveillance advertising’ • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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On Tuesday, Democrats introduced a new bill that would ban nearly all use of digital advertising targeting on ad markets hosted by platforms like Facebook, Google, and other data brokers.

The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act – sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) – prohibits digital advertisers from targeting any ads to users. It makes some small exceptions, like allowing for “broad” location-based targeting. Contextual advertising, like ads that are specifically matched to online content, would be allowed.

“The ‘surveillance advertising’ business model is premised on the unseemly collection and hoarding of personal data to enable ad targeting,” Eshoo, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a Tuesday statement. “This pernicious practice allows online platforms to chase user engagement at great cost to our society, and it fuels disinformation, discrimination, voter suppression, privacy abuses, and so many other harms. The surveillance advertising business model is broken.”

If enacted, the bill would radically change Facebook and Google’s business models. For years, lawmakers have debated ways to regulate the tech industry on issues like privacy, disinformation, and content moderation. Eshoo and her co-sponsors argue that the tech industry’s current advertising models incentivize the spread of harmful content and encourage them to amplify damaging posts to keep users on their platforms.

The bill empowers the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general with the authority to enforce the new rules for ad targeting. It also allows individual users to sue platforms like Facebook and Google if they break the law, granting up to $5,000 in relief per violation.

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They’re conflating different things – tracking people to see their interests to show them ads, and tracking people to see their interests to show them content. They’re not the same. Though I’d really like to see some data on how much better “surveillance ads” perform than just random ads.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1717: YouTube halts original content, Microsoft buys Blizzard, US 5G airline row grows, crypto ad boom, and more


Though China might look crowded – and 68% of its population is in cities – its population is set to shrink in the coming decades. CC-licensed photo by 11×16 Photoworks on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Also available on 5G. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


YouTube shuts down original content group • Variety

Todd Spangler:

»

YouTube is getting out of the business of originals: The Google-owned video giant said it is winding down its original productions team after more than six years.

Earlier, news broke that Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s global head of original content, will leave the company in March. Going forward, YouTube will only be funding programs that are part of its Black Voices and YouTube Kids funds, chief business officer Robert Kyncl announced Tuesday.

Citing the growth of YouTube’s Partner Program for ad-revenue sharing — which now tops 2 million participants — Kyncl said “now our investments can make a greater impact on even more creators when applied towards other initiatives.”

“We will honor our commitment for already contracted shows in progress and creators who are involved with those shows should expect to hear from us directly in the coming days,” Kyncl wrote in the message posted to Twitter.

When it first started out in originals, YouTube had planned to make a run at the subscription-streaming business. But within a couple of years, it pivoted — and starting in 2018, YouTube killed off its slate of scripted TV series and movies: Several of its projects moved to other outlets: “Cobra Kai” has gone on to Netflix; “On Becoming a God In Central Florida” went to Showtime; and “Step Up” was acquired by Starz.

Instead, Daniels and her team shifted to focus on unscripted fare in three different areas: music, celebrity and creator-focused originals, and educational programming. Now YouTube is ending its efforts in those areas, as well.

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The colossal money fountain pouring through there isn’t enough to make good content happen. Although, to be fair, people like Mr Beast with their real-life recreations of Squid Game mean the internal team doesn’t have to bother. YouTube is so big that good original content happens by a sort of infinite monkeys process.
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Microsoft is buying Activision-Blizzard – if Washington lets it • Vox

Peter Kafka:

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Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard for $69bn. For those of you who play video games or pay attention to video games — and there are a lot of of you — we don’t really need to spell out why this is a Really Big Deal.

The rest of you might want some context. Remember when Disney bought much of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox empire, and formally kicked off a wave of consolidation in Hollywood? This is like that.

Maybe bigger: The deals are roughly the same size. Microsoft’s deal values Activision at about $69bn, and Disney paid a little more than $70bn for Fox’s movie studio and other assets. But this deal — if it goes through — is both horizontal and vertical integration, pairing Microsoft’s Xbox console business, which already owns huge game franchises like Minecraft and Halo, with one of the world’s most valuable gaming companies, which owns giant titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush.

While streaming TV shows and movies occupy a ton of media attention, video games capture a ton of regular people’s attention: Microsoft says there are 3 billion gamers around the world today, and says that number will get to 4.5 billion by 2030.

And if you want to get really fanciful: If any version of the metaverse or virtual reality future we’ve been hearing about for the past couple years comes to pass, it will almost certainly be grounded in games. Maybe Future You won’t want to strap on face goggles throughout your day. But putting on a device to shoot at virtual strangers is less of a stretch.

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That “3 billion gamers” number is hooey. It requires pretty much every smartphone user to be playing (and paying?) for them, and that makes “gamer” such a loose definition (Wordle players?) that it rolls off a spreadsheet.

GamePass prices will probably go up in the short term. And as Kafka points out, Microsoft’s probably pushing the (not happening yet, probably not for a while) metaverse angle because that would make it seem like a competitor to Facebook, and doesn’t everyone love competition?
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Chemical pollution has passed safe limit for humanity, say scientists • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

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The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said.

Plastics are of particularly high concern, they said, along with 350,000 synthetic chemicals including pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are long-lasting and widespread.

The study concludes that chemical pollution has crossed a “planetary boundary”, the point at which human-made changes to the Earth push it outside the stable environment of the last 10,000 years.

Chemical pollution threatens Earth’s systems by damaging the biological and physical processes that underpin all life. For example, pesticides wipe out many non-target insects, which are fundamental to all ecosystems and, therefore, to the provision of clean air, water and food.

“There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) who was part of the study team. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.”

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#dontlookup
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China’s population may start to shrink this year, new birth data suggest • Science

Dennis Normile:

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After many decades of growth, China’s population could begin to shrink this year, suggest data released yesterday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. The numbers show that in 2021, China’s birth rate fell for the fifth year in a row, to a record low of 7.52 per 1000 people. Based on that number, demographers estimate the country’s total fertility rate—the number of children a person will bear over their lifetime—is down to about 1.15, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 and one of the lowest in the world.

Young couples are deciding against having more children, “despite all the new initiatives and propaganda to promote childbearing,” says Yong Cai, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “China’s population decline will be rapid,” he predicts.

The shift from growth to decline has happened startlingly fast. Projections made just a few years ago suggested China’s population would expand until around 2027. Last year, when it announced results from the 2020 census, the statistics bureau still pegged the total fertility rate at 1.3.

China’s government has long promoted population control. But it has reversed course because of worries that a shrinking and aging population will strain pension systems and social services and lead to economic and geopolitical decline. The country ended its notorious one-child policy in 2016, allowing all couples to have two children. In May 2021, the limit went up to three children. Some local governments have started to offer monthly cash subsidies to couples for second and third children.

Experts say it is too little, too late.

«

Wonder if/when India will overtake it as the most populous country. And the reality too is that the workforce won’t grow, even if it all takes off, until 2036 at the earliest.
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AT&T and Verizon limit 5G service near US airports after airlines’ outcry • Financial Times

Steff Chavez and Anna Gross:

»

AT&T and Verizon have agreed to scale back or postpone the launch of 5G wireless service near airport runways after an eleventh-hour outcry from the aviation industry.

Airlines had warned that the debut of high-speed 5G technology, scheduled for Wednesday, could interfere with aircraft safety and navigation systems. United Airlines and American Airlines said earlier on Tuesday that they were preparing to cancel flights if the rollout went ahead.

AT&T said it had voluntarily agreed to “temporarily defer turning on” a limited number of 5G-enabled towers around “certain airport runways” as it provides more information to airlines and regulators, but added it was launching its advanced 5G services elsewhere as planned.

Verizon also said it would launch its 5G “ultra wideband” network on Wednesday, but had voluntarily decided to limit it “around airports”, without specifying the number of airports.

Both telecoms companies expressed frustration with US regulators after repeatedly delaying their planned launch of 5G — first from December 5 to January 5 and then for two more weeks, to Wednesday, at the request of regulators.

“The Federal Aviation Administration and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries,” Verizon said.

«

The reason why other countries have got it operational is that they’re using different frequencies, and lower power. (Some international airlines said they’d cancel some flights into the US.)

Makes for quite the collision of big-money interests in the US, and has inevitably dragged the federal government in to try to mediate. The issue of altimeter problems – which this is – hasn’t been mentioned before, though concerns have been raised about weather forecasting and GPS. (Thanks Paul G.)
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The FAA’s 5G bungling does not instill confidence • The Washington Post

David von Drehle:

»

At issue is a sweet spot in the radio spectrum between 3.7 and 4.4 gigahertz (GHz). Here, the wavelengths are long enough to travel a good distance — important for cellular coverage — but short enough to hold a lot of data. The space from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz was authorized for 5G, while the band from 4.2 to 4.4 GHz carries messages to aircraft altimeters. The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] is worried about interference where the bands meet.

Wheeler notes that Boeing, battered by safety issues, proposed a protective margin from 4.1 to 4.2 GHz where 5G would not venture. The FCC, which regulates the wireless spectrum, agreed, then doubled the margin, limiting 5G signals to wavelengths below 4.0 GHz.

The FAA and its aviation constituents say they remain worried that some older altimeters might yet be vulnerable to interference. Instead of acting during the long 5G rollout to improve safety standards for avionics, the agency has chosen this flurry of late-stage hand-wringing. Wheeler counsels: “Clear heads are needed to separate what is only hypothetical possibility based on worst-case assumptions” — the FAA’s Chicken Little scenario — “from what is highly probable based on real-world use.”

More is at stake than the speed with which sports fans can gamble on their phones. High-speed wireless is a major economic and technical battlefield on which national security depends. The United States already lags China in adoption of 5G communications.

Beyond that, the FAA’s foot-dragging raises a red flag over the agency’s competence. Demand for space on the airwaves has been rising steeply for generations. But now we learn that countless aircraft may be flying around with crucial safety equipment vulnerable to interference — and that the number of vulnerable aircraft is unknown because, Wheeler writes, the agency has no set standard for altimeter security.

«

Neither the FAA nor the CDC have covered themselves in glory in the past couple of years.
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Israel police uses NSO’s Pegasus to spy on citizens • Calcalist Tech

Tomer Ganon:

»

One of the problematic instances that has been uncovered is the tracking of activists in the protests against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while he was still in office. The protests against Netanyahu gathered momentum during 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country and the first lockdowns were imposed on Israelis. With the level of anxiety in the Netanyahu government continually rising, efforts were made to reduce the magnitude of the protests through the use of judicial and procedural tools, with police increasing the force and violence against protesters, the leaders in particular.

But the heads of the political protests had no idea that Israel police had remotely planted NSO’s spyware in their phones, taking over their devices and having the ability to listen to all their calls and read all their messages. The order to conduct the surveillance on Israeli citizens that aren’t criminals or suspects with NSO’s spyware was given by high-ranking police officers without a court warrant or the supervision of a judge. Those who received the order and executed it were members of the police’s special operations cyber unit in SIGINT, whose entire activity is confidential.

The political protesters weren’t the only ones the police were tracking through NSO. The Israeli company’s spyware, which has earned a notorious reputation over recent years after being used by oppressive regimes to spy on dissidents, was used, for example, by the police’s SIGINT unit in order to search for evidence of bribery in the cellphone of serving mayor, during the stage in which the investigation was still confidential. The remote hacking delivered in this instance evidence of criminal offenses. This evidence was later whitewashed as intelligence and was followed by an open investigation. At this stage, the evidence already known to police was legally seized with a search warrant provided by a judge.

However, NSO’s spyware was also used by police for phishing purposes: attempts to phish for information in an intelligence target’s phone without knowing in advance that the target committed any crime. Pegasus was installed in a cellphone of a person close to a senior politician in order to try and find evidence relating to a corruption investigation.

«

If the technology for abuse exists, it will be abused. Pegasus is getting to be like Downing St parties – it would be quicker to tell us the times when it was done within the rules.
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Porsche’s electric Taycan outsells 911 in record 2021 • CAR Magazine

Phil McNamara:

»

Porsche’s pure electric Taycan outsold the 911 sports car in 2021, as the German brand posted the greatest sales in its history.

The company delivered 41,296 Taycans worldwide, compared with 38,464 deliveries of the 59-year-old icon. The Taycan didn’t outsell the 911 because it had a bad year – that 911 total was a new high for the nameplate – but it appears more customers wanted the electric sports car.

The Taycan benefited from entry-level rear-wheel drive versions going on sale, and the first full year of the Cross Turismo bodystyle, whereas the 911 is nearing the end of the first 992 wave (pre-facelift). But is this a sliding doors moment regardless? 

It certainly looks that way. The Taycan is bringing new customers to the Porsche brand, as Porsche CEO Oliver Blume told us in 2020. ‘They are first movers, very interested in sustainability, innovation and digitalisation,’ says Blume. They are also younger than Porsche’s traditional customer base.

It’ll be fascinating to see if the Taycan continues its lead over the 911 in 2022, or whether it dips back as fresh rivals from Tesla, Mercedes, Lotus and BMW sway tech-loving EV adopters.

«

Maybe they’ve discovered that an electric car will accelerate faster than a petrol-engined one.
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Pix breaks ground in Brazil, shakes up payments market • S&P Global Market Intelligence

David Feliba:

»

Brazil, notorious for its bureaucracy and complexities, has created one of the most efficient payments systems in Latin America, with blowout numbers proving its success.

Pix, rolled out by the Banco Central do Brasil in Nov. 2020, was built for efficiency and financial inclusion. It now has 107.5 million registered accounts, more than half of the country’s population. One year after implementation, more than half a trillion Brazilian reais were transacted through the low-cost payments system last month. According to central bank data, Pix payments volume is already equivalent to 80% of debit and credit card transactions.

“Pix has set a new standard in Brazil,” Julian Colombo, CEO of banking technology firm N5, said in an interview. “It has already achieved critical mass.”

Pix continues adding new features, making older payment forms obsolete. Traditional banks may be losing revenue as a result, but the system has replaced cash, bringing more people into the digital realm.

“Except for very particular transactions, market penetration tends to 99% on all individual transfers,” he added. However, the rollout has not been without hiccups, including kidnapping.

This month, the central bank announced two new Pix features that will allow cash withdrawals from stores. Coming in 2022 are Pix Offline — no internet required — and Pix NFC Payments, allowing payment by approximation. That is good news for the millions of Brazilians who work informally, like those selling food on the beach or even street musicians.

…According to the central bank, some 30,000 Pix transactions are carried out every minute.

«

Hasn’t needed to draw apes, or claim that it’s breaking clear of fiat, or decentralised (it very much isn’t). But it’s a success. (Via Benedict Evans’s newsletter.)

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Cryptocurrency ads reach record levels on London transport • The Guardian

Rob Davies:

»

Cryptocurrency firms bombarded Londoners with a record number of adverts on public transport during 2021, fuelling calls for a ban to prevent people being lured into risky investments.

The surge in adverts for crypto assets, which are unregulated in the UK, has prompted concerns about the risk of addiction and financial harm, particularly given the wild volatility in the price of digital currencies such as bitcoin, which reached record highs last year before crashing again.

It also emerged that Transport for London (TfL) has not implemented a ban on gambling adverts promised by the mayor, Sadiq Khan, allowing the industry to step up its marketing activity in the meantime.

Records obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act show that TfL services displayed 39,560 crypto adverts from 13 firms in the six months between April and September 2021.

Major advertisers include the trading platform eToro, floki – “a “meme coin” named after Elon Musk’s dog – Crypto.com and Luno Money, whose campaign telling people it was “time to buy” bitcoin was banned by the advertising regulator for being “irresponsible”.

«

An official estimate reckoned that 2.4 million Britons have “investments” (read as: crossed fingers) in cryptocurrencies, though that number is going up all the time, principally in the 18-24 age group.

A financial analyst on the radio this afternoon pointed out there is no way to value such …things in the longer term, and added that on that basis “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an honest cryptocurrency advert.”
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1716: Safari’s privacy leak, UK to subsidise energy suppliers?, the wrath of Cummings, the end of Covid, and more


Nobody would stump up huge amounts of money (or “money”) to buy a book they couldn’t do anything with – except crypto enthusiasts after a ‘Dune’ bible. CC-licensed photo by deepskyobjectdeepskyobject on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Not an element of public service broadcasting. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Safari 15 bug can leak your recent browsing activity and personal identifiers • The Verge

Emma Roth:

»

A bug in Safari 15 can leak your browsing activity, and can also reveal some of the personal information attached to your Google account, according to findings from FingerprintJS, a browser fingerprinting and fraud detection service (via 9to5Mac). The vulnerability stems from an issue with Apple’s implementation of IndexedDB, an application programming interface (API) that stores data on your browser.

As explained by FingerprintJS, IndexedDB abides by the same-origin policy, which restricts one origin from interacting with data that was collected on other origins — essentially, only the website that generates data can access it. For example, if you open your email account in one tab and then open a malicious webpage in another, the same-origin policy prevents the malicious page from viewing and meddling with your email.

FingerprintJS found that Apple’s application of the IndexedDB API in Safari 15 actually violates the same-origin policy. When a website interacts with a database in Safari, FingerprintJS says that “a new (empty) database with the same name is created in all other active frames, tabs, and windows within the same browser session.”

This means other websites can see the name of other databases created on other sites, which could contain details specific to your identity. FingerprintJS notes sites that use your Google account, like YouTube, Google Calendar, and Google Keep, all generate databases with your unique Google User ID in its name. Your Google User ID allows Google to access your publicly-available information, such as your profile picture, which the Safari bug can expose to other websites.

«

You can try it out at the safarileaks website. The Google Analytics cookies already do this sort of tracking, as does Facebook. And they’re absolutely everywhere. Yet apparently Apple’s Safari team has already merged some fixes for this, so they’ll presumably be in the next point release.
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UK looks at payments to energy suppliers to shield consumers from high bills • Financial Times

George Parker, Nathalie Thomas and Jim Pickard:

»

The UK is exploring a radical intervention in the power market under which the state would make payments to energy suppliers when wholesale gas prices rise sharply in a bid to soften the blow to consumers

The proposal, which is being promoted by energy companies, is described by government insiders as “plausible” and “logical”, but they admit there are also many downsides to such a step.

Under the initiative, energy suppliers would receive payments from government when wholesale gas prices exceeded a certain threshold so they would not then have to pass the hike on to consumers.

Some suppliers say the proposal — known as a temporary price stabilisation mechanism — could be self-funding over the course of several years as energy companies would have to return money to the government when wholesale prices traded below the agreed level.

Rishi Sunak, chancellor, accepts this could leave the taxpayer heavily exposed if wholesale prices remain high, but he has been discussing with Boris Johnson, the prime minister, ways to mitigate a cost of living crisis, officials say.

Without action by Downing Street, a price cap on household energy bills could rise from £1,277 a year to over £1,900 in April — fuelling inflation — and coming at the same time as tax rises take effect.

«

Contrast this with what it won’t do for the BBC, where the licence fee has been frozen for at least two years, and there’s no viable path to another model that would be as effective. The cost of living rises on the lowest-paid, or those on benefits, have been imposed by the government – cutting Universal Credit, refusing free school meals, withdrawing free TV licences for those over 75. This will be hugely expensive, with nothing at all to show for it – unlike, say, a comprehensive program to shift to air source heat pumps.
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Dominic Cummings, ‘Partygate’ and the campaign to unseat Boris Johnson • Financial Times

Jim Pickard and George Parker:

»

[Former chief adviser to PM Boris Johnson, Dominic] Cummings… revealed the far more damaging details of another gathering in the Number 10 garden on May 20 2020. It involved around 40 people, including Johnson, and was arranged by a senior civil servant with a memo advising invitees to “bring your own booze”.

Cummings added that he and a colleague had warned in writing that the event appeared to break lockdown rules and should not take place, but “we were ignored”. Further details of the party emerged in the Sunday Times just days later. In a blog post published on Monday he said he “would swear under oath” that Johnson not only knew about the May 20 drinks party but “agreed that it should go ahead”.

The former Number 10 chief of staff’s [Overspill ed: Cummings wasn’t CoS. It’s a title he explicitly rejected] criticism of Johnson’s lockdown breaches is not without irony. He was at the centre of another furore in the summer of 2020 after he was found to have broken the rules by driving his family 270 miles from London to Durham, despite thinking they had been exposed to coronavirus. He then made a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle to “see if I could drive safely”.

Johnson subsequently defied a wave of public outrage to stand behind his adviser, who had been the brains behind the successful “Vote Leave” Brexit campaign in 2016.

“Dom first got involved in anti-EU campaigning in around 2000: that’s 16 years in which he never gave up, kept fighting, and he is now bringing that level of persistence to taking out Johnson,” said one friend.

«

I doubt it’s going to take him 16 years to get rid of Johnson. 16 months would be closer to it. 16 weeks if the May local elections are bad, and why shouldn’t they be? Cummings is clearly the worst possible person to have as an enemy. And the worst possible person to have as a friend.
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This DAO ‘bought’ Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune bible—but it doesn’t own it yet • Decrypt

Jeff Benson and Jason Nelson:

»

Here’s a quick conundrum. Does the person paying the mortgage own the house, or is it really the property of the bank? Here’s another one: Do viewers own the rights to digital movies they purchase online?

And, finally, who really owns filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune Bible”? Is it the DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) that raised $750,000 to bid on it at Christie’s auction house, or the DAO’s co-founder who used his own funds to purchase it separately—and then spearheaded a fundraising drive for other contributors to buy it back from him?

That’s the curious question being raised this week by Spice DAO (formerly DuneDAO), the latest decentralized community formed to purchase real-world items—just as ConstitutionDAO attempted for a copy of the U.S. Constitution and Krause House aims to do for an NBA team.

DuneDAO was co-founded by Soban Saqib, who goes by “Soby,” along with a friend to raise money and bid on storyboards for the planned (but never filmed) 1970s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune.” Though the $750,000 in Ethereum they raised via community funding site Juicebox was far more than Christie’s estimated value of €25,000-35,000, it was far below what was needed to win the auction last week. More than that, it was in the wrong type of currency—the auction’s seller wasn’t accepting Ethereum.

Watching the drama unfold, Soby put down his own cash—€2,660,000 ($3,010,750), not including fees—to avoid the fate of the unsuccessful ConstitutionDAO, which raised $45 million but decided the auction fees and storage costs of the centuries-old constitution would be too costly.

“No one wants to fail, no one wants to raise all this money and not win, so I did it,” he told Decrypt. Soby added he was a little worried about bidding that much money but knew the community would support him.

Ever since, he says he’s been looking for a way to transfer the Dune Bible to the DAO, the idea being for it to effectively reimburse him. Soby told Decrypt he’s unsure how much his own investment in the manuscript will total when all is said and done; the cash bid has complicated things.

«

It’s just astonishing how stupid these people are. Do they own any copyright in the book? No. Can they do anything with the contents of the book? Only what copyright allows. They’re in alternative realities.
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Coronavirus: game over • Tomas Pueyo

Pueyo is the non-biologist who appeared on Channel 4 News at the start of the pandemic rolling his eyes at the “herd immunity” plan of the British advisor, and was subsequently proved right on everything – our inability to understand exponential growth, how herd immunity was a bad idea (then), and so on:

»

In Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, I sounded the alarm on COVID.
In Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance, I explained what we had to do about it.

Today, in Coronavirus: Game Over, I’d like to explain why this means the end of the pandemic phase, and the beginning of the end(emic) phase.

On the 10th of March 2020, the world had not realized what was coming. It was important to share how what had happened to Italy and Iran was going to happen everywhere else if they didn’t shut down their countries. That proved to be true.

One week later, when I published The Hammer and the Dance, I explained why we needed to apply shutdowns: to buy ourselves time, so we could

• Prepare the healthcare system
• Learn to do testing and tracing
• Produce masks we needed at scale (and other things, like ventilators)
• Understand the virus
• Understand the cost-benefits of tackling it
• Find treatments
• Get vaccines
• Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

After the Omicron wave, we’ll be in a world where most people will have some sort of immunity, either through natural infections, vaccines, or both. We now know how to get vaccines fast (we should approve them faster for new variants), and we have treatments too. The value of time for learning has dropped: we know most of what we need to know about it. So the benefits of social measures to stop COVID are much lower.

«

Basically, good news, at least according to Pueyo, who I personally rate as a smart person.
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US airline officials warn of ‘catastrophic’ crisis in aviation with new 5G service • The Guardian

Edward Helmore and agencies:

»

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” the letter, signed by the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue, as well as freight and parcel carriers UPS and FedEx, said.

They warned new C-Band 5G technology could interfere with critical airplane instruments such as radio altimeters – which judge the distance from the ground to the bottom of the flying vessel – and have an impact on low-visibility operations.

“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the letter cautioned, adding a call for urgent action to be taken.

“To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt,” the executives said.

Airlines for America, the lobbying group that organized the letter, and government agencies were not immediately available for comment.

In a letter dated 4 January, the group thanked Buttigieg, Dickson and Deese for “reaching the agreement with AT&T and Verizon to delay their planned 5G C-band deployment around certain airports for two weeks and to commit to the proposed mitigations”.

“Safety is and always will be the top priority of US airlines,” it said. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to help ensure that new 5G service can coexist with aviation safely.”

«

I recall airlines being terrified about Wi-Fi. Then Bluetooth. (Maybe both at once.) And also mobile phones. And 3G. And 4G. Look, I’m not saying that the cry wolf over every mobile network innovation, but I’m struggling to think of one where they said “this is absolutely fine, go ahead.” (Maybe UWB?)
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Crypto.com suspends withdrawals after ‘unauthorized activity’ • Bloomberg via LA Times

Emily Nicolle:

»

Several users had reported on social media that their cryptocurrencies, at times equating to tens of thousands of dollars, had disappeared from their Crypto.com accounts in recent days. A spokesperson from Crypto.com didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Technical issues on crypto trading platforms have become commonplace as the hype surrounding digital assets grows. Providers such as Coinbase, Binance and Kraken have all suffered widespread outages at times of peak demand in the last year, causing trouble for investors who were prevented from making withdrawals or liquidating their positions amid volatile trading periods.

Crypto.com has more than 10 million customers and is one of the most prominent platforms in the US, having recently secured naming rights to take over from Staples as the title sponsor of the Los Angeles sports center. The $700-million deal accompanied a major marketing push starring Crypto.com investor and Hollywood actor Matt Damon.

Crypto influencer and podcast host Ben Baller said in a tweet on Monday that around 4.28 Ether, which equates to roughly $14,000, had been “stolen out of nowhere” from his account, a move that would have required a potential hacker to surpass two-factor authentication security measures.

«

People having money hacked from their accounts?? Must be a day ending with a “y”.
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Citation needed? Wikipedia bibliometrics during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic • BiorXriv

Benjakob, Aviram and Sobel (Israel-based academics) did an academic study into Wikipedia during the pandemic:

»

Investigating if and how Wikipedia remained up to date and in line with science is key to formulating strategies to counter misinformation. Using citation analyses, we asked: which sources informed Wikipedia’s COVID-19-related articles before and during the pandemic’s first wave (January-May 2020).

Results: We found that coronavirus-related articles referenced trusted media sources and high-quality academic research. Moreover, despite a surge in COVID-19 preprints, Wikipedia had a clear preference for open-access studies published in respected journals and made little use of preprints.

Building a timeline of English COVID-19 articles from 2001-2020 revealed a nuanced tradeoff between quality and timeliness. It further showed how preexisting articles on key topics related to the virus created a framework for integrating new knowledge. Supported by a rigid sourcing policy, this “scientific infrastructure” facilitated contextualization and regulated the influx of new information. Lastly, we constructed a network of DOI-Wikipedia articles, which showed the shifting landscape of pandemic-related knowledge on Wikipedia and how academic citations create a web of shared knowledge supporting topics like COVID-19 vaccine development.

Conclusions: Understanding how scientific research interacts with the digital knowledge-sphere during the pandemic provides insight into how Wikipedia can facilitate access to science. It also reveals how, aided by what we term its “citizen encyclopedists”, it successfully fended off COVID-19 disinformation and how this unique model may be deployed in other contexts.

«

Wikipedia’s ability to resist any sort of partisan capture in general is remarkable. It’s been attacked again and again, but in general it self-corrects. And that’s always a cause for relief.
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July 2013: Bitcoin: man charged over alleged multimillion-dollar Ponzi fraud • The Guardian

Nearly nine years ago I wrote about a ripoff preying on the credulous:

»

The digital currency Bitcoin may have its own Bernie Madoff. An investment scheme promising a 7% weekly return was in fact a fraudulent “Ponzi” scheme, in which a Texas man used new investors’ money to pay interest to existing ones, according to charges filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Trendon T Shavers, from KcKinney in Texas, was the founder and operator of “Bitcoin Savings and Trust” (BTCST), allegedly raised a total of 700,000 Bitcoins in 2011 and 2012 – then worth about $4.5m – for his scheme, claiming that he made his profits on market arbitrage.

Using online handles such as “Pirate” and “pirateat40”, Shavers sold “investments” to people around the US. He claimed that “I have yet to come close to taking a loss on any deal” and that the “risk is almost 0” when challenged. He also said that he couldn’t reveal his investment strategy: “If I told you, then I couldn’t do what I do,” he once wrote.

«

Shavers subsequently got 18 months’ prison time. I bet he’s looking at all the NFTs and junkcoins and seeing an opportunity. It’s hardly as if the number of credulous dolts has gone down. Quite the opposite.
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Social unrest stirred up by social media postings? It’s still a problem. Social Warming, my latest book, explains why, and what we – and governments – can do about it.


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

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Start Up No.1715: new Facebook and Google antitrust details, the undersea fibre empire, Canon’s printer DRM fail, and more


The Ladybower reservoir is overflowing again, and people are (just like you!) fascinated by the spillway patterns. CC-licensed photo by Ian Carroll on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. It’s a work meeting. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Revealed: UK government plans publicity blitz to undermine chat privacy • Rolling Stone

James Ball:

»

The UK government is set to launch a multi-pronged publicity attack on end-to-end encryption, Rolling Stone has learned. One key objective: mobilizing public opinion against Facebook’s decision to encrypt its Messenger app.

The Home Office has hired the M&C Saatchi advertising agency — a spin-off of Saatchi and Saatchi, which made the “Labour Isn’t Working” election posters [in 1979], among the most famous in UK political history — to plan the campaign, using public funds.

According to documents reviewed by Rolling Stone, one the activities considered as part of the publicity offensive is a striking stunt — placing an adult and child (both actors) in a glass box, with the adult looking “knowingly” at the child as the glass fades to black. Multiple sources confirmed the campaign was due to start this month, with privacy groups already planning a counter-campaign. 

“We have engaged M&C Saatchi to bring together the many organisations who share our concerns about the impact end-to-end encryption would have on our ability to keep children safe,” a Home Office spokesperson said in a statement.

Successive Home Secretaries of different political parties have taken strong anti-encryption stances, claiming the technology — which is essential for online privacy and security — will diminish the effectiveness of UK bulk surveillance capabilities, make fighting organized crime more difficult, and hamper the ability to stop terror attacks. The American FBI has made similar arguments in recent years — claims which have been widely debunked by technologists and civil libertarians on both sides of the Atlantic.

«

This is truly insane, especially the idea considered for the publicity stunt. (Possibly it’s been rejected and this leaked out as part of a “look how not-unreasonable what we’re actually doing is!”)

Enormous irony being that all MPs, especially Tories, use WhatsApp to plot their next moves. E2E encrypted, and owned by Facebook.
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Antitrust docs detail alleged plot between Facebook and Google • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:

»

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton first spearheaded a blockbuster multistate antitrust case against Google towards the end of 2020, it included some (heavily redacted) allegations of a secret agreement with Facebook that let the duo squash fellow competitors in the advertising space and lord over the lion’s share of digital ad spending to this day. Now, some details about that deal are finally open to the public: new court filings from the suit that were unsealed on Friday allege that the deal, dubbed “Jedi Blue,” gave Facebook an illegal leg-up in Google’s ad auctions in exchange for Facebook’s word that it would back down from its own ad plans. Further, it claims that the top executives at both companies signed off on the deal.

The tech that’s used to serve ads across the internet is byzantine in a way that can even leave people in the online ad industry scratching their heads, which means more than 240 pages in the latest leg of the Texas case can be tricky to explain concisely. In a nutshell, publishers across the web—news sites, recipe blogs, and any other site you can name—typically rely on so-called “ad exchanges” to pawn off their available ad space to advertisers across the web. Google’s ad exchange has historically been one of the biggest around, leaving websites with little option but to work with the company if they wanted to get any sort of decent ad revenue.

This all changed in 2017 with the invention of a new kind of tech called “header bidding” that would let websites bypass Google’s exchange and still make decent earnings from their ad space. Facebook quickly announced it would make itself header bidding-compatible soon after, which meant publishers could tap into Facebook’s many, many (many) advertisers in exchange for surrendering a small chunk of their ad dollars to the company. More ad dollars in Facebook’s pocket meant fewer in Google’s, which the case alleges left the latter scrambling for a way to diffuse this competitive threat.

The deal the two allegedly landed on was “Jedi Blue.”

«

The details are, as she says, mindbending but the essence is simple: Google and Facebook are accused of collusion in a gigantic market in which they collectively control a majority.
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Ladybower Reservoir’s overflowing ‘plug holes’ attract photographers • BBC News

Amy Woodfield:

»

Photographers have been flocking to see “plug holes” dramatically overflowing at a reservoir in the Derbyshire Peak District.

The two holes – technically known as shaft spillways – are designed to regulate water levels when Ladybower Reservoir becomes full.

The excess water flows away into the River Derwent downstream. The high water levels are most likely down to the recent wet and snowy weather in the surrounding hills.

One of the many photographers to capture the spectacle was Peaklass – an avid Instagrammer based in the Peak District. She said: “They’re running over at the moment because of the high levels in the reservoir, possibly because of the snowmelt and also the wet weather we’ve been having. They don’t do it very often.”

Photographer Lee Gibson, from Lincolnshire said: “Howden and Derwent dams are overflowing at the moment. I think they’ve had a lot of snowfall over the last couple of weeks which has slowly filled it up. Perfectly normal for this time of year.”

«

“Shaft spillways”? Bah. They’re lovely pictures of overspills, well worth taking a couple of minutes for. (Thanks Steve!)
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Google, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft weave a fiber-optic web of power • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»

In less than a decade, four tech giants — Microsoft, Google parent Alphabet, Meta (formerly Facebook ) and Amazon — have become by far the dominant users of undersea-cable capacity. Before 2012, the share of the world’s undersea fiber-optic capacity being used by those companies was less than 10%. Today, that figure is about 66%.

And these four are just getting started, say analysts, submarine cable engineers and the companies themselves. In the next three years, they are on track to become primary financiers and owners of the web of undersea internet cables connecting the richest and most bandwidth-hungry countries on the shores of both the Atlantic and the Pacific, according to subsea cable analysis firm TeleGeography.

By 2024, the four are projected to collectively have an ownership stake in more than 30 long-distance undersea cables, each up to thousands of miles long, connecting every continent on the globe save Antarctica. In 2010, these companies had an ownership stake in only one such cable—the Unity cable partly owned by Google, connecting Japan and the U.S.

Traditional telecom companies have responded with suspicion and even hostility to tech companies’ increasingly rapacious demand for the world’s bandwidth. Industry analysts have raised concerns about whether we want the world’s most powerful providers of internet services and marketplaces to also own the infrastructure on which they are all delivered. This concern is understandable. Imagine if Amazon owned the roads on which it delivers packages.

But the involvement of these companies in the cable-laying industry also has driven down the cost of transmitting data across oceans for everyone, even their competitors, and helped the world increase capacity to transmit data internationally by 41% in 2020 alone, according to TeleGeography’s annual report on submarine cable infrastructure.

«

Apple and Netflix notably absent from that list. Still renting Amazon and Microsoft’s capacity.
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Canon can’t get enough toner chips, so it’s telling customers how to defeat its DRM • Ars Technica

Tim De Chant:

»

To enforce the use of first-party cartridges, manufacturers typically embed chips inside the consumables for the printers to “authenticate.” But when chips are in short supply, like today, manufacturers can find themselves in a bind. So Canon is now telling German customers how to defeat its printers’ warnings about third-party cartridges.

“Due to the worldwide continuing shortage of semiconductor components, Canon is currently facing challenges in procuring certain electronic components that are used in our consumables for our multifunction printers (MFP),” a Canon support website says in German. “In order to ensure a continuous and reliable supply of consumables, we have decided to supply consumables without a semiconductor component until the normal supply takes place again.”

The chip in question tells the printer when toner levels are getting low. A useful feature, certainly, but one that printer companies often use to lock out third-party cartridges—without the chip, the printer will say it doesn’t know how much ink or toner is inside the cartridge, assume it’s zero, and refuse to print.

But Canon has been having a hard time getting chips amid the shortage, so the company is telling owners of its imageRUNNER large-office printers how to defeat its own protections against cartridges that don’t have chips.

The software on these printers comes with a relatively simple way to defeat the chip checks. Depending on the model, when an error message occurs after inserting toner, users can press either “I Agree,” “Close,” or “OK.” When users press that [last] button, the world does not end. Rather, Canon says users may find that their toner cartridge doesn’t give them a low-toner warning before running empty.

«

My printer (not a Canon), with its own-brand cartridges, continually insists that it’s low on ink. I’d love to be able to stop that message.
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The cost of a byte: a summary of where energy is consumed • Geek Culture

Noah Martin:

»

The size of an app has wide-reaching consequences on user experience.

At first glance, you might consider slower install times, more install failures, and a higher uninstall rate. But it doesn’t stop there. Unnecessary code leads to rising compile times. Large binaries increase how much work the runtime does to lookup conformances, slowing down every aspect of an app. The more classes you have, the more work is done by dyld, slowing app launches, and increasing memory usage. Some users pay for bandwidth usage, creating a literal direct cost to download your app. The effects even reach beyond your users, to the energy usage of the Internet as it transfers app downloads.

With more and more time spent online, people have been taking an interest in the energy usage and environmental impact of the Internet. Researchers from MIT, Purdue, and Yale even demonstrated that turning off the camera during a Zoom meeting shrinks the environmental footprint by 96%. This got me thinking about the environmental footprint of app size. While an app download is small compared to live video streaming, the scale of downloads can be in the 100s of millions. As is often the case with development at scale, a single decision shipped to this wide user base gives us a big opportunity.

«

The effect of a difference in size of just one megabyte on emissions is truly surprising. (Even more than that one about turning off the Zoom camera, which is a little suspicious, but the full paper lies behind an academic paywall.)
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After ruining Android messaging, Google says iMessage is too powerful • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo, following up on Google’s outrage (following from a WSJ article about how the iPhone dominates with teens, and they like iMessage):

»

Google once had a functional competitor to iMessage called Google Hangouts. Circa 2015, Hangouts was a messaging powerhouse; in addition to the native Hangouts messaging, it also supported SMS and Google Voice messages. Hangouts did group video calls five years before Zoom blew up, and it had clients on Android, iOS, the web, Gmail, and every desktop OS via a Chrome extension.

As usual, though, Google lacked any kind of long-term plan or ability to commit to a single messaging strategy, and Hangouts only survived as the “everything” messenger for a single year. By 2016, Google moved on to the next shiny messaging app and left Hangouts to rot.

Even if Google could magically roll out RCS everywhere, it’s a poor standard to build a messaging platform on because it is dependent on a carrier phone bill. It’s anti-Internet and can’t natively work on webpages, PCs, smartwatches, and tablets, because those things don’t have SIM cards. The carriers designed RCS, so RCS puts your carrier bill at the center of your online identity, even when free identification methods like email exist and work on more devices. Google is just promoting carrier lock-in as a solution to Apple lock-in.

Despite Google’s complaining about iMessage, the company seems to have learned nothing from its years of messaging failure. Today, Google messaging is the worst and most fragmented it has ever been. As of press time, the company runs eight separate messaging platforms, none of which talk to each other: there is Google Messages/RCS, which is being promoted today, but there’s also Google Chat/Hangouts, Google Voice, Google Photos Messages, Google Pay Messages, Google Maps Business Messages, Google Stadia Messages, and Google Assistant Messaging. Those last couple of apps aren’t primarily messaging apps but have all ended up rolling their own siloed messaging platform because no dominant Google system exists for them to plug into.

The situation is an incredible mess, and no single Google product is as good as Hangouts was in 2015.

«

This is the consequence of Google’s warring product managers: it’s all about who wins, not whether the customer wins. (Also: Pixel Envy takes apart the WSJ story.)
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NBA games in virtual reality have potential. Here’s what watching one is like • CNBC

Jabari Young:

»

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka popped up from the team bench, and before I knew it, he was blocking my view. Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was close enough for me to see his Cole Haan shoes, and I saw a Lance Stephenson 3-pointer from an angle I’d never seen before.

That’s just some of my recent experience watching an NBA game while wearing a virtual reality headset.

The National Basketball Association is offering virtual courtside seats on Meta’s $299 Oculus Quest 2 devices. The headsets were one of the most popular Christmas gifts in 2021, showing that people seem to be more willing than ever to give virtual reality a try. And businesses are trying to keep your eyeballs on their content by creating VR versions of their apps and games.

The NBA experience is free and available on Meta’s Horizon Venues platform, which is a free software download for the Oculus headset. People appear as digital avatars, sort of like cartoon versions of their real selves, and watch an NBA game from a courtside perspective. It’s not Jack Nicholson’s Los Angeles Lakers seat at Crypto.com Arena or Spike Lee’s seat at Madison Square Garden, but it almost replicates the real thing.

From a business perspective, the deal could give the NBA a new set of media rights, which is important as regional sports networks struggle.

…As the Celtics were up 23-18 in the first quarter, one avatar approached me to ask for assistance on watching. I was confused at first, as my stream was fine, but it became clear the real person behind the avatar had a bad connection or was restricted due to local blackout rules.

That prompted him to label the NBA’s metaverse experience “trash.” Moments later, I asked another avatar standing next to me what he thought of the experience.

“This is dope,” responded the avatar named “TUtley.” “They need to get this for football.”

The scenic views of Boston that appeared during game breaks were pretty impressive, too, and gave me a sense of being in the city where the game is played.

«

Ehhh. It doesn’t sound that great to be honest. But I remember things like this, which come round about every 10 years or so. Maybe this time it’ll stick.
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Who is web3 really good for? • Margins

Can Duruk:

»

Once you see what is going on for real in the crypto space, you realize it’s not that the [warning: irony ahead] extremely normal Twitter user and part-time venture capitalist [at a16z, aka Andreessen Horowitz] Chris Dixon was being delirious in his seminal “Why Web3 Matters” thread. It was just that he was being extremely evasive (or maybe ignorant) about why firms like his are now so interested in this space.

It’s just business. The short of it is that these firms that have brought you Web 2.0** style centralization with all its benefits and downsides, are now looking for their next big hit. And while Big Tech has already grown to a democracy-defying size while making all their early investors and employees wealthier than gods already, crypto promises a whole lot more; an ability to own and fully control entire economies. Who could (or should, as an investor) miss out on investing in new monopolies that are vertically integrated across entire economies? Imagine El Salvador, but way…worse? Dumber?

It’s probably not lost on people who have been investing in Coinbase that if you could own the on-ramp into the crypto ecosystem for the masses, that you can exploit all the advantages of being a, or even the, bottleneck. And surely, you could exploit all the benefits of economies of scale over time.

But a gold rush is going to attract a lot of people.

So while [crypto exchange] Coinbase can charge exorbitant transaction fees today on the retail side, they must know that music will stop with competitors coming in. It’s an existential necessity for them to expand into other parts of the crypto industry. They already announced its own NFT marketplace, and have a MetaMask competitor in the works as well.

«

That point about “new monopolies that are vertically integrated across entire economies” made me shiver when I read it. That’s absolutely what a venture capital company would want. What it would salivate for.
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“You don’t own web3”: a Coinbase curse and how VCs sell crypto to retail

Fais Khan:

»

Coinbase is like the New York Stock Exchange of crypto – a listing there is a huge deal, and usually leads to massive profits for everyone involved. But unlike the NYSE or NASDAQ, Coinbase gets to choose whatever assets they want, using their own process.

Second, [venture capital company] a16z and Coinbase’s own returns are particularly interesting, given a16z is supposedly the best investor in this space, and there’s a potential for conflict of interest. Is the game rigged?

Third, Coinbase pivoted its strategy last year to go from being cautious to listing as many coins as they can. That raises the ante even higher for them and their users.

So I started to dig in, and what I found surprised me: most coins underperformed, returns got worse over time, and VC-backed coins did worst of all.

But I was able to do one better – for the last few years, Coinbase put out the names of coins they were thinking to list, but never did. I analyzed those coins – and found they did even better than the ones that made it, and the VC-backed ones didn’t show any of the same underperformance. 

«

In other words, the game is rigged.
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Why is Android 12 so buggy? It’s complicated • The Verge

Allison Johnson:

»

we talked to Mishaal Rahman, former editor-in-chief of XDA Developers, who’s well known for digging into Android codebases and discovering Google’s secrets. Speaking to the Pixel 6 bugs in particular, Rahman guesses that it has a lot to do with the unusually large size of the update. “Many people have called it, myself included, the biggest OS update to Android since Android 5.0 Lollipop, and that was many years ago. There are just so many massive changes to the interface and to the feature set.”

He also suggests that Google’s commitment to issue a new Android update every year can make things worse when it’s trying to do so much, and the self-imposed one-year development cycle doesn’t leave much wiggle room in the timeline. “They started immediately after Android 11 was released to the public — and they have a hard cutoff date… After that, they just focus on fixing bugs.” Delay any longer, and they’d risk bumping into next year’s development cycle.

It’s also possible that the attempt to bring timely Android updates to non-Google devices wound up backfiring. Android phone owners have been asking for faster updates for a long time — outside of Google’s Pixel phones and pricey flagships, many devices face long waits for OS updates. Sure enough, the updates have come faster this year. Case in point: Samsung users are accustomed to waiting about three months after an Android stable release to get their finished One UI update with the new version of the OS, but this year, One UI 4.0 arrived just one and a half months after Android 12. But the way things have gone this year, many users would likely have opted for a slower, stable update rather than a fast one riddled with bugs.

«

With both iOS and Android, you get occasional years when things pile on top of themselves. For iOS, it was (I think) 12, which had all sorts of problems. Yet Android shouldn’t really have this problem; it doesn’t need to be on an annual upgrade cycle, which Apple very much does to meet its self-imposed iPhone deadlines.
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The paperback of Social Warming is coming out soon. But the hardback will serve for now.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1714: MS blamed on glandular fever virus, why NFTs are bad (astrobiologically), are App Store scams on demand?, and more


Even if you’re playing chess anonymously, an AI can probably pick you out by your style (given enough of your back catalogue). Surprised? CC-licensed photo by Nenad Stojkovic on Flickr.

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

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


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

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


The worrisome rise of NFTs • Nautilus

Caleb Scharf is an astrobiologist:

»

NFTs are (for now) almost comically bereft of anything most of us would associate with social or cultural value. Down the line there may be value in attaching permanent ownership or provenance to digital works of art. But at the moment it’s Pudgy Penguins for the masses, or a pixel-heavy version of Nyan Cat going for an eye-watering $1.2 million for cynical investors. With an explosive growth of equally speculative and bewildering offerings appearing every day.

This represents a tangible planetary burden. Prompting the people behind the blockchains to try to improve their environmental image. The company Ethereum (that supports cryptocurrency as well as NFTs) has indicated it aims to cut energy use by more than 99% by changing its core methodology. That change will make it possible for aspiring currency “miners” to participate without so much hardware and electricity consumption.

That sounds great but understanding the nature of these changes is not easy, since the whole idea of blockchains is rooted in astonishingly arcane concepts like “proof of work” or “proof of stake” manifested in computer hardware and algorithms. It’s also far from clear that other companies will follow suit, or that the most energy-intensive pieces can ever be fully removed from the scheme without risking the innate reliability that makes the blockchain so appealing in the first place.

The much bigger question, though, has less to do with these emergent upstarts in our informational world and more to do with humanity’s overall trajectory. Any species that endlessly grows, and continually invents energy-hungry processes, may not be destined for a happy ending. At best, such a species will go through boom-and-bust cycles, with big corrective failures. At worst, a species like this simply won’t make it through to the future. NFTs and cryptocurrencies by themselves may not be the cause of a future collapse, but they are symptoms of what ails us. And like all symptoms, they can offer clues to a cure, because the root of the problem may be much deeper—in the fabric of digital information itself.

«

Also: “NFTs, an overblown speculative bubble inflated by pop culture and crypto mania“. If only articles criticising NFTs could make them go away.
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Team GB athletes offered temporary phones over China spying fears • The Guardian

Sean Ingle:

»

The British Olympic Association will offer temporary phones to Team GB athletes and staff at next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing after fears they could be spied on by the Chinese government.

While the British delegation will not be banned from taking their own mobile devices, they have been warned against doing so by the BOA because it fears the authorities could install spyware to extract private information or track future activity.

A BOA spokesperson said: “We’ve given athletes and staff practical advice so that they can make their own choice as to whether they take their personal devices to the Games, or not. Where they do not want to take their own equipment, we have provisioned temporary devices for them to use.”

The Dutch Olympic Committee*Dutch Sports Federation (NOC*NSF) has gone a step further by telling its athletes not to bring their personal mobile phones or laptops because it anticipates China may carry out surveillance on electronic devices during the Games.

The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant said the NOC*NSF would give athletes and support staff phones and laptops which will be destroyed when they return home.

NOC*NSF spokesperson Geert Slot declined to discuss specific cases but said cybersecurity was part of the risk assessment. “The importance of cybersecurity has grown over the years,” he said. “But China has completely closed off its internet, which makes it a specific case.”

«

Don’t remember this in 2008.
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Epstein-Barr virus found to trigger multiple sclerosis • Scientific American

Lydia Denworth:

»

A connection between the human herpesvirus Epstein-Barr and multiple sclerosis (MS) has long been suspected but has been difficult to prove. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the primary cause of mononucleosis and is so common that 95% of adults carry it. Unlike Epstein-Barr, MS, a devastating demyelinating disease of the central nervous system, is relatively rare. It affects 2.8 million people worldwide. But people who contract infectious mononucleosis are at slightly increased risk of developing MS. In the disease, inflammation damages the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells, ultimately disrupting signals to and from the brain and causing a variety of symptoms, from numbness and pain to paralysis.

To prove that infection with Epstein-Barr causes MS, however, a research study would have to show that people would not develop the disease if they were not first infected with the virus. A randomized trial to test such a hypothesis by purposely infecting thousands of people would of course be unethical.

Instead researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School turned to what they call “an experiment of nature.” They used two decades of blood samples from more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the US military (the samples were taken for routine HIV testing). About 5% of those individuals (several hundred thousand people) were negative for Epstein-Barr when they started military service, and 955 eventually developed MS.

…The results, published on September 13 in Science, show that the risk of multiple sclerosis increased 32-fold after infection with Epstein-Barr but not after infection with other viruses. “These findings cannot be explained by any known risk factor for MS and suggest EBV as the leading cause of MS,” the researchers wrote.

«

A stronger connection than smoking 25 cigarettes per day v lung cancer. So is the next step some sort of vaccination against EBV?
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Lords Committee pours cold water on UK CBDC • FinExtra

»

A Committee of peers in the House of Lords has concluded that there is no convincing case for the creation of a central bank digital currency in the UK.

The Economic Affairs Committee found that while a CBDC may provide some advantages, it could present significant challenges for financial stability and the protection of privacy.

The Bank of England and HM Treasury have been actively pursuing the case for a CBDC, dubbed Britcoin, due to the declining use of cash and the threats to monetary sovereignty posed by private digital currencies.

The upper chamber of the House of Commons commenced its inquiry into the issue in November, taking evidence from the Bank of England and senior banking officials.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Committe Chair, comments: “We took evidence from a variety of witnesses and none of them were able to give us a compelling reason for why the UK needed a central bank digital currency. The concept seems to present a lot of risk for very little reward. We concluded that the idea was a solution in search of a problem.”

«

Amen on that one.
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Alleged Apple App Store scammer AmpMe lowers prices and says it’ll investigate its ‘consultants’ • The Verge

Sean Hollister:

»

AmpMe isn’t a brand-new app that popped up just to scam unsuspecting users out of their money. [In] 2015… we first covered the idea: an app that can sync up a room full of smartphones into a single gigantic speaker with no fees in sight. But as App Store scam hunter Kosta Eleftheriou points out, the app looks seriously shady more than six years later — if you downloaded it yesterday, it would immediately try to sell you on a $9.99 a week automatic recurring subscription. That’s $520 a year, an incredible sum if you pull it out as a party trick and then forget to cancel.

AppFigures estimates the app has raked in $13m since 2018.

As we discussed last April, it’s ridiculously easy to find scams on Apple’s App Store — just follow the money and look at the reviews. If you see an app that charges ridiculous subscription fees, yet still has loads of five-star ratings, something might be off. And if those reviews look absolutely fake, and the app’s barely functional, you’ve probably spotted a scam.

«

So Hollister emailed AmpMe, which replied in part:

»

To claim that our users are commonly paying $520 per year does not reflect reality. For example, in 2021, the average user that subscribed and took advantage of our free trial paid a total average of $17. If you take only paying users, the average yearly subscription revenue is about $75. Internally, this has reinforced our belief that AmpMe’s pricing is transparent with clear and easy opt-out procedures.

Regarding the reviews, we hear the feedback loud and clear. Through the years, like most startups, we’ve hired outside consultants to help us with marketing and app store optimization. More oversight is needed and that’s what we are currently working on.

«

“Outside consultants” is an interesting phrase. It sounds as though there are companies out there ranging around spotting “undermonetised” opportunities on the App Store and perhaps taking a cut when they turn them into moneyspinners through a combination of subscriptions and fake reviews.
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January 6 panel targets social media companies with subpoenas after ‘inadequate responses’ to voluntary request • CNNPolitics

Annie Grayer, Ryan Nobles and Zachary Cohen:

»

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 riot has issued four subpoenas to giant social media conglomerates after the panel said the companies provided “inadequate responses” to its initial request for documents and information over the summer.

The subpoenas were sent to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Alphabet, the parent company to Google and YouTube, Twitter and Reddit.

“Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps – if any – social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson who chairs the committee said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions,” he continued.

The committee writes to Alphabet that it believes the company has “significant undisclosed information that is critical to its investigation” about how it moderated its content and how those policies impacted what was on the platform on January 6.

Although Thompson in his letter acknowledges that the committee and Alphabet have had “subsequent engagements” since the panel’s initial reach out in August, he writes that Alphabet “has not demonstrated a commitment to voluntarily and expeditiously” produce the documents being requested.

«

Didn’t expect it to be YouTube that got told off. But Thompson is annoyed at the lack of detail from YouTube.
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AI unmasks anonymous chess players, posing privacy risks • Science

Matthew Hutson:

»

Chess-playing software, such as Deep Blue and AlphaZero, has long been superhuman. But Ashton Anderson, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto and principal investigator of the new project, says the chess engines play almost an “alien style” that isn’t very instructive for those seeking to learn or improve their skills. They’d do better to tailor their advice to individual players. But first, they’d need to capture a player’s unique form.

To design and train their AI, the researchers tapped an ample resource: more than 50 million human games played on the Lichess website. They collected games by players who had played at least 1000 times and sampled sequences of up to 32 moves from those games. They coded each move and fed them into a neural network that represented each game as a point in multidimensional space, so that each player’s games formed a cluster of points. The network was trained to maximize the density of each player’s cluster and the distance between those of different players. That required the system to recognize what was distinctive about each player’s style.

The researchers tested the system by seeing how well it distinguished one player from another. They gave the system 100 games from each of about 3000 known players, and 100 fresh games from a mystery player. To make the task harder, they hid the first 15 moves of each game. The system looked for the best match and identified the mystery player 86% of the time, the researchers reported last month at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS). “We didn’t quite believe the results,” says Reid McIlroy-Young, a student in Anderson’s lab and the paper’s primary author. A non-AI method was only 28% accurate.

…The researchers are aware of the privacy risks posed by the system, which could be used to unmask anonymous chess players online. With tweaks, McIlroy-Young says, it could do the same for poker. And in theory, they say, given the right data sets, such systems could identify people based on the quirks of their driving or the timing and location of their cellphone use.

«

You can already be identified from your gait, so this is just adding to the dimensions by which you can be deanonymised. Shades of Philip K Dick’s ‘The Unreconstructed M’.

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How Twitter rolled over to get unblocked in Nigeria • Rest of World

Abubakar Idris and Peter Guest:

»

Twitter’s negotiated return to Nigeria, which was announced this week, has been in the works for months and was finalized before Jack Dorsey’s departure as the company’s CEO, a senior source in the Nigerian government told Rest of World. 

The senior official, who asked not to be named, said that Twitter had agreed to all of the government’s demands in November 2021. The agreement had been sent to the president for approval in December 2021, but took until January 13 to work its way through the bureaucracy. Dorsey resigned as Twitter CEO on November 29. 

Nigeria ended its seven-month ban on Twitter after the social media company agreed to a list of demands from the government. Twitter will open an office in the capital Abuja, register as a broadcaster, pay taxes, and commit to being sensitive to national security and cohesion, according to documents seen by Rest of World. 

«

Paying taxes?! Those things that go to the government?
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The ethics of a second chance: pig heart transplant recipient stabbed a man seven times years ago – The Washington Post

Lizzie Johnson and William Wan:

»

Leslie Shumaker Downey was at home babysitting her two grandchildren Monday when a message pinged on her cellphone.

Her daughter had sent a link to a news article about a 57-year-old man with terminal heart disease. Three days earlier at the University of Maryland Medical Center, he had received a genetically modified pig heart. The first-of-its-kind transplant was historic, saving the man’s life and offering the possibility of saving others.

What a great breakthrough for science, Downey thought, reading the headline. Then her phone pinged again.

“Mommmmmmm,” Downey’s daughter wrote. She told her to look at the man’s name.

Downey froze. The man being heralded as a medical pioneer, David Bennett Sr., was the same man who had been convicted in 1988 of stabbing her younger brother seven times, leaving him paralyzed. Edward Shumaker had spent the next 19 years using a wheelchair, before he had a stroke in 2005 and died two years later — one week before his 41st birthday.

«

If one were into writing sermons, this would be a terrific opener.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1713: what if email were slower?, PC sales boom, Argentina roasts, scientists complain at Spotify misinfo, and more


A German newspaper has raised questions about the timings and dates of tennis’s Novak Djokovic’s PCR Covid tests. Big questions. CC-licensed photo by angela n. on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. No blue site! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The subversive genius of extremely slow email • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

Every day, the mail [British readers: post] still comes. My postal carrier drives her proud van onto the street and then climbs each stoop by foot. The service remains essential, but not as a communications channel. I receive ads and bills, mostly, and the occasional newspaper clipping from my mom. For talking to people, I use email and text and social networking. The mail is a ritual but also a relic.

That relic is also the model for a new personal-communication app called Pony Messenger. Think of it as email, if email arrived by post: You compose a message and put it in an outbox; once a day (you can choose morning, afternoon, or evening “pickups”), Pony picks up your outbound dispatches and delivers your inbounds. That’s it. It’s postal-service cosplay. It’s slow email.

Dmitry Minkovsky has been working on Pony over the past three years, with the goal of recovering some of the magic that online life had lost for him. The work falls into a long tradition, part conceptual art and part whimsy, that emerged in response to the oppressive instantaneity of the internet. In 2007, the Near Future Laboratory made Slow Messenger, an IM appliance that would reveal messages only if you cradled it in your hand; last year, the artist Ben Grosser created the Minus social network, on which you can post only 100 times. Other technologies of unhurriedness include Dialup (a surprise-phone-call app), Slowly (a pen-pal service), and Mail Goggles (a Gmail add-in to prevent email regret).

I used to find such projects appealing for their subversiveness: as art objects that make problems visible rather than proposing viable solutions to them. But now it’s clear that the internet needs design innovations—and brake mechanisms—to reduce its noxious impact. Our suffering arises, in part, from the speed and volume of our social interactions online. Maybe we can build our way toward fewer of them.

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The thing we used to value about email was that it would be delivered immediately. Now though we have messaging, and everyone* has a smartphone, so that isn’t such a pressing issue. I’m really not sure I’d trade my constant stream of email for a once-per-day drop, unless it all came at 7am. Which I suppose could be arranged.
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Growth streak for traditional PCs continues during holiday quarter of 2021 • IDC

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Total PC shipments during 2021 reached 348.8 million units, up 14.8% from 2020. This represents the highest level of shipments the PC market has seen since 2012.

“2021 has truly been a return to form for the PC,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile and Consumer Device Trackers. “Consumer need for PCs in emerging markets and global commercial demand remained strong during the quarter with supply being a gating factor. While consumer and educational demand has tapered in some developed markets, we continue to believe the overall PC market has reset at a much higher level than before the pandemic.”

“A challenging logistical environment, coupled with ongoing supply-side shortages, meant that the PC market could have been even larger than it was in 2021,” according to Tom Mainelli, group vice president of IDC’s Device and Consumer Research. “We closed the year with many buyers still waiting for their PC orders to ship. As we move through the first half of the year, we expect supply to remain constrained, especially with regards to the commercial segment where demand is the most robust.”

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Really remarkable. Apple did very well (unsurprisingly, given the pent-up demand for the new M1 MacBook Pros and Airs) with 22% growth, half as much against as the rest of the market. So it had 7.5% sales share for the year, its highest in ages. The M1 project has surely paid off.
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Ground temperatures hit 129ºF as Argentina suffers blackouts • Gizmodo

Molly Taft:

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On Tuesday, air temperatures rose to 106.7ºF (41.5ºC) in Buenos Aires, the second-highest reading in the city in more than 100 years of records. Other parts of the country saw temperatures as high as 113ºF (45ºC). The heat was so bad in Argentina on Tuesday that it was briefly the hottest place in the world, surpassing parts of Australia that usually have that honor during austral summer.

“This is a heat wave of extraordinary characteristics, with extreme temperature values ​​that will even be analyzed after its completion, and it may generate some historical records for Argentina temperatures and persistence of heat,” meteorologist Lucas Berengua told Reuters.

Infrastructure has sagged in the face of sweltering temperatures. Around 700,000 people were without power for hours on Tuesday afternoon as temperatures rose and the grid struggled; the city’s electric providers blamed increased demand from cooling during the heatwave. The agency that provides drinking water also asked residents to take conservation measures, saying that its purification system was affected during the outage.

Climate change is a key ingredient in basically all heat waves now. The planet has warmed roughly 1.8ºF (1ºC) since the world began burning fossil fuels. That seeming small rise has majorly shifted the odds toward more extreme heat, and observations around the world have borne that out.

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#dontlookup. Though at least this isn’t a wet-bulb high – the sort that kills.
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🤔 What if the Industrial Revolution had started 2,000 years ago rather than 200? (And why didn’t it?) • Faster Please

James Pethokoukis:

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why didn’t the Industrial Revolution start 2000 years ago? One important reason: Those pre-industrial societies intentionally extinguished the sparks of progress. For millennia, stasis had powerful defenders. The Roman Emperor Tiberius executed rather than rewarded a man who had invented unbreakable glass. Queen Elizabeth I declined to grant a patent to the inventor of the stocking-frame knitting machine, worrying that the invention would deprive textile workers of their employment. The guilds of preindustrial Europe played a key role in making sure Europe stayed preindustrial by blocking new technologies.

Then the protectors of the status quo, like the textile machinery-wrecking Luddites, started to fail. Governments started siding with the innovators and disruptors. Politicians did not like angry workers, but they liked losing wars to richer and technologically superior enemies even less. This is all documented in The Technology Trap by Carl Benedikt Frey, the Oxford Martin Citi Fellow at Oxford University, where he teaches economics and economic history. In November 2019, I had a podcast chat with Frey. From that conversation:

Pethokoukis: What was the original catalyst for the industrial revolution as you understand it?

Frey: So I don’t believe in mono-causal explanations of economic development. I think it was a blend of things that came together that made the industrial revolution, but I think that one very underestimated factor that I highlight in the book has to do with the structure of political power.

Before the industrial revolution, in most pre-industrial societies, craft skills were a source of political clout. They didn’t have any interest in technologies that threatened their jobs and incomes. And, fearing social unrest, monarchs of governments typically sided with the guilds rather than pioneers of industry, fearing that they might challenge the political status quo.

And what happened in Britain was, first of all, with the rise of Atlantic trade, the new merchant class emerged. They were the ones who stood to benefit from mechanization because, with rising wages, mechanization was what allowed them to remain competitive in trade.

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A very interesting counterfactual. But also, what are the modern equivalents of craft guilds? Fossil fuel companies?
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Novak Djoković: were the results of his positive PCR test manipulated? • DER SPIEGEL

Jörn Meyn, Max Hoppenstedt, DER SPIEGEL:

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A coronavirus test with the number 7371999 was actually supposed to be Novak Djoković’s ticket for unproblematic entry into Australia. That positive test is the most important argument the unvaccinated tennis player has presented for why he should be allowed into the country, despite its strict entry regulations, to play in the Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 17. The PCR test was performed at 1:05 p.m. on Dec. 16, and seven hours later, the positive result was returned.

That, at least, is the story told by documentation from the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, which Djoković’s lawyers later presented in court. But a closer look at the allegedly positive PCR test, especially its digital version, raises questions.

The digital data suggests that the test results aren’t from Dec. 16 at all. In the digital results, there is a timestamp for 2:21 p.m. Serbian time on Dec. 26. Such timestamps are normally produced automatically by corona test systems, marking when individual tests are entered into the relevant database. That usually happens just a few minutes after the test result becomes available. Another possibility could be that the timestamps are generated when the tested person downloads the results from the server.

Djoković’s lawyers also presented a second, negative test as part of the tennis star’s immigration proceedings. That test was apparently meant to prove that Djoković had since recovered from his COVID-19 illness. According to the documentation presented, it is from the afternoon of Dec. 22 – and the timing of that test is confirmed by the digital timestamp.

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Very sus. And the other, natural question: if he hadn’t happened to get infected, what was he going to do to qualify for entry to Australia, which offers only very narrow options for the unvaccinated?
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An Open Letter to Spotify

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On Dec. 31, 2021, the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE), a Spotify-exclusive podcast, uploaded a highly controversial episode featuring guest Dr. Robert Malone (#1757). The episode has been criticized for promoting baseless conspiracy theories and the JRE has a concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals. JRE #1757 is not the only transgression to occur on the Spotify platform, but a relevant example of the platform’s failure to mitigate the damage it is causing.

We are a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators spanning a wide range of fields such as microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and neuroscience and we are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform. With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.

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That last bit isn’t quite right. Spotify’s misinformation policy is that it doesn’t care about misinformation spread by Joe Rogan, because it paid $100m to get him exclusively and so anything that gets attention is tickety-boo. Probably including this open letter.
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BBC does not subscribe to ‘cancel culture’, says director of editorial policy • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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The BBC opposes so-called “cancel culture” and will actively provide a platform for individuals with contrary viewpoints, according to the man who enforces its editorial standards.

David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy, said the broadcaster should “represent all points of view” and wanted to see a belief in impartiality triumph over identity.

“We are very committed to ensuring that viewpoints are heard from all different sorts of perspectives and we don’t subscribe to the ‘cancel culture’ that some groups would put forward,” he said.

Jordan said everyone should expect their views to be appropriately represented by the national broadcaster – even if they believe the Earth is flat. “It’s critical to the BBC that we represent all points of view and give them due weight,” he said.

“Flat-earthers are not going to get as much space as people who believe the Earth is round, but very occasionally it might be appropriate to interview a flat-earther. And if a lot of people believed in flat Earth we’d need to address it more.”

Asked about issues such as transgender rights, Jordan told the House of Lords communications committee that impartiality should triumph over personal identity. He criticised the New York Times for some of its editorial choices in this area and said individual BBC staff should not be able to veto coverage.

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The flat earth bit has attracted a lot of attention. Though I think Jordan was trying, in a hurry, to think of a topic where there might be an emergent difference of opinion with most of the opinion coming down on one particular side. And he lighted on “flat earth”, which was a terrible choice because it’s settled science, right back to the Greeks. Next time could I suggest trying “the presence of alien life on a distant planet”, Mr Jordan?
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Lawsuit filed against Kim Kardashian for promoting bogus cryptocurrency to her followers • Finbold

Jordan Major:

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With the ever-increasing number of scams occurring in the cryptocurrency space, investors are starting to take matters into their own hands.

Ryan Huegerich, a New York resident, and other claimants filed a class-action lawsuit against  Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Paul Pierce in a California district court, for promoting an Ethereum knockoff, Ethereum Max (EMAX), according to a lawsuit filed on January 7.

The investors acquired EMAX tokens between May 14, 2021, and June 27, 2021, and the complaint was placed on classaction.org, which serves as a consumer resource for class action litigation.

“Defendants touted the prospects of the Company [EMAX] and the ability for investors to make significant returns due to the favorable ‘tokenomics’ of the EMAX Tokens,” the complaint said.
Unknown entities behind the knockoff coin

Apart from suing the celebrities, New York resident Huegerich is also suing the as-of-yet unidentified business body that is behind the EMAX tokens.

“Plaintiff will identify the appropriate Corporate Defendant through discovery of the Executive Defendants,” according to the complaint.

The EMAX cryptocurrency reached an all-time high of $0.0000008546 in May of last year, however at the time of publication, it was trading at $0.0000000197, roughly 97% less than that figure.

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So basically it went from needing a microscope to see the price to needing an electron microscope to see the price. But the point is that Kardashian pushed the EMAX token to her followers.
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Wordle and IP law: what happens when a hot game gets cloned • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

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t’s important to note that the basic five-letter guessing game underlying Wordle is not itself a completely original idea. The same basic gameplay was popularized by Lingo, a game show that dates back to the ’80s in the US and other countries. The two-player pen-and-paper game Jotto, which goes back to 1955, would also be very familiar to Wordle players. Before that, a more traditional version of the game called Bulls and Cows has been played since the 19th century, according to at least one source.

Conveniently, none of this history provides a legal problem for Wordle itself. “Whenever you have a copyright, you’re protecting the expression, not the idea,” Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars. “It’s a line a lot of people have a very hard time with, especially when you get into games.”

In other words, it’s exceedingly hard to copyright an abstract game mechanic like “guessing five-letter words and giving hints based on correct letters.” A game developer can file for a patent on an original gaming idea, a legal process that has been used to strangle video game clones in the past. But getting a patent is a long and arduous process that can fall apart if there’s “prior art” predating the idea (or if the mechanic could be considered legally “obvious”).

Separate from copyright or patent, a trademark could at least legally protect the name Wordle from being exploited by copycats. But unlike copyright, which applies automatically when a work is published, trademarks offer very limited protection until and unless they are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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So all the ripoffs that have been thrown out of the iOS App Store… probably weren’t breaking any demonstrable law.
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Hoping to get an important ex-Facebooker to talk to me for the paperback edition of Social Warming, my latest book. Stick around.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified