Start up: Facebook’s dwindling teens, Safe Harbour or balkanisation?, the privacy tsunami, and more


No, really, no difference. Move along there and find another story. Photo by Bob Jouy on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Soluble in alcohol. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook is big, but big networks can fall » Bloomberg View

Megan McArdle:

Looking at the most recent Pew study on Internet usage among young people,  I see that 71% of teens use Facebook, with the median user having slightly less than 150 friends; 41% of them report that they use Facebook most often. But when I look at a similar Pew study from 2013, it looks to me as if 76 percent of teens were using Facebook, with a median number of 300 friends, and 81% of social media users reported that they used Facebook most often. If I were Facebook, those numbers would keep me awake at night – not because Facebook can’t survive with only 70% of the market, but because a network that is getting smaller and less valuable to its users is a network that is very vulnerable to disruption.

What’s actually astonishing is just how evanescent such strategic advantages have proven. Fifteen years ago, people worried that Microsoft’s network-effect advantages made it unstoppable; now it’s an also-ran in everything new-market except gaming consoles. The rotting corpses of old social media sites litter the landscape. And of course, finding a place to send Aunt Maisie that birthday telegram is getting darned hard.

She also makes a point about network effects: the thing about “all your photos are in Facebook” isn’t a network effect, but a switching cost – a quite different thing.
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Apple says battery performance of new iPhone’s A9 chips vary only 2-3% » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple said that its own testing and data gathered from its customers after a few weeks with the device show that the actual battery life of both devices varies just 2-3%. That’s far, far too low to be noticeable in real-world usage.

With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple’s highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model.

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.

Though there have been a bunch of articles and videos about how much power one chip or the other uses, the tests have largely been what Apple calls ‘manufactured’. Basically, they are unrealistic machine-driven tests that do not and can not reflect real-world usage.

So this year’s iPhonegate lasted slightly less than 24 hours. Apple is even managing to balance supply and demand here too.
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EU Safe Harbour ruling a ‘nightmare’: Wikipedia founder » CNBC

Arjun Kharpal:

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said the regulatory issues that could come with this might be a problem for some businesses.

“You want your data to be secure, you don’t really care or you shouldn’t have to care where it sits,” Wales told CNBC in an interview at IP EXPO Europe in London.

“If I’m in Europe I hope they are near me on a server in Europe, but other than that I want them to provide the best technical experience for me. And if they suddenly have all those requirements and have to keep certain pictures in certain places, it just sounds like a nightmare, so I like the idea of uniformity in the law so that we can all not worry about it.”

Wales added in a separate session with reporters that the ECJ ruling could lead to a “balkanized era where data has to be secure very specifically across many many different jurisdictions”.

Great point. So does this mean he’ll be lobbying the US to implement strong data protection rules that match those of Europe? I do hope so. I mean, that’s the best way to protect everyone’s interests, isn’t it, Mr Wales?
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Why is it so hard to convince people to care about privacy? » The Guardian

Cory Doctorow:

The only way to be sure you don’t leak data is to not collect or retain it, and Big Data’s hype and the cheapness of hard drives has turned every pipsqueak tech company into a Big Data packrat with a mountain of potentially toxic personal info on millions of people, all protected by a password that’s simple enough for a CEO to remember it.

Every week or two, from now on, will see new privacy disasters, each worse than the last. Every week or two, from now on, will see millions of people who suddenly wish there was more they could do to protect their privacy.

For privacy advocates in 2015, the job is clear: have a plan in your drawer. A plan: how to safeguard your privacy, how to understand your privacy, how to understand the breach. A plan that explains that your lack of security isn’t a fact of nature, it’s the result of conscious decisions made by people who were either hostile or indifferent to your wellbeing, who saved or made money through those decisions. A plan that shows you what you can do to keep you and yours safe – and whose head your should be demanding on a pike.

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Get AMP’d: Here’s what publishers need to know about Google’s new plan to speed up your website » Nieman Lab

Joshua Benton:

What’s it all mean for publishers?

As I said, AMP [Accelerated Mobile Pages] is full of terrific ideas. It really does speed up load times.

But that success comes with tradeoffs. For most publishers, you’re being asked to set up two parallel versions of your stories. (Unless you really think you won’t need to ever do anything outside what AMP allows on any page, which is unrealistic for most.) That takes significant time and resources. You’re being asked to set aside most or all of the ad tech and analytics that you use. You’re trading in open web standards for something built by Google engineers who, despite what I don’t doubt are the best of intentions, have incentives that don’t line up perfectly with yours. And you’re becoming an disempowered actor in a larger Silicon Valley battle over ad tech. (Google advocating something that blocks enormous slices of contemporary ad tech can’t be viewed in isolation from the fact Google is the dominant force in online advertising, and as interested as any company is in extending its power.)

And it’s yet another case of a technology company coming along to promise a better experience for users that takes one more bit of power away from publishers.

The fact that publishers’ interests aren’t exactly aligned with Google’s shouldn’t be overlooked. And Google’s interests aren’t aligned with third-party ad networks at all, except that they all want to serve up ads. (Meanwhile, iOS 9 content blockers still block ads on the AMP demo.)
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This is why Android Pay is asking you for a ‘Google Payments PIN’ when making purchases » Android Central

Andrew Martonik:

when you have a card from one of these supported banks (check the latest list from Google here) in Android Pay, it’s amazingly seamless to make payments. Just unlock your phone, tap the terminal and you just paid.

Confusingly, though, Android Pay actually lets you add unsupported cards to the app as well.

This is a hold over from the old days of Google Wallet, which had an entirely different system that worked without the cooperation of the banks. With Google Wallet, every time you made a transaction it actually made that purchase with a virtual prepaid debit card from “Bancorp Bank” and then that same amount was subsequently charged to your own bank. It was clunky, less secure and downright confusing to everyone involved — and the most annoying user-facing part of this system is the need for an extra PIN code to make a payment.

As Google Wallet hands the reigns over to Android Pay in this transition of mobile payments, this legacy system of using an unsupported card is actually still baked into Android Pay — though Google isn’t exactly promoting it as such. This is partially due to the fact that you can bring previously-used debit and credit cards from Google Wallet into Android Pay, and partially because Android Pay just doesn’t support that many banks yet — just 10 at the time of writing.

My first reaction was that this is a poor user experience; why make people who are new to Android Pay have to use a PIN? Then I realised that most Americans aren’t used to PINs for purchasing, and are just adjusting to chip-and-sign. So this might be faster. (The fact that you might have two cards, and one will require a PIN and one won’t, seems like bad design though.)
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Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys found guilty of three counts of hacking » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

In 2010, Keys posted login credentials to the [his then former employer] Tribune Company content management system (CMS) to a chatroom run by Anonymous, resulting in the defacement of an LA Times article online. The defacement was reversed in 40 minutes, but the government argued the attack caused nearly a million dollars in damage…

…”This is not the crime of the century,” Segal said, adding that nonetheless Keys should not get away with his acts. At minimum, he may receive probation. Sentencing is scheduled for January 20, 2016.

Keys said he was disappointed with the verdict, and worried about the sentence affecting his ability to work. However, he also expressed his intention to appeal the conviction, and was optimistic it would be overturned.

Keys added that a few months after his first story about Anonymous, he was approached by the FBI, but Keys refused to allow them to scan his computer. He was indicted a couple of years later.

In order to be convicted under the CFAA, the damage had to exceed $5,000. The government claimed that Keys caused $929,977.00 worth of damage. During the trial, the defense tried to cast doubt on the total damages, claiming that the expenditures in response to the hack were not reasonable, and Tribune employees had grossly inflated the hours spent on incident response.

Lesson 1: change passwords ex-employees had access to. Lesson 2: don’t post passwords of companies that you used to work for on Anonymous chatboards.
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Will digital books ever replace print? » Aeon

Craig Mod used to read only ebooks (on Kindle) but now finds he has fallen out of love with it in favour of the physical form again:

Take for example the multistep process of opening a well-made physical edition. The Conference of the Birds (2009), designed by Farah Behbehani and published by Thames and Hudson, is a masterclass in welcoming the reader into the text.

The object – a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth – requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.

Contrast this with opening a Kindle book – there is no procession, and often no cover. You are sometimes thrown into the first chapter, sometimes into the middle of the front matter. Wherein every step of opening The Conference of the Birds fills one with delight – delight at what one is seeing and what one anticipates to come – opening a Kindle book frustrates. Often, you have to swipe or tap back a dozen pages to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Because the Kindle ecosystem makes buying books one-click effortless, it can be easy to forget about your purchases. Unfortunately, Kindle’s interface makes it difficult to keep tabs on those expanding digital libraries: at best, we can see a dozen titles at a time, all as inscrutably small book covers. Titles that fall off the first-page listing on a Kindle cease to exist. Compare that with standing in front of a physical bookshelf: the eye takes in hundreds of spines or covers at once, all equally at arm’s length. I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library – for inspiration or reference – than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.

The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions.

The comparison of a bookshelf to the limited real estate on a screen is so important in many contexts: when we got into a supermarket or bookshop we can scan hundreds of items at once. How many on a screen when you don’t know what you’re searching for?
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Sony buys Belgian image sensor technology firm » Reuters

Ritsuko Ando:

Japan’s Sony Corp said it bought Belgian image sensor technology company Softkinetic Systems for an undisclosed sum, stepping up investment in an area that has become one of its strongest amid weak sales of its TVs and smartphones.

Softkinetic specializes in a type of technology that helps measure “time of flight”, or the time it takes for light to reflect off an object and return to an image sensor, Sony said.

Put like that, it sounds like “you’re measuring light round trips? Those are nanoseconds, right?”. Judging from the site, though, it’s more about location in 3D and general position sensing and mapping in domestic environments. So does this mean we’ll go to 3D photos next?
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One thought on “Start up: Facebook’s dwindling teens, Safe Harbour or balkanisation?, the privacy tsunami, and more

  1. Regarding iPhone 6S battery life, Apple say: “Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.”

    I am not sure that this warrents the conclusion that “this year’s iPhonegate lasted slightly less than 24 hours.”

    It might not be as much of a real world issue as some tests have made out, but to me Apple’s comment reads very close to ‘you’re testing it wrong’ – dismissing any negative comments or reviews and suggest they know best. I am not saying that components sourced from different suppliers that perform slightly differently is anything more than a First World Problem for people who have just spent £650 on a new phone, but the response does have an air of familiarity about it.

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