Start up: YouTube’s smartest change, Google + Huawei, the truth on ads, Windows Phone redux, and more


When Javascript hits a particular temperature… Photo by Tom Gill on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Too much, right? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The ‘terrifying’ moment in 2012 when YouTube changed its entire philosophy » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

the discovery algorithm often recommended videos that weren’t the best fit. For example, if a user searched for the footage from a recent fight, YouTube might recommend a clip with a thumbnail image of a juicy punch and a title about someone getting knocked out. When the user clicked, the actual video would be not fight footage, but a dude sitting in his living room just talking about the epic punch.

But when the frustrated user clicked through several different videos, the algorithm tallied up the views and counted it as an accomplishment.  

“We realized that if we made the viewer click that many times, it didn’t seem to be a good estimate of how much value they were deriving from YouTube,” [YouTube’s director of engineering for search and discovery, Cristos] Goodrow said. “Instead, we realized that if they didn’t leave a video and continued watching, that seemed like a better estimate of the value they were getting.” 

So, after bouts of data collection and analysis coupled with countless meetings, YouTube re-jiggered its search-and-discovery algorithm on March 15 to make watch time, not views, the determining factor in what videos to recommend.

Seems obvious. But actually, that’s the sort of customer dissatisfaction that’s really hard to spot in the first place, and then really hard to change – because it upsets the existing order.


Google’s best Android friend » The Information

Amir Efrati:

Unlike other Android hardware partners like Samsung and Xiaomi, Huawei has no ambition whatsoever to compete with Google in mobile software and services. Huawei has agreed to help Google distribute a mobile app store in China, a market where Google has largely been shut out, say people briefed on the talks between the companies. (It remains to be seen whether Google can get a green light from the government to do so.)

Huawei, whose core networking-equipment business has helped it develop relationships with wireless carriers globally, could help Google expand its nascent wireless network service outside the U.S. and work on other wireless experiments to expand Internet access in emerging markets. Google might also seek to license some of Huawei’s patents in that area.

Meanwhile, Huawei this fall will become the first mainland China manufacturer to produce a “Nexus” smartphone together with Google, people with direct knowledge of the project have said. While the phone likely won’t be a big seller, it will serve as a status symbol for a privately-held Chinese firm that is trying to boost its consumer brand around the world and be as beloved as Coca-Cola.

Risky game for Google: Huawei has found it impossible to shake off suspicions in the US about its Chinese ownership and allegations of spying. There’s absolutely no evidence against Huawei, but that isn’t an obstacle for some.


Content blockers, bad ads, and what we’re doing about it » iMore

Rene Ritchie explains why there are sometimes tons of ads on iMore pages – which led one person to write a content blocker for iOS 9. This part though is worth noting:

Just as desktop ads pay far less than old-fashioned print ads, mobile ads pay far less than desktop. Because phone displays are smaller than desktop, ads are also far harder to ignore. They’re not off to the side or a small strip on a big screen. They’re in our faces and in our way.

As more and more people move to mobile, revenue goes down, and the typical response is to amp up the ads in an attempt to mitigate the loss. That, of course, just makes them even more annoying.

Ad networks have not responded well to any of this. Hell, they still haven’t fully responded to Retina and HiDPI displays, and those came out in 2011.

You’d think the ad industry would be at the forefront of user experience, and that making gorgeous, high performance, highly engaging ads would boost conversion and ultimately income for everyone. Unfortunately, it seems like whatever math they’re running shows crappy ads perform well enough that making great ads isn’t worth the extra effort.

Note that first paragraph: “because phone displays are smaller than desktop, ads are also far harder to ignore”. In that case, why do they pay less on mobile, which has more readers?


Scary internet scam becoming disturbingly common » TidBITS

Randy Singer:

While the legions of Mac viruses still haven’t appeared, there is a new nasty out there that takes advantage of this paranoia. It isn’t a virus, a Trojan Horse, or any other sort of actual malware. Instead, it’s more like a phishing scam, using social engineering to get you to do something that the bad guys want you to do. It does it by scaring the willies out of you, and it is becoming disturbingly common. Some call it “scareware” or “ransomware.”

What happens is that you visit a Web site and seemingly have your browser maliciously frozen. You’ll find that you can’t quit, nor can you navigate away from the page by clicking the Back button.

Next, a page or pop-up appears telling you any of a number of stories (often tailored to your location), perhaps that your Mac has a problem or has illegal material on it, or that your data has been encrypted by some malevolent entity.

The real culprit: a (non-destructive) Javascript hack. But if you follow the scam instructions, you will have a real problem.


Musings on autonomous transport: are self-driving Starbucks the future? » Core77

Michael Ditullo:

what happens when the car evolves from a means of transport to a place itself? Commuting to work? Take a Starbucks owned and operated car where you can get a latte and lounge at a table while working on your laptop along the way. A long drive to see the in-laws? Call for a movie car where you can watch a Michael Bay blockbuster in full surround sound on that two hour ride. Need to run some errands and grab lunch? Sounds like a burrito car. Need to work off the day’s stress on the way home? Pick from a workout car or a zen meditation car.

Once upon a time Starbucks called itself the “third place.” Not home, not work, that other place you wanted to go in-between. The self-driving car could very well evolve into that third place, but a place on-the-go. The in-between place becomes something that can also get you where you need to go. I imagine an entire crop of small businesses existing solely on cars. The payment in exchange for the goods and services these businesses provide would pay for the car journey itself.

This all assumes that we’ll need to travel to exactly the same extent. Can we be sure that’s true? Why take the Michael Bay blockbuster car if you could get the same at home? Does the car become a relief from home? So many assumptions are built into the way we view self-driving cars. More working from home, less travel?


The three unlikely lessons from the Microsoft/Nokia Adventure » VisionMobile

Michael Vakulenko:

Looking at the industry through the lens of software-defined business models has helped us to accurately predict years before the story unraveled the duopoly of Apple and Google (2009), the demise of Palm (2009), the outcome of HP’s foray into mobile with WebOS (2010), BlackBerry’s meltdown (2010), and the failure of Windows Phone (2012).

The story repeats in Internet of Things. Much like in mobile, software-defined business models cause deep shifts in how value is created and delivered. The IoT winners will be decided by business model innovation, not by technology, product features or standard committees. VisionMobile’s Stijn Schuermans wrote about it here – What the Internet of Things is not about.

How bad is it for Microsoft if it misses out on the IoT?


Microsoft takes $7.6bn Nokia writedown and cuts 7,800 jobs » FT.com

Richard Waters and Richard Milne with the collateral damage:

The job cuts will include 2,300 of the 3,200 remaining Nokia handset workers in its home country of Finland, adding to a decline in the pulp and paper industry that has led some to dub it the new “sick man” of Europe as unemployment and public debt levels have risen.

Microsoft took on 25,000 workers with the acquisition in April last year, inflating its headcount to 128,000. By the end of March this year it had cut its workforce back to about 119,000.

“In practice, this means the end of Nokia’s old business in Finland,” Juha Sipilä, the country’s prime minister, told a hastily-convened press conference on Wednesday. The situation is so serious in the country, which has been mired in recession for the past three years, that the new centre-right government has called for an extra budget in September to help the affected workers.

Also in the story:

“It’s a repudiation of the Ballmer strategy to buy Nokia,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. Microsoft should have acquired BlackBerry instead to focus on its core business users, he added — a strategy that the company backed on Wednesday, as Mr Nadella announced a narrowing of the handset division’s focus to making handsets for workers and a smaller number of “flagship” devices.

Yes: Microsoft really should have bought BlackBerry. Wouldn’t have cost much more, and would have been a valuable asset adding to what it’s trying to do. Love to know the discussions that happened, or didn’t, over that.


Wikileaks release indicates Hacking Team sold spyware to FSB, Russia’s secret police » Forbes

Tom Fox-Brewster:

in December 2012, a NICE employee asked Hacking Team whether it had sold directly to the FSB rather than via the Israeli company.

“Yes we did,” the Hacking Team employee responded. “We discussed this opportunity in the past and you were aware of the fact we were working there. I’d like to take advantage of this conversation to ask you a feedback about Azerbaijan.”

Asked about working in Russia, Hacking Team head of communications Eric Rabe said: “We have not sold to blacklisted countries — at least when they were actually on a blacklist. As you know these things can change and a country, that is considered respectable, may later on turn out not to be.”

So classy. Here’s the Wikileaks link, if you’ve got a few spare years to read through the emails.


Hacking Team Flash zero-day tied to attacks in Korea and Japan… on July 1 » Trend Micro

Weimin Wu:

Earlier this week several vulnerabilities were disclosed as part of the leak of information from the Italian company Hacking Team. We’ve noted that this exploit is now in use by various exploit kits. However, feedback provided by the Smart Protection Network also indicates that this exploit was also used in limited attacks in Korea and Japan. Most significantly, these took place before the Hacking Team leak took place; we first found this activity on July 1.

The exploit code we found is very similar to the code published as part of the Hacking Team leak. As a result of this, we believe that this attack was carried out by someone with access to the Hacking Team tools and code.

According to the Adobe security bulletin, the vulnerability CVE-2015-5119 affects all of the latest Flash versions on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Adobe has since provided a security update for this vulnerability.

Not clear from this – and apparently not to Trend Micro either – whether this attack was by Hacking Team, or by someone who had already broken into their systems and was using this attack for themselves.

In other news, Adobe’s security update team must be one of the hardest-working in the industry.


Apple plans record number of new iPhones » WSJ

Lorraine Luk and Daisuke Wakabayashi say it has ordered 85m-90m devices – up from 70m-80m last year:

The changes in the iPhone models expected to be released later this year will be less noticeable than last year’s. The phones are expected to feature Apple’s Force Touch technology that can distinguish between a light tap and deep press, allowing users to control a device differently depending on how hard they push on the screen, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple has added this feature to the Apple Watch and MacBook laptop computer.

In addition to keeping the display size unchanged, Apple is expected to keep the screen resolution about the same, according to people familiar with the matter.

It may offer a fourth color for the aluminum casing of the iPhone, in addition to silver, gold and space gray, these people said.

Force Touch is being signalled so strongly it would be surprising if it weren’t there. (I’ll elucidate later.)


Finland enlists convicted Lizard Squad hacker to fight cyber crime » Newsweek

Caroline Baylon:

17-year-old Julis Kivimaki, a member of the infamous Lizard Squad hacking group, was found guilty of over 50,000 counts of computer crime by a Finnish court, local media have reported, but rather than face prison time, the judge has ordered that Kivimaki himself help “fight against cyber crime”.

The extent of Kivimaki’s punishment will be a two-year suspended sentence, the confiscation of his computer, and being made to return some €6,500 in profits earned from cyber crime.

Kivimaki, known by the online nickname “zekill”, has been hacking since age 15 and committed a wide range of attacks directed at individuals, engaging in online harassment and identity theft, as well as corporations, where he triggered data breaches, hijacking of emails, and stealing credit card information.

To catch a thief…


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