Start up: Google adds mobile ads, the sensing wearable, paying for snoops, and more


“Wait – that’s no moon!” Photo of the iPad Pro by portalgda on Flickr.

Something something receive each day’s Start Up post by email mutter mutter. Rhubarb rhubarb confirmation link mutter mutter.

A selection of 11 links for you. Curl up with them for the weekend. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google’s efforts to monetize mobile pay off, but sites see a hit to organic visits » Search Engine Land

Andy Taylor notes that since August, there are now three ads rather than two before “organic” results on mobile phones in Google searches – and paid-for click-through rates (CTR) on ads have leapt accordingly:

One explanation is that some of the ads now getting impressions in the third spot above the organic results were already getting impressions below the organic results prior to the change. Thus, when the ads got the bump to the top of the page, the likelihood of a click went up substantially.

However, we see average position moving farther down the page, and Google is still showing ads at the bottom of the page, indicating that any ads that were moved up to the top were probably “replaced” at the bottom by additional ads. Thus, this probably isn’t causing the substantial improvement in mobile CTR we’re observing.

Rather, it’s possible that by adding a third text ad and pushing organic links even farther down the page, Google has broken the will of users who would have clicked on an organic link if they could find one at the top of the page but are instead just clicking ads because they don’t want to scroll down.

This would mean the addition of the third text ad may have pretty seriously impacted searcher behavior on phones, resulting in more ad clicks and spend headed Google’s way.

Just in case you were wondering how Google boosted its mobile revenue in the latest quarter, despite fewer than half of people doing one search per day on mobile. Taylor points to other methods too – very big “product listing ads” twice the size of earlier this month.
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The iPad Pro: the start of something new » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

the most interesting observation I made was not how I used the tablet but how my oldest daughter, who is twelve, used the iPad Pro. She goes to a private school where each kid uses an iPad all day, every day. They use the iPad in every aspect of their education, from textbooks and learning materials, to real-time collaboration, notes, making movies during class, presenting, and much more. When we were checking out this school, we spent time watching kids use their iPads to do a range of things in the classroom. I was stunned by their fluency and efficiency. How fast they type, how quickly they multi-task between taking notes or a picture of the teacher’s notes on the board and then mark up their own notes on top of that. These kids were more literate with the iPad than many people I know who are highly technical, including myself. This ingrained literacy is the result of using a touch-based computer and the apps built on top of the mobile ecosystem, every day. After watching them for a day, I’m honestly not sure I could have accomplished as much as they did in as short of a time using a traditional laptop.

So I should not have been surprised when my daughter started playing with the iPad Pro for a few hours and came back and showed me all the things she had done: movies she made, photos she took outside (which she edited/mashed up using the different apps she also uses in creative projects at school) and taking advantage of the unique benefits of the Apple Pencil. With nearly everything she showed me, I had to ask her how she did it.

Do you really think she’s a future Surface user?
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EM-Sense wearable knows what objects you’re touching » Digital Trends

Chloe Olewitz:

The human body is naturally conductive, so the electromagnetic noise that most electrical and electromechanical objects emit is propagated throughout the person touching it. Using a small, affordable radio-powered wearable, researchers at Disney and Carnegie Mellon University were able to develop a custom smart watch that detects the electromagnetic noise traveling through the body. Paired with their software definition system, the EM-Sense smart watch can identify what specific objects the wearer is touching at any given moment.

Examples of the EM-Sense’s detection capabilities are what really bring the technology to life. The main function allows the EM-Sense smart watch to simply identify objects, like a doorknob, a toothbrush, or a kitchen appliance. But that’s just the beginning. With a bit more development, EM-Sense’s creators think the technology could be used to automate frequent actions and augment important aspects of our daily routines.

Neat – definitely like the idea of your smartwatch or band being able to identify what you’re dealing with. (Beware the web page’s autoplay video, though.)
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DynamicPricer PUP disables browser updates » Malwarebytes Unpacked

Pieter Arntz:

Although this one has been around for a while, DynamicPricer deserves some attention because of the different approach it uses compared to other Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs).

What’s different?

Where other adware applications look for sneaky ways to invade your up-to-date browsers or even install their own browser on your system, this one just installs an old version of Chrome and then disables the automatic updates for Chrome and Firefox.

As far as I could retrieve the version of Chrome it installs dates back to February of 2014. My guess is because that was the first build that included an API to take actions depending on the content of a page, without requiring permission to read the page’s content.

So sneaky to prevent the upgrading.
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Fossil Group to buy Misfit for $260m » WSJ

Yuliya Chernova:

Watchmaker Fossil Group Inc. has agreed to acquire startup Misfit Inc., a maker of wearable fitness trackers, for $260m.

Richardson, Texas-based Fossil Group has its Fossil and Skagen brands, and it licenses a host of others, including Michael Kors, Diesel and DKNY.

“If you don’t have a brand it is hard to be legit in this space,” said Sonny Vu, chief executive and co-founder of Misfit. He will become president and chief technology officer of connected devices for Fossil Group after the transaction closes, which Fossil expects before the end of the year.

Consolidation in the wearables space already?
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Cloud computing promises fall short » WSJ

Angus Loten and Rachael King on the shift to on-demand off-premise cloud computing not quite being the nice elasticated experience companies expected:

Frank Sirianni, CIO of Fordham University, said the university recently shifted from using an on-premises version of Ellucian Inc. business software to the cloud version. Although he agreed to a three-year-deal, Ellucian sought to lock him in for a longer term with variable pricing from month to month and a minimum monthly charge. Mr. Sirianni said he opted for a fixed monthly price, in order to avoid paying more if the university used more computing cycles, but not less if usage declined. Fordham wanted more predictable software spending over the course of the year, he said.

Ellucian said it doesn’t comment on the specific pricing that any client may pay for its products or services. “Our focus is to deliver significant value in these arrangements and enable our customers to leverage their entire investment in technology and services by going to the cloud,” said a company spokeswoman.

Translation: “we don’t want to lose revenue when customers make this shift.”
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YouTube and the attention economy » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan points out that YouTube is the one to deal with because “Free music streamers – of which YouTube is the largest single component – comprise 92.5% of all music streaming users and just 32% of all streaming revenue.” So how to balance those numbers?

YouTube is not suddenly going to start delivering dramatically better music stream rates, largely because labels and publishers haven’t had the courage to demand the requisite fair share it should pay. Rights owners’ fears are understandable: one senior label executive recounted a YouTube negotiator saying ‘Don’t push us. Right now you don’t like us much and we’re your friend. Imagine what we’d be like if we weren’t your friend.’ Sooner or later bullying tactics need standing up to. But that will not be a quick process, regardless of the steps currently being taken behind the scenes.

So in the meantime artists and labels need to figure out how to get more out of YouTube in a way that complements the other ways they make money digitally. Put simply that means making more non-music video content to generate more viewing hours and thus more ad revenue from YouTube. Heck, they might even generate some YouTube subscription revenue some time. But do it they must, else they’ll forever be leaving chunks of YouTube money on the table.

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Broadband bills will have to increase to pay for snooper’s charter, MPs are warned » Technology | The Guardian

Alex Hern:

For [Matthew] Hare [chief executive of ISP Gigaclear], the other major problem is that separating “metadata” from “content”, as the law mandates for the purposes of mass surveillance, is a very difficult technical challenge.

For a simple connection like a phone call, the difference is easy: information like the number dialled and length of the call is clearly metadata, while the audio transmitted over the line is clearly content. But for a typical internet user, a number of different services are being used at any one time, and they all blur the lines between the two categories.

“The web isn’t a single application, that’s the fundamental problem I’ve got,” Hare said. He outlined a common scenario: “A teenager is currently playing a game using Steam, that’s not a web application … and then they’re broadcasting the game they’re playing using something called Twitch. They may well also be doing a voice call where they’re shouting at their friends, and those are all running simultaneously. At any one time any of those services could drop in, drop out, be replaced.”

MPs discover it isn’t just a series of pipes.
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TomTom to provide data for Uber driver app »TomTom

TomTom has signed a global, multi-year agreement to provide maps and traffic data for the Uber driver app.   

TomTom’s advanced map-making technology, combined with its world class traffic information, will ensure Uber has a seamless navigation experience, accurate arrival times and efficient journeys in more than 300 cities around the world.

“We are excited to provide Uber with our best-in-class location data.” said Charles Cautley, Managing Director Maps & Licensing at TomTom. “TomTom is a truly independent map provider with the platform for the future. With this platform, TomTom is the trusted partner for innovative and future proof location technology for the global automotive and consumer technology industry.”

Edging just that little bit further away from Google; surprised some that it didn’t go with Nokia’s HERE. TomTom is also a traffic and maps data supplier to Apple. Will Uber buy TomTom? Does Apple have a break clause if someone buys TomTom?
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Experts still think uBeam’s through-the-air charging tech is unlikely » IEEE Spectrum

Lee Gomes:

In some regards, uBeam is already walking back some of the more extravagant claims it has made in the dozens of stories that have been written about it. A September piece in TechCrunch, said uBeam “could power up your phone while it’s in your pocket when you’re at a café.” While that sort of ubiquitous charging would be appealing for its simplicity and convenience, experts consider it to be impossible on account of the line-of-sight nature of ultrasound waves.

A TechCrunch interview from Saturday concedes the point, saying, The system “requires a line of sight and can’t charge through walls or clothes.” The latest story, though, didn’t address the obvious discrepancy with the earlier account. The most recent story says uBeam could transmit up to 4 meters, far less than the 30 feet (9 meters) claimed in an earlier piece.

While the company has made several technical advances involving ultrasound, “the idea that uBeam is going to eliminate the need for wires is ridiculous,” said one person with knowledge of the situation.

Leaning towards IEEE Spectrum’s sources knowing more about this topic than Techcrunch’s.
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I’m going to make Facebook’s AI predict what happens in videos » New Scientist

Yann Lecun is Facebook’s head of AI:

Q: Are there problems that you think deep learning or the image-sensing convolutional neural nets you use can’t solve?
JL: There are things that we cannot do today, but who knows? For example, if you had asked me like 10 years ago, “Should we use convolutional nets or deep learning for face recognition?”, I would have said there’s no way it’s going to work. And it actually works really well.

Q: Why did you think that neural nets weren’t capable of this?
JL: At that time, neural nets were really good at recognising general categories. So here’s a car, it doesn’t matter what car it is or what position it is. Or there’s a chair, there are lots of different possible chairs and those networks are good at extracting the “chair-ness” or the “car-ness”, independently of the particular instance and the pose.

But for things like recognising species of birds or breeds of dogs or plants or faces, you need fine-grained recognition, where you might have thousands or millions of categories, and the differences between the different categories is very minute. I would have thought deep learning was not the best approach for this – that something else would work better. I was wrong. I underestimated the power of my own technique. There’s a lot of things that now I might think are difficult, but, once we scale up, are going to work.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Satya Nadella uses a Lumia 950 XL.

One thought on “Start up: Google adds mobile ads, the sensing wearable, paying for snoops, and more

  1. On the iPad/Surface thing, I just can’t get out of my head how every piece of the Microsoft product stack congress back to the PC- Surface is a tablet you can use as a PC, Surface book is a PC, even Windows Phone now is a PC.

    It’s like the last ten years haven’t happened and that the Redmond world view (despite a bit of Cloud and platform agnosticism around the edges) is still “it ain’t a proper computer unless it’s a PC”.

    This of course is exactly the same sort of thinking that the last owners of “proper computing” had about the PC and why DEC and Wang and all the others bit the dust…

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