Start Up No.1,074: moderating YouTube (it’s hard), Twitter’s ad overload, Mona Lisa talks, Amazon get emotional, and more

Normally there would be a Flickr photo here, but Flickr is undergoing “improvements”, and you know what that means.
Screenshot 2019 05 23 22 50 02

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A selection of 11 links for you. “Flickr is unavailable”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Q&A with Neal Mohan: the man with YouTube’s most impossible job • Vox

Peter Kafka:


instead of locking YouTube up, Mohan and his team are trying to tame it as best they can, with computers, humans, and a set of constantly updated guidelines for those computers and humans to follow.

During my conversation with Mohan, he mentioned those guidelines and the work the company has done to update them over the last few years, over and over.

That emphasis surprised me: I would think that the problem is the sheer volume of horrible things people are uploading, which is why YouTube took down a staggering 8.3 million videos in the first three months of this year. The company uses a combination of software and humans — at least 10,000 people have been hired to help flag offensive content — to find and remove those videos.

But if I understood Mohan correctly, he’s arguing that computers and humans can’t do anything without rules to follow. And that YouTube thinks refining and changing those rules is core to the work it’s doing to clean up the site. He’s also arguing that those rules will have to allow some videos that you might not like to remain on the site.

“In some cases, some of those videos … might be something that lots of users might find objectionable but are not violating our policies as they stand today,” he said.

That makes sense (though Bloomberg has reported, convincingly, that YouTube turned a blind eye to some of its worst content because it was more concerned about increasing engagement). But it doesn’t explain a recurring story for YouTube, where users or journalists find offensive (or worse) videos and point them out to YouTube, which then takes them down.


There’s also a podcast episode of this conversation.
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Twitter is running lots more ads, and some are scammy or just bad • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at Parsons School of Design, said in the past he’s seen relatively high-quality promoted tweets. But “it’s pretty shocking to see what garbage is circulating” recently on the platform, he told BuzzFeed News.

The onslaught of junky ads and associated user complaints is the latest challenge for Twitter’s promoted tweets product. While popular with advertisers, it has in the past been exploited by Bitcoin scammers, as well as those that masqueraded as Twitter itself and falsely claimed to offer account verification services.

Other screenshots of promoted tweets sent to BuzzFeed News evoke the kind of articles promoted in the content ad units provided by companies such as Taboola and RevContent. Carroll said these kind of ads sometimes include false or misleading claims and therefore “pose a challenge for Twitter’s stance on how far it will go to police truth-in-advertising.”

In other cases, people sent BuzzFeed News images of alleged promoted tweets that made little, if any, sense.


Can’t understand why people don’t use third-party apps such as Tweetbot. No ads there (if you get the paid version).
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Report: Uber and Lyft’s rise tanked wheelchair access to taxis • The San Francisco Examiner

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez:


SFMTA [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] also recommends state regulators instate a local “advisory body” to keep a watchful eye on Uber and Lyft’s disability services.

That’s especially key, as without any prompting from state or local lawmakers Uber and Lyft have for years left wheelchair users at the curb.

The report highlights a steep drop-off of ramp-enabled taxi services for people who use wheelchairs during the rise of Uber and Lyft. While wheelchair users can ride Muni buses, and have access to pre-planned trips using San Francisco’s robust paratransit services, impromptu trips are needed by us all, the report notes.

From a scheduling change at the doctor’s office to a sudden (and perhaps welcome) romantic date, life happens. But whereas years ago San Francisco’s estimated 5,000 people who use wheelchairs could catch a cab, that’s less possible now, especially because Uber and Lyft do not widely provide wheelchair accessible vehicles in San Francisco.

While SFMTA cannot track all wheelchair taxi trips, it can measure the riding habits of wheelchair users who partake in city subsidies.

In 2013 there were roughly 1,400 monthly subsidized wheelchair-ramp taxi rides, but by 2018 that number dropped to roughly 500 monthly requests.

That’s not because there were fewer wheelchair users, or because those wheelchair users requested fewer rides, according to SFMTA. There simply weren’t enough taxi drivers available anymore after the rise of Uber and Lyft, with people left stranded.


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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange indicted on 17 counts of espionage • HuffPost UK

Ryan Reilly:


Of particular concern to journalism advocates is the fact that Assange faces charges not only for working with Manning to obtain classified information, but also for publishing it.

“Assange is no journalist,” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told reporters Thursday. The Justice Department maintains that Assange was complicit with and conspired with Manning in WikiLeaks’ publication of classified materials.

Manning, whose sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama in the final days of his presidency, recently spent several weeks in jail after being held in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury. She was sent back to jail last week, and remained in jail as of Thursday.


Bad move. Assange faced charges for his role helping Manning to get the data. But publishing it? On that basis you’d have to charge people at the newspapers which published emails stolen by Russians from the DNC. You’ll note that’s not happening, because it’s not enforceable under the US’s 1st Amendment. I wonder if (some of) these charges will fail on that basis too.
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An algorithm may decide who gets suicide prevention • OneZero on Medium

Jake Pitre:


The researchers behind the New Media + Society paper set out to understand this odd quirk of Google’s algorithm, and to find out why the company seemed to be serving some markets better than others. They developed a list of 28 keywords and phrases related to suicide, Scherr says, and worked with nine researchers from different countries who accurately translated those terms into their own languages. For 21 days, they conducted millions of automated searches for these phrases, and kept track of whether hotline information showed up or not.

They thought these results might simply, logically, show up in countries with higher suicide rates, but the opposite was true. Users in South Korea, which has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, were only served the advice box about 20% of the time. They tested different browser histories (some completely clean, some full of suicide-related topics), with computers old and new, and tested searches in 11 different countries.

It didn’t seem to matter: the advice box was simply much more likely to be shown to people using Google in the English language, particularly in English-speaking countries (though not in Canada, which Scherr speculates was probably down to geographical rollout). “If you’re in an English-speaking country, you have over a 90% chance of seeing these results — but Google operates differently depending on which language you use,” he said. Scherr speculates that using keywords may simply have been the easiest way to implement the project, but adds that it wouldn’t take much to offer it more effectively in other countries, too.

A Google spokesperson, who asked not to be quoted directly, said that the company is refining these algorithms.


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Mona Lisa frown: machine learning brings old paintings and photos to life • TechCrunch

Dewin Coldewey:


We can already make a face in one video reflect the face in another in terms of what the person is saying or where they’re looking. But most of these models require a considerable amount of data, for instance a minute or two of video to analyze.

The new paper by Samsung’s Moscow-based researchers, however, shows that using only a single image of a person’s face, a video can be generated of that face turning, speaking and making ordinary expressions — with convincing, though far from flawless, fidelity.

It does this by frontloading the facial landmark identification process with a huge amount of data, making the model highly efficient at finding the parts of the target face that correspond to the source. The more data it has, the better, but it can do it with one image — called single-shot learning — and get away with it. That’s what makes it possible to take a picture of Einstein or Marilyn Monroe, or even the Mona Lisa, and make it move and speak like a real person.


Film makers of all stripes will love this. But it’s also going to make the fake news of 2016 look like kiddies’ play.

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Amazon is working on a device that can read human emotions • Bloomberg

Matt Day:

» Inc. is developing a voice-activated wearable device that can recognize human emotions.

The wrist-worn gadget is described as a health and wellness product in internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg. It’s a collaboration between Lab126, the hardware development group behind Amazon’s Fire phone and Echo smart speaker, and the Alexa voice software team.

Designed to work with a smartphone app, the device has microphones paired with software that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice, according to the documents and a person familiar with the program. Eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others, the documents show…

…A US patent filed in 2017 describes a system in which voice software uses analysis of vocal patterns to determine how a user is feeling, discerning among “joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states.” The patent, made public last year, suggests Amazon could use knowledge of a user’s emotions to recommend products or otherwise tailor responses.


So it’ll be more adept than its early testers?
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Trump administration could blacklist China’s Hikvision, a surveillance firm • The New York Times

Ana Swanson and Edward Wong:


The Trump administration is considering limits to a Chinese video surveillance giant’s ability to buy American technology, people familiar with the matter said, the latest attempt to counter Beijing’s global economic ambitions.

The move would effectively place the company, Hikvision, on a United States blacklist. It also would mark the first time the Trump administration punished a Chinese company for its role in the surveillance and mass detention of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.

The move is also likely to inflame the tensions that have escalated in President Trump’s renewed trade war with Chinese leaders. The president, in the span of two weeks, has raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, threatened to tax all imports and taken steps to cripple the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei. China has promised to retaliate against American industries.

Hikvision is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance products and is central to China’s ambitions to be the top global exporter of surveillance systems. The Commerce Department may require that American companies obtain government approval to supply components to Hikvision, limiting the company’s access to technology that helps power its equipment.


Hmm. I could get behind this, as a proportionate (and feasible) punishment for enabling the forced detention simply on religious grounds of a million people.
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Inside GCHQ: the art of spying in the digital age • Financial Times

David Bond:


Over the past year I have interviewed 20 people, the majority of whom used only their first name or a cover name to protect their identity. At all times, I was escorted by members of the agency’s press and security staff.

The picture that emerged is of an organisation still heavily bound up in its traditional work of secretive code-cracking and surveillance, but also braced for another wave of technological change that is thrusting it and its staff of 6,000 people into the spotlight.

As the nature of intelligence work becomes increasingly digital, GCHQ is no longer a passive collector and distributor of intelligence, but is transforming into a key player in offensive combat operations.

“In the past, you could characterise what we did as producing pieces of paper which we handed to government who could take action,” explains Tony Comer, GCHQ’s historian and one of just seven people allowed to speak publicly on its behalf. “Now we are the ones actually taking the action.”

Nearly three decades after the birth of the world wide web forced GCHQ to rapidly shift from cold war-era listening posts to a digital surveillance and security service, the arrival of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the internet of things and the sheer scale and complexity of modern online communications is upending the agency again, forcing it to rethink how it delivers its expanding mission…

…In the coming months, Britain will launch a new offensive cyber force, made up of more than 2,000 people, which will build significantly on existing powers to initiate online operations that can degrade or destroy computer networks and have real-world effects, such as turning off energy grids or water supplies. While no decision has yet been made public, the force is expected to be led by GCHQ.


If Britain has one, then it’s a good bet that the US and China do.
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Google’s Duplex uses AI to mimic humans (sometimes) • The New York Times

Brian X. Chen and Cade Metz:


“It sounded very real,” Mr. Tran said in an interview after hanging up the call with Google. “It was perfectly human.”

Google later confirmed, to our disappointment, that the caller had been telling the truth: He was a person working in a call center. The company said that about 25% of calls placed through Duplex started with a human, and that about 15% of those that began with an automated system had a human intervene at some point.

We tested Duplex for several days, calling more than a dozen restaurants, and our tests showed a heavy reliance on humans. Among our four successful bookings with Duplex, three were done by people. But when calls were actually placed by Google’s artificially intelligent assistant, the bot sounded very much like a real person and was even able to respond to nuanced questions.

In other words, Duplex, which Google first showed off last year as a technological marvel using AI, is still largely operated by humans. While AI services like Google’s are meant to help us, their part-machine, part-human approach could contribute to a mounting problem: the struggle to decipher the real from the fake, from bogus reviews and online disinformation to bots posing as people.


Forgivable; these are still very early days for this technology. Did you expect you’d be able to say “a machine will be able to make a booking with a restaurant, and it will seem like a human” a couple of years ago?
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TfL is going to track all London Underground users using Wi-Fi • WIRED UK

James O’Malley:


TfL’s use of Wi-Fi data is particularly interesting, however, because of its sheer scale. The 2016 trial collected 509 million pieces of data from 5.6m mobile devices on 42m journeys. Until now, all TfL has known about your journey is where you tapped in and out, if you were using an Oyster Card or contactless payments. Wi-Fi can fill in the gaps. Transport planners will be able to see exactly which route between two stations was taken by customers, and how they move around each station.

The trial data contained some intriguing insights, including the convoluted paths that some customers take. While the majority of those travelling between Liverpool Street and Victoria changed at Oxford Circus, two% of travellers inexplicably took the Central line to Holborn, then the Piccadilly line to Green Park, then the Victoria line to Victoria. It also revealed that passengers have 18 different ways to get between King’s Cross and Waterloo, and that it takes 86 seconds to get from the ticket hall to the platforms at Victoria.

TfL plan to use the data to model passenger behaviour, and squeeze more capacity out of the existing tube network. It can, for example, show how passengers react to problems on the network. When the Waterloo and City line was suspended in December 2016, TfL was able to use Wi-Fi data to see exactly what alternatives people took.

Apps that use TfL data, such as Google Maps and CityMapper – will also be able to use the data, to incorporate information about delays and congestion. If Wi-Fi beacons detect queues forming in a ticket hall, apps could suggest alternative routes for subsequent travellers.

There’s also a clear commercial incentive – which may be particularly important to TfL given the dual blows of the Crossrail delay and the loss of its central government grant.


Lots of privacy concerns; but TfL isn’t really interested in invading privacy or tracking individuals. I guess the problem comes if there’s an administration which wants to invade privacy and track people.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,073: Huawei’s problems deepen, Australia’s role in 5G concerns, fingerprinting iPhones, Qualcomm loses on antitrust, and more

Is the internet becoming a dark forest, where you don’t want to disturb the nastier denizens? CC-licensed photo by Oliver Henze on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not written in turquoise ink. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hobbling Huawei: inside the US war on China’s tech giant • Reuters

Cassell Bryan-Low, Colin Packham, David Lague, Steve Stecklow and Jack Stubbs:


In early 2018, in a complex of low-rise buildings in the Australian capital, a team of government hackers was engaging in a destructive digital war game.

The operatives – agents of the Australian Signals Directorate, the nation’s top-secret eavesdropping agency – had been given a challenge. With all the offensive cyber tools at their disposal, what harm could they inflict if they had access to equipment installed in the 5G network, the next-generation mobile communications technology, of a target nation?

What the team found, say current and former government officials, was sobering for Australian security and political leaders: The offensive potential of 5G was so great that if Australia were on the receiving end of such attacks, the country could be seriously exposed. The understanding of how 5G could be exploited for spying and to sabotage critical infrastructure changed everything for the Australians, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Mike Burgess, the head of the signals directorate, recently explained why the security of fifth generation, or 5G, technology was so important: It will be integral to the communications at the heart of a country’s critical infrastructure – everything from electric power to water supplies to sewage, he said in a March speech at a Sydney research institute.


As the article (cast of thousands writing it!) points out, the current concerns about 5G and by extension Huawei originated in Australia when it was looking at its Next Generation Network scheme. From that, everything we see now flows.
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US says Europeans coming around on threat posed by Huawei • Bloomberg

Nick Wadhams:


The US has strong indications that European nations are coming around to the severity of the threat posed by China’s Huawei Technologies and the dangers of incorporating its equipment into their coming 5G networks, according to an administration official.

The official said that while European nations probably won’t impose an outright legal ban on Huawei, the US anticipates that many nations will effectively bar the company’s equipment from their next-generation telecom networks. The official asked not to be identified discussing private discussions.

Such moves would represent a victory for the Trump administration, which has warned against the use of Huawei in 5G systems and has opened its own campaign to blacklist the company and limit its access to American suppliers over security concerns. The official declined to name specific countries prepared to change their position.

In April, Bloomberg News reported that the UK is set to toughen the rules under which Huawei operates there, while stopping short of an outright ban.


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Vodafone and EE just killed Huawei’s 5G launch in the UK • Android Authority

Scott Scrivens:


Things are going from bad to worse for Huawei. In the wake of the US Government executive order that restricts US companies from doing business with the Chinese tech company, the repercussions are mounting. Huawei and Honor phones could lose Google services and access to future Android updates and HiSilicon’s Kirin chips are also under threat. Now, two major UK carriers have dropped Huawei from their 5G launch plans.

BT-owned network EE was the first to announce that it would be pulling Huawei phones from its 5G selection, with the service to be turned on in 16 UK cities this year, starting May 30. Google’s enforced decision that could see Huawei devices lose access to the Play Store and Android version updates is the key factor, with an EE spokesperson releasing the following statement:

“We’ve put the Huawei devices on pause, until we have more information. Until we have the information and confidence that ensures our customers will get support for the lifetime of their devices with us then we’ve got the Huawei devices on pause.”

In a further blow, Vodafone has followed suit and will also not sell the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G when its new network goes online on July 3. The UK’s third largest mobile operator has said only that the device “is yet to receive the necessary certifications,” but it’s likely similar pressures faced by EE were also behind the decision.


It never rains but it absolutely pours for days on end.
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Huawei: ARM memo tells staff to stop working with China’s tech giant • BBC News

Dave Lee:


Huawei currently sources some of its chips from HiSilicon, which it owns. However, while produced in China, HiSilicon’s chips are built using underlying technology created by ARM.

While HiSilicon and Huawei are free to carry on using and manufacturing existing chips, the ban would mean the company could no longer turn to ARM for assistance in developing components for devices in future.

HiSilicon’s upcoming processor, Kirin 985, is due be used in Huawei devices later this year. According to a source at ARM, it is not expected to be affected by the ban. However, the next iteration of the chip has not yet been completed – and is likely to need to be rebuilt from scratch, the source said.

Huawei also uses ARM’s designs for its recently unveiled Kunpeng chips. These are used to power its TaiShan-series computer servers, which are designed to provide cloud computing and storage to clients.

In addition, the company told analysts in January that the Tiangang chip at the heart of its 5G base stations is also ARM-based.

“The problem of the whole telecoms industry is that so much of it is based on the exchange of technology between different companies – whether that’s chip companies, software providers or the makers of other hardware,” commented Alan Burkitt-Gray, editor-at-large of the telecoms news site Capacity Media.

He added that Huawei would likely face other problems licensing 5G-related tech from others, and in turn US-based companies would now be unable to licence the Chinese company’s 5G inventions.


Terrific scoop by Lee. But this is going to destroy all of Huawei’s business. Without ARM, the networking side gradually dies.
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SensorID: sensor calibration fingerprinting for smartphones • Cambridge Computing Lab

Jiexin Zhang, Alastair Beresford and Ian Sheret:


We have developed a new type of fingerprinting attack, the calibration fingerprinting attack. Our attack uses data gathered from the accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer sensors found in smartphones to construct a globally unique fingerprint. Overall, our attack has the following advantages:

• The attack can be launched by any website you visit or any app you use on a vulnerable device without requiring any explicit confirmation or consent from you
• The attack takes less than one second to generate a fingerprint
• The attack can generate a globally unique fingerprint for iOS devices
• The calibration fingerprint never changes, even after a factory reset
• The attack provides an effective means to track you as you browse across the web and move between apps on your phone.

Following our disclosure, Apple has patched this vulnerability in iOS 12.2.

…Our approach works by carefully analysing the data from sensors which are accessible without any special permissions to both websites and apps. Our analysis infers the per-device factory calibration data which manufacturers embed into the firmware of the smartphone to compensate for systematic manufacturing errors. This calibration data can then be used as the fingerprint.

We found that the gyroscope and magnetometer on iOS devices are factory calibrated and the calibration data differs from device to device. In addition, we find that the accelerometer of Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 can also be fingerprinted by our approach.


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Huawei ban nudges Chinese iPhone fans to switch sides • Tech In Asia

Meng Jing and Zen Soo:


Both sense and sensibility played major roles when diehard iPhone fan Wang Zhixin finally made the decision to become a first-time Huawei user after sticking with the US brand for almost a decade.

“There is a calling from my heart that I need to show support for Chinese brands, especially in the trade war climate,” said the manager at one of China’s largest solar module manufacturers. When the time finally came to retire his three-year-old iPhone 7 earlier this month, Wang went with a Huawei P30.

Huawei was not entirely chosen out of sympathy. “The company has a reputation for better quality at a cheaper price,” Wang said. “[The P30] is faster and can take better pictures.”

For Sam Li, who works at a state-owned telecom company in Beijing, switching from Apple to Huawei was also driven by an emotion. “It’s kind of embarrassing to pull an iPhone out of your pocket nowadays when all the company executives use Huawei.”


And in today’s example of “irony”: “Huawei’s CEO says he admires Apple and buys his family iPhones when they’re not in China”.
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Qualcomm’s practices violate antitrust law, judge rules • WSJ

Tripp Mickle, Brent Kendall and Asa Fitch:


Judge Koh found that Qualcomm violated antitrust law, charging unreasonably high royalties for its patents and eliminating rivals. She challenged its practice of collecting billions of dollars by charging royalties on a percentage of a smartphone’s price.

“Qualcomm’s licensing practices have strangled competition” in key parts of the modem chip market for years, “and harmed rivals, OEMs, and end consumers in the process,” the judge wrote. She added that the company’s lead in developing modem chips for smartphones using 5G, the new generation of cellular technology, made it likely that behavior would continue.

The judge ordered that Qualcomm negotiate or renegotiate licensing agreements with customers free of unfair tactics, such as threatening to cut off access to its chips. Qualcomm also must license its patents to rival chip makers at fair and reasonable prices, and can’t sign exclusive supply agreements with smartphone makers like Apple that block rivals from selling chips into devices.

Judge Koh said Qualcomm must submit to monitoring for the next seven years to ensure it abides by the remedies.

Qualcomm on Wednesday said it plans to seek an immediate stay of the judgment and an expedited appeal to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.


I wonder if Apple is going to ask for a refund on all the money it paid Qualcomm after Intel couldn’t cope with the demands of building 5G modems. But Qualcomm’s tactic of charging based on the final pricing didn’t work for Motorola against Microsoft on Wi-Fi patents. Couldn’t work here.
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The dark forest theory of the internet • OneZero

Yancey Strickler:


Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.

This very piece is an example of this. This theory was first shared on a private channel sent to 500 people who I know or who have explicitly chosen to receive it. This is the online environment in which I feel most secure. Where I can be my most “real self.”

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.

Podcasts are another example. There, meaning isn’t just expressed through language, but also through intonation and interaction. Podcasts are where a bad joke can still be followed by a self-aware and self-deprecating save. It’s a more forgiving space for communication than the internet at large.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).


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The North Korean restaurant [in Vietnam] accused of using software sales to bypass sanctions • CNN

Joshua Berlinger, CNN:


North Korea is barred from selling weapons abroad – though the UN alleges that the country is still attempting to do so – but it’s not clear if high-tech software that isn’t used for military purposes is subject to that arms embargo. The UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, the body charged with monitoring sanctions enforcement, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Facial recognition software could provide a loophole in existing sanctions that seek to limit Pyongyang’s ability to make money overseas.

“(Information technology) services aren’t covered by the United Nations sanctions,” said Cameron Trainer, an analyst studying North Korean illicit finance at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). “It’s still a way North Korea can procure currency that is then funneled to its nuclear program.”

…Experts say the Hanoi restaurant’s alleged software sales raise concerns that other North Korean restaurants around Asia could also be used to sidestep sanctions. Police and investigators usually detect sanction evasions at points of entry, like harbors. Customs officials from countries in the region do not track online software sales, said George Lopez, a former member of the UN panel charged with investigating North Korean sanctions enforcement and efficacy.

“The irony that these operate in such plain sight make it more difficult to discover what exactly they are contributing to sanction evasion, other than wages being sent back,” Lopez said.


This is real spy novel territory.
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Sony confirms which countries it has dropped for mobile • Xperia Blog



Sony confirmed it wants MC [mobile communications, its smartphone arm] to be profitable by FY 2020, by reducing operating costs by 50% (vs FY 2017). It also aims to leverage its reorganisation under the EP&S segment to strengthen its product appeal for smartphones. It highlights the Xperia 1 as the first example of this.

However, the most interesting slide was confirmation of which regions around the world it is now focused on, and by consequence which regions were ‘defocused’. Sony confirms that the focus regions are Japan, Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, there is a long-list of ‘non-focus’ regions which you can see shaded red in the slide below.

These “defocused” regions include India, Australia, Canada, South America, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East and others. We have been hearing from many in these regions that Sony has pulled out quietly, but this is the first official confirmation.

It shows that Sony is not expecting a quick bounce back in smartphone volumes any time soon.


And yet, despite all the “defocussing”, Sony’s CEO says it sees the smartphone business as “indispensable”: “We see smartphones as hardware for entertainment and a component necessary to make our hardware brand sustainable. And younger generations no longer watch TV. Their first touchpoint is smartphone.” It used to be a Sony remote TV control, of course.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: 1) thanks to Seth Finkelstein for pointing out that the phrase “fierce urgency”, which was used by Microsoft about the importance of gameplay moderation, was originally used by the Reverend Martin Luther King in 1963 in reference to the need for civil rights for minorities. Decide for yourself whether Microsoft’s use was appropriate.
2) Lots of disagreement for the idea that China only adds $8.46 of value to the iPhone. It leans very heavily on how you value the sheer ability to be able to build iPhones and iPads in the volume and speed Apple demands, basically.

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

Start Up No.1,072: Huawei planning Android alternative, US EPA’s memory hole solution, Facebook and Google’s media money influence, and more

Now Huawei’s MateBook line seems to have been hit by US blacklisting. CC-licensed photo by Hardware Italia on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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

Huawei considers rivals to Google’s Android after US ban • Bloomberg

Natalia Drozdiak:


Huawei Technologies said it’s working on its own operating system for its mobile handsets and will consider rivals to Google’s Android, after the US blacklisted the company, threatening its partnerships with chip, component and software suppliers.

The Chinese telecom equipment giant said Tuesday it was in talks with the Alphabet unit about how to proceed after Google confirmed it would cut access to some of Huawei’s operating system features for the company’s new devices in response to the announcement.

Should Google’s system no longer be available, “then the alternative option will naturally come out – either from Huawei or someone else,” Abraham Liu, Huawei’s representative to the European Union institutions, said at an event in Brussels on Tuesday.

Liu said Huawei had been working on its own operating system but that he didn’t have the details about when this would be ready. Huawei would do everything in its power to mitigate the impact of the US decisions, Liu said.


The effects of this are going to ripple on and on, but it’s clear that Huawei took notice from ZTE being banned a year ago. After all, it had been dealing with Iran in breach of US sanctions too. Remember there’s a Huawei CFO facing a US trial for breaching sanctions.
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Microsoft removes Huawei laptop from store, remains silent on potential Windows ban • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is one of the best Windows laptops available in the US right now, but without a Windows license, it’s no longer a viable alternative to Apple’s MacBook Pro or the HP Spectre x360 and even Microsoft’s own Surface lineup. Microsoft appears to have stopped selling Huawei’s MateBook X Pro at the company’s online store, too.

A listing for the MateBook X Pro mysteriously disappeared over the weekend, and searching for any Huawei hardware brings up no results at the Microsoft Store. You can still find the laptop listing in a Google cache of last week, though. The Verge understands that Microsoft retail stores are still selling existing MateBook X Pro laptops they have in stock.

Microsoft’s potential Windows ban could also affect Huawei’s server solutions. Microsoft and Huawei both operate a hybrid cloud solution for Microsoft’s Azure stack, using Microsoft-certified Huawei servers.


Without Windows they’ll have to turn to… Linux? for their servers.
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July 2018: We estimate China only makes $8.46 from an iPhone – and that’s why Trump’s trade war is futile • The Conversation

Greg Linden, in July 2018:


Start with the most valuable components that make up an iPhone: the touch screen display, memory chips, microprocessors and so on. They come from a mix of U.S., Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese companies, such as Intel, Sony, Samsung and Foxconn. Almost none of them are manufactured in China. Apple buys the components and has them shipped to China; then they leave China inside an iPhone.

So what about all of those famous factories in China with millions of workers making iPhones? The companies that own those factories, including Foxconn, are all based in Taiwan. Of the factory-cost estimate of $237.45 from IHS Markit at the time the iPhone 7 was released in late 2016, we calculate that all that’s earned in China is about $8.46, or 3.6% of the total. That includes a battery supplied by a Chinese company and the labor used for assembly.

The other $228.99 goes elsewhere. The U.S. and Japan each take a roughly $68 cut, Taiwan gets about $48, and a little under $17 goes to South Korea. And we estimate that about $283 of gross profit from the retail price – about $649 for a 32GB model when the phone debuted – goes straight to Apple’s coffers.

In short, China gets a lot of (low-paid) jobs, while the profits flow to other countries.

A better way of thinking about the US-China trade deficit associated with one iPhone would be to only count the value added in China, $8.50, rather than the $240 that shows up as a Chinese import to the U.S.

Scholars have found similar results for the broader US-China trade balance, although the disparity is less extreme than in the iPhone example. Of the 2017 trade deficit of $375bn, probably one-third actually involves inputs that came from elsewhere – including the US.

The use of China as a giant assembly floor has been good for the US economy, if not for US factory workers. By taking advantage of a vast, highly efficient global supply chain, Apple can bring new products to market at prices comparable to its competitors, most notably the Korean giant Samsung.


You can argue about the minor detail, but this is broadly correct; and quite opposite to the general expectation. What the films of Foxconn workers in Shenzhen assembling and testing phones doesn’t show is the container loads of components that have come in from abroad to be assembled.
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Apple tweaks its troubled MacBook keyboard design yet again, expands repair program • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


Apple is announcing an update to its keyboard repair program today. All MacBooks with the so-called “butterfly mechanism” (that’s pretty much all modern MacBooks) will now be fully eligible for Apple’s Keyboard Service Program. The expansion means that a few newer models that weren’t previously covered will be able to get repairs. Unfortunately, Apple is not extending how long that program lasts — it’s still “four years after the first retail sale of the unit.”

Apple is also announcing that it has created yet another iteration of its butterfly keyboard, which will ship on the new MacBook Pros it’s announcing today. It also promises that it will speed up keyboard repair times. You will not be able to just take your MacBook in to have its keyboard replaced if you don’t trust it, of course; it will need to exhibit issues for Apple to fix it.

Apple has been put through the wringer over the reliability of its butterfly keyboards for the past few years, and rightly so. Although the company stressed again in a call today that the “vast majority” of customers don’t have a problem, all too many of them have had issues with stuck keys that could cause double letters or no letters at all. It only recently began to apologize for the issue, but has also been trying to characterize it as something minor that doesn’t affect that many customers.

The amount of evidence we’re seeing on social media, among writers, and on our own laptops is getting to the point where you can’t call it anecdotal anymore, though. So simply expanding the repair program won’t be enough.


Ed Bott calls this “Apple’s [equivalent of] Windows Vista, a reputation-destroying slow-motion train wreck”. He’s not wrong. But if this does actually fix this, then I might buy one. Wait for iFixit’s teardown, I suppose.
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Facial recognition is making its way to cruise ships • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:


Like some airlines, Royal Caribbean has started to roll out facial recognition and other technologies to streamline its boarding process. The company’s SVP of digital, Jay Schneider, tells Quartz that the typical wait time to board is 10 minutes with a mobile boarding pass; less if the passenger opts into facial recognition by uploading a “security selfie.” Before those additions, he says the typical wait time was around 90 minutes.

“We wanted it to be a welcoming experience, such that the agent knows who you are when you’re getting there,” Schneider says, adding that the company wants to turn facial recognition “not into a stop and frisk moment, but into a way to welcome you on vacation, answer any questions, and let me just get you on your way.”

As people churn through the line faster with mobile boarding passes and facial recognition, the rest of the line benefits as well—that 90-minute wait will average more like 20 minutes for even those passengers boarding the old-fashioned way. Schneider says Royal Caribbean deletes security selfies at the end of each trip, to avoid storing data any longer than necessary.

Royal Caribbean has also rolled out mobile boarding to board its crew members; Schneider says the technology saves the company 50,000 crew hours each year.


Very tempting. Convenience always wins in these situations; the vast majority will go along with it. Principles are expensive, either in time or money.
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Police facial recognition surveillance court case starts • BBC

Clive Coleman:


The first major legal challenge to police use of automated facial recognition surveillance has begun in Cardiff today.

Ed Bridges, whose image was taken while he was shopping, says weak regulation means AFR breaches human rights.

The civil rights group Liberty says current use of the tool is equivalent to the unregulated taking of DNA or fingerprints without consent.

South Wales Police defends the tool but has not commented on the case.

In December 2017, Mr Bridges was having a perfectly normal day.

“I popped out of the office to do a bit of Christmas shopping and on the main pedestrian shopping street in Cardiff, there was a police van,” he told BBC News.

“By the time I was close enough to see the words ‘automatic facial recognition’ on the van, I had already had my data captured by it. That struck me as quite a fundamental invasion of my privacy.”

The case could provide crucial guidance on the lawful use of facial technology.

It is a far more powerful policing tool than traditional CCTV – as the cameras take a biometric map, creating a numerical code of the faces of each person who passes the camera.

These biometric maps are uniquely identifiable to the individual.


The irony of course is that Bridges is now far more recognisable and better known than he ever would have been before. But it’s an important point, which is that there are regulations about the storage of fingerprints and DNA, but not for AFR. This is a use of AI that’s creeping into our lives without us noticing. What would the regulations be for businesses using it around their buildings?
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The platform patrons: how Facebook and Google became two of the biggest funders of journalism in the world • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:


Taken together, Facebook and Google have now committed more than half a billion dollars to various journalistic programs and media partnerships over the past three years, not including the money spent internally on developing media-focused products like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s competing AMP mobile project. The result: These mega-platforms are now two of the largest funders of journalism in the world.

The irony is hard to miss. The dismantling of the traditional advertising model—largely at the hands of the social networks, which have siphoned away the majority of industry ad revenue—has left many media companies and journalistic institutions in desperate need of a lifeline. Google and Facebook, meanwhile, are happy to oblige, flush with cash from their ongoing dominance of the digital ad market.

The result is a somewhat dysfunctional alliance. People in the media business (including some on the receiving end of the cash) see the tech donations as guilt money, something journalism deserves because Google and Facebook wrecked their business. The tech giants, meanwhile, are desperate for some good PR and maybe even a few friends in a journalistic community that—especially now—can seem openly antagonistic.

Given that tangled backstory, it’s no surprise the funding issue is contentious. Should media companies really be involved in rehabbing the images of two of the wealthiest companies on earth, especially when they are fundamentally competitors? Yet, given the financial state of journalism, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to take the funds?


Do you think they might be conflicted? Now read on.
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Facebook and Google pressured EU experts to soften fake news regulations, say insiders • Open Democracy

Nico Schmidt and Daphné Dupont-Nivet:


Matters came to a head when Goyens and other members of the group suggested looking into whether European policy on commercial competition could have a role in limiting fake news. Such a move would have allowed the EU competition commissioner to examine the platforms’ business models to see whether they helped misinformation to spread. “We wanted to know whether the platforms were abusing their market power,” says Goyens.

She recalls that in a subsequent break Facebook’s chief lobbyist, Richard Allan – another member of the expert group – said to her: “We are happy to make our contribution, but if you go in that direction, we will be controversial.”

Allan spelled out more clearly what this meant to another group member: “He threatened that if we did not stop talking about competition tools, Facebook would stop its support for journalistic and academic projects.”

Facebook declined to comment on these incidents. In the end, the proposed vote on competition policy tools never took place.

The platforms had influence over the group’s decisions in other ways, too. “It was not made transparent [to some members of the group] that some members had a conflict of interest. Because they worked for organisations that received money from the platforms,” says Goyens.

“The Google people did not have to fight too hard for their position,” says another group member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It quickly became clear that they had some allies at the table.”

At least 10 organisations with representatives in the expert group received money from Google. One of them is the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, at the University of Oxford. By 2020, the institute will have received almost €10m from Google to pay for its annual Digital News Report. Google is one of 14 funders of this major project, which began in 2015. The institute declared this funding relationship to the European Commission in its application to be part of the expert group.

A number of other organisations represented on the group have also received funding from the Google Digital News Initiative, including the Poynter Institute and First Draft News.


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EPA plans to get thousands of pollution deaths off the books by changing its math • NY Times

Lisa Friedman:


The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, a shift that would make it easier to roll back a key climate change rule because it would result in far fewer predicted deaths from pollution, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

The E.P.A. had originally forecast that eliminating the Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with a new measure would have resulted in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year. The new analytical model would significantly reduce that number and would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted.

The proposed shift is the latest example of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked to heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.


Amazing. The US is plummeting into a bizarre era that makes ‘1984’ look like an instruction manual.
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Your car knows when you gain weight – and much, much more • NY Times

Bill Hanvey:


Today’s cars are equipped with telematics, in the form of an always-on wireless transmitter that constantly sends vehicle performance and maintenance data to the manufacturer. Modern cars collect as much as 25 gigabytes of data per hour, the consulting firm McKinsey estimates, and it’s about much more than performance and maintenance.

Cars not only know how much we weigh but also track how much weight we gain. They know how fast we drive, where we live, how many children we have — even financial information. Connect a phone to a car, and it knows who we call and who we text.
But who owns and, ultimately, controls that data? And what are carmakers doing with it?

The issue of ownership is murky. Drivers usually sign away their rights to data in a small-print clause buried in the ownership or lease agreement. It’s not unlike buying a smartphone. The difference is that most consumers have no idea vehicles collect data.

We know our smartphones, Nests and Alexas collect data, and we’ve come to accept an implicit contract: We trade personal information for convenience. With cars, we have no such expectation.

What carmakers are doing with the collected data isn’t clear. We know they use it to improve car performance and safety. And we know they have the ability to sell it to third parties they might choose. Indeed, Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, has spoken in detail about the company’s plans to monetize car data.

Debates around privacy often focus on companies like Facebook. But today’s connected cars — and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles — show how the commercial opportunities in collecting personal data are limitless.


The commercial *desire* to collect personal data is limitless, especially in the US, where everyone and everything is viewed just as more grist for the ever-advancing maw.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,071: more Huawei fallout, Telegram says WhatsApp can’t be secured, Google Glass lives!, do you want to know your future?, and more

Teslas are quite rare, but they might get rarer if the company runs out of money. CC-licensed photo by sasa.mutic on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. What Iron Throne? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei’s phone business would be decimated without Google’s Android • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


Huawei still has the option to use the open-source variety of Android, but Google has been gradually whittling all of the attractive components away from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). The genuine full-fat Android experience of today — featuring Google Maps, YouTube, and, most crucially, the full ecosystem of third-party Android apps — is dependent on Google’s licensing assent. Deprived of Google’s software, Huawei would be selling featherless chickens to smartphone buyers used to having Play Store access. In Europe, even the finest hardware wouldn’t convince consumers to buy a phone without an app ecosystem. Google wields enormous market power through its Play Store, significant enough for the European Commission to conduct an antitrust investigation.

In its native China, Huawei already operates without the Play Store, owing to Google’s absence from the market. But even there, Huawei would suffer from not having a close working relationship with Google. All of its fellow Chinese rivals would get earlier access to the next version of Android while Huawei would have to wait for the AOSP code to be made available to the public. The Chinese consumer is probably the least sensitive to operating system updates and upgrades, given how WeChat has evolved to be an OS and ecosystem atop Android, but Huawei would still be at a disadvantage in one of the world’s most competitive phone markets.

There’s no positive spin to this situation for Huawei. Trying to sell smartphones without Google’s cooperation in the modern age is a spectrum that goes from bad to disastrous. Windows Phone, Palm OS, MeeGo, Symbian, Bada (later Tizen), and BlackBerry OS are just a few of the mobile OS corpses that Android’s rise has produced.


It would be more than decimated – it would be halved. I bet it would find ways to get access to new code before AOSP, but there’s a suspicion that there won’t be any more updates for Google apps, or the Play Store, for existing handsets. We just don’t know. The irony is that the security concerns – what all this is about – have been raised over Huawei’s networking gear, not its smartphones.
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Huawei supply freeze points to US-China tech cold war • Bloomberg

Tim Culpan:


An initial Chinese version of Android – let’s call it Chandroid – won’t hold a candle to the original developed by Alphabet’s Google. Home-grown communications chips will be inferior to those offered by Qualcomm and Xilinx. But whereas past attempts to develop local products could flop because Western alternatives were still available, failure is no longer an option in the eyes of China’s top leadership.

The government will pump in more subsidies to make sure the industry doesn’t fall short, and much money will be wasted. Money can’t solve all problems. But given time, Chinese state funding will overcome enough challenges to make local alternatives viable, if not comparable to American technology. It’s unlikely the US has the political will to subsidize its own companies to the same extent. Initially, it won’t need to because of America’s current superiority. But Huawei’s position at the forefront of 5G mobile technology shows that this lead won’t be held forever.

So now the tech cold war has begun. The winner won’t be the side with the best fighters, but the one with the greater ability to endure the pain of prolonged losses.


Huawei management had been considering the cutoff by Google for a year – which makes sense since it was last April that ZTE was told it couldn’t have any components or software from the US. That was rescinded a month later, but clearly Huawei took it as a warning shot.

And this could be a cold war that the US doesn’t win, as Culpan hints.
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January 2019: The Huawei crackdown could be a disaster for small carriers • The Verge

Colin Lecher:


The Trump administration has banned contractors from using Huawei tech, and major carriers do not use Huawei equipment that could compromise that contract work. But the same isn’t true for smaller companies without those contracts. In the face of the unfolding controversy, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules that could prevent companies from using agency funds to buy equipment from businesses deemed a security risk — or possibly from using equipment from companies like Huawei at all. Small carriers will likely feel the brunt of that policy.

To build out its infrastructure, those small carriers say they often rely on Huawei, which has become the largest provider of telecommunications equipment in the world, offering whatever tools a company might need. Some of the companies argue that the Huawei-made equipment can mean several million dollars in savings.

In a filing to the FCC, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), which represents small service providers as well as Huawei itself, has claimed that the costs associated with dumping Huawei products would be substantial. “RWA estimates that at least 25% of its carrier members would be impacted,” the group wrote in a filing to the agency. “Estimated rip-and-replace costs vary by carrier, but are significant across the board.” The RWA argues that the FCC should provide funding for any required change in equipment.


I’d love to know how it is that Huawei can build this stuff at such lower prices than companies such as Nokia and Ericsson. Cheaper labour? Cheaper capital costs?
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Adware is malicious, and it uses advanced techniques to infect • Sensors Tech Forum

Milena Dimitrova:


researchers investigated the evolution of Wajam in the course of nearly six years. As of 2016, revealed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Wajam had “hundreds of millions of installations” and collected 400TB of private information from users, the report said.

Wajam has been around since 2013. In the past, it was advertised as a social search browser add-on that allows users to find what information has been searched online or shared by their friends on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. As this is an ad-supported browser plug-in, Wajam is known to display various advertisements that some users find quite annoying. What turns Wajam into a potentially unwanted application is the risk of various infections involved with the pop-up, banner and in-text ads, which may lead the user to unverified and unsafe webpages.

In other words, Wajam has been known to inject ads into browser traffic, using techniques that malware operators use, such as man-in-the-browser (browser process injection) attacks seen in
Zeus operations. Other examples include anti-analysis and evasion techniques, security policy downgrading and data leakage.


Also has 248 domain names associated with it. Adware used to be a big problem back in 2005 or so, but seemed to go away. Yet here it is again.
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Google Glass still exists: meet Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Google Glass is not only a product that still exists inside Google, but today, Google is announcing a new version of Google Glass, called “Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2.” It has a new design, new specs, and a $999 price tag. We can’t believe it either.

Google has a blog post detailing the new product, and has been resurrected with all sorts of details on the new face computer. The new Google Glass has a thicker, bulkier design, which probably helps to fit a larger 820mAh battery compared to the original’s 570mAh. Given that Glass is now an enterprise-focused product, it makes sense that Google is promoting a design with built-in safety glasses, although a more traditional frameless style is still available…

…Google VR/AR lead Clay Bavor has claimed ownership of Google Glass on Twitter, so now it seems the same group that brings you ARCore and Google Daydream VR goggles will be in charge of Google Glass.

As an enterprise product, Glass is not available to consumers and, last we checked, didn’t come with general-purpose software. You’d need to have a company buy a large quantity of Glass devices and develop custom software that would work on them.


Not sure there are many of those (though of course the volume might make up for it).
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Elon Musk: Tesla needs to cut costs or it will run out of money in 10 months • BGR

Yoni Heisler:


When the company last month released its earnings report for the March quarter, it posted a quarterly loss of $702m. That said, it’s worth noting that production, deliveries, and demand for Tesla vehicles have all grown at an impressive clip over the past many months. As an illustrative example, Tesla during Q1 of 2019 manufactured 77,100 vehicles, a figure which well more than double the amount it manufactured during the same quarter in 2018.

Nonetheless, Tesla continues to burn through money at an alarming rate. So much so, in fact, that Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently sent an email (obtained via Electrek) wherein the Tesla CEO explained that the company — which has approximately $2.2bn in cash on hand — may not have enough cash to last beyond a period of 10 months.

“This is a lot of money,” Musk said, “but actually only gives us about 10 months at the Q1 burn rate to achieve breakeven!”

Consequently, Musk explained that the company will be taking a much closer look at employee expenses as it pertains to “parts, salary, travel expenses, and rent.”


Seems like it loses money on every car it sells, so upping the production volume doesn’t seem like the solution. (Yes yes overheads etc.) Tesla just doesn’t seem like a company modelled around profit. Demand outstrips supply, but it can’t find a way to satisfy that and also hold onto cash.
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Why WhatsApp will never be secure • Telegram blog

Pavel Durov is one of the authors of Telegram:


Everything on your phone, including photos, emails and texts was accessible by attackers just because you had WhatsApp installed.  

This news didn’t surprise me though. Last year WhatsApp had to admit they had a very similar issue – a single video call via WhatsApp was all a hacker needed to get access to your phone’s entire data

Every time WhatsApp has to fix a critical vulnerability in their app, a new one seems to appear in its place. All of their security issues are conveniently suitable for surveillance, and look and work a lot like backdoors.  

Unlike Telegram, WhatsApp is not open source, so there’s no way for a security researcher to easily check whether there are backdoors in its code. Not only does WhatsApp not publish its code, they do the exact opposite: WhatsApp deliberately obfuscates their apps’ binaries to make sure no one is able to study them thoroughly. 

WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook may even be required to implement backdoors – via secret processes such as the FBI’s gag orders. It’s not easy to run a secure communication app from the US. A week our team spent in the US in 2016 prompted three infiltration attempts by the FBI Imagine what 10 years in that environment can bring upon a US-based company. 


The open-source argument is probably good. The argument that its flaws are conveniently about surveillance isn’t; the general purpose of hacking into apps or phones is always surveillance. And Telegram has its own problems – emanating from its users.
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No spoilers! Most people don’t want to know their future • EurekAlert! Science News


Given the chance to see into the future, most people would rather not know what life has in store for them, even if they think those events could make them happy, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“In Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, had the power to foresee the future. But, she was also cursed and no one believed her prophecies,” said the study’s lead author, Gerd Gigerenzer, PhD, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “In our study, we’ve found that people would rather decline the powers that made Cassandra famous, in an effort to forgo the suffering that knowing the future may cause, avoid regret and also maintain the enjoyment of suspense that pleasurable events provide.”

Two nationally representative studies involving more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain found that 85% to 90% of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40 to 70% preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events. Only 1% of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held. The findings are published in the APA journal Psychological Review.


This is from 2017, though I don’t think much will have changed. This does rather bring into question DNA testing companies’ promise that “we’ll tell you about all the awful diseases you’ll get when you’re older!” Which is probably why they’ve been focussing more on the backward-looking “find out how varied your ancestry is!”
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Number go down — the single trade that crashed Bitcoin • Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard:


The price of Bitcoin went from $4000 in early April, to $6000 on 9 May, to $8000 one week later on 16 May — and Bitcoin fans treated this as only its right and natural due. Number go up!

The crypto blogs put forward all sorts of bad reasons — it’s capital flight from China! It’s Bakkt offering Bitcoin futures! It’s Flexa offering retail payments in crypto! It’s Microsoft experimenting with the blockchain! — even though this was really obviously a manipulated push like so many before.

The Bitcoin price goes up and down with weird jumps in the graph — nicknamed “Barts,” after the shape of Bart Simpson’s haircut — the telltale signs of market manipulation.

The Bitcoin price is a game for “whales” — the largest traders — to wreck the smaller players. The prize is whatever small amounts of actual-money dollars come into the crypto market.

And then the price dropped again — from a single transaction, around 02:50 UTC on Friday 17 May — in the biggest single-day dip since January 2018.


As Gerard explains, the market manipulation that’s going on – where the big players can squeeze out the short players for fun and profit – is quite something to behold. Ignore the usual media narrative around blockchain. It simply isn’t being used for anything but financial games.
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Microsoft Xbox moderation to cut back toxic content • CNBC

Jordan Novet:


The changes follow Microsoft’s recent update to its Xbox “community standards” for gameplay, which pointed out several practices that aren’t acceptable. Now it’s taking that a step further with moderation tools.

“This summer, we are empowering our official Club community managers with proactive content moderation features that will help create safe spaces for fans to discuss their favorite games,” Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, said Monday. “We plan to roll out new content moderation experiences to everyone on Xbox Live by the end of 2019.” Xbox Live has 63 million monthly active users, and the service includes groups where people can post content and submit comments, along with chat rooms.

“The gaming community continues to grow rapidly, and the imminent roll-out of new game services such as Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud will make gaming available to even more people worldwide,” Spencer said. “Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety.”


“Proactive” surely means “ban first, examine comments later”, doesn’t it? Or are they just trying to sound terribly involved? I guess it goes along with the “fierce urgency”, which is a brand-new phrase in my canon. What exactly is a fierce urgency to play? It sounds like having a UTI.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,070: Google cuts off Huawei, Britain’s climate crisis refugees, Facebook shuts another fake news op, what if women made the laws?, and more

There’s a shortage of helium – which isn’t just a problem for parties. CC-licensed photo by Michael Pereckas on Flickr.

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

Exclusive: Google suspends some business with Huawei after Trump blacklist – source • Reuters

Angela Moon:


Alphabet Inc’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware and software products except those covered by open source licenses, a source close to the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd will immediately lose access to updates to the Android operating system, and the next version of its smartphones outside of China will also lose access to popular applications and services including the Google Play Store and Gmail app.

Details of the specific services were still being discussed internally at Google, according to the source. Huawei attorneys are also studying the impact of the U.S. Commerce Department’s actions, a Huawei spokesman said on Friday. Huawei was not immediately reachable for further comment.


If this is continued, it’s calamitous for Huawei; without Google apps and the Google Play Store, it can’t serve customers. (It’s unclear whether existing Huawei phones will lose access.) In Q1 2019 it shipped a total of 59m smartphones; of those, 29.9m were in China, so half were outside. This decision affects the half outside China.

Bear in mind though that this may be a negotiating ploy – just as Trump’s ban on China’s ZTE, which could have razed it, was imposed in April 2018 and lifted a month later, apparently amid some trade bargaining. At least with ZTE there was a clear reason – its breach of technology embargoes with Iran. For Huawei, there’s no such smoking gun.
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Progress and the randomized time machine • The Technium

Kevin Kelly:


Here is a thought experiment. I give you a ride in a time machine. It has only one lever. You can choose to go forward in time, or backwards. All trips are one-way. Whenever you arrive, you arrive as a newborn baby.  Where you land is random, and so are your parents. You might be born rich or poor, male or female, dark or light, healthy or sick, wanted or unwanted.

Your only choice is whether you choose to be thrust forward in time, spending your new life in some random future in some random place, or thrust into the past, in some random time and random place. I have not met anyone yet who would point the lever to the past. (If you would, leave a comment why.) Even if we constrained the time machine to jump mere decades away, everyone points it to the future. For while we can certainly select certain places, certain eras in the past that seem attractive, their attractiveness disappears if we arrive as a servant, a slave, an outcast ethnicity, or even as a farmer during a drought, or during never-ending raiding and wars.

The only argument I’ve heard for choosing the past is that the downsides are known; you have a randomized chance of being a slave, or the fourth wife, or a Roman miner, while the downsides of some future date are unknown and could possibly be worse. Perhaps there is no civilization at all in 500 years, and you therefore arrive in a toxic wasteland, or all humans are enslaved to robots. In this calculus the known horror is preferred to unknown horrors. The likelihood of self-eradication seems to some people, at this point in time, to increase the further out in history we might go. Five thousand years in the future may be as unappealing a destination to some as five thousand years in the past.


But what he doesn’t mention is that there is a third option: don’t take the trip. Now which one do you prefer?
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Facebook busts Israel-based ‘fake news’ campaign to disrupt elections worldwide • The Japan Times


Facebook said Thursday it banned an Israeli company that ran an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries and has canceled dozens of accounts engaged in spreading disinformation.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told reporters that the tech giant had purged 65 Israeli accounts, 161 pages, dozens of groups and four Instagram accounts.

Although Facebook said the individuals behind the network attempted to conceal their identities, it discovered that many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that publicly boasts of its social media skills and ability to “change reality.”

“It’s a real communications firm making money through the dissemination of fake news,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, a think tank collaborating with Facebook to expose and explain disinformation campaigns.

He called Archimedes’ commercialization of tactics more commonly tied to governments, like Russia, an emerging — and worrying — trend in the global spread of social media disinformation. “These efforts go well beyond what is acceptable in free and democratic societies,” Brookie said.


It feels like we get a story like this – company paid to spread disinformation (especially around elections), Facebook identifying lots of accounts, and shutting down said accounts – every week or so. It’s quite troubling that Facebook is so easily used for manipulation.
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Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:


The Guardian has updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world.

Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned.

“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” said the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

“Increasingly, climate scientists and organisations from the UN to the Met Office are changing their terminology, and using stronger language to describe the situation we’re in,” she said.


Timely – let’s hope that others will follow quickly. Language frames the discussion and the response to it.
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‘This is a wake-up call’: the Welsh villagers who could be Britain’s first climate refugees • The Guardian

Tom Wall:


In 26 years – or sooner, if forecasts worsen or a storm breaches the sea defences – a taskforce led by Gwynedd council will begin to move the 850 residents of Fairbourne out of their homes. The whole village – houses, shops, roads, sewers, gas pipes and electricity pylons – will then be dismantled, turning the site back into a tidal salt marsh.

It will become the first community in the UK to be decommissioned as a result of climate change; while other villages along England’s crumbling east coast have lost houses to accelerating erosion, none have been abandoned. It may also create hundreds of British climate refugees: the residents of Fairbourne are not expected to receive any compensation for the loss of their homes, and resettlement plans are unclear.

It will not be the last village to meet this fate. Sea levels around the UK have risen by 15.4cm (6in) since 1900, and the Met Office expects them to rise by as much as 1.12 metres (3ft 8in) from modern levels by 2100, putting at risk communities in coastal floodplains and on sea cliffs, which are found around much of the east and south coast of England. The west of Wales and north-west England are also vulnerable. Even if the world’s governments succeed in reversing increasing emissions in line with their Paris climate commitments, sea levels are set to rise for centuries, as the impact of higher global temperature and warmer oceans takes effect.


I added the conversion of the sea level rise from metric to imperial for American readers. (Why does America use imperial? A question for another day.) The Florida Keys in the US faces the same fate.
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Jay Inslee unveils $9trn climate jobs plan to cut emissions and bolster unions • HuffPost UK

Alexander Kaufman:


The 38-page Evergreen Economy Plan promises at least 8 million jobs over 10 years, and offers the most detailed policy vision yet for mobilizing the entire United States economy to stave off catastrophic global warming and prepare for already inevitable temperature rise.

The proposal lays out a five-pronged strategy to launch an unprecedented deployment of renewable energy, fortify the nation’s infrastructure to cope with climate change, spur a clean-tech manufacturing boom, increase federal research funding fivefold and level income inequality by repealing anti-union laws and enacting new rules to close the racial and gender pay gaps. By spending $300bn per year, the plan projects another $600bn in annual economic activity generated by its mandates.  

“The thing that can really cost is the path of inaction, the path of letting Paradise, California, keep burning down, the path of letting Davenport, Iowa, keep flooding, the path of letting Miami be inundated,” Inslee told HuffPost by phone on Wednesday. “It’s too expensive, besides being too deadly.”

The breadth is stunning, with few problems left untouched. The plan includes specifics on everything from national parks to drinking water, “ultra-high-speed” rail to electric scooters, climate literacy education to a new Climate Conservation Corps.


The devil’s in the details (and there aren’t many details in this, despite its length). But that creaking noise? It’s the Overton window shifting climatewards among the Democratic candidates.
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The nation’s first majority-female legislature is currently meeting in Nevada. Carson city may never be the same • Washington Post

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux:


Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52%.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in US history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47% of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15% of lawmakers.


Wonder what it would be like if you could somehow mandate equal representation, perhaps through a listing scheme.
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Not just Party City: why helium shortages worry scientists and researchers • NBC News

Mary Pflum:


“Helium is used in MRIs, it’s used in nuclear magnetic resonance, and the semiconductor industry uses a lot of helium,” Elsesser said.

“Helium is the workhorse of chemistry. Because of a helium shortage, some important experiments are being forced to shut down. The development of some drugs is being impacted. We’re losing time in research efforts.”

Liquid helium is like liquid gold to scientists, according to Sophia Hayes, a professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis and one of the nation’s leading helium experts.

“It’s the coldest substance in the world,” Hayes said, explaining it plummets to minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s almost as cold as outer space. There is no substitute. There is nothing else that can create those low temperatures.”

Scientists have been issuing warnings for years about the world’s shrinking helium supply. This year, the American Physical Society said that addressing the helium crisis is one of its top priorities.

Even fictitious scientists, like the ones featured on the popular sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” have devoted entire episodes to the search for the gas. In an episode that aired in October 2015, entitled “The Helium Insufficiency,” two of the show’s main characters, Leonard and Sheldon, resort to shady dealings in a dark alley to source helium for an experiment.

But while the characters have been well aware of the helium shortage, it’s taken a while for the public and government officials to catch up.

“The helium shortage has hit us really hard,” Hayes said. “The situation is urgent.”


An unexpected thing to run short of. This is (also) why we need fusion reactors so they can make more.
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ICO says that voice data collected unlawfully by HMRC should be deleted • Information Commissioner’s Office



An ICO investigation into HMRC’s Voice ID service was prompted by a complaint from Big Brother Watch about the department’s conduct. The investigation focused on the use of voice authentication for customer verification on some of HMRC’s helplines since January 2017.

The ICO found that HMRC failed to give customers sufficient information about how their biometric data would be processed and failed to give them the chance to give or withhold consent. This is a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation.

The ICO issued a preliminary enforcement notice to HMRC on April 4, 2019 stating the Information Commissioner’s initial decision to compel the department to delete all biometric data held under the Voice ID system for which it does not have explicit consent.


Interesting: HMRC trumpeted this back in January 2017, but as the ICO says it doesn’t explain what’s going to be done with it.
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Adobe warning of legal problems if subscribers keep using old versions of Creative Cloud apps • Apple Insider

William Gallagher:


Users of older versions of Adobe Creative Cloud apps including Photoshop have been told to stop using them or face potential “infringement claims” from third-party companies who are unnamed but suspected to be Dolby. Adobe cites only “ongoing litigation” as the reason for the abrupt announcement.

“Adobe recently discontinued certain older versions of Creative Cloud applications. Customers using those versions have been notified that they are no longer licensed to use them and were provided guidance on how to upgrade to the latest authorized versions,” said Adobe in a statement to AppleInsider.

“Unfortunately, customers who continue to use or deploy older, unauthorized versions of Creative Cloud may face potential claims of infringement by third parties. We cannot comment on claims of third-party infringement, as it concerns ongoing litigation.”…

…While Adobe has not said who the dispute is with, the company is presently being sued by Dolby. Through a legal complaint filed in March 2019 with the US District Court and the Northern District of California, Dolby is seeking a jury trial over issues of “copyright infringement and breach of contract” against Adobe.

Prior to the creation of the Creative Cloud subscription service, Adobe licensed certain technologies from Dolby with an agreement based on how many discs of certain apps were sold. Now that the software is distributed online, the companies reportedly renegotiated their agreement to be based on how many users are actually running the software.

According to Dolby’s legal filing, this agreement was subject to the figures Adobe reported being examined by a third-party audit.


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Google Gmail tracks your purchase history (not just from Google); here’s how to delete it • CNBC

Todd Haselton and Megan Graham:


Go here to see your own:

“To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “You can delete this information at any time. We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page.”

But there isn’t an easy way to remove all of this. You can delete all the receipts in your Gmail inbox and archived messages. But, if you’re like me, you might save receipts in Gmail in case you need them later for returns. In order to remove them from Google Purchases and keep them in your Gmail inbox, you need to delete them one by one from the Purchases page. It would take forever to do that for years’ worth of purchase information.

Google’s privacy page says that only you can view your purchases. But it says “Information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services ” and that you can see and delete this information on a separate “My Activity” page.

Except you can’t. Google’s activity controls page doesn’t give you any ability to manage the data it stores on Purchases.


There’s an even more interesting page: Purchases and Subscriptions, which you reach by hitting the back button on the Purchases page. What is Google up to with this? It’s tracking purchases and subscriptions from absolutely all over. It might say that it’s not using this to serve you ads, but frankly it’s hard to think what this is for except that – unless it’s being fed to the AI systems, which then make some sort of conclusion about ads. Perhaps it’s to *avoid* serving you ads about things you’ve already bought – in which case “we don’t use the information to serve you ads” would just about be true.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,069: former MI6 chief warns on Huawei, the energy revolution challenge, the simple ransomware solution, and more

Facial recognition systems are spreading in the US and UK – but there’s pushback. CC-licensed photo by Sheila Scarborough 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. But it’s Friday! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei poses security threat to UK, says former MI6 chief • The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh and Jon Henley:


In a report from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), the authors claimed Huawei “has long been accused of espionage” – a claim denied repeatedly by the firm – and notes that “while there are no definitely proven cases”, a precautionary principle should be adopted.

The document is co-authored by the Tory MP Bob Seely, who has already raised concerns about Huawei, and the expert academics Peter Varnish and John Hemmings. It adds to pressure heaped on the British government to reconsider letting Huawei participate in the UK’s 5G network from the US and Australia, whose intelligence agencies share information with the UK.

Last month May provisionally approved the use of Huawei technology for parts of the UK’s future 5G telecoms networks after a meeting of the NSC. A leaked account of the meeting said five cabinet ministers raised concerns about the company.

The HJS report has a foreword by Sir Richard Dearlove, who led MI6 between 1999 and 2004. Using blunter language than the report’s authors, he wrote: “I very much hope there is time for the UK government … to reconsider the Huawei decision.

“No part of the Communist Chinese state is ultimately able to operate free of the control exercised by its Communist party leadership,” Dearlove added. “Therefore, we must conclude the engagement of Huawei presents a potential security risk to the UK.”


I’d link to the report, but the Henry Jackson Society has the slowest website in the world. Unless it’s being DDOSd (which seems unlikely).
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The man behind San Francisco’s facial recognition ban is working on more. Way more • The New York Times

Kate Conger:


[Brian] Hofer is little known outside California, but his anti-surveillance measures have been making waves in the state.

He successfully pressed the Northern California cities of Richmond and Berkeley, which have sanctuary policies, to end their contracts with tech companies like Amazon and Vigilant Solutions that do business with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In Santa Clara County, in Oakland and elsewhere, he has secured transparency laws around surveillance technology.

His campaigns are just beginning. In Berkeley and Oakland, Mr. Hofer is pushing for more facial recognition bans. He has two additional privacy proposals winding their way through the state’s legislative process, focused on reining in surveillance technology. And he is establishing a nonprofit, Secure Justice, that will grapple with technology issues.

“My primary concern is when the state abuses its power, and because of the age we live in, it’s probably going to occur through technology and data mining,” Mr. Hofer said. “That’s where I see the most potential harm occurring. So I just wanted to jump right in.”


(Thanks Jason H for the link.)
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The Met Police’s sinister facial recognition trial should worry us all • The Spectator

Jamie Bartlett:


In a recent episode of BBC Click, journalist Geoff White followed the police’s pilot of live facial recognition technology. (The Metropolitan Police are running a number of pilots). In one chilling moment, a man walked past the facial recognition cameras and covered his face. The police stopped him, forced him to uncover and then took a photograph of him anyway. ‘This gives us grounds to stop and verify him,’ one officer said. The man got angry – understandably, I’d have done the same – which landed him a £90 fine for disorderly behaviour.

I’ve no idea what the legal basis is for any of this – but if covering your face is deemed suspicious, we’re heading somewhere where, for once, the word ‘Orwellian’ isn’t an exaggeration. Silkie Carlo from Big Brother Watch (who are running a campaign to stop this) reckons it’s a ‘free for all’ taking place in a legal vacuum. ‘The police are making up the rules as they go along,’ she says.

I won’t bother running through the possible misuses, bias data models (see here if you don’t believe that technology can’t contain biases), or the cost. Instead, just imagine real-time facial recognition technology running on the country’s six million CCTV cameras and ask yourself if you’re happy with that. And if it does roll out, I suspect thousands will do what this man did, principled or otherwise, which will surely make an ass of the law.

But what worries me most is not that facial recognition technologies won’t work – but the opposite. Despite the problems, I expect it will be very effective at tackling crime and keeping us safe. At what cost?


I suppose the police might have been using stop and search, but it seems pretty thin.
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Energy revolution will come from foundational scientific discoveries—not renewables • City Journal

Mark Mills:


If, in some alternative universe, the performance of silicon solar cells followed Moore’s Law, a single postage-stamp-size solar cell could fuel the Empire State Building. Similarly, a single battery the size of a book would cost 3 cents and power a jumbo jet to Asia. Such things happen only in comic books because, ultimately, physics, not policies, dictates the possibilities—and thus the economics—for energy technologies, regardless of subsidies and mandates.

Spending $1m on wind or solar hardware in order to capture nature’s diffuse wind and sunlight will yield about 50 million kilowatt-hours of electricity over a 30-year period. Meantime, the same money spent on a shale well yields enough natural gas over 30 years to produce 300 million kilowatt-hours. That difference is anchored in the far higher, physics-based energy density of hydrocarbons. Subsidies can’t change that fact.

And then batteries are needed, and widely promoted, as the way to convert wind or solar into useable on-demand power. While the physical chemistry of batteries is indeed nearly magical in storing tiny quantities of energy, it doesn’t scale up efficiently. When it comes to storing energy at country scales, or for cargo ships, cars and aircraft, engineers start with a simple fact: the maximum potential energy contained in hydrocarbon molecules is about 1,500% greater, pound for pound, than the maximum theoretical lithium chemistries. That’s why the cost to store a unit of energy in a battery is 200 times more than storing the same amount of energy as natural gas.


*shakes fist at physics*
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Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and a history of mobile game data collection • Vox

Kaitlyn Tiffany:


Something as vague and banal-sounding as “gameplay data” is not as obviously salacious as the types of personal data collection we know we should be scandalized by. Nobody’s getting your Social Security number from Angry Birds. Nobody’s getting your private messages.

“With Facebook, you’re putting a lot more clearly personal information out there, and with a game you’re not really sure what it’s getting from you,” says Chris Hazard, an engineer with experience in gaming and AI, currently the CTO of a startup called Diveplane. “It’s not as front and center.” Basically, it’s not obvious that data about how you play a mobile game can be as useful and as personal as your wedding photos or a rattled-off screed about the Democratic National Committee.

But people should be worried. The intricacies of gameplay data can tell you a lot about what makes people tick, and what’s going on with them — studies have shown that you play games differently when you’re depressed, or dieting. “Nobody gets too upset about games,” Nieborg says. “But the underlying technology is really powerful. These people are really pushing the technology to the limits where the potential for abuse is massive.”

Developers collect data on who was playing, for how long, how well, and how much money they were spending. It doesn’t seem like sensitive information, and it’s useful mostly because it helps developers target their Facebook ads to find more people who will “monetize well” on these games.


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The trade secret: firms that promised high-tech ransomware solutions almost always just pay the hackers • ProPublica

Renee Dudley:


In a statement that day [in November 2018], the FBI said the “criminal actors” were “out of the reach of US law enforcement.” But they weren’t beyond the reach of an American company that says it helps victims regain access to their computers. Proven Data Recovery of Elmsford, New York, regularly made ransom payments to SamSam hackers over more than a year, according to Jonathan Storfer, a former employee who dealt with them.

Although bitcoin transactions are intended to be anonymous and difficult to track, ProPublica was able to trace four of the payments. Sent in 2017 and 2018, from an online wallet controlled by Proven Data to ones specified by the hackers, the money was then laundered through as many as 12 bitcoin addresses before reaching a wallet maintained by the Iranians, according to an analysis by bitcoin tracing firm Chainalysis at our request. Payments to that digital currency destination and another linked to the attackers were later banned by the US Treasury Department, which cited sanctions targeting the Iranian regime.

“I would not be surprised if a significant amount of ransomware both funded terrorism and also organized crime,” Storfer said. “So the question is, is every time that we get hit by SamSam, and every time we facilitate a payment — and here’s where it gets really dicey — does that mean we are technically funding terrorism?”


Yes. Next question. Oh, you’re wondering if Proven Data was just getting the decryption keys from the hackers rather than using some Amazing Method? Yes to that too.
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DIY market may shrink further due to US-China trade tensions • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:


With the cryptocurrency mining fad dissipating, most motherboard and graphics card players have seen their revenues returning to regular levels. But those who heavily rely on the two business segments have reported sharp drops in sales for the first quarter.

With the US government extending the 25% tariff to consumer products including notebooks and smartphones, Taiwan’s motherboard and graphics card players noted that the impact on their businesses will not be big since they have already increased the prices for products shipping to the US previously when the US increased the tariff to 10%. They have also prepared production sites outside of China as a precaution.

As for China’s 25% retaliatory tariff on US-imported products, the firms so far have not seen major impacts.

However, fierce trade tensions are expected to result in weakening demand from the end market. China is especially important as the popularity of the country’s PC DIY market is far strong than that of the US.

For motherboards, nearly half of the worldwide shipments go to China and if demand continues falling, Taiwan suppliers’ sales in 2019 are expected to be severely undermined.


Didn’t know that stat about China. I wonder how big the crypto craze was as a factor.
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Samsung and Huawei agree to settle patent disputes • Android Authority

Williams Pelegrin:


Samsung and Huawei have reportedly agreed to finally bury the hatchet and settle their years-long dispute over smartphone patents. The Guangdong High People’s Court in southern China mediated the settlement, according to Nikkei.

The terms of the alleged settlement have not been made public, but it’s believed that they include some sort of cross-licensing patent deal. The patents that are part of the supposed deal include those for basic technologies, with no further specifics mentioned.

It’s suggested that Samsung and Huawei are only settling now due to them wanting to pour more resources into the stagnant smartphone market. Even though Huawei now owns a company-record 17% of the market, Q1 2019 marked the sixth straight quarter of declining overall smartphone shipments. Meanwhile, Samsung saw a 10% decrease in market share year-over-year.


They aren’t settling to “pour more resources into”; they’re doing it because wasting money on lawyers when your profits are shrinking is daft. Slightly different when Apple and Samsung were going at it: the market was on the rise and there were big prizes to be won. Purely at a guess, the patents cover modems (Huawei) and screens (Samsung) and cameras (both).
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The story my male editors kept killing • Human Parts

Laura Kiesel:


A year and a half ago, in the wake of the tragic Las Vegas shootings, I was struck by a single idea: If mental illness is such a prominent culprit in the phenomenon of mass shootings — as so many politicians and media pundits claim it to be — where are all the female mass shooters? After all, we have mental illness too, in arguably much greater numbers than men (at least according to the best available data). And yet, almost all mass shootings to date have been committed by cis men (most of them white).

In October 2017, I shared my idea with AlterNet. The female editor I emailed enthusiastically accepted my pitch and, after a couple of weeks of rigorous research and interviewing, I filed it. Her initial remark was that it looked good to her as is, and she would be passing it on to her superior for a final review. Then something strange happened. She came back with a slew of criticisms, copy and pasted from her supervising editor, and the outlet’s publisher: a man.

After perusing his comments, the first thing I understood was that he hadn’t read my piece thoroughly. This became clear when he scolded me for blaming gun violence on mental illness. He then asked me to insert commentary and quotes that were already in the piece. But the most distressing part was when he began making grand — and factually incorrect — assertions.


It wasn’t a one-off, and didn’t happen just to her. Worth considering, for those in the media.
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YTMND disappeared, 15 years after changing the internet – The Verge

Bijan Stephen:


Before the apparent shutdown, the Internet Archive had preserved a copy of the site’s 787GB of data. (You can browse the site as it was through the Wayback Machine; although, as with most cultural products created by anonymous users, a lot of the offerings are at least somewhat offensive.) The site, however, started disappearing long before then — the last admin post was made in 2014, and the site had been bleeding users for years as its popularity waned and social media became the place where memes were created and spread. In 2016, Gizmodo published a story featuring an interview with Goldberg about the site’s impending death. “Besides being a time capsule I don’t really see a reason for it to continue to exist… It seems like the internet has moved on,” Golberg wrote in an email. “And I’ve moved on too. I don’t have much interest in the site beyond it being good memories.”

Those good memories are part of the web’s cultural history, but they’re not something people often need to revisit. “People are very strange with their cultural institutions,” says Jason Scott, an archivist at the Internet Archive, when I reach him by phone. “They’re happy to know it’s there, out there, but they don’t make it a part of their lives.”

That’s partly because the internet itself has changed. As more people came online, and the web became less a place for nerds and social misfits, and as the internet became more centralized because of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, community-first sites like YTMND became less and less important. The locus of online culture had shifted to places that were predicated on massive, unchecked growth and propped up by millions in venture capital. “We’re so driven by websites that have to make a million dollars in their IPO, that people seem to have been surprised that there are websites that are literally just run, like sideline hobbies,” says Scott.


I’d… never heard of it. I think it must have been a “just joined the internet, let’s meme!” thing.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,068: Trump bans Huawei (in effect), how to change the world peacefully, Salon for sale, can Twitter solve discourse?, and more

Japan’s mobile phone numbers are about to get longer: they’re running out of numberspace. CC-licensed photo by Cocoarmani on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Could be worse. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why I (still) love tech: in defense of a difficult industry • WIRED

Paul Ford, in a sort of love letter/nostra culpa to the industry:


People—smart, kind, thoughtful people—thought that comment boards and open discussion would heal us, would make sexism and racism negligible and tear down walls of class. We were certain that more communication would make everything better. Arrogantly, we ignored history and learned a lesson that has been in the curriculum since the Tower of Babel, or rather, we made everyone else learn it. We thought we were amplifying individuals in all their wonder and forgot about the cruelty, or at least assumed that good product design could wash that away. We were so hopeful, and we shaved the sides of our heads, and we never expected to take over the world.

I’m watching the ideologies of our industry collapse. Our celebration of disruption of every other industry, our belief that digital platforms must always uphold free speech no matter how vile. Our transhumanist tendencies, that sci-fi faith in the singularity. Our general belief that software will eat the world and that the world is better for being eaten.

It’s been hard to accept, at least for me, that each of our techy ideologies, while containing various merits, don’t really add up to a worldview, because technology is not the world. It’s just another layer in the Big Crappy Human System along with religion, energy, government, sex, and, more than anything else, money.


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Trump signs order to protect US networks from foreign espionage, a move that appears to target China • The Washington Post

Ellen Nakashima and Josh Dawsey:


The order authorizes the commerce secretary to block transactions involving communications technologies built by companies controlled by a foreign adversary that put U.S. security at “unacceptable” risk — or pose a threat of espionage or sabotage to networks that underpin the day-to-day running of vital public services.

Wednesday’s announcement was expected nearly a year ago and comes as neither Washington nor Beijing appears willing to back down in their ongoing economic dispute. The National Economic Council, which had blocked the move for months, dropped its objection as trade talks hit an impasse, one official said.

Trump’s executive order does not immediately exclude any specific companies or countries but certainly will not lessen tensions with Beijing. It is consistent with an increasingly aggressive tack against China in which Trump has used tariffs as economic weapons, a tactic that he believes to be popular with his political base.

The move also boosts the administration’s somewhat uphill effort to persuade allies and partners in Europe to bar Huawei, which officials say is beholden to the Chinese government, from their next-generation 5G wireless networks.


Of course, this could be seen as just another move in the trade war, but it feels like part of a long-planned policy driven by the US defence establishment.
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Japan plans to create 10 billion 14-digit phone numbers as 5G era nears • The Japan Times


The communications ministry plans to create for assignment some 10 billion 14-digit phone numbers starting with the code “020.”

With the commercialization of fifth-generation, or 5G, superfast mobile communications fast approaching, 11-digit numbers are expected to run out as early as fiscal 2022.

The plan to introduce the new numbers, by the end of 2021 at the latest, was proposed at a recent meeting of a panel of experts. It was accepted by the three major mobile phone operators — NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp.

After hearing public comments, the ministry will draw up a report on the matter as early as June and make necessary preparations, including a ministerial ordinance, by the end of this year.

New numbers will be allocated to the major carriers early if they finish work to update their systems ahead of schedule.


Hmm. Japan has twice the population of the UK, but it does make one wonder how full the UK’s mobile number space (also 11 digits) is doing. The US, meanwhile, has three times Japan’s population, and uses 10-digit numbers. Not sure how long that’s going to last.
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Target of WhatsApp hack says he fears more victims are out there • Forbes

Thomas Brewster:


The lawyer had been advising a legal team representing five Mexican journalists who are suing NSO in Israel after alleging their phones were hijacked with the company’s Pegasus spyware. He says he started receiving strange video calls over WhatsApp around three weeks ago in the early hours of the morning, from a number with Sweden’s +46 country code.

After his suspicions were aroused, he contacted Citizen Lab, an organization based at the University of Toronto that specializes in researching digital traces left by surveillance companies. Citizen Lab investigated and believed it had found traces of NSO Group’s software.

The Canadian organization then passed on the information to WhatsApp, which investigated and patched the vulnerability on Friday. “WhatsApp noticed on their own that the app itself was crashing at an abnormal level—they noticed irregularities,” the lawyer said.

WhatsApp told Forbes it was already investigating the vulnerability before Citizen Lab reached out, having discovered an issue while carrying out security improvements. It noticed “abnormal behavior” impacting a small number of users. Indeed, WhatsApp has received praise for contacting human rights groups to warn about the attack. “WhatsApp took a really good, proactive stance on this one. They contacted human rights groups in advance, and they closed it down first with a filter and then a patch,” said Citizen Lab researcher John Scott-Railton.


It’s staringly obvious that there are more contacts out there. The question is who they are (and whether Jamal Kashoggi might have been one of them). That WhatsApp could see an increased number of crashes suggests that the NSO Group isn’t quite as clever as it thought.
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The ‘3.5% rule’: how a small minority can change the world • BBC Future

David Robson:


In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.

Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.  

In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.

There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way.
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.

Chenoweth’s influence can be seen in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, whose founders say they have been directly inspired by her findings. So just how did she come to these conclusions?


3.5% of the UK’s 63m population would be 2.2m people; of the US’s 330m would be 11.55m, though if you’re only talking adults, then it’s smaller: 1.8m and 8m. Which leads us on to the next link…
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How do we go on? • ANU Science

Tabitha Carvan on how to deal with climate despair – the feeling that nothing you can do will make a difference:


“The neoliberal economic system we’ve bought into is completely at odds with how the Earth works,” Professor Will Steffen continues. “We have to change this value system that we operate under. We need a social tipping point that flips our thinking, before we reach a tipping point in the climate system.

“I think Greta Thunberg could turn out to be that tipping element.”

But Greta, the sixteen year-old Swedish activist, hasn’t made a dent on the problem, I say.

“Not yet,” Steffen says. “The thing about a complex system, like our societies, is they are hard to predict because they’re highly non-linear. It’s not simple cause and effect. The state of the system – that is, the neoliberal economic system and our use of fossil fuels – seems so set, so stable, so tough, that nothing’s going to affect it. But it’s getting eroded from underneath – by the students, by legal battles, by increasing extreme weather events.

“Where you have a lot of people waking up and saying, ‘Something isn’t right’, that could be the kind of fundamental thing we need to reach the tipping point. It’s not just the students. I think more people are beginning to sense that too. For the first time, I’m seeing old white men in the bush saying something is changing there too.

“I’m not saying we’re now going to solve climate change but I’m saying we are getting to a point where reaching that kind of social tipping point is our only hope. The solutions are already there. It’s the system that’s preventing it.”


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Salon Media in talks for $5M fire sale in last-ditch effort • NY Post



Salon Media Group, a one-time digital darling, has fallen on hard times. It lost its CEO of the past three years last week and appears to be on the brink of a deal to sell itself for a fire sale price of $5m.

The struggling company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on May 8 that it reached a deal to sell itself to a company called LLC.

The filing contained no further info on the mystery buyer or buyers but said the deal would only require a $550,000 payment at closing. It said $100,000 would go to an escrow account and $500,000 was already paid as a deposit.

The remaining $3.85m would be a promissory note payable in two installments over two years.

Even with those favorable terms, Salon issued a dire warning in the filing: “There can be no guarantee that the asset sale will be completed and, if not completed, we may have to file for bankruptcy and liquidation.”


Founded in 1995, went public in 1999 for $107m, permanent money-loser. Online media is tough.
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Microsoft patches zero-day bug under active attack • Threatpost

Tom Spring:


Microsoft has released a patch for an elevation-of-privileges vulnerability rated important, which is being exploited in the wild.

The bug fix is part of Microsoft’s May Patch Tuesday Security Bulletin. It’s tied to the Windows Error Reporting feature and is being abused by attackers who have gained local access to affected PCs. They are able to trigger arbitrary code-execution in kernel mode — resulting in a complete system compromise.

“They would need to first gain access to run code on a target system, but malware often uses elevations like this one to go from ‘user’ to ‘admin’ code execution,” wrote Dustin Childs, communications manager for Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, in a blog post on Tuesday. “While details about the use of the exploit are not available, it is likely being used in limited attacks against specific targets.”


It’s been quite the week for exploits – WhatsApp, Intel CPUs, now this.
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US births fall to lowest level since 1980s • WSJ

Anthony DeBarros and Janet Adamy:


The number of babies born in the US last year fell to a 32-year low, deepening a fertility slump that is reshaping America’s future workforce.

About 3.79 million babies were born in the US in 2018, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. That was a 2% decline from the previous year and marked the fourth year in a row that the number fell. The general fertility rate—the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44—fell to 59.0, the lowest since the start of federal record-keeping.

With the latest decline, births in the US have fallen in 10 of the last 11 years since peaking in 2007, just before the recession. Many demographers believed that births would rebound as the economy recovered, but that trend hasn’t materialized.

Instead, experts say the continuing declines appear to be rooted in several trends, including teenagers and unmarried women having fewer babies, lower Hispanic fertility rates and the rise in women obtaining college degrees.

The decline has important implications for the US economy and workforce. The total fertility rate—an estimate of the number of babies a woman would have over her lifetime—has generally remained below the “replacement” level of 2.1 since 1971. A fertility rate falling farther below replacement level means that, without enough immigrants, the U.S. could see population declines and a workforce too small to support a growing segment of retirees.

Last year it fell to 1.7, a record low.


The US also has the highest infant mortality of the G20 – 5.8 per thousand in 2017.

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Behind Twitter’s plan to get people to stop yelling at each other • Buzzfeed News

Nicole Nguyen:


There are many challenges with fixing Twitter, but the primary issue has to do with the form of Twitter itself. It’s an extremely complex product: Every reply is itself a tweet, and every tweet can be infinitely replied to. Conversations can be hard to read, let alone understand, and that misunderstanding contributes to a lot of the repetitive first responses to tweets, reply dogpiling, and knee-jerk reactions — like the kind that flooded Stone’s mentions — that fuel the platform’s outrage cycle.

One user, @matthewreid, replying to Stone, summed up the issues facing Twitter nicely: “A quick scroll through many of these replies illustrates what made this place I love so toxic. Bullying. Mob mentality. Insufferable knowitalls.” Twitter CEO Dorsey has admitted the same himself: “I also don’t feel good about how Twitter tends to incentivize outrage, fast takes, short term thinking, echo chambers, and fragmented conversation and consideration.”

“Like, imagine being in a room and talking to a billion people. It’s chaos.”
“Having conversations that anyone can see and anyone can participate in is a really awesome super power that needs to feel really simple despite its complexity behind the scenes,” Twitter product lead and Periscope cofounder Kayvon Beykpour told BuzzFeed News. “Like, imagine being in a room and talking to a billion people. It’s chaos.“

To reduce the chaos, the twttr prototype is reimagining what Twitter could look like. “What are the mechanics that we allow you to do right at the surface versus one tap away? We are essentially rethinking paradigms that have been the case for 13-plus years,” Beykpour explained.


In response, Sarah Jeong (of the NYT) suggested some ways to make it better: “An option to prevent new accounts from replying to you. Or an option to auto block those accounts if they try. Option to auto block accounts with under 10 followers. IDK, maybe like, all the stuff blocktogether did before Twitter nuked its API.”
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A report from the AMP advisory committee meeting • Terence Eden’s blog

Terence Eden doesn’t like Google’s AMP. So, obviously, he joined its advisory committee:


My top recommendations:

Publish all user research
Don’t allow new components to be created without a clear user story and research to support them.
• Accessibly audit:
Don’t validate pages which can’t pass an automated a11y test
• Stop the forced bundling: Let users opt out of seeing AMP pages
• Don’t require AMP for prominent placement
• Stop discriminating against non-Google browsers
• Reconsider AMP4Email – lots of concerns from smaller email providers; security and archiving concerns
• Work with the ecosystem rather than imposing

The meeting was good natured. While there were some robust discussions, the AC seemed fairly unified that Google had to seriously rework parts of the AMP project.

As I said in the meeting – if it were up to me, I’d say “Well, AMP was an interesting experiment. Now it is time to shut it down and take the lessons learned back through a proper standards process.”


As always, a force for good and good sense.
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Start Up No.1,067: AT+T’s jobs fib, Google adds more ads, hacking Tinder, the WhatsApp attack, and more

Intel’s in trouble again. Actually, we all are. CC-licensed photo by Uwe Hermann on Flickr.

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

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

AT&T promised 7,000 new jobs to get tax break; it cut 23,000 jobs instead • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:


AT&T has cut more than 23,000 jobs since receiving a big tax cut at the end of 2017, despite lobbying heavily for the tax cut by claiming that it would create thousands of jobs.

AT&T in November 2017 pushed for the corporate tax cut by promising to invest an additional $1 billion in 2018, with CEO Randall Stephenson saying that “every billion dollars AT&T invests is 7,000 hard-hat jobs. These are not entry-level jobs. These are 7,000 jobs of people putting fiber in ground, hard-hat jobs that make $70,000 to $80,000 per year.”

The corporate tax cut was subsequently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The tax cut reportedly gave AT&T an extra $3 billion in cash in 2018.

But AT&T cut capital spending and kept laying people off after the tax cut. A union analysis of AT&T’s publicly available financial statements “shows the telecom company eliminated 23,328 jobs since the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed in late 2017, including nearly 6,000 in the first quarter of 2019,” the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said yesterday.

AT&T’s total employment was 254,000 as of December 31, 2017 and rose to 262,290 by March 31, 2019. But AT&T’s overall workforce increased only because of its acquisition of Time Warner Inc. and two smaller companies, which together added 31,618 employees during 2018, according to an AT&T proxy statement cited in the CWA report.


Has there ever been so much dishonesty on show as there is at the top of the US now? It’s just stunning. (Thanks Nic for the pointer.)
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Intel flaw lets hackers siphon secrets from millions of PCs • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:


MORE THAN A year has passed since security researchers revealed Meltdown and Spectre, a pair of flaws in the deep-seated, arcane features of millions of chip sold by Intel and AMD, putting practically every computer in the world at risk. But even as chipmakers scrambled to fix those flaws, researchers warned that they weren’t the end of the story, but the beginning—that they represented a new class of security vulnerability that would no doubt surface again and again. Now, some of those same researchers have uncovered yet another flaw in the deepest guts of Intel’s microscopic hardware. This time, it can allow attackers to eavesdrop on virtually every bit of raw data that a victim’s processor touches.

Today Intel and a coordinated supergroup of microarchitecture security researchers are together announcing a new, serious form of hackable vulnerability in Intel’s chips. It’s four distinct attacks, in fact, though all of them use a similar technique, and all are capable of siphoning a stream of potentially sensitive data from a computer’s CPU to an attacker.


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Google to push new ads on its apps to snare shoppers • Reuters

Paresh Dave:


Alphabet Inc’s Google will begin featuring ads on the homepage of its smartphone app worldwide later this year, as the search engine expands its advertising real estate to boost revenue from mobile shoppers.

Google said on Tuesday it will also start placing ads with image galleries in search results and show ads in new spots on Google Maps, increasing opportunities for advertisers.

The changes come as choppy revenue growth prompt questions from some Alphabet investors about whether services such as and Facebook’s Instagram are drawing online shoppers and in turn, advertisers away from Google.

Google executives told reporters on Monday the latest features were a response to how users behave, not competition.

The company wants to make it easier for users to discover and buy new products because they shop in spurts while watching TV or sitting in the bathroom, said Oliver Heckmann, vice president of engineering for travel and shopping.


Remember Tom Foremski’s article a couple of weeks back wondering whether Google could keep growing its revenue? There you go. This is indeed about how users behave: show them enough ads and some percentage of them will click them, whether by accident or some weird purpose.
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The Tinder hacker • The Cut

Francesca Mari:


It all started when Sean recruited his close friend and roommate Haley to create a Tinder profile. Haley, in the words of a Tinder user who would soon encounter her, was a “tall, dark, younger, better-looking version of Kim Kardashian.” Together Sean and Haley selected her profile photos — Haley lounging in a tube with a serving of side boob, Haley in shorts leaning on a baseball bat. Sean wanted her to appear seductive but approachable. Once finished, Sean ran two rather mischievous programs.

The first program had her dummy account indiscriminately swipe right on some 800 men. The second program was one that Sean had spent months coding. It paired men who matched with Haley with one another, in the order that they contacted her. A man would send a message thinking he was talking to Haley — he saw her pictures and profile — and instead another dude would receive the message, which, again, would appear to be coming from Haley. When the first dude addressed Haley by name, Sean’s code subbed in the name of the man receiving the message.

As soon as they ran this code, it was off to the races. Conversations streamed in, around 400 of them unfurling between the most unlikely people, the effect something like same-sex Tinder chat roulette.

“There was a certain breed of guy that this really worked on,” Sean told me. “It wasn’t the kind of guy looking for a girlfriend or looking to talk or be casual. It was the guy looking for a hookup.” And those guys cut to the chase, thrilled at how down “Haley” was to sext, thrusting their way through any miscommunication. (Remember, both dudes think the other is Haley.)


I feel that I’ve seen this before, but it’s so splendid that it’s worth bringing back.
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Trash found littering ocean floor in deepest-ever sub dive • The Jakarta Post

Daniel Fastenberg:


On the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine, a Texas investor and explorer found something he could have found in the gutter of nearly any street in the world: trash.

Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, said he made the unsettling discovery as he descended nearly 6.8 miles (35,853 feet/10,928 meters) to a point in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench that is the deepest place on Earth. His dive went 52 feet (16 meters) lower than the previous deepest descent in the trench in 1960.

Vescovo found undiscovered species as he visited places no human had gone before. On one occasion he spent four hours on the floor of the trench, viewing sea life ranging from shrimp-like anthropods with long legs and antennae to translucent “sea pigs” similar to a sea cucumber.

He also saw angular metal or plastic objects, one with writing on it.

“It was very disappointing to see obvious human contamination of the deepest point in the ocean,” Vescovo said in an interview.


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WhatsApp voice calls used to inject Israeli spyware on phones • Financial Times

Mehul Srivastava:


WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5bn people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers were able to install surveillance software on to both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function. 

The malicious code, developed by the secretive Israeli company NSO Group, could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones, and the calls often disappeared from call logs, said the spyware dealer, who was recently briefed on the WhatsApp hack.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is too early into its own investigations of the vulnerability to estimate how many phones were targeted using this method, said a person familiar with the issue.

As late as Sunday, as WhatsApp engineers raced to close the loophole, a UK-based human rights lawyer’s phone was targeted using the same method. 


Further reading on this: the CVE details about which platforms the WhatsApp vulnerability exists on (all of them, including Tizen, because the weakness is in the WhatsApp VOIP stack.

Iyad El-Baghdadi’s press conference transcript about being targeted by the Saudis using this attack.

A story from May 7, in the Guardian, about how the CIA and others warned El-Baghdadi he was being targeted.

Amnesty International’s supporting action for legal action in Israel to suspect NSO Group’s export licence, which would stop is selling software to governments which target human rights defenders.
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Israel’s NSO: the business of spying on your iPhone • Financial Times

Mehul Srivastava and Robert Smith:


At an investor presentation in London in April, NSO bragged that the typical security patches from Apple did not address the “weaknesses exploited by Pegasus”, according to an unimpressed potential investor. Despite the annual software updates unveiled by companies such as Apple, NSO had a “proven record” of identifying new weaknesses, the company representative told attendees.

NSO’s pitch has been a runaway success — allowing governments to buy off the shelf the sort of software that was once thought to be restricted to only the most sophisticated spy agencies, such as GCHQ in the UK and the National Security Agency in America.

The sale of such powerful and controversial technologies also gives Israel an important diplomatic calling card. Through Pegasus, Israel has acquired a major presence — official or not — in the deeply classified war rooms of unlikely partners, including, researchers say, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although both countries officially reject the existence of the Jewish state, they now find themselves the subject of a charm offensive by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that mixes a shared hostility to Iran with intelligence knowhow.

The Israeli government has never talked publicly about its relationship with NSO. Shortly after he stepped down as defence minister in November, Avigdor Lieberman, who had responsibility for regulating NSO’s sales, said: “I am not sure now is the right time to discuss this . . . I think that I have a responsibility for the security of our state, for future relations.” But he added: “It is not a secret today that we have contact with all the moderate Arab world. I think it is good news.”


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The Chernobyl disaster may have also built a paradise • WIRED

Adam Rogers:


Møller and Mousseau inventoried the total populations of invertebrates in and around the Exclusion Zone, and they found that their populations were smaller inside. The same, they say, goes for birds and mammals, though the changes weren’t consistent for every species. “We see negative impacts of ionizing radiation on free-living organisms. This applies to mammals, insects, spiders, butterflies, you name it,” Møller says. “And a second issue is, are these populations of large mammals composed of healthy individuals? Or individuals that are sick or malformed or in other ways negatively impacted by radiation? That’s not investigated, and that’s the big question mark that hangs over the Exclusion Zone.”

Other researchers using different methods, though, have found quite the opposite. In the 1990s, a preliminary study of rodents showed that radiation had no effect on population. Twenty years later, a team of international researchers counting actual animals from helicopters found no measurable difference in the populations of elk, deer, and wild boar—and a sevenfold increase in wolf population—compared with similar, uncontaminated nature preserves. And all those populations had gone up since the first decade after the accident.

Why the difference? Possibly it’s that the animals in question reproduce faster than the radiation can kill them.


Really fascinating piece. There’s a TV series running on US and UK TV; the first episode was excellent. (I haven’t seen the second just yet.)
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Lenovo shows off the world’s first ‘foldable PC’ • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:


Lenovo has just announced what it says is the world’s first “foldable PC:” a prototype ThinkPad that iterates the foldable tech we’ve already seen from phones on a much bigger scale.

It’s not just a cool tech demo, either: Lenovo has been developing this for over three years and has plans to launch a finished device in 2020 as part of its premium ThinkPad X1 brand. The goal here is a premium product that will be a laptop-class device, not an accessory or secondary computer like a tablet might be.

Cool factor aside, though, why build a folding PC? The answer is largely portability. Conceptually, it’s the opposite of what most of the foldable phones out there are trying to do. There, companies like Samsung and Huawei are trying to take a device the size of a regular phone and make them bigger. But the idea behind the folding ThinkPad is to take a full-sized PC and make it smaller.

The result is a 13.3-inch 4:3 2K OLED display that can fold up to about the size of a hardcover book (we don’t have the exact weight yet, but Lenovo says it’s less than two pounds, which is about as much as a hardcover copy of one of the larger Harry Potter books). That’s already enough to put it on the lighter side of the portable computer spectrum, but the size savings are really when you fold it in half, making it dramatically smaller than a regular laptop.


Colour me sceptical. This looks like a foldable-screen version of the 2016 Yoga Book, which was (also) superficially impressive but in the end didn’t sell. We’ve have folding PCs for ages. They’re called laptops, and they have real keyboards.
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Handful of tablet vendors consolidate leadership positions in Q1 2019 as market falls 5% • Strategy Analytics


Incredibly fierce price competition has put incredible pressure on many Android tablet vendors, but a few companies stood above the rest in Q1 2019. Apple, Huawei, Amazon, and Microsoft have each found ways to press their advantage and gain market share as the rest of the market struggles to find momentum. The global tablet market declined 5% year-on-year in Q1 2019. The question remains, can more vendors break through to growth or will they continue to cede ground to the market leaders?

Eric Smith, director – connected computing, said, “Amazon had an excellent post-holiday quarter on the back of several promotional discounts, pushing shipments 21% higher than a year ago. Huawei is still eating the lunch of its Android competitors, particularly in EMEA and China, growing 8% globally year-on-year. There are signs of stabilization among some vendors, including Samsung, HP, Dell, and even TCL-Alcatel. Certainly, the picture is rosier for many companies still in the tablet business when you look at revenues, which explains why competition is so heated.”

Chirag Upadhyay, senior research analyst, added, “Most Windows Detachable 2-in-1 vendors are targeting the premium tier for enterprise users to make higher profits but a crowded market prevents all vendors from growing at once, especially now that Apple is competing strongly with three iPad Pro models in this price tier. As a result of taking focus off of the larger consumer market, Windows market share actually fell by 1 percentage point year-on-year to 14%. Windows shipments fell 13% year-on-year to 5.0 million units in Q1 2019 from 5.7 million in Q1 2018. Shipments declined 29% from the previous quarter on low seasonality. Microsoft fully owns the leadership position in Windows Detachable 2-in-1s with the release of the lower cost Surface Go and a refreshed Surface Pro 6 all in the last half of 2018. This is the fifth straight quarter of year-on-year shipment and revenue gains for Microsoft.”


I’d hazard a guess that average selling prices are rising, while small players are being squeezed out at the bottom end. In other words, the tablet market has hit maturity, and it’s all going to be consolidation now.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,066: Uber stutters, bad playlist antics, Apple loses Supreme Court case, the social robot failures, Foxconned in Wisconsin?, and more

Loyalty programs are a huge target for hackers. CC-licensed photo by John Hritz on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. What about a social robot graph? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Uber’s losses reach double digits in IPO debut debacle • Yahoo

Jeran Wittenstein and Sam Unsted:


The ride-hailing giant dropped as much as 11% to $37.08 in New York. The San Francisco-based company sold 180 million shares at $45 apiece on Thursday, and on Friday it never traded above that price, ending the day down 7.6% at $41.57 even as other stocks gained.

“Sentiment does not change overnight, and I expect some tough public market times over the coming months,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told staff in an email.

The share slump reflects investor skepticism about the size of the ride-hailing market, Uber’s ability to execute on food and package delivery and its push into autonomous vehicles, said Ygal Arounian of Wedbush Securities. The IPO also comes as investors shy away from riskier assets given U.S.-China trade tensions, said the analyst, who has an outperform rating on Uber and sees the stock reaching $65 in the next year.


I link to this only to note it; I don’t think the first few days or weeks are anything either way. What’s going to matter is its financial results, and that’s going to play out over years. (Has anyone analysed how a company’s shares perform on its first day compared to how it performs over its life?)
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Anki, Jibo, and Kuri: what we can learn from social robots that didn’t make it • IEEE Spectrum

Guy Hoffman heads the Human-Robot Collaboration + Companionship Lab at Cornell University:


I believe that Cozmo, Kuri, and Jibo (disclosure: Jibo was founded by my Ph.D. advisor Cynthia Breazeal) will play a similar role on the path towards successful social home robotics. If that is true, what exactly can we learn from their experience? Here are four lessons I have personally drawn from closely following these first attempts to put the promise of social robotics research into commercial practice:

Lesson 1: Long-term engagement is the holy grail, and the Gordian knot
All of the social robotics companies were struggling to sustain a long-term use-case for their products. Critics of the products would often say that this kind of product may be fun to use for a while, but that its tricks get old quickly. This made it especially difficult to succeed, given the upscale price point of some of the devices.

One big part of the longevity problem is the inability of the robots to escape the single turn structure of an interaction. There is only so far you can go with a single round of conversation, even when you stack a thousand single rounds back-to-back. At some point you want to follow-up and back-refer (“Remember when I asked you about Florida yesterday? I think I’m ready to commit.”); you want your conversant to make connections across conversations (“That is so similar to the story you told me about how your boss talks to you!”); and you want to be able to speak over each other while still understanding what’s going on.


The other three are interesting too. Hoffman reckons that the three (failed) social robots leave us at about the point where the Newton left us in 1998 – a while before a really good implementation.
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One month ago, Foxconn said its innovation centers weren’t empty — they still are • The Verge

Josh Dzieza:


At the event announcing the Madison project, Foxconn’s Alan Yeung said the innovation centers were “not empty,” which prompted laughter from the crowd. Yeung also said The Verge’s story contained “a lot of inaccuracies” and that the company would issue a correction soon. He did not say what those inaccuracies were, and Foxconn never issued a correction, nor has it responded to repeated requests to clarify Yeung’s statement.

One month after Yeung’s comments and promise of a correction, every innovation center in Wisconsin is still empty, according to public documents and sources involved with the innovation center process. Foxconn has yet to purchase the Madison building Yeung announced, according to Madison property records. No renovation or occupancy permits have been taken out for Foxconn’s Racine innovation center, though a permit has been taken out for work on the roof of another property Foxconn bought for “smart city” initiatives. There has been no activity in Foxconn’s Green Bay building, either.


The Verge is doing good work by continuing to hold Foxconn (and by extension Wisconsin’s useless governor) to account on this boondoggle. How soon is an election where it will all get thrown out?
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Playlist malfeasance • Midia Research



Streaming economics are facing a potential crisis. The problem does not lie in the market itself; after all, in Q1 2019 streaming revenue became more than half of the recorded music business and Spotify hit 100 million subscribers. Nor does it even lie in the perennial challenge of elusive operating margins. No, this particular looming crisis is both subtler and more insidious. Rather than being an inherent failing of the market, this crisis, if it transpires, will be the unintended consequence of short-sighted attempts to game the system. The root of it all is playlists…

…With playlists being so important for both marketing and revenue, it was inevitable that people would seek out ways to attain any possible advantage. Consequently, playlists are becoming gamed, whether that be major labels getting more than their fair share of access to the biggest playlists or ‘fake artists’ filling them out.

Most recently, Humble Angel’s Kieron Donoghue identified a cynically constructed playlist called ‘Sleep & Mindfulness Thunderstorms’(all terms optimised for user searches) that contained 330 one-minute songs of “ambient noise of rain and a few thunder storms thrown in for good measure”. The one-minute track length ensures they are long enough to qualify for a royalty share, but short enough to ensure that a typical listening session will generate a vast quantity of streams, thus generating more royalties.

The twist to this story is that this playlist was created by Sony Music and the artist behind all these tracks appears to be a Sony Music artist. Crucially Sony isn’t the only one doing this, with UMG getting in on the act and Warner Music signing an algorithm.


All’s fair in love, war and making money in the music business.
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Why rewards for loyal spenders are ‘a honeypot for hackers’ • The New York Times

Tiffany Hsu:


Some brands have hooked their rewards to other companies. Walgreens offers points to shoppers who connect their accounts to Fitbit fitness trackers. In March, Chipotle briefly promoted a new loyalty program with cash prizes for consumers who also used the social payments app Venmo. Participants submitted the phone number associated with their Venmo accounts on a website created by Chipotle.

Companies are collecting so much data that it is often “more than they can actually use,” said Emily Collins, an analyst with Forrester Research.

“They’ve got oceans of data and puddles of insight,” she said.

As consumers hand over more data, many of them fail to monitor their accounts closely. More than half of the rewards memberships in the United States are inactive, and more than $100 billion a year in rewards points go unredeemed, according to the marketing firm Bond Brand Loyalty.
Tate Holcombe, a photographer in Arlington, Va., said he was usually “pretty religious about changing passwords and multiple verifications,” especially for accounts linked to payment data. With rewards programs, he was much more lax.

“Of course, that’s the one place I got hacked,” he said.

On March 23, Mr. Holcombe woke up at home to a 3 a.m. notification from his Domino’s loyalty account: His pizza was ready for pickup in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Someone had hacked his profile and used a coupon for a free pizza, he said. Personal details, like his phone number and address, had been overwritten with gibberish. When he complained, the company replaced his coupon.


A honeypot, because there are 3.8bn rewards memberships in the US – an average of 10 per person. Of course they’ll get hacked; that it’s only $1bn in value lost suggests hackers are only just warming up, or that rewards programs are pretty worthless.
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Friend portability is the must-have Facebook regulation • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:


as the FTC considers how many billions to fine Facebook or which executives to stick with personal liability or whether to go full-tilt and break up the company, I implore it to consider the root of how Facebook gets away with abusing user privacy: there’s no simple way to switch to an alternative.

If Facebook users are fed up with the surveillance, security breaches, false news, or hatred, there’s no western general purpose social network with scale for them to join. Twitter is for short-form public content, Snapchat is for ephemeral communication. Tumblr is neglected. Google+ is dead. Instagram is owned by Facebook. And the rest are either Chinese, single-purpose, or tiny.

No, I don’t expect the FTC to launch its own “Fedbook” social network. But what it can do is pave an escape route from Facebook so worthy alternatives become viable options. That’s why the FTC must require Facebook offer truly interoperable data portability for the social graph.

In other words, the government should pass regulations forcing Facebook to let you export your friend list to other social networks in a privacy-safe way. This would allow you to connect with or follow those people elsewhere so you could leave Facebook without losing touch with your friends. The increased threat of people ditching Facebook for competitors would create a much stronger incentive to protect users and society.


Good idea. Facebook has been able to strangle companies by denying them access to the social graph that people need to be able to build a presence on a new social network, while boosting its own by crosslinking Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp data, all purloined from your phonebook.
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Supreme Court allows antitrust lawsuit against Apple to proceed • The New York Times

Adam Liptak and Jack Nicas:


The legal question in the case, Apple v. Pepper, was whether the lawsuit was barred by a 1977 decision in Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, a case that allowed only direct purchasers of products to bring federal antitrust lawsuits. Apple argued that it was an intermediary and so not subject to lawsuit.

The majority rejected that argument. “The plaintiffs’ allegations boil down to one straightforward claim: that Apple exercises monopoly power in the retail market for the sale of apps and has unlawfully used its monopoly power to force iPhone owners to pay Apple higher-than-competitive prices for apps,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote.

Apple argued that app developers set their own prices, meaning that consumers should not be able to sue the company. Justice Kavanaugh responded that the argument missed the economic reality of the relationship between Apple and app developers.

“A ‘who sets the price’ rule,” he wrote, “would draw an arbitrary and unprincipled line among retailers based on retailers’ financial arrangements with their manufacturers or suppliers.”

“Under Apple’s rule a consumer could sue a monopolistic retailer when the retailer set the retail price by marking up the price it had paid the manufacturer or supplier for the good or service,” he wrote. “But a consumer could not sue a monopolistic retailer when the manufacturer or supplier set the retail price and the retailer took a commission on each sale.”


Here’s the Supreme Court ruling. In effect, it says that Apple’s a monopolistic retailer, and thus able to set prices (why is it 30% on top? How does one shop around to get apps at a different price?). Apple’s going to have to let apps be sold in a different way, or at least allow different transaction paths to be signposted.

Apple’s response: “Developers set the price they want to charge for their app and Apple has no role in that. The vast majority of apps on the App Store are free and Apple gets nothing from them… We’re confident we will prevail when the facts are presented and that the App Store is not a monopoly by any metric.”
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Switching to a Pixel 3a from any iPhone newer than the iPhone 6 is just silly • BGR

Chris Smith:


Google says its $399 Pixel 3a does better night photography than the $999 “Phone X” from the competition. We all know that’s the iPhone X, or, better said its successor, the iPhone XS [the iPhone X, from last year, costs less than $999]. Even if Google’s Night Sight photo mode is remarkable and puts Apple’s low-light photography to shame, that’s an incredible narrow-sided way to compare these phones. Make no mistake, the Pixel 3a phones aren’t the equivalent of iPhone XR, or the Galaxy S10e for that matter. Google’s cheaper phones pack mid-tier hardware compared to Apple’s and Samsung’s cheapest new flagship.

Aside from taking photos at night, you probably want to use your phone for plenty of other things. While a $399 phone with incredible photo skills sounds excellent, the phone is still a mid-range handset whose performance pales when compared to the iPhone.

Switching from an iPhone 6s or newer to the Pixel 3a phones makes zero sense…

If you really want to switch your iPhone for a new Android phone, then go for the Pixel 3 flagship phones. Although, I would point out that the Pixel 3 phones still suffer from performance issues, the kind you wouldn’t expect from a flagship Android handset — that’s one other reason you shouldn’t swap an iPhone 6s or newer for the Pixel 3a series. Even better, if you want to trade-in your iPhone, then get a Galaxy S10, Huawei P30, or OnePlus 7 instead. It’d be a much better deal.


Smith justifies this on the basis of benchmarks showing the Pixel 3a as slower on multi- and single-core tasks than anything Apple’s offered since 2015. I think people might find the visuals and UI slower – Apple optimises like crazy for scrolling (in particular) and other interactions.
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Privacy rights and data collection in a digital economy • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski, who runs the Pinboard service but is also one of the clearest thinkers on the state of the internet, gave evidence last week to the US Congress. As you’d expect, it’s a must-read:


Until recently, even people living in a police state could count on the fact that the authorities didn’t have enough equipment or manpower to observe everyone, everywhere, and so enjoyed more freedom from monitoring than we do living in a free society today. [Note: The record for intensive surveillance in the pre-internet age likely belongs to East Germany, where by some estimates one in seven people was an informant.].

A characteristic of this new world of ambient surveillance is that we cannot opt out of it, any more than we might opt out of automobile culture by refusing to drive. However sincere our commitment to walking, the world around us would still be a world built for cars. We would still have to contend with roads, traffic jams, air pollution, and run the risk of being hit by a bus.

Similarly, while it is possible in principle to throw one’s laptop into the sea and renounce all technology, it is no longer be possible to opt out of a surveillance society.

When we talk about privacy in this second, more basic sense, the giant tech companies are not the guardians of privacy, but its gravediggers.

The tension between these interpretations of what privacy entails, and who is trying to defend it, complicates attempts to discuss regulation.

Tech companies will correctly point out that their customers have willingly traded their private data for an almost miraculous collection of useful services, services that have unquestionably made their lives better, and that the business model that allows them to offer these services for free creates far more value than harm for their customers.

Consumers will just as rightly point out that they never consented to be the subjects in an uncontrolled social experiment, that the companies engaged in reshaping our world have consistently refused to honestly discuss their business models or data collection practices, and that in a democratic society, profound social change requires consensus and accountability.


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Who to sue when a robot loses your fortune • Bloomberg

Thomas Beardsworth and Nishant Kumar:


It all started over lunch at a Dubai restaurant on March 19, 2017. It was the first time 45-year-old Li, met Costa, the 49-year-old Italian who’s often known by peers in the industry as “Captain Magic.” During their meal, Costa described a robot hedge fund his company London-based Tyndaris Investments would soon offer to manage money entirely using AI, or artificial intelligence.

Developed by Austria-based AI company, the supercomputer named K1 would comb through online sources like real-time news and social media to gauge investor sentiment and make predictions on US stock futures. It would then send instructions to a broker to execute trades, adjusting its strategy over time based on what it had learned.

The legal battle is a sign of what’s to come as AI is incorporated into all facets of life
The idea of a fully automated money manager inspired Li instantly. He met Costa for dinner three days later, saying in an email beforehand that the AI fund “is exactly my kind of thing.”

Over the following months, Costa shared simulations with Li showing K1 making double-digit returns, although the two now dispute the thoroughness of the back-testing. Li eventually let K1 manage $2.5bn — $250m of his own cash and the rest leverage from Citigroup. The plan was to double that over time.

But Li’s affection for K1 waned almost as soon as the computer started trading in late 2017. By February 2018, it was regularly losing money, including over $20m in a single day — Feb. 14 — due to a stop-loss order Li’s lawyers argue wouldn’t have been triggered if K1 was as sophisticated as Costa led him to believe.


Ooh, this will be such fun if it ever reaches court – though as the court date is set for April 2020, I suspect it will get settled before it does.
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Start Up No.1,065: Ever had your photo misused?, Illinois faces the truth, Clegg’s Facebook switch, “Netflix and till”, and more

If you recognise these, you’ll already know that Ingress is an AR game where players may travel thousands of miles. CC-licensed photo by killbox on Flickr.

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

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

How an augmented reality game escalated into real-world spy warfare • VICE

Elizabeth Ballou:


Meng was tired. The weekend before, she’d flown from Beijing to Seattle and back in less than forty-eight hours in order to meet one of her counterparts and obtain the key required to complete the connection from Jiangsu Province to Alaska. Then she’d spent the following days coordinating with the Nanjing group. Now she was getting ready to sleep in a tent on a backwater island. She only hoped that all her effort to marshal other teams into following her lead would pay off, because her plan hinged on whether they could take and hold that island long enough to complete their mission.

At first, Meng hadn’t wanted to get involved in the Resistance. But she made an ideal agent, which is why they recruited her. She traveled a lot for work, and made enough money that she could travel extensively outside of it. Those two factors would make her a powerful player within the intensely competitive community around Ingress, an augmented reality mobile game. It uses the same geolocation functions as an app like Foursquare, but places them in the context of a sci-fi story about factional intrigue: to seize territory, players go to different physical locations in the world. Which is where Meng came in. In 2016, some friends convinced her to start doing them small favors on her travels, little side-trips that wouldn’t take her too far out of her way. Within a year, 25-year-old Meng was planning and executing some of the group’s most ambitious operations while working another job full-time.


This is quite surreal – and it would only require another layer, in which the people behind the game are actively trying to carry out some sort of espionage, for it to be really mindbending.
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What Sony’s robot dog teaches us about biometric data privacy • CNET

Megan Wollerton:


Because of our office pet’s face-detecting capabilities, Sony doesn’t sell Aibo in Illinois. The state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) regulates the collection of biometric data, including face scans.

So Aibo’s out in the land of Lincoln, but the story doesn’t stop with Sony’s quirky robot. Illinois also limits access to facial recognition in home security cameras, a feature that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the consumer security market. Let’s take a closer look at BIPA, the growth of biometric tech in consumer products – and how other states in the US treat your biometric info.

The Biometric Information Privacy Act was established in 2008 to regulate “the collection, use, safeguarding, handling, storage, retention, and destruction of biometric identifiers and information.” BIPA defines “biometric identifiers” as retina scans, iris scans, fingerprints, hand scans, face scans and voiceprints.

Basically, an individual or a company needs “informed written consent” to use another individual’s biometric info. 

State senator Terry Link for Illinois’ 30th district introduced Senate Bill 2400 on Feb. 14, 2008 to protect the biometric privacy of Illinois residents. State senators Christine Radogno, Iris Y. Martinez, David Koehler and Heather Steans served as co-sponsors of the bill. It was approved as the Biometric Information Privacy Act on Oct. 3, 2008.

Senator Link filed an amendment to BIPA on May 26, 2016 to redefine “biometric identifier,” to make it easier to collect certain biometric data, but later withdrew the amendment.


Which also prevents various other bits of kit being sold there – such as Nest’s facial recognition-enabled systems, which are disabled there. Texas and Washington states have some too.
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Millions of people uploaded photos to the Ever app. Then the company used them to develop facial recognition tools • NBC News

Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar:


“Make memories”: That’s the slogan on the website for the photo storage app Ever, accompanied by a cursive logo and an example album titled “Weekend with Grandpa.”

Everything about Ever’s branding is warm and fuzzy, about sharing your “best moments” while freeing up space on your phone.

What isn’t obvious on Ever’s website or app — except for a brief reference that was added to the privacy policy after NBC News reached out to the company in April — is that the photos people share are used to train the company’s facial recognition system, and that Ever then offers to sell that technology to private companies, law enforcement and the military.

In other words, what began in 2013 as another cloud storage app has pivoted toward a far more lucrative business known as Ever AI — without telling the app’s millions of users.

“This looks like an egregious violation of people’s privacy,” said Jacob Snow, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “They are taking images of people’s families, photos from a private photo app, and using it to build surveillance technology. That’s hugely concerning.”


Wonder if this is legal in Illinois?
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Opinion: breaking up Facebook is not the answer • The New York Times

Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister of the UK, now a PR for Facebook, in a placed op-ed at the NYT:


In this competitive environment, it is hard to sustain the claim that Facebook is a monopoly. Almost all of our revenue comes from digital advertising, and most estimates say Facebook’s share is about 20% of the United States online ad market, which means 80% of all digital ads happen off our platforms.

The second misunderstanding is of antitrust law. These laws, developed in the 1800s, are not meant to punish a company because people disagree with its management. Their main purpose is to protect consumers by ensuring they have access to low-cost, high-quality products and services. And especially in the case of technology, rapid innovation. That is exactly where Facebook puts its attention: building the best products, free for consumers, and funded by advertisers.

What antitrust law isn’t about is size alone. In Facebook’s case, our size has not only brought innovation, it has also allowed us to make a huge investment in protecting the safety and security of our services.

Over the past two years we’ve focused heavily on blocking foreign adversaries from trying to influence democratic elections by using our platforms. We’ve done the same to protect against terrorism and hate speech and to better safeguard people’s data. And the resources that we will spend on security and safety this year alone will be more than our overall revenues at the time of our initial public offering in 2012. That would be pretty much impossible for a smaller company.


And here’s Clegg, writing in 2017 (after he’d left government), in The Independent:


As an old-fashioned liberal who believes in the virtues of competition, I remain perplexed at the way in which US competition law only seems to care about the effect of near monopoly market dominance by a tiny number of big players if and when it increases the prices paid by consumers.


(H/t Olivia Solon, who spotted the latter.)
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Farmers plough through Netflix while ploughing fields • WSJ

Jacob Bunge:


After kissing his three children goodnight this spring, Aaron Newell settled in to binge-watch the “Avengers” movies ahead of the franchise’s new theater release, “Avengers: Endgame.”

Mr. Newell’s home theatre — equipped with a stereo sound system and an ergonomically designed chair—sits inside a five-by-five foot soundproofed cab above roughly 30,000 pounds of rumbling machinery, crawling over fields on massive caterpillar tracks.

“People think I’m crazy, but I look forward to it,” Mr. Newell, 35, said of planting-season hours on his farm that can begin before dawn and stretch past midnight.

Mr. Newell, who plowed through all six seasons of Netflix’s “House of Cards” while tilling his fields near Callender, Iowa, last fall, said he would farm with or without modern conveniences. But glancing over at “The Wolf of Wall Street” or the “Star Wars” series on a cabin-mounted iPad makes long days go by faster, he said. “If it was dead silence for 12 to 13 hours, that might be a different issue.”

Thanks to GPS-enabled guidance systems and high-speed planters, US farmers can plant and harvest fields faster than ever before, often with minimal human involvement. Self-steering tractors and combines free farmers to monitor seeding rates, haggle on the phone over crop sales, watch the weather—and get bored.


Or, as one wag on Twitter put it, “Netflix and till”. (Bet the WSJ’s subeditors are kicking themselves at missing that one.)
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“Strong opinions loosely held” might be the worst idea in tech • The Glowforge Blog

Michael Natkin:


in the tech industry, with our motto of “strong opinions, loosely held”, we’ve glorified overconfidence. The same foolishness that would cost your money and pride in a pool hall is the stuff of legend in Silicon Valley. Stroll through an engineering office and you are likely to hear the (mostly white, mostly male) denizens making statements like:

“Only an idiot would use MongoDB.”

“We should absolutely build this using GoLang.”

“All of our users would kill for that feature.”

“Linguini’s is the worst restaurant in the world and I’d rather eat dehydrated bat vomit for the rest of my life than have lunch there again.”

The idea of strong opinions, loosely held is that you can make bombastic statements, and everyone should implicitly assume that you’ll happily change your mind in a heartbeat if new data suggests you are wrong. It is supposed to lead to a collegial, competitive environment in which ideas get a vigorous defense, the best of them survive, and no-one gets their feelings hurt in the process.

On a certain kind of team, where everyone shares that ethos, and there is very little power differential, this can work well. I’ve had the pleasure of working on teams like that, and it is all kinds of fun. When you have a handful of solid engineers that understand each other, and all of them feel free to say “you are wrong about X, that is absolutely insane, and I question your entire family structure if you believe that, clearly Y is the way to go”, and then you all happily grab lunch together (at Linguini’s), that’s a great feeling of camaraderie.

Unfortunately, that ideal is seldom achieved.

What really happens? The loudest, most bombastic engineer states their case with certainty, and that shuts down discussion.


See also: Twitter.
unique link to this extract’s Heather Armstrong was the “queen of the mommy bloggers.” Then her life fell apart • Vox

Chavie Lieber:


The Armstrongs’ divorce was finalized in March 2013, and Jon moved to New York a year later to be with a new girlfriend. Armstrong now has custody of her two daughters for most of the year (they spend summers with their father).

The Armstrong marriage wasn’t the only thing in the Dooce universe that had gone south. By 2012, Dooce’s audience — like that of so many blogs — had scattered to social media, so readership declined. Blogging started to fizzle out as a medium, and display advertising money dried up.

Dooce did have a somewhat diversified revenue stream; Armstrong started doing sponsored content as early as 2009. Brands would pay her for blog posts that promoted their products, but she says brand demands began to cross a line.

“It became about products in posts, manufacturing experiences I may not have had, and then including photos of my children,” Armstrong recalls. “It very quickly spiraled and I didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

The Dooce blog lived on for a bit after the divorce. Armstrong filled it with recipes, shopping guides, and tales of single parenthood. In 2015, though, she announced she was taking a break.


Divorce apart, it’s the story of so many bloggers who found success in the mid-noughts: social media (particularly Facebook) swallowed their audience.
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Review: Shell Recharge • Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden has an electric car:


Even when I had a petrol car, I boycotted Shell – refusing to use their petrol stations. I thought that would continue once I got an electric car – no dino-juice for me!

My car has more than enough range for me, but on a recent journey I decided it would be prudent to do a splash-and-dash – shove a few kWh in the battery just in case. I fired up Zap Map and was pleasantly surprised to see that Shell had a rapid charger near me. So, here’s my review. Can a station forecourt deliver the power I need?


Worth reading, especially in conjunction with his calculation that electric cars get the equivalent of 165mpg. (The calculation is slightly different in the US, where fuel is underpriced relative to the negative externalities that it has.)
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Google launches Portals, a new web page navigation system for Chrome • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


At the I/O 2019 developer conference yesterday, Google launched a new technology called Portals that aims to provide a new way of loading and navigating through web pages.

According to Google, Portals will work with the help of a new HTML tag named . This tag works similarly to classic tags, allowing web developers to embed remote content in their pages.

The difference between a portal and an iframe tag is that Google’s new Portals technology is an upgrade over iframes.

Google says portals allow users to navigate inside the content they are embedding –something that iframes do not allow for security reasons…

…Google engineers hope that their new Portals technology will take over the web and become the standard way in which websites transition between links.


Chrome dev track-only, non-standard (“it is not a W3 Standard nor is it on th W3C Standards Track”). Remember when Google was about the open web? Now it’s about the Google-defined web. When Microsoft used to do this stuff, people went mad.
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Trump’s washing machine tariffs stung consumers while lifting corporate profits • The New York Times

Jim Tankersley:


President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on imported washing machines has had an odd effect: It raised prices on washing machines, as expected, but also drove up the cost of clothes dryers, which rose by $92 last year.

What appears to have happened, according to new research from economists at the University of Chicago and the Federal Reserve, is a case study in how a measure meant to help domestic factory workers can rebound on American consumers, creating unexpected costs and leaving shoppers with a sky-high bill for every factory job created.

Research to be released on Monday by the economists Aaron Flaaen, of the Fed, and Ali Hortacsu and Felix Tintelnot, of Chicago, estimates that consumers bore between 125% and 225% of the costs of the washing machine tariffs. The authors calculate that the tariffs brought in $82m to the United States Treasury, while raising consumer prices by $1.5bn.

And while the tariffs did encourage foreign companies to shift more of their manufacturing to the United States and created about 1,800 new jobs, the researchers conclude that those came at a steep cost: about $817,000 per job.

Mr. Trump imposed the tariffs last year in response to a complaint by the Michigan-based manufacturer Whirlpool, which claimed foreign competitors were cornering the American washing machine market with cheaper models that threatened domestic manufacturers. The tariffs started at 20% per imported washer and rose to 50% late in the year, after total imports exceeded a quota set by the administration.


Yet there are people who believe China is paying the tariffs and that this is a successful readjustment.
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