Start up: inside a content factory, US reacts to Safe Harbour sinking, why Surface?, Android lemons and more


In China, such literalism might really happen. Photo by GotCredit on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Fee fi fo fum. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Chicago End-Times » The Awl

Sam Stecklow on the “content factory” at the Chicago Sun-Times, churning out meaningless content because ads:

Network staffers were concerned with the quality of work they were being asked to do, too. Marty Arneberg, a former intern, told me, “When I was applying to jobs, I would send very few Sun Times Network articles. I would mention in my résumé, forty hours a week I worked here, but I would not send them any examples. Because it was such a content factory, you just had to pump stuff out all the time. It was just like, get it out there, we need some pageviews now.” A former editor told me, “I wouldn’t read most of what I wrote if given the choice.” He added, “Spending more than thirty minutes on any article was generally frowned upon.” Arneberg told me that a “post got me the most pageviews of any post that I wrote and it was complete bullshit. It was a total hoax,” he said. “The weird thing is, when it came out that that was a hoax, nobody spoke to me. Nobody said anything, like, ‘Hey, you gotta watch out for that.’ It was just ignored.”

The question of whom, exactly, Sun Times Network is supposed to be for is one I asked everyone I interviewed for this story, and none of them could provide a good answer. I can’t either.

Stecklow’s descent into the toxic hellstew is well-described; it’s like a modern version of The Jungle. This is where content is heading. And not long after that, the stories will be “written” by computers, and you’ll wonder why we don’t just get computers to read them too, and go and do something more worthwhile, such as digging ditches. Oh, and reading The Awl.
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The company behind Relish wireless broadband makes a big loss » Engadget

Nick Summers:

Relish’s dream to connect London homes with wireless broadband, rather than traditional landlines, could be in trouble. UK Broadband, the company behind the service, has reported losses of £37.5m for 2014 – almost four times what it was the year before. To make matters worse, turnover slipped from roughly £2m to £1.5m over the same period. Relish was launched in June 2014 as a simpler, but capable broadband alternative to the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin Media. Instead of copper and fibre cables, the company relies on 4G connections to deliver the internet to its customers. The advantages are plentiful — you don’t need to pay for a landline, and because Relish’s network is already up and running, you don’t need an engineer to install anything. Once you’ve signed up, a router is sent round within the next working day and you can instantly get online. The concept is similar to the mobile broadband packages offered by EE, Three and other UK carriers, although here there are no restrictive data allowances. So what’s gone wrong?

Nobody, it seems, knows.
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China is building the mother of all reputation systems to monitor citizen behaviour » Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

“They’ve been working on the credit system for the financial industry for a while now,” says Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University. “But, in recent years, the idea started growing that if you’re going to assess people’s financial status, you should equally be able to do that with other modes of trustworthiness.”

The document talks about the “construction of credibility”—the ability to give and take away credits—across more than 30 areas of life, from energy saving to advertising. “It’s like Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder, plus finance, plus all of these other things,” says Creemers, who translated the plan.

The system, overseen by the State Council, is made possible by two factors. One, it’s now possible to gather information about behavior as never before. As we use the Internet and different devices, we’re leaving behind a huge footprint of data. Second, the Chinese government sees no reason to safeguard its citizens’ data rights if it thinks that data can benefit them, says Creemers.

“In Europe and the U.S., there’s a notion that the state should be constrained, that it’s not right to intervene in people’s lives, unless for justified reasons. In China, the state has no qualms about that. It says ‘data allows us to make society for better, so we’re going to use it,'” he says.

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Behind the European privacy ruling that’s confounding Silicon Valley » NYTimes.com

Robert Levine:

American technology firms are especially worried because they routinely transfer so much information across the Atlantic. “International data transfers are the lifeblood of the digital economy,” said Townsend Feehan, chief executive of IAB Europe, which represents online advertising companies including Google as well as small start-ups. The ruling “brings with it significant uncertainty as to the future possibility for such transfers.”

As Mr. Schrems sees it, however, what is at stake is a deeper conflict between the European legal view of privacy as a right equivalent to free speech and that of the United States, where consumers are asked to read and agree to a company’s terms of service and decide what’s best for themselves. “We only do this in the privacy field — dump all the responsibility on the user,” Mr. Schrems said. He pointed out that consumers are not expected to make decisions about other complex issues, like food or building safety. “In a civilized society,” he said, “you expect that if you walk into a building it’s not going to collapse on your head.”

But if it collapses on your head and kills you, then you sue! No, hang on. (Bonus point to Levine for the handwringing quote from the advertising industry.)
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Microsoft Surface: from cross-bearer to standard-bearer » Fast Company

Ross Rubin:

As the Surface Pro customer base has grown, it’s likely that Microsoft is just accommodating potential customers who prefer a more laptop-like device than the Surface Pro 4, which is still a tablet propped up with a kickstand.

While Microsoft is quick to compare its “ultimate laptop”—which starts at $1,500 and goes way, way up—to Apple’s portables, it will walk a far narrower tightrope in competing with its own hardware partners with the Surface Book. Not only does the first model stand to do battle with the best that HP, Dell, Acer, and Lenovo have to offer, but the company is poised to come downmarket with a lower-priced mainstream version, as it did with the $500 Surface 3.

The Surface experience story isn’t quite as good as it looks on paper. Even with the considerable reconciliation of Windows 10 and the arrival of a touch-optimized Office as well as other universal apps, Windows’ interface is still in transition. Many people with Surfaces spend much of their day working not so differently than they would with a no-touch Windows 7 laptop. Even on the marketing side, Microsoft needs to rethink the Surface Pro, which it’s been promoting as the tablet that can replace your laptop. Now that the company wants to sell you a laptop, where does that leave the Surface Pro?

This is slightly the problem: why Surface Pro, if there’s Surface Book? Rubin also thinks there’s a Surface iMac (for want of a better name) brewing in Redmond. This seems unlikely though – the sales figures would be so miniscule it would never make money for anyone. Speaking of which…
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Why Apple is still sweating the details on iMac » Medium

Steven Levy was given access to Apple’s Ergonomic Design Lab to get the inside story of how the new iMacs and Magic Mouse and so on were built. But what are they for? Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, explains:

“The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?”

Good question. And the answer?

“Its job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because it’s capable,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

But – take note – no intention of introducing a touchscreen iMac. None at all, says Schiller: “The Mac OS has been designed from day one for an indirect pointing mechanism. These two worlds are different on purpose.”
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​Android security a ‘market for lemons’ that leaves 87% vulnerable » ZDNet

Liam Tung:

“The difficulty is that the market for Android security today is like the market for lemons,” Cambridge researchers Daniel Thomas, Alastair Beresford, and Andrew Rice note in a new paper.

“There is information asymmetry between the manufacturer, who knows whether the device is currently secure and will receive security updates, and the customer, who does not.”

Their analysis of data collected from over 20,000 Android devices with the Device Analyzer app installed found that 87% of Android devices were vulnerable to at least one of 11 bugs in the public domain in the past five years, including the recently discovered TowelRoot issue, which Cyanogen fixed last year, and FakeID.

The researchers also found that Android devices on average receive 1.26 updates per year.

“The security community has been worried about the lack of security updates for Android devices for some time,” Rice said.

The “security community” hasn’t had much effect, then. The study was part-funded by Google.
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US says Apple e-books antitrust monitor no longer needed » Reuters

Nate Raymond:

The US Justice Department has determined that Apple Inc has implemented significant improvements to its antitrust compliance program and that a court-appointed monitor’s term does not need extended, according to a court filing.

The Justice Department in a letter filed late Monday in Manhattan federal court said its recommendation was despite Apple’s “challenging relationship” with Michael Bromwich, who was named monitor after the iPad maker was found liable for conspiring to raise e-book prices.

The Justice Department said its decision to not recommend extending the monitorship beyond its two-year term was “not an easy one,” as Apple “never embraced a cooperative working relationship with the monitor.”

But the department said it was giving greater weight to Bromwich’s “assessment that Apple has put in place a meaningful antitrust compliance program than to the difficult path it took to achieve this result.”

Apple is still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. The antitrust thing must feel like a stain.
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