Start up: Twitter’s app suck, Share That Economy!, Uber’s permissions overreach, solar panel boost and more

A selection of 8 links for you. Do not deploy near naked flame.

What is app graph on Twitter? >> Twitter Help Center

To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in. If you’re not interested in a tailored experience you can adjust your preferences at any time (read below). Additionally, if you have previously opted out of interest-based ads by turning on “Limit Ad Tracking” on your iOS device or by adjusting your Android device settings to “Opt out of interest-based ads,” we will not collect your apps unless you adjust your device settings.

Sure, that’s–– pardon? What do Twitter’s engineers think they can extract from this? If you have Uber, Lyft and Hailo installed, will they suggest you follow taxi drivers? Or just the accounts for those apps? If you look at it askance, the idea half makes sense. The other half doesn’t.


Bah Humbug: Microsoft’s affordable smartphone strategy dashes hopes for a real flagship >> ZDNet

There is also no flagship currently available to match the latest iPhone 6 or Android models. The last high-end Windows Phone device was the Nokia Lumia Icon, available only on Verizon and powered by a 2013 processor. It was released in February 2014 while AT&T’s exclusive Lumia 1520 was released in October 2013.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott questioned whether it was too late for Windows Phone back in September and even though I have been an advocate for the platform for years, I am extremely disappointed that Microsoft continues to ignore the high-end smartphone buyer with a focus on the affordable phone market. Those just concerned about pricing are not vocal advocates for the platform and if Microsoft ever wants to gain more than 3% of the smartphone market they need to throw a bone to the smartphone enthusiast.

Seriously, what? The top end is saturated: Apple and Samsung have it mapped out, with a little room for Sony, LG and HTC. Nokia tried and dismally failed at the “high-end flagship” game, and Stephen Elop has the scars to remind him of it.

“Affordable” smartphones are where the volume is. China is the world’s largest smartphone market; India will join it soon. Ignoring the saturated American market is pretty wise if you’re trying to attract new buyers.


UK urged to back ‘sharing economy’ >> Yahoo News UK

The UK should do more to support “sharing economy” platforms like Airbnb, TaskRabbit and Zipcar, according to a government-commissioned review.

The Unlocking The Sharing Economy review was commissioned in September by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and led by Debbie Wosskow, the chief executive of the start-up Love Home Swap.

It makes more than 30 recommendations to help people make the most of their homes, cars and other assets to “build a nation of everyday entrepreneurs”.

The review calls for a start-up incubator and innovation lab for British companies in this field, suggests that Jobcentre staff promote sharing economy platforms to jobseekers and suggests more car-pooling lanes in high congestion areas.

It calls for “fair terms of entry to the accommodation market” and suggests that “someone renting out a spare room is not subject to the same level of regulation as a business renting out 100 rooms all year round”.

How surprising that a review written by someone working in the “sharing economy” should conclude that the sharing economy shouldn’t be troubled by those “regulation” things. Will the sentiment be the same when (it’s surely when) someone dies from a faulty storage heater pumping out carbon monoxide in a “sharing economy” rental?

Notable too that none of the stories writing this up quoted opposing voices such as the British Hospitality Association – which complained of “targeted favouritism” that benefited “a select few multibillion pound foreign corporations over local small businesses” – the latter make most of the BHA’s members.


Permissions asked for by Uber Android app >> Hacker News

Discussion around the discovery of quite how much the Android version of Uber sends back to the mothership:

TLDR: Uber’s Android app is literally malware.

Since the website is currently down, this person reverse-engineered Uber’s Android app and discovered it has code that will “call home” aka send data back to Uber with your:
– SMS list [edit: see other comments re SMSLog, SMS permission is not currently requested] – call history – wifi connections – GPS location – every type of device fingerprint possible (device IDs)
It also checks if you’re phone is rooted/jailbroken and if it’s vulnerable to Heartbleed… which it also calls home.

From my understanding, which the author somehow missed, is that it is using http://www.inauth.com SDK which provides ‘malware detection’. This SDK is popular in the ‘mobile finance industry’ and the banking sector. Also notably one of the founders is former DHS/FBI.
Two possible theories: it is being used for fraud detection and/or an intelligence gathering tool.

“Malware” seems overstated, but it certainly goes as far as it possibly can – so, like its owner company.


The only way to save Google Glass is to kill it >> WIRED

Marcus Wohlsen:

“Why not license it out and get out of the hardware business altogether?” asks J.P. Gownder, who covers the wearable device market for Forrester Research.

Gownder himself believes it’s too early to sound the death knell for Glass as a consumer product, though he does say Google has a tough job ahead if it hopes to get consumers to embrace something so unfamiliar. “People don’t know what to do with these devices,” he says.

Apple, meanwhile, has a powerful channel for introducing the gadget-consuming public to new products in the form of its stores. If people are skeptical of what an Apple watch can do, for instance, they will be able to go into an Apple store and try one on. Not so with Google, which has reportedly even closed the few physical locations it had set up to introduce people to Glass.

Gownder is convinced that Glass and other heads-up displays have a strong future in the world of work, where everyone from surgeons to petroleum engineers will find them incredibly useful for specific tasks. As a general-purpose device, however, a kind of smartphone for the face, the advantages aren’t so clear.

There’s a similar piece at MIT Technology Review. Google’s introduction of Glass – make a super-happy video showing someone using it to buy ukelele songs – was clearly wrong. It’s a tool for commerce, not users.


FTC shuts down massive “PC cleaner” scam >> Gigaom

Jeff John Roberts:

On Wednesday, the FTC and the State of Florida announced court complaints against dozens of individuals and companies that reportedly swindled over $120m from consumers, many of them seniors.

While these type of scams have been around for years, the court documents provide an especially clear picture of how the scams work.

According to the FTC, the crooks typically try to hook the victims with an internet ad that promises a free scan for virus or malware. That scan inevitably detects a “problem”…

It’s depressing how impossible this scam is to root out. It’s a modern form of the penny stock pump’n’dump.


Floating feasts >> New Yorker

This, from David Owen, is about the challenge of keeping the passengers on the second-largest cruise ship in the world, with 8,100 people aboard:

One of the few exceptions to Royal Caribbean’s made-fresh policy is French fries. “If we made them ourselves, we’d need four or five guys doing nothing but pushing potatoes through a cutter all day,” Dearie said. Handmade fries, furthermore, droop quickly; the frozen fries the ship uses, like the ones served in many fast-food restaurants, have a coating that keeps them crisp and hot for longer. (The coating on Oasis fries is made from rice flour and modified starch.) We watched a cook tending a large deep fryer. Piled on a counter to his left were a dozen bags the size of pillows. “That’s about five minutes’ worth,” Dearie said.

Guests in Opus consume roughly six hundred pounds of fries in an evening, Dearie said, and fry consumption rises with the number of Americans on board and the number of children—as does pizza consumption.

Now consider the challenge of putting together smartphones (say) from components sourced from multiple places in time for the fourth-quarter rush. (The article is fantastic. Set aside some time.)


Australian engineers have boosted solar cell efficiency by five times more than ever before >> ScienceAlert

We could soon be able to convert more of the Sun’s energy into power using fewer solar panels, thanks to a new breakthrough by Swinburne University of Technology researchers in Australia.

Working with researchers from Nankai University in China, the team has managed to enhance the efficiency of silicon solar cells by 3.8% – almost five times more than the current record.

“One of the critical challenges the solar cell faces is low energy conversion efficiency due to insufficient absorption from the thin silicon layer,” said micro-photonics expert Min Gu at Swinburne University of Technology, who worked on the project.

To achieve the impressive upgrade, the engineers synthesised one-dimensional graphenised carbon nanofibre, and used it to help solar cells capture sunlight more efficiently.

I was speaking the other day to someone who installs solar panels for a living, who said that in the past five years efficiencies of the panels he installs has improved by 25%. That’s about 4.5% compound per year. So this doesn’t look like a giant leap. Sorry.


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