Start up: Chrome v Flash (and Google v iOS 9), HTC delays Vive, streaming’s true problem, and more


Suggested caption: “I wish I’d never mentioned the bloody sealion”. Can a computer do better? Picture from MCAD Library on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google makes it official: Chrome will freeze Flash ads on sight from Sept 1 » The Register

Shaun Nichols:

Back in June, Google warned that, in cooperation with Adobe, it would change the way Flash material is shown on websites.

Basically, “essential” Flash content (such as embedded video players) are allowed to automatically run, while non-essential Flash content, much of that being advertisements, will be automatically paused.

As we explained a couple of months ago, it’s effectively taking Chrome’s “Detect and run important plugin content” feature, and making it the default: only the “main plugin content on websites” will be run automatically. That should put a stop to irritating ads around the sides of pages.

Google’s reasoning for the move is largely performance-based, apparently. The Chocolate Factory worries that with too many pieces of Flash content running at once, Chrome’s performance is hamstrung, and, more critically, battery life is drained in notebooks and tablets running the Flash plugin.

A performance and battery hit? From Flash? I’m shocked, shocked to hear of such a thing.
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Handling App Transport Security in iOS 9 » Hacker News discussion

Remember the Google Ads blogpost from last week explaining how developers could enable non-HTTPS ads to show on iOS 9, which enforces (almost) HTTPS? The discussion on Hacker News include some who’ve been in the trenches:

At my last job, we did something similar to what iOS 9 is now doing, where we migrated a survey engine to serve all forms over https. There was high fiving and champagne all around the engineers desks, while media was freaking out that their impressions took the sharpest reverse-hockey-stick in the world. Ad networks are seriously the worst when it comes to https traffic. Given the dozens of redirects and pixel injections and iframes slapped into a media page, it’s nearly impossible to serve secure traffic since it only takes one network to downgrade the https request to http and then the page is “broken”.

Other comments provide useful insight too.
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The wait for HTC’s Vive VR headset just got longer » ReadWrite

Adriana Lee:

Other projects and software features are likely in the works [from Oculus Rift] as well. (We may know more at the Oculus Connect 2 developer conference in Los Angeles next month.) 

There’s also increasing competition from VR hardware startups and other (bigger) competitors eyeing virtual and augmented reality—including Sony, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Apple may also be pursuing virtual and augmented reality behind closed doors.

All of which makes HTC’s decision to delay the Vive’s consumer release rather risky—especially if the company is relying on this initiative to make up for its flagging smartphone business. For end users and developers, however, the scenario points to something else: Next year is going to be absolutely huge for all realities virtual. 

Can HTC hang on long enough to ride that wave? Testers say it’s terrific quality. Most valuable asset?
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Chromebooks gaining on iPads in school sector » The New York Times

Natasha Singer:

In terms of the sheer numbers of devices sold, however, Microsoft remained in the lead. In 2014, about 4.9m Windows devices, including notebooks and desktops, shipped to schools, giving Microsoft a roughly 38% market share in unit sales, IDC said.

Apple, meanwhile, shipped about 4.2m devices for schools, including desktops, notebook computers and tablets, accounting for about 32% of the education market, according to the report.

But the Chromebook category is fast gaining traction in the United States.

Last year, about 3.9m Chromebooks were shipped in the education sector, an increase in unit sales of more than 310% compared with the previous year, IDC said. By contrast, iPad unit sales for education fell last year to 2.7m devices, compared to 2.9m in 2013, according to IDC data.

“Even if Microsoft is No. 1 in volume and Apple is No. 1 in revenue, from the growth perspective, nobody can beat Chromebook,” said Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst at IDC who tracks the personal computer market and is the author of the report.

In the first half of this year, she said, roughly 2.4m Chromebooks shipped to schools compared with about 2.2m Windows-based desktops and notebook computers.

Maybe this is where Chromebooks begin to eat away at Windows. They certainly should be a lot easier to secure and manage.
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We built a robot to help you win The New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest » The Verge

Michael Zelenko and Frank Bi:

Each week The New Yorker runs a cartoon contest on its back page, where the publication invites readers to submit captions to cartoons drawn by the magazine’s illustrators. Winning the contest is notoriously difficult — writers have to generate a quip that’s funny, but also perfectly mimics the magazine’s sensibilities. A deep knowledge of The New Yorker is a prerequisite. Or is it?

We’ve collected all the first, second, and third place winning entries going back to when the magazine introduced the competition in 2005 — all 1,425 of them. Then, we ran them through a Markov text generator program that analyzes the winning captions and generates new, randomized entries that echo the original set.

Observation: using this won’t even get you to the last three in the caption contest. Maybe when the robots have taken all the other jobs, “comedian” will still remain for humans.
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The real problem with streaming » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

Even without considering the entirely intentional complexity of details such as minimas, floors and ceilings, the underlying principle is simple: a record label secures a fixed level of revenue regardless, while a music service assumes a fixed level of cost regardless.

Labels call this covering their risk and argue that it ensures that the services that get licensed are committed to being a success. Which is a sound and reasonable position in principle, except that in practice it often results in the exact opposite by transferring all of the risk to the music service. Saddling the service with so much up front debt increases the chance it will fail by ensuring large portions (sometimes the majority) of available working capital is spent on rights, not on building great product or marketing to consumers.

None of this matters too much if you are a successful service or a big tech company (both of which have lots of working capital). Both Google and Apple are rumoured to have paid advances in the region of $1 billion. While the payments are much smaller for most music services, Apple, with its $183bn in revenues and $194bn in cash reserves can afford $1bn a lot more easily than a pre-revenue start up with $1m in investment can afford $250,000.  Similarly a pre-revenue, pre-product start up is more likely to launch late and miss its targets but will still be on the hook for the minimum revenue guarantees (MRG).

It is abundantly clear that this model skews the market towards big players and to tech companies that simply want to use music as a tool for helping sell their core products. 

 
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Heads-up, Google: fighting the EU is useless » Bloomberg View

Leonid Bershidsky:

Microsoft can tell Google exactly what happens next; indeed, Google’s lawyers realize there will be other antitrust investigations. One, concerning the Android operating system and its links to Google services, is already in the works, although no official charges have been brought. Another may soon hit Google where it really hurts, challenging its dominance in online advertising. Google will fight and probably lose, because Europe doesn’t like big U.S. companies to dominate its markets. 

Lobbying and complying with whatever demands still can’t be avoided is a less painful path. Microsoft spent 4.5 million euros last year, a million more than Google, on efforts to get EU officials to see its points on issues such as data protection and cloud computing. Among other things, the European Parliament is now considering a Microsoft proposal that would cap fines for Internet privacy violations at 2m euros a case, instead of 2% of a company’s international turnover.

It’s admirable that Google now wants to fight for its principles and against the dilution of its superior offering. It makes me cringe, however, to think of the time and money that will be burned in this hopeless battle.

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The fembots of Ashley Madison » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

In the data dump of Ashley Madison’s internal emails, I found ample evidence that the company was actively paying people to create fake profiles. Sometimes they outsourced to companies who build fake profiles, like the ones Caitlin Dewey wrote about this week in the Washington Post. But many appear to have been generated by people working for Ashley Madison. The company even had a shorthand for these fake profiles—“angels.” Perhaps this is a tip of the hat to Victoria’s Secret models, also known as angels.

Ashley Madison created their angels all over the world, and the dump contains dozens of emails where Avid Life Media management arranged to generate more. Here you can see a July 4, 2013 email from Avid Life Media’s director of internal operations, Nora Abtan, to CEO Noel Biderman and other managers, with the subject “summary angels status”…

…An email chain between Sandra Simpson and an employee named Eduardo Borges, dated July 30, 2012, suggests that quality control on the angel profiles was actually pretty rigorous. Borges asks whether it’s OK to reuse photos if they are in different states, and Simpson says no—she notes that many members travel and they might spot the duplicates.

Such great journalism; such a scammy business. The question becomes, did the company take this direction from the start, or was it forced towards fakery by circumstance?
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Apple is about to lay down its TV cards » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

It stands to reason that Apple will be able to push the A8 much, much further than it ever has before given that the Apple TV is plugged into the wall, and not dependent on battery.

This will enable developers of games and other resource-intensive applications to produce higher quality and more demanding apps. Among the demos I’d expect to see on stage next month are content apps, games, and broadcast companies. These apps fit the venue (fixed, but large and participatory) and purpose of your television — and the apps that people will build for the Apple TV would do well to take those factors into account as well.

A native SDK that takes advantage of the hardware fully will, for the first time ever, turn the Apple TV into a platform, a self-sustaining life form that Apple likely hopes will dominate competitors who have done only slightly better about adding third-party support.

To control the new Apple TV? A new remote. One major feature of which was pretty much nailed by Brian Chen in an article earlier this year. It’s slightly bigger and thicker, with physical buttons on the bottom half, a Touchpad area at the top and a Siri microphone.

I thought the Apple TV would get its own SDK
back in 2012. Totally wrong; it just wasn’t ready.
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Start up: wearables grow, adblocking as chemo?, how silent calls lead to fraud, Acer woes, and more


Replace “George Davis” with “Google” and you get its message. Photo by ross mcross on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple debuts at the number two spot as the worldwide wearables market triples in 2Q15 » IDC


In its first appearance in the wearables market, Apple finds itself within striking distance of the established market leader, Fitbit. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, Apple shipped a total of 3.6 million units in the second quarter of 2015 (2Q15), just 0.8m units behind Fitbit’s 4.4m units. Total shipment volume for the quarter came to 18.1m units, up 223.2% from the 5.6m units shipped in 2Q14.

“Anytime Apple enters a new market, not only does it draw attention to itself, but to the market as a whole,” noted Ramon Llamas, Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “Its participation benefits multiple players and platforms within the wearables ecosystem, and ultimately drives total volumes higher. Apple also forces other vendors – especially those that have been part of this market for multiple quarters – to re-evaluate their products and experiences. Fairly or not, Apple will become the stick against which other wearables are measured, and competing vendors need to stay current or ahead of Apple. Now that Apple is officially a part of the wearables market, everyone will be watching to see what other wearable devices it decides to launch, such as smart glasses or hearables.”

This rather mixes oranges and.. um, because the Fitbit is not a “watch”. I’d prefer to see “watches” and “bands” separated, but that might be tricky. Telling that none of the Android Wear watches did more than 0.6m; and that Samsung’s early lead hasn’t translated into, well, anything. The figure for Apple Watches feels high, though.

Also: “hearables”?
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The realities of a $50 smartphone » Engadget

Daniel Cooper:

“If you had asked me this a year ago, I would have said that it was impossible.” Wayne Lam is the principal telecoms analyst for IHS, a market intelligence firm that looks at the technology market. As part of the experiment, he offered to cook up a hypothetical device that, if someone built it today, could probably be mass-produced for under $50. He worked out that the upper limit for a bill of materials would be around $42, and worked backward to build out a spec list from there. It wasn’t pretty, since “any time you put a constraint on the design, like a maximum price, you end up having to make compromises.”

Really impressive. Of course, that doesn’t leave any margin for distribution, marketing, or R+D, but it’s amazing the market has come so far in just eight years.
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Dark patterns : user interfaces designed to trick people

Harry Brignull and others:

Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind. We as designers, founders, UX & UI professionals and creators need to take a stance against Dark Patterns.

You can send them your examples via the site.

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Acer honourary chairman Shih would ‘welcome’ takeover bid » The Register

Paul Kunert:

The major players, such as HP, Lenovo and Dell, would gain nothing on the technology front from buying Acer – which derived 65% of its revenues from PCs last year – save for perhaps some low-margin market share.

Surely it would be cheaper to let the company continue to wither on the vine?

More than a decade ago, Acer said it was the PC maker of the future, based partly on the relatively tiny workforce – it employs 7,000 heads, which is fewer than some vendors employ in their country operations.

As we pointed out recently, Acer is running out of runway and something has to give. We doubt any of the majors in the industry will want to buy the business, and the politics involved in merging with Taiwanese rivals HTC or Asus make such a move unlikely, though not entirely implausible.

Becoming a question of whether Acer or HTC will be forced into someone else’s arms first. Acer is bigger, but shrinking fast.
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Handling App Transport Security in iOS 9 » Google Ads Developer Blog

Tristan Emrich, mobile ads developer relations:

All iOS 9 devices running apps built with Xcode 7 that don’t disable ATS [App Transport Security, which forces HTTPS connections] will be affected by this change. The following log message appears when a non-ATS compliant app attempts to serve an ad via HTTP on iOS 9:

“App Transport Security has blocked a cleartext HTTP (http://) resource load since it is insecure. Temporary exceptions can be configured via your app’s Info.plist file.”

While Google remains committed to industry-wide adoption of HTTPS, there isn’t always full compliance on third party ad networks and custom creative code served via our systems. To ensure ads continue to serve on iOS9 devices for developers transitioning to HTTPS, the recommended short term fix is to add an exception that allows HTTP requests to succeed and non-secure content to load successfully.

Publishers can add an exception to their Info.plist to allow any insecure connection.

Translation: ads are insecure, and trackable, but let them through. (Obviously, many app developers will need to for revenue.) Once again, Apple is forcing the pace on advertisers.
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Why phone fraud starts with a silent call » All Tech Considered : NPR

Aarti Shahani:

Maybe you gave your number to Target or some other big retailer that got hacked. Maybe you entered an online raffle to win a free iPhone.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, these robocalls are on the rise because Internet-powered phones make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world.

That initial call you get, with silence on the other end, “[is] essentially the first of the reconnaissance calls that these fraudsters do,” Balasubramaniyan says. “They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end? You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

The next step is gathering information about your bank or credit card account. You get a call with a prerecorded voice that tells you, for example, “[we’re] calling with an important message about your debit card. If you are the cardholder please stay on the line and press 1. Otherwise please have the cardholder call us at 1-877…”

If you’re thinking about ignoring it, the message tries to scare you into paying attention with a warning: “A temporary hold may have been placed on your account and will be removed upon verification of activity.”

That number leads to another automated system that prompts you to share personal details like your date of birth, your card number and secure PIN, the expiration date, your Social Security number.

It can be tricky because many real banks have a similar system.

Foolish of the banks, really.
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Improving quality isn’t anti-competitive » Google Europe Blog

Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel:

The response we filed today [to the EC] shows why we believe those allegations [of stifling competition] are incorrect, and why we believe that Google increases choice for European consumers and offers valuable opportunities for businesses of all sizes.

The Statement of Objections [SO] says that Google’s displays of paid ads from merchants (and, previously, of specialized groups of organic search results) “diverted” traffic away from shopping services. But the SO doesn’t back up that claim, doesn’t counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn’t provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy.

Our response provides evidence and data to show why the SO’s concerns are unfounded. We use traffic analysis to rebut claims that our ad displays and specialized organic results harmed competition by preventing shopping aggregators from reaching consumers. Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive. And we show why the SO is incorrect in failing to consider the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space.

Funny thing: I’ve skim-read the SO (it’s long – 100+ pages) and it picks away at lots of these traffic analysis claims (which were themselves dismantled thoroughly by Foundem, one of the complainants to the EC). Among the SO’s complaints was that Google didn’t provide enough data about shopping traffic. I don’t think the EC is going to roll over on this one. Nor, evidently, is Google. Though in arguing “choice for consumers” it’s using the wrong antitrust doctrine – that applies in the US, but not the EU.

Can’t find where Google has published its response, either. Surely it would want that public too? Also: an analysis of Google’s blogpost by “Focus On The User” (anti-Google, not involving Microsoft).
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Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech » Doc Searls Weblog

Searls calls “tracking” ads (eg Doubleclick etc) “adtech”, as opposed to simple brand ads:

• Apple’s iAd is for brand advertising, not adtech. At least that’s what I gather from Apple’s literature. This puts them on the side of [advertising] wheat, and Apple’s competitors — notably Google, Facebook and all of adtech — on the side of chaff.

• Apple has put a big stake in the ground on the subject of privacy. This is clearly to differentiate itself from adtech in general, and from Google and Facebooks in particular.

• Brand advertising is more valuable to publishers than adtech. Its provenance and value are clear and obvious, it sells for better prices, and — while some of it may be annoying — none of it shares its business model with spam, which adtech does. Nor is brand advertising corrupted by fraud, which is rampant in adtech. So rampant, in fact, that T.Rob Wyatt, a security expert, calls adtech “the new digital cancer.”

This is why content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech. It is also why it is essential for everybody involved in the advertising-funded online ecosystem to start separating the wheat from the chaff, and to make clear to everybody that the wheat — plain old brand advertising — is (to mix metaphors) the baby in the advertising bathwater.

(Searls was taken to task for using “chemo” and “cancer”; he pointed out that he has had loved ones die of cancer, and “I’m not sure they would have disapproved of the metaphor.”)

As bandwagons go, the anti-adtech one is rolling downhill at top speed. I’ve already got three different ones I’m testing on an iOS 9 phone.
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The Labour Purge…. and social media privacy. » Paul Bernal’s Blog

Bernal notes that the Labour Party is trawling social media to try to find out if newly joined members really “support” the party:

We should not expect people to have social media profiles – let alone identifiable social media profiles. What is more, this is particularly important for some of the people that Labour should care about and support the most. People may be ‘digitally excluded’, for a start – but they might also have extremely valid reasons to be pseudonymous on the internet. Vulnerable people, in particular, might need pseudonymity to protect them from those to whom they are vulnerable. Whistleblowers. People with abusive spouses. People with abusive or manipulative employers. Trade unionists, for example, might have that status used against them – there’s a reason that Trade Union membership is considered ‘sensitive personal data’ under the Data Protection Act. People might wish not to have their religion revealed to all and sundry. People might wish to separate their personal and professional lives for perfectly good reasons.

There is much more to say on this subject – but the underlying issue is the one that is most disturbing. What the Labour Party is doing may well breach the Data Protection Act – there is a discussion to be had here – but it is certainly at least verging on the creepy.

The Labour Party has long had a problem with privacy; it tried really hard to introduce ID cards (with biometrics!), and was only stopped by losing an election.
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Start up: Ashley Madison’s vanishing women, PC and tablet gloom, taxing sugar, and more


Swiss watch exports – especially to China – fell in July. Why?

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

Almost none of the women in the Ashley Madison database ever used the site » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

I downloaded the data and analyzed it to find out how many actual women were using Ashley Madison, and who they were.

What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.

Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison…

…About two-thirds of the men, or 20.2 million of them, had checked the messages in their accounts at least once. But only 1,492 women had ever checked their messages. It was a serious anomaly.

Top-class data journalism by Newitz. This is how you do it: get facts and hammer them into the ground. Ashley Madison increasingly looks like a game of three-card monte. CEO Noel Biderman previously trumpeted in the media that Ashley Madison had an overall 70/30 gender split — with a 1:1 male/female ratio among the under-30 set. Seems like he was flat-out lying. (Teddy Wayne, who wrote that linked GQ story, now works for the New Yorker; he clearly did well to get five women who apparently used AM to talk to him in 2013.)

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Swiss watch exports fall in July » Business Insider

Ben Moshinsky:

The Swiss-watch bubble may be about to unravel.

After years of stunning growth, in which exports more than doubled from 2000 to 2014, Swiss watchmakers had a terrible month.

China led the fall, according to export figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Overall exports were 9.3% lower than a year earlier, at 1.9 billion Swiss francs (£1.3 billion, $1.97 billion) with the Chinese market segment dropping by more than 39%. Sales to the United Arab Emirates also tanked 29.8%.

Biggest fall? Those costing between CHF200-500 and CHF500-€3,000. (1 CHF = US$1.05.) Anyone know any watch-like products released recently around that price not coming out of Switzerland?
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Google has a secret interview process… and it landed me a job » The Hustle

Max Rosett:

Three months ago, I thought I wasn’t ready to apply for a job at Google. Google disagreed.

I was in the midst of a career transition. I had spent three years working as a management consultant and then at a startup, but I wanted to become a computer engineer. I was earning a Master’s in computer science through Georgia Tech’s online program. I knew that I was slowly developing the skills that I would need in an engineering role, but I still lacked the confidence to apply for a full-time software role.

One morning, while working on a project, I Googled “python lambda function list comprehension.” The familiar blue links appeared, and I started to look for the most relevant one.

But then something unusual happened.

The search results split and folded back to reveal a box that said “You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?”

I would find that intensely scary. I’d worry I’d either been hacked or taken hallucinogenics.
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Worldwide tablet shipments expected to decline -8.0% in 2015 while 2-in-1 devices pick up momentum, growing 86.5% » IDC


According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, tablet shipments, inclusive of 2-in-1 devices, are expected to decline -8.0% in 2015, representing a notable slowdown from IDC’s previous forecast of -3.8%. Shipments are now expected to reach 212 million with the vast majority being pure slate tablets.

The overall trajectory of the tablet market has not changed significantly over the past year and a half, but the 2-in-1 segment, also referred to as detachables, is starting to gain traction. While the 2-in-1 form factor is not new, OEMs are getting more serious about this market and as a result IDC expects the 2-in-1 segment to grow 86.5% year over year in 2015 with 14.7 million units shipped. Although this volume is far below that of the more affordable slate tablet segment, IDC believes these devices appeal to an audience seeking an alternative to pure tablets with smaller screens.

Basically, Windows picks up from interest in 2-in-1 devices. But it remains niche. (Gartner rolls 2-in-1s into its PC category; IDC calls them “tablets”.) IDC expects an “iPad Pro” and that Apple will still be the largest vendor in 2019.
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PC shipments expected to shrink through 2016 as currency devaluations and inventory constraints worsens outlook » IDC


Worldwide PC shipments are expected to fall by -8.7% in 2015 and not stabilize until 2017, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. The latest forecast has growth declining through 2016 – which will make five years of declining shipments. Growth should resume in 2017, led by the commercial market, while consumer volume continues a small decline through the end of the forecast in 2019.

Although IDC had expected the second quarter of 2015 to be a transition period as vendors prepare for Windows 10 systems in the second half of the year, final results nonetheless shrank even more than expected due to a stubbornly large inventory of notebooks from prior quarters and severe constraints posed by the decline of major currencies relative to the US Dollar.

Hey ho. This is really going to put the squeeze on the smaller players.
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Taxing soda, saving lives » Al Jazeera America

Kate Kilpatrick:

Mexico consumes more soda per capita than any other country, and research links sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes, a leading cause of death in Mexico.

And blindness.

More than 14 million Mexicans have diabetic retinopathy, which impairs vision.

That could explain why Mexico became the first country to impose a national soda tax, which went into effect on the first day of 2014.

“It was a really big deal. A really, really big deal,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and the author of the forthcoming book “Soda Politics: Taking On Big Soda (and Winning).”

“Generally, the taxes are considered the most radical things you can do about obesity,” said obesity expert Kelly Brownell, the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

The tax is an excise tax (meaning it’s paid at the point of purchase) that tacks on a peso (about 6 cents) per liter to sales of sugar- or syrup-sweetened sodas, juices, energy drinks and bottled tea and coffee. It also applies to drink powders and concentrates but excludes flavored milks, diet sodas and bottled waters.

“Soda” is such an innocuous word for a useless drink whose health effects are entirely negative. Sugar taxes are long overdue. As Chris Mims says: “Soda companies are the new tobacco companies, full stop.” When will the UK and US follow suit?
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AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots: now with advertising injection » Web Policy

Jonathan Mayer found some unexpected – and unwanted – ads while at the airport:

Curious, and waiting on a delayed flight, I started poking through web source. It took little time to spot the culprit: AT&T’s wifi hotspot was tampering with HTTP traffic.

The ad injection platform appears to be a service from RaGaPa, a small startup. Their video pitch features “MONETIZE YOUR NETWORK” over cascading dollar signs. (Seriously.)

When an HTML page loads over HTTP, the hotspot makes three edits. (HTTPS traffic is immune, since it’s end-to-end secure.)

First, the hotspot adds an advertising stylesheet.

Next, it injects a backup advertisement, in case a browser doesn’t support JavaScript. It appears that the hotspot intercepts /ragapa URLs and resolves them to advertising images.

Finally, the hotspot adds a pair of scripts for controlling advertisement loading and display.

Those scripts, in turn, import advertising content from additional third-party providers.

Mayer is the person who spotted Google hacking Safari to add Doubleclick cookies back in 2012 (a case that led to a $22.5m FTC fine for Google, and ongoing court cases in the UK).

Strangely enough, when quizzed about this, AT&T said it was a test that it had just finished. What an amazing coincidence that (a) Mayer tried it, last week, just near the end of the trial (b) AT&T stopped it just after Mayer’s post was published. (Bonus: iOS 9 – coming next month – mandates HTTPS for pretty much all connections. So that’s a benefit.)
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Who are Twitter’s verified users? » Medium

Haje Jan Kamps:

The biggest proportion of Verified users are journalists and assorted media folks (news producers, anchors, TV meteorologists etc) representing almost a quarter of the verified accounts.

They’re followed by sports clubs and athletes with about 18% of the accounts, and actors & entertainers representing another 13%. Given how comprehensively musicians are represented in the top 10 lists, it was surprising to me that only about 12% of the verified accounts were musicians and music industry people.

Not that surprising, really. Also notable: verified journalists tend to have lower follower:following ratio (ie, they discuss, rather than broadcast). HMU!
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Start up: Tim Cook’s stock question, Samsung’s pen trouble, bending the iPhone 6S, and more


Yeah, Sanford Wallace probably preceded you here. Photo by epSos.de on Flickr.

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

Apple CEO Tim Cook got 280,000 Apple shares the day of the market rout » Fortune

Philip Elmer DeWitt:

By coincidence or design, Tim Cook was scheduled to receive a boatload of Apple stock the same day he stopped a market rout.

Apple disputes it, but the note Tim Cook sent CNBC’s Jim Cramer Monday, could, in theory, have personally saved him millions of dollars in unvested Apple shares.

Here’s the background.

In August 2011, when Tim Cook was tapped to replace the ailing Steve Jobs, Apple’s board of directors awarded him 1 million restricted stock units (RSUs), half to vest in five years, the rest in 10. At the time they were awarded, the shares were worth $323 million.

At Cook’s request, the terms by which those shares are distributed were changed two years later; the shares now vest on a yearly basis by a complicated formula that includes a performance incentive tied to the company’s performance.

It’s complicated. Cook had better have got that email read by a lawyer before he hit send (some time between 0500 and 0600 – by which time he’d have been up for a couple of hours already). Else things could get ugly. Credit to Daniel Tello who first brought this up.

Update: Tello says that “the latest info on [the] Cook stock reveals he actually picked the only day he could NOT benefit, instead makes a rebound worse for him.” Storm over, looks like. (Though there will doubtless be some more back and forth over revealing details about mid-quarter performance to a journalist who also holds some stock.)

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Facebook ‘Spam King’ guilty for sending 27 million messages » Bloomberg Business

Joel Rosenblatt:

A Las Vegas man pleaded guilty to sending more than 27 million unsolicited messages through Facebook Inc. servers after gaining access to about 500,000 accounts on the social network, according to prosecutors.

Sanford Wallace, 47, known as the “Spam King,” admitted to his mass spamming in 2008 and 2009 while pleading guilty Monday to fraud and criminal contempt, San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement.

Oh, but that’s not nearly enough context. Sanford Wallace has been a spammer for absolutely ages; he goes back to the neolithic age of the web. Read the Wikipedia entry. And reflect: once a spammer, always a spammer.
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Meet Wileyfox, an ‘edgy’ new mobile brand powered by Cyanogen » CNET

Rich Trenholm:

Among the new features offered by Cyanogen are security features that will appeal to consumers worried about their privacy. The unlock screen can scramble the numbers to make it harder for snoops to spy on your PIN. And if you’re alarmed by apps like Spotify that ask for access to unexpected parts of your phone, you can turn on and off individual app permissions. So for example, you can permit an app access to your camera but not your contacts, or require the app to ask each time it wants to use a different part of your phone. It also shows you the last time an app dipped into the further reaches of your phone, which is bound to be an eye-opening experience.

As a new brand, the company needs to carve attention from phone fans. “It’s an edgy brand,” says industry analyst Ben Wood of CCS Insight, “but it needs to be so it whips up a frenzy of social media interest. That’s the lifeblood for brands like this.”

Pretty standard phone (though it has dual SIM – unusual in western Europe). Cyanogen makes it more unusual: it’s not clear from the screenshots whether this is running Google Mobile Services (GMS) or not. Seems not, to my eye (but take a look for yourself).
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Nigerian network operators deactivate 10.7m SIM cards » Techpoint Nigeria

Yemi Johnson:

Dr. Tony Ojobo, Director of Public Affairs, NCC, speaking yesterday on Channels TV about the current SIM card deactivation being witnessed by network subscribers across the country said that about 10.7 million lines in the country have been barred from all GSM networks by the operators.

According to Ojobo, the commission had returned 18.6 million SIM cards data to MTN; 7.4 million to Airtel; 2.2 million to Globacom and 10.4 million to Etisalat for corrections back in September 2014, stressing that the returned SIM cards had one challenge or the other, including some that were pre-registered and others without the required biometric information. Yet, the Telcos failed to respond to the NCC’s warning to get those lines properly registered, even in ensuing meetings until now.

The call to deactivate unregistered lines however, came from the NCC, after its meeting with the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Department of State Security (DSS), the network operators. The parties present at the meeting had pointed attention to crimes committed in the country via unregistered telephone lines across various networks.

Odd: is this to do with Boko Haram, or something else?
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Aluminum and strength » All this

Dr Drang watches a video in which “Lew” tries to bend what seems to be the new iPhone 6S case, and then has it analysed by professionals:

While it’s obvious that zinc is the primary alloying element, which means the alloy is in the 7xxx series, the software didn’t find a good match in its database. Lew didn’t say anything about this in the video, but you can see it in the area I’ve circled at the top of the report.

I did a little looking around in my aluminum references, and I didn’t find a match, either. What’s weird is the tungsten (W) at 0.106%. I don’t have any aluminum specifications that call for tungsten, and in the 7xxx specs I’ve seen, “other” elements are limited to 0.05%.

In the video, Lew finesses this unknown by calling the new material “7000 series,” which is certainly true, but it’s not the whole truth. To me, the fact that the aluminum in the new shell doesn’t meet a standard specification is one of the most interesting findings. It suggests that Apple has developed its own proprietary aluminum alloy.

It wouldn’t be the first time Apple’s done this. The Apple Watch Sport uses a proprietary 7xxx alloy, which is mentioned on both the “Craftsmanship” page and in Jony Ive’s “Aluminium” video, which is where I got that splashy image.

The natural question is “Is this new iPhone aluminum alloy the same as the Apple Watch Sport alloy, or was it developed specifically for the iPhone?” Since I haven’t seen the chemistry of the Sport alloy, I have no idea what the answer is.

Is there any other company for which you’d get a lab involved for a leak of a shell of a phone? (That said, this stuff is so educational. Do read on for what he says about the difference heat treatment makes to aluminium strength.)
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Mobile ads: Media companies are losing the battle » Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

Is piggy-backing on Facebook’s platform the only way publishers can make mobile work? Perhaps. Entering into that kind of relationship also involves a significant transfer of power from the media outlet to the giant social network, something that has long-term risks. But for most publishers—and even for the New York Times—subscriptions aren’t generating enough revenue, and few people are paying for their apps.

For many companies that are watching the mobile chasm grow ever larger, in other words, there may be no other option. Their revenues are already so anemic that they can’t afford to build or buy anything that is going to move the needle. They can either play ball with Facebook and hope that will get them where they need to be, or they can stay on the sidelines and ultimately fade away.

The next year or two is going to be truly fascinating. Possibly ugly too.
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Reluctant licence fee payers don’t like life without the BBC after all » The Guardian

Roy Greenslade:

What would it be like to live without the BBC? How would people react to losing the chance to see the corporation’s TV channels, hear its radio programming or access its online output?

The BBC commissioned research to find out how people might cope (or not cope) without the broadcaster. So 70 families in 15 locations across the UK agreed to the blocking of all BBC services for nine days. Of those, 48 had previously said they were either in favour of not paying the £145.50 [US$227] annual licence fee (and doing without the BBC) or paying only a reduced fee.

According to the study, carried out on the BBC’s behalf by research agency MTM, by the end of the period of deprivation two thirds had changed their minds.

Those nine days “saved” them £3.60 (US$5.63). The BBC is a bloody bargain – especially after you get exposed to the repeatedly fresh hell that is US TV, which has the attention span of a gnat. (There are no ad breaks on the BBC.) As with mobile phones and medical bills, the US doesn’t know how badly off it is when it comes to TV in comparison to the UK.
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I Don’t Own, I Uber » Medium

Megan Quinn:

the move [from San Francisco to London, UK] meant [the car] had to go, and so it was sold for next-to-nothing to a really nice dad with two kids.

While I may have been sad to see my car go, I wasn’t concerned about being car-less because — when not on strike — public transportation is pretty good in Europe, and Uber is nearly ubiquitous in major cities. I knew Uber was more expensive in London, but everything was more expensive in London and I had factored that into my decision to move in the first place.

What I didn’t expect was that depending on Uber (UberX specifically) would actually be cheaper than owning and driving a car. Much cheaper. Yes, the company says this, but I didn’t think it was realistic yet.

Well, it is. At least for me.

About half the price, even allowing for the fact that petrol costs virtually nothing in the US compared to the UK. And that’s before amortisation of the car’s value. Mark this: it’s significant.
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Probable Note 5 design flaw can cause S Pen to break pen detection when inserted backward, or get hopelessly stuck » Android Police

David Ruddock:

On the Note 5, inserting the S Pen the wrong way provides exactly as much resistance as inserting it the right way. Which is to say: basically none at all. Once you insert the pen far enough in the wrong direction (again, which causes no strange resistance or feel than putting it in the right way), it will get stuck. It doesn’t even have to “click” in. At this point, of course, you will panic. And you will try to get it out – and most likely, you’ll succeed. The problem is that if you do succeed, there’s a very real possibility you’ll break whatever mechanism the device uses to detect whether the pen is attached or detached from the phone. Which is exactly what happened to our review unit.

Yes, seriously. Watch the video.

We’re really not sure how this made it past testing at Samsung – it seems like such an obvious thing to design into the S Pen slot, especially when Samsung has full reason to know that inserting the pen the wrong way can damage the direction-sensitive detection mechanism in the slot.

Android Police was the site that discovered this flaw (not “probable flaw” – it is, no question; and Ruddock does call it that in the comments.) It’s really quite a doozy. (“Antennagate” was easily solved with a bumper, and “Bendgate” seems to have been more about care of larger phones than anything.) Samsung’s response, reported by The Verge: “We highly recommend our Galaxy Note5 users follow the instructions in the user guide to ensure they do not experience such an unexpected scenario caused by reinserting the S pen in the other way around.” Recommendations don’t come much higher.
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A week without the Apple Watch » waitingtoDOWNLOAD

Lee Peterson survived:

I’ve missed notifications, workout tracking and the ability to control what’s playing on my iPhone the most – I miss the connivence of it.  Could I do without it, well yes and no – I mean yes I can live without it but now it’s opened up a whole new world I don’t think I could go without it.  It’s kept me in the moment more, stopped me from checking social media so much and for the first time I’m able to see how active (or inactive) I am allowing me to do something about it.

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Start up: smartphone jobs bloodbath, Apple v watch sales, Android’s messy sharing, and more


Content blockers for iOS are having their first tests: how do they do? Photo by WSDOT on Flikr.

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

JFK displays actual wait times using sensors that monitor mobile phones » Blip Systems : Blip Systems


Passengers moving through JFK Airport’s Terminal 4 are now presented with estimated processing times on 13 new screens. The large and prominent screens are placed at TSA Security and Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, as well as the indoor taxi queue.

“It continuously updates,” says Daryl Jameson, vice president at the company JFKIAT, which runs Terminal 4. People like to know how long they are going to wait in queues. Nobody likes to wait in lines and signage helps to manage expectations.”

The wait times are driven by sensors that monitor passenger’s mobile devices as they move through the airport. The BlipTrack solution, invented by Denmark-based BLIP Systems, and installed by Lockheed Martin, detects Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices in “discoverable” mode, found in mobile phones and tablets. When a device passes the sensors, its non-personal unique ID—called a MAC address—is recorded, encrypted and time-stamped. By re-identifying the device from multiple sensors, the travel times, dwell times and movement patterns become available.

Neat idea, though when you’re waiting in an inescapable queue, you don’t actually want to know your wait time; you want a distraction. This is why lift designers put mirrors and TVs showing news in lobbies where people wait for lifts: so you can do something else while you wait. Doesn’t speed up the lift; does reduce the subjective queuing time.
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Ashley Madison search sites like Trustify are harvesting email addresses and spamming searched victims » Troy Hunt


I had this forwarded to me earlier today and frankly, I couldn’t believe it. I mean I knew Trustify were making email addresses publicly searchable and somehow not falling foul of DMCA takedowns whilst others doing the same thing were (possibly because Trustify has more lawyers than employees), but I had no idea they’d actually harvest addresses and then send unsolicited emails, so I Googled a bit and found a very unsympathetic Reddit thread on it. There’s a series of responses from thejournalizer (reportedly the content marketing director at Trustify) which provide such enlightening insights as:

The email OP received was actually established to help you and warn you that someone is seeking out details about you.

Ah, it’s there to help you! So after you search on the site and it says “You’ve been compromised” and provides a handy form to sign up to their commercial services, an email is also sent to you because, well, it might not be you.

Isn’t capitalism great, especially where data breaches are concerned.
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Smartphone giants have lost 15,000 jobs to cheap Android phones this year » Quartz

Josh Horwitz:

The world’s smartphone manufacturing giants are losing their luster, leading to a steady stream of job cuts inside previously prestigious mobile units.

The most recent high-profile cuts occurred last week, when HTC and Lenovo each reported less than stellar earnings reports. HTC, after reporting a loss that exceeded analyst estimates five-fold (and caused its market valuation to fall below its cash assets), told investors it would cut fifteen percent of its workforce, amounting to over 2,000 jobs.

Lenovo, meanwhile, announced that it would reduce its workforce by 3,200 people, and cut its non-manufacturing headcount by 10%. The company didn’t specify which specific jobs were at risk, but it pointed to flagging global PC sales, along with the need to streamline its mobile phone unit, as its key goals for the coming year. The company’s net profits were down 51% year-on-year, and its Motorola handset division saw shipments plummet 31% to 5.9 million units.

You can argue about whether Microsoft, the source of half those 15,000 job losses, counts as a “smartphone giant” – shifted more units than Motorola, Sony or HTC – but when Lenovo (now owning Motorola) is cutting, that’s something.
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Apple helps push US watch sales to biggest drop in seven years » Bloomberg Business

Thomas Mulier:

US watch sales fell the most in seven years in June, one of the first signs Apple’s watch is eroding demand for traditional timepieces.

Retailers sold $375m of watches during the month, 11 percent less than in June 2014, according to data from NPD Group. The 14% decline in unit sales was the largest since 2008, according to Fred Levin, head of the market researcher’s luxury division.

“The Apple Watch is going to gain a significant amount of penetration,” he said Thursday in a phone interview. “The first couple of years will be difficult for watches in fashion categories.”
The market for watches that cost less than $1,000 is most at risk, as consumers in that price range have indicated they’re the most likely to buy an Apple Watch, Levin said.

Well, it’s a data point.
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Crystal benchmarks » Murphy Apps

Dean Murphy is developing a Safari content blocker called Crystal for iOS 9:

For this experiment, I have picked 10 pages from different news websites – Some I use regularly, some I don’t. The metrics I’m monitoring is page size (in MB) and load time (in Seconds). 10 pages is far from a good sample size for the web, I know, but the web is a big place, and my time to benchmark is limited. 

Websites tested: New York Times, Business Insider, Macworld, Wired, The Verge, PC Gamer, iMore, Kotaku, Huffington Post, Vice.

Method: All sites tested on an iPhone 6+, connected to wifi (154Mb Fiber). All metrics are taken from Safari Web Inspector after doing an Ignored Cache Reload (CMD+Shift+R).

Results

On average, pages loaded 74% faster with Crystal and used 53% less bandwidth. Just by having Crystal installed, I saved a total of 70 seconds and 35MB of data on these 10 pages.

These are dramatic differences. (Click through for the graphs.) I’m beta testing Crystal myself; it makes the mobile web very attractive, all of a sudden. Though perhaps sites don’t feel the same way.
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Staff exodus plus pressure from Microsoft and Apple hits Google Now » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

[Sundar] Pichai [who now heads Google] is known as an executive who seeks consensus rather than conflict. A former Googler who worked on Now recalled Pichai’s response to their protests [when Google Now was shifted from the Android division to the search division – seen as the “boring” area, and not the right fit for a mobile OS framework]: “‘Look, I’ve got a lot on my plate. Chrome and Android are my top priorities. Google Now is not on that. I can’t fight that battle for you.’”

Now has its own battles in store. It has a solid user base, more than a hundred million monthly ones, according to multiple sources. (Google declined to comment on these numbers.) Yet it’s unclear how active those users are, and only a slim slice of them are on the iOS app.

Apple, for its part, looks prepared to launch a competitor to Now on Tap. With its proactive assistant and spotlight search, the Apple entry could elbow Google out. Several people said it was unusual for Google to pre-announce a feature like Now on Tap before it is ready. That hurriedness may have been to pre-empt Apple’s announcement the following month.

And now Bing, which powers search on Apple devices, has its own Now on Tap foil.

iOS 9, with Proactive, will make Google Now largely pointless for the vast majority of iOS users; Google Now will be fine for Android users. Microsoft might pick up a few diehards, but it’s hard to see it really making an impact.

Google, meanwhile, is discovering internal politics in a big way. And that’s before Alphabet.
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Sharing on Android is Broken » Terence Eden’s Blog


I’ve been using Android – Google’s mobile OS – it since before it was launched. I now love and loathe it in equal measure.

Consider the simple act of sharing a piece of content. A fairly common activity which the OS should be able to handle in a standard manner. Yet Google’s own apps each have a radically different way of completing this basic task.

Let’s take a look at the latest versions of Play, Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Google+, and Docs – all running on Lollipop.

• Google Play, has the normal Share Icon.
• Google Maps hides the option in a menu.
• YouTube has two share buttons, neither of which look like the one in Play.
• Chrome hides the option in a dropdown (weird how it floats over the menu button, unlike Maps).
• Google+ takes us back to the regular share icon (with no text label).
• Google Docs uses a floating bottom menu (what?!) with a yet another icon and a “Send file” text label.

Things get even worse once you open the Share menu, though. Eden makes a good point: there’s clearly no single person in charge of this UX element for Android, even for Google’s own apps, despite the fact that they’re on every single Android phone sold outside China.
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Samsung smart fridge leaves Gmail logins open to attack » The Register

John Leyden:

Pen Test Partners discovered the MiTM (man-in-the-middle) vulnerability that facilitated the exploit during an IoT hacking challenge run by Samsung at the recent DEF CON hacking conference.

The hack was pulled off against the RF28HMELBSR smart fridge, part of Samsung’s line-up of Smart Home appliances which can be controlled via their Smart Home app. While the fridge implements SSL, it fails to validate SSL certificates, thereby enabling man-in-the-middle attacks against most connections.

The internet-connected device is designed to download Gmail Calendar information to an on-screen display. Security shortcomings mean that hackers who manage to jump on to the same network can potentially steal Google login credentials from their neighbours.

Yeah, it’s that “jump on the same network” thing which is the sticking point. I’d wager that most home networks are secured nowadays.
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EU deepens antitrust investigation into Google’s practices » WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

In one of the questionnaires [sent out to website operators] inquiring about “exclusivity obligations”—whether Google prevents or obstructs website operators from placing ads on their websites that compete with Google’s advertising business—the commission asks companies to update responses they made about the issue in 2010 and to provide a copy of all their advertising agreements with Google over the last four years.

A separate questionnaire, investigating the allegations that Google copies or “scrapes” content from rival sites, asks companies to provide more information about whether Google takes content, such as images, from the companies and uses it in its own online services.

The images question – raised by Getty – is about Google Images effectively bypassing visits to sites, and making copies of images. The latter is potentially a bigger problem than most other topics; “fair dealing” (the UK version of the US’s “fair use”) is hard to argue when you’re copying and storing entire image libraries.
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BT may have to hive off Openreach to improve the UK’s broadband services » Telegraph

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who lives in a rural constituency:

The government’s roll-out of broadband has been far too slow.

The Government has cannibalised the BBC licence fee to fund otherwise not commercially viable superfast connections to the tune of more than £1bn. Yet they have already missed their initial deadline of May 2015 and shifted it back by two and a half years to December 2017.

Even the 2017 deadline is only a hope, as senior BT executives and almost half of councils have warned it could end up being 2018 before the roll-out to 95% of the country is finished. But there is also another problem. The Government designed the tender process for the superfast roll-out in such a way that it was virtually impossible for anyone other than BT to win. The end result was that BT Openreach won 44 out of 44 contracts and its monopoly was reinforced.

Although BT Openreach, which owns the existing copper network and delivers the rollout, is nominally at arm’s length from BT, it is right that Ofcom is now considering whether this provides an unfair advantage to BT and whether it should be split off in the interests of transparency and fair competition.

No question; it should. BT Openreach had an operating profit margin of around 50% in the most recent quarter – while the rest of BT languished. BT OR is being milked, and we’re the cows.
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Start up: Second Life higher ed, killing more comments, Spotify’s hari-kiri, and more


BT could have had fibre everywhere already – if not for Maggie. Photo by Craig A Rodway.

Welcome back! It’s been three weeks, you’ve been wonderfully patient, news-y things have come and gone (AGoogleZ, Galaxy Note 5) and we’re probably a couple of weeks away from new iPhones, new iOS software and a new Apple TV. So here’s a big Monday morning chunk o’fun for you.

A selection of 14 links for you. Don’t overdose. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Second Life college campuses: A tour of abandoned worlds » Fusion

Patrick Hogan:

Colleges were among those that bought the hype of the Linden Lab-developed virtual world. Many universities set up their own private islands to engage students; some even held classes within Second Life.

Most of these virtual universities are gone –– it costs almost $300 per month to host your own island –– but it turns out a handful remain as ghost towns. I decided to travel through several of the campuses, to see what’s happening in Second Life college-world in 2015

First, I didn’t see a a single other user during my tour. They are all truly abandoned.

Second, the college islands are bizarre. They mostly are laid out in a way to evoke stereotypes of how college campuses should look, but mixed in is a streak of absurd choices, like classrooms in tree houses and pirate ships. These decisions might have seemed whimsical at the time, but with the dated graphics, they just look weird.

And weird is the overall theme of this trip, which begins in Arkansas.

So, so weird. And such a great idea to investigate.
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Why we’re killing our comments section » Daily Dot

Austin Powell and Nicholas White:

In the wake of Gamergate, Celebgate, and the Reddit Meltdown of 2015, both publishers and social networks are grappling with the same fundamental issue: how to foster engagement and dialogue without inadvertently feeding the trolls in the process. The general consensus is that we need to detoxify the Web—to make it a cleaner, nicer, safer, and more inclusive place to live and work. Of course, at the Daily Dot, we would like to see a more civil, compassionate Web, but we want to be careful that in the name of fostering civility, we do not inadvertently kill all dissention. It is the cacophony of the Web—the voices from every point in the spectrum that give it its vibrancy—that make it the community we love. No one has quite figured out how to thread that needle yet, even those who have invested significantly in their own internal systems.

Yeah, it’s because the people who have worthwhile comments get drowned out by the idiots who don’t, who have a lot more time to spare. As I previously explained. The number of sites that have turned off comments (to a greater or lesser extent) is only growing.
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Some thoughts on the Project Ara delay » PHONEBLOKS.COM

Dave Hakkens:

When I shared Phonebloks it was just an idea, something I thought would make sense to reduce e-waste. It was a future vision, something that would hopefully be made in 5-10 years.

Some companies are trying to make a modular phone. Of all those companies Google is taking the biggest leap. They have an insane amount of resources/smart guys and set a 2 year timeframe for themselves to get it done. Seemed unrealistic and turns out it is. They are delayed for over a year!

However this is not bad. Sure the sooner it would be in our hands the better since we could save e-waste.

There will never be a useful phone using phonebloks. The premise might work for some lab/testing/environmental equipment, but the price and size will make it pointless when you can get a pocket supercomputer with phone functions for $50.

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Is this really the beginning of the end for web ads? – The Guardian » Android & iPhones Information

I got a ping back to my blog because this piece has (somewhere) a link to my piece about adblocking. Read for a while and see if anything strikes you:

Mail Online is among the world’s many popular news websites and it’s free: no paywall. Yet my browser has actually a plug-in routine called Ghostery, which will certainly scan any sort of web page you visit and tell you exactly how several “third-celebration trackers” it has actually located on it. These are small pieces of code that advertisers and ad-brokers put on pages or in cookies in order to monitor just what you’re executing on the web and where you’ve been prior to hitting the most up to date page.

“Third-celebration trackers”? Oh, third-party trackers. It’s the Guardian’s article (from Sunday) but with a thesaurus applied. What’s puzzling about the page is that there are no ads – so I don’t see how it’s monetising. It’s crap, through and through, and it would be great to wipe this sort of third-pa.. third-celebration crap off the web. Not sure how you’d do it, though.
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How Thatcher killed the UK’s superfast broadband before it even existed » TechRadar

Jay McGregor, who was told by BT’s former R+D chief Peter Cochrane:

“In 1986, I managed to get fibre to the home cheaper than copper and we started a programme where we built factories for manufacturing the system. By 1990, we had two factories, one in Ipswich and one in Birmingham, where were manufacturing components for systems to roll out to the local loop”.

At that time, the UK, Japan and the United States were leading the way in fibre optic technology and roll-out. Indeed, the first wide area fibre optic network was set up in Hastings, UK. But, in 1990, then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided that BT’s rapid and extensive rollout of fibre optic broadband was anti-competitive and held a monopoly on a technology and service that no other telecom company could do.

“Unfortunately, the Thatcher government decided that it wanted the American cable companies providing the same service to increase competition. So the decision was made to close down the local loop roll out and in 1991 that roll out was stopped. The two factories that BT had built to build fibre related components were sold to Fujitsu and HP, the assets were stripped and the expertise was shipped out to South East Asia.

“Our colleagues in Korea and Japan, who were working with quite closely at the time, stood back and looked at what happened to us in amazement. What was pivotal was that they carried on with their respective fibre rollouts. And, well, the rest is history as they say.

I’d have to say that Thatcher’s instinct made sense, given the way BT was privatised: it could have demanded monopoly rents on the infrastructure. However, if BT Openreach (as is now) had been spun off and ISPs then competed, you’d have a working model.
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San Antonio city employee with email address linked to Ashley Madison committed suicide » San Antonio Current

Albert Salazar:

Reports surfaced yesterday of three City of San Antonio employee email accounts that were exposed in this week’s Ashley Madison account leak. One of those email accounts belongs to an employee who committed suicide on Thursday. 

It’s unclear at this time if the Ashley Madison hack had anything to do with the employee’s death, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Two @sanantonio.gov accounts exposed this week belonged to a detective and captain with the San Antonio Police Department. The third belonged to a former city employee. None have been publicly identified, and the City did not confirm whether the employees were informed that their email addresses were leaked in the hack.

(I linked to this report because it’s more clearly written.) There were 99,170 accounts located to San Antonio, which has a population of about 1.4m. Perhaps there are lots of unhappy marriages there; and perhaps unhappy people. The link between the hack and the death isn’t definite. But both the hacker(s) and Ashley Madison might be wondering who’s liable if there is a link.
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Spotify’s chief executive apologises after user backlash over new privacy policy » The Guardian

Alex Hern and Jennifer Rankin:

The chief executive of music service Spotify has apologised to users after anger over sweeping changes to its privacy policy that give the company much greater access to personal data on users’ phones.

As well as collecting personal information, such as email addresses and birthdays, Spotify will be able to sift though users’ contacts, collect their photos and in some cases, even check their location and determine how quickly they are moving. Depending on the device being used, Spotify said it may be able to collect sensor data, such as “data about the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit”.

Some information would also be shared with advertisers, although Spotify did not spell out exactly what data it would pass on.

“Hey, Apple has a big rival service coming out which might challenge us. They’re really hot on privacy. How can we really screw this up?” In addition, the exchange between Daniel Ek of Spotify and Markus Persson (ex-Minecraft) is epic in its directness.

Short version: Spotify completely screwed up its messaging and is likely to pay a price.
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Google Groups and the Right to be forgotten | Removing Usenet search results » Agent Privateur

An anonymous European:

European citizens, have, since May 2014, had “the right to be forgotten.” This means that they can request that Google remove search results from searches for their name or a name by which they are known, if the results are “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant for the purposes for which they were processed.” In this blog post, I will explain why Google is handling the delinking requests they receive in an irresponsible manner, arguably leading to censorship of pages that shouldn’t be removed as well as a lack of proper treatment and rights for those who do have a valid claim…

The postings Google agreed to delink contain controversial, personally revealing and embarrassing things I posted in the mid-90s in Usenet newsgroups. I was still formally a child at the time. And I had no idea that it would be shoved in everyone’s face everywhere 20 years later. People hardly knew what a search engine would be capable of in the future. I had been to an Internet Trade Fair in California around that time, and was introduced by Altavista to a new concept: a “web spider” that could crawl the web and index information. The idea was, in fact, new to most of the people at that trade fair. Yes, really, it was.

Now read on (though the next case isn’t, as far as I know, the same.)
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Google ordered to remove links to stories about Google removing links to stories » Ars Technica UK

Glyn Moody:

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Google to remove links from its search results that point to news stories reporting on earlier removals of links from its search results. The nine further results that must be removed point to Web pages with details about the links relating to a criminal offence that were removed by Google following a request from the individual concerned. The Web pages involved in the latest ICO order repeated details of the original criminal offence, which were then included in the results displayed when searching for the complainant’s name on Google.

Understandably, Google is not very happy about this escalation of the EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten”—strictly speaking, a right to have certain kinds of information removed from search engine results. According to the ICO press release on the new order, Google has refused to remove the later links from its search results: “It argued these links were to articles that concerned one of its decisions to delist a search result and that the articles were an essential part of a recent news story relating to a matter of significant public importance.”

People are throwing around the words “censorship” about this, happily ignoring the fact that the information is still there on the web – and also that 95% of people who ask for information to be delinked are just trying to protect personal information, as above.
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iSight camera replacement program for iPhone 6 Plus » Apple Support


Apple has determined that, in a small percentage of iPhone 6 Plus devices, the iSight camera has a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry. The affected units fall into a limited serial number range and were sold primarily between September 2014 and January 2015.

If your iPhone 6 Plus is producing blurry photos and falls into the eligible serial number range, Apple will replace your device’s iSight camera, free of charge.

The iSight camera is located on the back of your iPhone 6 Plus.

Odd, since the iSight cameras used to be the ones that looked at you, not away from you. The page has a serial number checker.

Given the date range, that would be about, what, many millions of potentially affected lenses? So why has it taken so long to surface? Perhaps it really is a small percentage. Note how Apple hasn’t given any of the serial ranges, which it has for other product problems.
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All-in-one PC demand from China Internet cafes rising » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

Despite the PC market’s weak performance, all-in-one (AIO) PCs have become popular in China’s Internet cafe market after the China government relaxed the restrictions on Internet cafes.

Now regular cafes, restaurants and karaoke houses are all eligible to apply for Internet cafe permits, and orders have started to surge for all-in-one PCs that are thin and light in form factors.

China’s all-in-one PC market is able to achieve shipments of about 13-14 million a year with Lenovo, Apple and Hewlett-Packard (HP) together contributing 70% of the volume, while Dell, Acer, Micro-Star International (MSI), Asustek Computer and others have also been aggressively trying to expand their presence in the market.

In the past, China’s Internet cafes used to procure their PCs via PC DIY channels, but they have now turned to all-in-one PCs that take up less space.

Bad for motherboard makers, good for PC makers.
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Botched Google Stagefright fix won’t be resolved until September » The Register

John Leyden:

Google released a six-pack update to resolve the Stagefright vulnerability last week, but it quickly emerged that one of the components was incomplete, so that even patched devices were still at risk.

These shortcomings have put back the whole security remediation process by weeks.

Tod Beardsley, security engineering manager at Rapid7 – the firm behind the Metasploit pen-testing tool – commented: “The problem Google is facing is not so much shipping security vulnerabilities in popular software products: everyone ships bugs, it happens. The real problem we’re seeing today is a breakdown in the Android patch pipeline.”

There was a patch pipeline?
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SSL malvertising campaign continues » Malwarebytes Unpacked

Jerome Segura:

The actors behind the recent Yahoo! malvertising attack are still very much active and able to infect people who browse popular websites.

We have been tracking this campaign and noticed that is has recently moved to a new ad network used by many top publishers.

drudgereport.com 61.8M visits per month
wunderground.com 49.9M visits per month
findagrave.com 6M visits per month
webmaila.juno.com 3.6M visits per month
my.netzero.net 3.2M visits per month
sltrib.com 1.8M visits per month

OK, so this really is a reason to use an adblocker: this stuff is nasty, and hitting millions of people. This isn’t like a rogue app on an app store; it’s as if a basic app on a phone were rogue.

I’m presently testing Crystal, a content blocker for Safari on iOS by Dean Murphy. Some sites really look a lot different. (Via IvanIvanovich.)
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Japan’s Sharp to exit Americas TV market after deep first quarter loss » Reuters


The company, which sought a bank-led bailout in May, said it would sell its TV manufacturing plant in Mexico and license its Aquos brand in the Americas to China’s Hisense, effectively withdrawing from the region’s TV market.

“Sharp has not been able to fully adapt to the intensifying market competition, which led to significantly lower profits compared to the initial projections for the previous fiscal year, and has been suffering from poor earnings performance,” Sharp said in a statement explaining the TV deal.

Osaka-based Sharp, which gains much of its revenue from liquid crystal displays and TV sets, has focused on high-end screens to protect profit margins and avoid directly competing with cheaper Chinese and South Korean rivals.

But it has struggled to innovate sufficiently to keep commanding significant premiums. In addition to Chinese competitors, it has also faced strong competition from Japan Display Inc in smartphone screens.

Second-quarter operating loss of 28.8bn ($233m), yet thinks it’s going to generate 80bn yen ($644m) of operating profit for the year. Not so sure about that.
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