Start up: Safe Harbour’s failure, Google Photos grows, Android Doze, Theranos redux, and more


Guess what sort of things Facebook’s “M” assistant gets asked to do. Photo by PeterThoeny on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

The collapse of the US-EU Safe Harbor: solving the new privacy Rubik’s Cube » Microsoft on the Issues

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer:

On Oct. 6, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down an international legal regime that over 4,000 companies have been relying upon not just to move data across the Atlantic, but to do business and serve consumers on two continents with over 800 million people.

The decision made clear what many have been advocating for some time: Legal rules that were written at the dawn of the personal computer are no longer adequate for an era with ubiquitous mobile devices connected to the cloud. In both the United States and Europe, we need new laws adapted to a new technological world.

As lawyers and officials scurry to assess the situation, it’s apparent that both a variety of smaller steps and a more fundamental long-term change will be needed. We need to focus on both of these aspects.

Haven’t seen a blogpost from Google on this. Have I missed it?
link to this extract


Google Photos cloud storage service hits 100 million monthly users » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Love for Google Photos inside the Googleplex overfloweth. At conferences, on earnings calls, in cocktail parties, Google execs shower praise on the cloud photo storage and sharing service it launched back in May. For good reason: It’s a simple, practical product that shows off Google’s machine learning prowess without any of the baggage of Google+, from which it was born.

And people are using it. On Tuesday, the search giant announced that Photos, in its first five months, has crossed 100 million monthly active users.

Google+: launched June 2011, claimed 100m users by September 2012. So this is faster – and surely a lot more engaging. Everyone loves their own photos, as opposed to everyone else’s opinions.
link to this extract


Facebook M assistant’s top requests include restaurant suggestions and shopping help » TechCrunch

After an early report from The Information, Facebook provided official details on its M project in August. Built into Messenger, M lets users text in almost any request, from assistance with online chores to booking real-world services or making purchases on their behalf. Requests are currently fielded by a combination of Facebook workers and artificial intelligence.

The hope is that over time, the humans will teach the AI to do more and more complicated tasks on their own. If M succeeds and can be affordably rolled out, it could make people’s lives easier while strengthening their loyalty to Facebook Messenger amid intense competition between chat apps. Though if it’s too costly to scale, Facebook could burn a lot of money on the project.

M could potentially earn revenue itself by taking a margin on top of purchases or services booked for people. But the big opportunity is for Facebook to lock users further into its ecosystem where it makes ample money on News Feed ads. One day, Facebook could even sell ads that convince you to initiate an M request that involves an advertiser’s business.

Right now, Facebook tells me the No. 1 type of request is for restaurant suggestions and reservations. People might know their desired food type, distance, price range, or some quality they’re looking for in a restaurant, and M helps find them the one that fits and gets them a table.

Not so different from what Siri or Google Now or Cortana can do – “find me Mexican restaurants within three minutes’ walk.” Baby steps. But really interesting ones.
link to this extract


Deutsche Telekom said to weigh new antitrust complaint against Google » The New York Times

Mark Scott:

Deutsche Telekom, which owns a controlling stake in T-Mobile US, the cellphone carrier, appears ready to get involved in Europe’s investigation into Google’s Android mobile software as well. Deutsche Telekom is expected to file a formal complaint with European competition authorities in the coming weeks, according to several people with direct knowledge of the discussions.

The complaint, which may be submitted by early November, focuses on whether Google uses its Android mobile operating system to unfairly promote its own products like Google Maps and online search over those of rivals, the people said. They would speak only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

This is separate from the search antitrust investigation (which is principally looking at desktop).
link to this extract


Google will require OEMs to include unmodified Doze Mode in Android 6.0 » Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

For years Android has struggled with battery life due to apps running in the background when they aren’t supposed to, and Marshmallow could finally put a stop to it. To make sure device makers play ball, Google’s Android 6.0 Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) explicitly requires Marshmallow phones to include Doze, and OEMs aren’t allowed to monkey around with it.

Doze mode is Google’s answer to the sometimes terrible standby time of Android devices. If a phone or tablet hasn’t been used for a while, the system goes into Doze mode—apps remain asleep and wakelocks are ignored. Important cloud message pings still get through and the device wakes up briefly on occasion to sync, but that’s it…

If you go into the power optimization settings in Android 6.0, you can see which apps are exempt from Doze. On stock Android that’s just Play Services and device manager, but Google will require OEMs to show users anything else they choose to exempt from Doze in that list. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to remove the exemption, but you’ll at least know what’s been given special treatment.

It was all going so well until that last sentence. But good to see Google tightening up on this stuff; user experience counts.
link to this extract


City AM becomes first UK newspaper to ban ad blocker users » The Guardian

Mark Sweney:

City AM is launching a trial from Tuesday that will blur out text of stories on cityam.com for desktop users of Firefox browsers who are detected using ad blocking software.

Readers will be encounter a message saying: “We are having trouble showing you adverts on this page, which may be a result of ad blocker software being installed on your device. As City AM relies on advertising to fund its journalism, please disable any adblockers from running on cityam.com to see the rest of this content.”

Martin Ashplant, the digital director at City AM, said about 8% of the site’s 1.2 million monthly browsers use Firefox on desktop and around 20% of those have ad blocking software installed.

The trial currently does not include any other browser types or non-desktop devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

Let’s see if we can guess: adblocker users will move to different browsers? Also, it’s doing this for 1.6% of its users – ie 19,200 people? Perhaps trying to get the thin end of the wedge in there.
link to this extract


Theranos trouble: a first-person account » Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée tried them because he has some skin (well, blood) in the game:

It seems a Hungarian forebear passed down an errant JAK2 gene that trips bone marrow into polycythemia vera (PCV), a fancy name for “too many blood cells” — and potential clots, especially as one’s vessels degrade with age. There’s no cure, yet, but with frequent attention the treatment is simple: Hydroxyurea, an inexpensive 19th century urea derivative, slows bone marrow output.

In homage to my ancestor, I perform a decade-old routine, a stroll to Stanford Hospital’s Hematology Lab to give blood samples that are tested for Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Metabolites. My numbers haven’t fluctuated much since my last visit and the kind hematologist pronounces me “medically boring” (Pourvu que ça dure! ). Good for me: If the hematocrit (HCT) number crosses the 45% threshold, I get to meet the vampire and “donate” 500ml of blood. (After which this perfectly good pint of blood must be tossed. Regulations. Sigh…)

On my way back to my University Avenue office, a thought pops up: Why not try Theranos for comparison?

His experience is a tad worrying; the comments below the post from people in the lab/testing industry are pretty eye-opening too. You don’t come away thinking the noise around Theranos is nonsense.
link to this extract


Some tech investors sure seem to be getting defensive lately … » Business Insider

Matt Rosoff with a well-argued counterpoint to the venture capitalists who – while lacking any detailed knowledge – complain about exposés such as the NYT’s on Amazon, or the WSJ’s on Theranos:

Journalists don’t set out to write takedowns of companies. But when a journalist begins investigating a company and finds something is amiss, and the story is well vetted and fairly reported, the venture community should welcome that reporting.

Because every faker, every charlatan, and every company whose product just isn’t good enough to win is taking money that could have been invested in other companies that have a better chance. 

(One more thing. Journalists are happy to hear companies defend themselves. But when a company refuses to share any data that could bolster its case, and refuses to let anything they say privately be used publicly — that’s “off the record” in journalism-speak — it’s awfully hard to take these defenses seriously.)

If you’re a journalist, you’ve surely had the latter experience. Rosoff’s piece really does need to be read in full.
link to this extract


Intel has 1,000 people working on a chip for iPhone? Of course they do » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Greenberg (who has a lot of valuable experience in the chip industry):

I would argue that Intel has a lot of levers they can pull to win Apple as a wireless customer. They can offer a bundled deal which includes processors for the MacBook, and even cut Apple a deal to serve as their foundry for future versions of Apple’s A-Series of processors. I have no idea if any of these will ever happen, but I want to point out that this is a complex negotiation environment.
And, of course, there is Apple itself to reckon with. The post makes a big deal about the fact that Apple hired a big team of people from Infineon, but that started years ago, and that team has been using Qualcomm modems for a long time. More intriguing is the idea that Apple just wants to license the modem software from Intel and then design their own chip. That rumor has been circling for a long time. And I think it is important to remember that. Apple wants to manage their suppliers for its own ends. They now have two foundry partners to fight over iPhone share. For the past few years Apple has had little choice but to use Qualcomm for modems, so it is only natural for them to want a second source. When (if?) Intel finally gets its LTE modem working, Apple will have that second source. My guess is that Apple really does not want to design its own modems. That requires a lot of labor intensive software work to keep up with those standards mentioned above.

link to this extract


Tim Cook gets passionate about privacy at “The Wall Street Journal” tech conference » Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

The conversation was more fun when Cook spoke about the new Apple TV. He pushed back on Baker’s contention that the streaming box wasn’t much of a disruptor, and went on an entertaining rant against TV as it’s existed for decades. (“Why does a channel even exist? Think about it. My nephew asked me once, and I couldn’t even answer.”)

But the liveliest portion of the session by far involved privacy. It’s been a big talking point for Cook for a while now. And onstage, he got worked up talking about it in a way that was strikingly different from his normal, preternaturally calm, on-point manner.

“Privacy is a key value of our company,” Cook began, in a manner similar to his previous statements on the topic. “We think it will become increasingly important to more and more people over time as they realize that intimate parts of their lives are in the open and being used for all kinds of things.” He explained that Apple encrypts personal information and keeps it on your phone, drawing an unstated contrast with Google, whose fundamental business model involves storing personal data in the cloud where the company can slice it, dice it, and monetize it with advertising.

But when the discussion turned to government monitoring of the digital world—National Security Agency director Michael Rogers having preceded Cook onstage—Baker said there were basic tradeoffs between privacy and national security. And Cook didn’t buy it. “I don’t agree,” he said. “I think that’s a copout.”

Cook also objected to Baker’s what-if scenario involving a back door that would have let government agents override encrypted data and foil the 9/11 plot before it was carried out: “No one should have to decide, privacy or security. We should be smart enough to do both.”

That point about channels should have been in Cook’s introduction of the new Apple TV in September – except the answer is easy: it’s to give you a predictable experience, just as a newspaper does. Apple lacks a good storyteller at present. (You can read the liveblog on the WSJ Digits blog.)
link to this extract


One thought on “Start up: Safe Harbour’s failure, Google Photos grows, Android Doze, Theranos redux, and more

  1. Hope Doze mode is effective. I always get the feeling my phone is have a party in my pocket. Low-power mode is only the equivalent of the next door neighbours coming around and telling the phone to quiet it down a bit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s