Start up: the iPhone crackers, tick-tock dies, the Instagram trojan returns, Microsoft’s AI bot, and more

Life was simpler in some ways when you could just feed these to get your parking time. Photo by PeterJBellis on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Israeli mobile forensics firm helping FBI unlock seized iPhone, report says » Ars Technica UK

David Kravets:

»On Sunday [as it also withdrew its court request against Apple], according to public records, the FBI committed to a $15,278 “action obligation” with Cellebrite. An “action obligation” is the lowest amount the government has agreed to pay. No other details of the contract were available, and the Justice Department declined comment. Cellebrite, however, has reportedly assisted US authorities in accessing an iPhone.

For now, US-based security experts believe that Cellebrite does have the wherewithal to perform the task.

“I’m really not at liberty to confirm the third party, but based on the techniques I’ve described in my blog on the subject, I think Cellebrite, as well as many large forensics firms like it, have the capability to perform such tasks,” forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski told Ars in an e-mail. “DriveSavers, for example, has released statements yesterday suggesting they’re almost there. I think the techniques are pretty straight forward for firms like these now that the tech community has had a chance to comment.”

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They made him a moron » The Baffler

Evgeny Morozov was invited to the State Department in October 2009 to meet Alec Ross, then innovation adviser to Hillary Clinton:

»Out of courtesy, I did share some thoughts with Ross, but it wasn’t long before our paths diverged.[*] I soon became a critic of the U.S. government’s “Internet freedom agenda,” while Ross and his colleague and friend Jared Cohen (then on the policy planning staff of the State Department and now the head of Google Ideas) embarked on adventures so reckless and ridiculous, so obsequious to the interests of Silicon Valley and offensive to anyone well-versed in the diplomatic trade, that some career staffers at the State Department began to ridicule, anonymously, of course, their cluelessness on social media.

Ross’s tenure at the State Department was, by and large, a failure. His efforts to promote “twenty-first-century statecraft”—Clinton’s lofty vision for American power that would put “Internet freedom” and digital technologies at its core—floundered after the State Department was confronted by Cablegate, the release of a massive library of leaked diplomatic cables that began in late 2010 and was coordinated by WikiLeaks. Ross, who claimed the twenty-first-century-statecraft concept as his own and hoped that it would become “a major part of [Clinton’s] legacy,” was suddenly forced into damage control. Few would find his pronouncements on “Internet freedom” credible after the State Department’s reaction to WikiLeaks.

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Morozov reviews Ross’s book “The Industries of the Future”: it’s like watching a master sushi chef at work. And the footnote attached to that [*] above is worth the clickthrough on its own.

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Notes on Apple’s refresh – cheaper iPhones and iPads for real work » Benedict Evans

His observation:

»what Apple has really done is moved from selling older models at discounts with the ‘proper’ iPhone starting at $600, to starting the iPhone range at $400 and scaling up on screen size and price.

There are a bunch of interesting second-order implications for this. By launching six months after the actual iPhone 6S Apple smooths out the supply chain and reduces cannibalization from people who really want the ‘newest one’, and probably gets better component prices. But it’s still selling premium components instead of 2-year-old components at $400 instead of $600, so I’d expect a long discussion of margin implications at the next quarterly call. And this also points to how misguided it is to poke around in earnings releases from Apple’s supply chain to work out iPhone sales. One can also wonder what happens in the next product cycle – presumably the iPhone 6 disappears, the 6S goes to $500 and the SE is refreshed, perhaps without a new name. Or does it go to $300? Certainly it’ll be on the second-hand market at $200.

But the key thing is that after 8 years, the iPhone range really now starts at $400, not $600 or more.

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​Cashless parking was meant to make life easier for drivers but our phones are awash with competing apps » The Independent

Rhodri Marsden:

»When I was prompted by a roadside sign to download yet another cashless parking app, my patience finally snapped. I now had four of them on my phone – PayByPhone, RingGo, Parkmobile and ParkRight, all of which required me to undergo a laborious sign-up procedure, keying credit-card details and registration numbers into my phone while I sat on the bonnet, accruing parking charges.

The competitive marketplace for cashless parking has resulted in a fragmented and rather irritating experience for motorists who don’t have a handy stash of pound coins; as well as the aforementioned apps, there are others such as Phoneandpay, MiPermit and Whoosh, all promising to liberate us from the tyranny of the parking meter but ignoring the fact that we don’t care who we pay: we just want to park.

«

85% of cashless parking controlled by two apps, the other 15% by a sprawl of others. Really good research by Marsden, but there’s no solution in sight. One point he didn’t make, but which I notice: paying by app is often more expensive than paying for a physical ticket.
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Intel officially kills “tick-tock” » The Motley Fool

Ashraf Eassa:

»back in mid-2015, Intel admitted that its 10-nanometer technology was in rough shape and wouldn’t go into production at the end of the year as expected. In the company’s most recent form 10-K filing, it went ahead and officially declared “Tick-Tock” [by which it reduces the die size in one year, and in the next year improves the microarchitecture] dead.

Intel’s wording in the form 10-K filing is as following:

“We expect to lengthen the amount of time we will utilize out 14 [nanometer] and out next-generation 10 [nanometer] process technologies, further optimizing out products and process technologies while meeting the yearly market cadence for product introductions.”

The company even includes an interesting visual aid to contrast the differences between the previous methodology and the current one:

Intel says that its third 14-nanometer product, known as Kaby Lake, will have “key performance advancements as compared to [its] 6th generation Core processor family.” The extent of these enhancements is clear, but leaks to the Web suggest enhancements to graphics and media.

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Along with Moore’s Law fading, this is an epochal moment. And the other one is…
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Andy Grove and the iPhone SE » Stratechery

A terrific piece on Andy Grove, the legendary Intel chief executive, by Ben Thompson; rather than just a recap, he puts Grove’s contribution into useful perspective:

»Beyond Grove’s personal background, the importance of Intel to the technology industry — and, by extension, to the world — cannot be overstated. While Moore is immortalized for having created “Moore’s Law”, the truth is that the word “Law” is a misnomer: the fact that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years is the result of a choice made first and foremost by Intel to spend the amount of time and money necessary to make Moore’s Law a reality. This choice, by extension, made everything else in technology possible: the PC, the Internet, the mobile phone. And, the person most responsible for making this choice was Grove (and, I’d add, his presence in management was the biggest differentiator between Intel and its predecessors, both of which included Noyce and Moore).

That wasn’t Intel and Grove’s only contribution to Silicon Valley, either: Grove created a culture predicated on a lack of hierarchy, vigorous debate, and buy-in to the cause (compensated with stock). In other words, Intel not only made future tech companies possible, it also provided the template for how they should be run, and how knowledge workers broadly should be managed.

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Thompson’s daily Stratechery newsletter is well worth the (inexpensive) subscription. Talking of which..
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Blendle launches its ‘iTunes for News’ in the US » Fortune

Mathew Ingram interviewed Alexander Klopping of the “pay-for-articles-you-read” service:

»Q: Why would someone sign up for Blendle?

Klopping: Whenever you ask people “would you like to pay for journalism?” most people shrug. Why would they? But then most people responded the same way 10 years ago when asked about paying for music. I never thought I would pay $10 a month for Spotify, but I do. It’s not just about access to music, but also the app is really nice, my friends are on it, it helps me find music with Discover. When you think about journalism, having one account for everything, a service that helps you find and pay for the best stuff—that doesn’t exist. And it didn’t exist for music, but then it happened.

Fortune: So it’s not just about payment, but also curation?

Klopping: Yes. We hire editors, and those editors read everything on the platform, and they figure out staff picks. They choose the most interesting stories and they also choose stories that fit into categories or sections, and when a user shows interest in articles from a section we show them more. So there’s human curation plus a layer on top that is algorithmic. And on top of that there’s a social graph, so when your Twitter friends have shared an article that’s a good indication you might like it.

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The point about whether hard news monetises well (it doesn’t) is notable. My question is, does paying free you from seeing ads?
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Password-stealing Instagram app ‘InstaAgent’ reappears in App Store under new name » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»Last November, a malicious app called InstaAgent was caught storing the usernames and passwords of Instagram users, sending them to a suspicious remote server. After the app’s activities came to light, Apple removed it from the App Store, but it now appears Turker Bayram, the developer behind the app has managed to get two new apps approved by Apple, (and Google) both of which are stealing Instagram account info.

Peppersoft developer David L-R, who discovered the insidious password-sniffing feature in the first InstaAgent app, last week wrote a post outlining new password stealing apps created by Bayram. Called “Who Cares With Me – InstaDetector” and “InstaCare – Who Cares With Me,” the apps are available on Android and iOS devices.

The original InstaAgent app attracted Instagram users by promising to track the people who visited their Instagram account, and the two new apps make similar promises. Both apps say they display a list of users who interact most often with an Instagram account, asking users to log in with an Instagram username and password.

David L-R investigated Bayram’s new apps and discovered a suspicious HTTPS packet, leading him to uncover a complex encryption process used to covertly send usernames and passwords to a third-party server and hide the evidence.

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OK, this is bad; but as a user, why would you trust a third-party app from a no-name developer with your login details? Or is that too obvious a question?
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Meet Tay – Microsoft A.I. chatbot with zero chill » Microsoft

»Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.

Tay is targeted at 18 to 24 year old in the US.

Tay may use the data that you provide to search on your behalf. Tay may also use information you share with her to create a simple profile to personalize your experience. Data and conversations you provide to Tay are anonymized and may be retained for up to one year to help improve the service.

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The bath continues to warm.
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“Just have a look at this graph…” – BBC Newsnight » YouTube

How Newsnight bills it: “The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, on the Conservative welfare row after the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, resigns.”

What it really is: a Tory (right-wing) minister who was the only one willing to go on TV programmes to defend the government’s budget. She’s ambushed by a data visualisation showing the impact of the planned tax changes on the incomes of the different population deciles. (You can find the original graph on page 4 of this Institute of Fiscal Studies publication. The IFS is generally regarded as politically central/neutral.)

(Via Andy Cotgreave of dataviz company Tableau.)
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Google is making a keyboard for the iPhone » The Verge

A veritable scoop from Casey Newton:

»The Google keyboard incorporates a number of features meant to distinguish it from the stock iOS keyboard. Like its Android counterpart, the Google keyboard for iOS employs gesture-based typing, so you can slide your finger from one letter to the next and let Google guess your intended word. Tap the Google logo and you can access traditional web search. It also appears to have distinct buttons for pictures and GIF searches, both presumably powered by Google image search. The keyboard is visually distinct from the standard Android keyboard, which incorporates voice search but no text or image-based searching.

The keyboard, which has been in circulation among employees for months, is designed to boost the number of Google searches on iOS. While the company all but holds a monopoly on the global search market, there’s evidence that mobile search is proving much less lucrative for Google than the desktop. Using publicly available numbers, journalist Charles Arthur argued in October that half of smartphone users perform zero searches per day. (Using the same math, Arthur said desktop users perform an average of 1.23 searches per day.)… The problem for Google — and for Alphabet, its parent company — is that search is where Google shows users its most expensive ads. Any sign of decline in search would be an existential threat to the company.

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Logically, I’d expect that searches begun from this keyboard don’t count as part of the Google-Apple Safari search deal (reckoned to be very lucrative for Apple). Apple pares away at Google’s income in one place, Google drags it back in another. However, I’d expect this to be a comparatively small number, though. It’s not as if this is Maps, after all.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

One thought on “Start up: the iPhone crackers, tick-tock dies, the Instagram trojan returns, Microsoft’s AI bot, and more

  1. Regarding parking apps, as a contractor they make my life so much easier.

    For example, I can easily extend the length of my parking remotely, without having to return to the meter.

    The main benefit is not needing to carry £40-60 cash in my pocket every day. When Kensington and Chelsea parking costs approx £4.90/hr in some areas, having to park more than once in the same borough is a nightmare when you can only pay in cash.

    Admittedly there are some drawbacks.

    Notably after changing the vehicle I drive, I updated the number plate and associated details on both the app and website on one of the services for parking. Only to find that it had reinstated the original details and defaulted to it when making a parking action.

    After discovering this I not only had to appeal my parking tickets, which was successful, but also get in touch with the app developer to notify them of this bug.

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