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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4 thoughts on “Start up: Second Life higher ed, killing more comments, Spotify’s hari-kiri, and more

  1. Good to see the links back Charles.

    The turning off of comments on daily dot isn’t surprising but it’s sad to see them say they will likely go for greater Facebook integration for some degree of interactivity with readers.

    Most of the smart people I know aren’t on Facebook so they’ll be excluding a subset of their readers who are sensible and care about their privacy.

    In a way it’s really just saying that moderation of comments is difficult so why not offload the task to another company.

    • But it has to be applied to every name, whether or not you’ve requested it, or else you could use a process of elimination to decide who had and hadn’t sought removal.

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