Start up: Starbucks gets pass-agg on hacking, what Uber really pays, adblocking for sociopaths, and more


Check that your backup doesn’t look like this. Photo by Mrs Gemstone on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Adblockers are immoral » The Next Web

Martin Bryant is editor-in-chief of the site:

It comes up a lot in conversation, especially online. “Oh yes, I can’t imagine viewing the Web without the ads blocked. I accidentally switched my adblocker off yesterday and it was HORRIBLE.”

No, it really wasn’t – it was perfectly fine, you’re just being a snob. The Web works well for me with the ads displayed. It’s a point of principle – helping publishers earn money is something I want to do and feel we all should do if we consume their work. For those few, accidental minutes your adblocker was off, you were helping the publishers of the sites you visit earn income for their content that you access for free.

I hate to go all high-and-mighty-Mr-Morals, but the proud ad-blocking folk out there are happily starving sites (that they rely on for information and entertainment) of vital income. Yes, publishers (including TNW) are increasingly opting to diversify their income with ‘native ads,’ events, deals, education offerings and the like, but display ads are still an important bread-and-butter income stream. Taking delight in denying publishers that revenue shows either sociopathic tendencies or ignorance of economic realities.

There really isn’t a middle ground. If you understand the economics, you’re being selfish. If you don’t understand the economics, you’re being wilfully ignorant these days. And the alternatives (native ads, paid placement?) will surely be worse. But they may soon be inevitable.


TeslaCrypt: Following the money trail and learning the human costs of ransomware « FireEye Threat Research

Nart Villeneuve:

We tracked the victims’ payments to the cybercriminals—available because the group used bitcoin—and determined that between February and April 2015, the perpetrators extorted $76,522 from 163 victims. This amount may seem trivial compared to millions made annually on other cyber crimes, or the estimated $3m the perpetrators of CryptoLocker were able to make during nine months in 2013-14.  However, even this modest haul demonstrates ransomware’s ability to generate profits and its devastating impact on victims.

The online correspondence between the victims and the cybercriminals provides context regarding the effect on peoples’ lives. The victims were spread across the globe from students in Iran and Spain to regular folks in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Croatia and Mongolia. Some feared being expelled from school or fired by their employers if they are unable to retrieve their files. Fathers and mothers were devastated by the loss of family photos. The TeslaCrypt ransomware also affected nonprofits, including an organization dedicated to curing blood cancer, as well as small businesses. Many of the victims were simply unable to afford to pay the ransom and gave up.

Some of the conversations are heartbreaking. Weirdly, the extortionists sometimes cut their price for personal circumstances.


Can Google outsell Amazon and eBay? » WSJ

Google will launch buy buttons on its search-result pages in coming weeks, a controversial step by the company toward becoming an online marketplace rivaling those run by Amazon.com and eBay.

The search giant will start showing the buttons when people search for products on mobile devices, according to people familiar with the launch.

The buttons will accompany sponsored—or paid—search results, often displayed under a “Shop on Google” heading at the top of the page. Buttons won’t appear with the nonsponsored results that are driven by Google’s basic search algorithm…

…Some retailers said they worry the move will turn Google from a valuable source of traffic into a marketplace where purchases happen on Google’s own websites. The retailers, who wouldn’t voice their concerns publicly, fear such a move will turn them into back-end order takers, weakening their relationships with shoppers.

Mobile-only (to begin with). Wonder if this will be tried in Europe, where the concern over this is more substantial.


I was an undercover Uber driver » Philadelphia City Paper

Emily Guendelsberger, who was that undercover driver:

it’s no wonder the taxi industry is having so much trouble competing with Uber — taxi companies have to pay to maintain, acquire and insure all the cars in a taxi fleet. Uber’s drivers shoulder that burden themselves, with expenses eating around 20% of total gross fares. And Uber’s gross fares, according to a Business Insider tipster, are expected to hit $10 billion in 2015.

And it makes complete sense for Uber to continue cutting fares to as cheap as possible while flooding the market with more and more drivers and encouraging people to use Uber for shorter and shorter distances — all of which correlate with reduced take-home pay for each individual driver…

…after 100 rides, I felt like I had enough [data] to work with. Over that duration, during which I maintained a 4.83 [star] adjusted rating, high enough to qualify me for Uber’s VIP program, Uber would say I “earned” $17 an hour in gross fares. But subtract the 28% that went to Uber and the 19% that went to expenses, and I actually made $9.34 an hour (plus a grand total of $16 in tips, $10 of which were for meeting up with a guy who left his Porsche keys in my backseat).

Driving for UberX isn’t the worst-paying job I’ve ever had. I made less scooping ice cream as a 15-year-old, if you don’t adjust for inflation. If I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week with one week off, I’d net almost $30,000 a year before taxes.

But if I wanted to net that $90,000 a year figure that so many passengers asked about, I would only have to work, let’s see …

27 hours a day, 365 days a year.


Who’s responsible when a driverless car crashes? Tesla’s got an idea » WSJ

Mike Ramsey:

The Palo Alto, Calif., electric-car maker soon will begin activating semiautonomous features, including the capability to pass other cars without driver intervention, in its Model S sedans. A driver can trigger the passing function by hitting the turn signal, according to people familiar with the technology. That action not only tells the car it can pass, but also means the driver has given thought to whether the maneuver is safe.

While it might seem a minor detail, having drivers activate the turn signal could help auto makers like Tesla avoid a regulatory pile up.


Starbucks blaming passwords, victims doesn’t fix the problem; burning questions about attack remain » Bob Sullivan

Sullivan first pointed to the hacking of Starbucks app passwords, and now has had to tear down the spin put up around it by the company:

these positions are meant to create the impression that there’s nothing wrong with the way Starbucks is processing payments, and in fact, some journalists declared that to be the case. Fortune magazine wrote “Starbucks says its popular mobile app has not been hacked, contradicting multiple media reports that intruders have hijacked the accounts of hundreds of the coffee chain’s customers…” Starbucks actually never denied that intruders had hijacked consumers accounts, and anyone can find victims complaining about just that with a few moment’s work, but some journalists seemed eager to clear Starbucks of any culpability in the issue.

That’s unfortunate, because my email this week makes it clear that plenty of Starbucks customers are pretty angry at the way this issue has been handled, and many of them don’t appreciate being blamed for having their money stolen after they placed their trust in Starbucks.


Green lights for our self-driving vehicle prototypes » Official Google Blog

Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car project:

We’ve been running the vehicles through rigorous testing at our test facilities, and ensuring our software and sensors work as they’re supposed to on this new vehicle. The new prototypes will drive with the same software that our existing fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs uses. That fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project, and recently has been self-driving about 10,000 miles a week. So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on—in fact, it’s the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience.

Each prototype’s speed is capped at a neighborhood-friendly 25mph, and during this next phase of our project we’ll have safety drivers aboard with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal that allow them to take over driving if needed. We’re looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle—e.g., where it should stop if it can’t stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion.


Samsung’s Tizen Store is available in 182 countries and with 25 apps at launch » Malaysian Digest

At launch, the Tizen Store has 25 apps spread across four categories (games, apps to plan new resolutions, photography and EA games). Of the 25 apps, 14 of them are gaming while photography takes second spot with 6 apps.

There is currently only one device that supports the Tizen Store which is the Samsung Z1. Announced last June, the Samsung Z1 is now only sold in India and Bangladesh. Samsung initially wanted to launch the Z1 and other Tizen-powered smartphones in more markets, but things did not turn out as planned.

“Things did not turn out as planned” is putting it mildly.


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