Start up: Hubspot culture, bad citations, Wikipedia for piracy, how Tay was pre-broken, and more

Who’d have guessed that letting a browser page vibrate your phone could be abused by scammers? Photo by queenkv on Flickr.

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

My year in startup hell at Hubspot » Fortune

Dan Lyons got dumped by Newsweek, having been a journalist for decades, and then as a 50-something joined a Boston startup whose pitch is basically spam people (but never call it spam), created by a co-founder who is only ever referred to by his first name:

»Dharmesh’s culture code incorporates elements of HubSpeak. For example, it instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as “graduation.” In my first month at HubSpot I’ve witnessed several graduations, just in the marketing department. We’ll get an email from Cranium saying, “Team, just letting you know that Derek has graduated from HubSpot, and we’re excited to see how he uses his superpowers in his next big adventure!” Only then do you notice that Derek is gone, that his desk has been cleared out. Somehow Derek’s boss will have arranged his disappearance without anyone knowing about it. People just go up in smoke, like Spinal Tap drummers.

Nobody ever talks about the people who graduate, and nobody ever mentions how weird it is to call it “graduation.” For that matter I never hear anyone laugh about HEART or make jokes about the culture code. Everyone acts as if all of these things are perfectly normal.

«

Some people hate Lyons, but he’s never less than incisive to the point of sulphuric.
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January 2014: potential malicious use of the HTML5 Vibrate API » Terence Eden’s Blog

This was Eden writing just over two years ago:

»There is a new API in town! HTML5 will (soon) let you make the user’s device vibrate. What fun! Obviously, it’s useful for triggering alerts, improved immersivness during gameplay, and all sorts of other fun things like sending Morse Code messages via vibration.

At the moment, Chrome (and other Android browsers) ask for permission before accessing features such as geo-location, camera, address book etc. This is a security measure to prevent your private information leaving your hands without your knowledge.

At the moment, accessing the HTML5 Vibrate API doesn’t trigger an on-screen warning. Its use is seen as pretty innocuous. Because, realistically, the worst it can do is prematurely drain your battery. Right?

I’m not so sure.

«

He was right not to be sure. Comments from this year show that this is indeed being used by scammy ads. (It’s supported on Chrome for desktop and mobile, not on Safari for desktop or mobile; you can check your browser’s capability.
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Citation, appropriation, and fair use: News Genius picks up again where failures left off » Glenn Fleishman’s Glog

Fleishman points to previous attempts to let people write content on top of other peoples’ work:

»As with many Internet tools created without any forethought about abuse, opting out, and reporting and resolving issues, [News] Genius [which lets people put commentary onto web pages without the consent of the author] seems malicious in absence rather than in intention. As Ella [Dawson] wrote:

»

You can hate-read my content all you want—I know that is a risk of being a person who says things on the Internet. But when you create a tool that pastes commentary directly on top of my work without letting me opt-in and without providing a way for people to turn off the annotation on their pages, you are being irresponsible. You are ignoring the potential your tool has to be abused, and you are not anticipating the real harm your tool can do.

«

Contrast this with Medium’s approach to annotation on Medium’s site. Essay authors can receive public or private notes, and choose which to make public and which to remain private or delete. Commentary on a post, called “responses,” is presented at the end like comments, but each response is a full-fledged Medium post.  (Last year, Medium added the ability for everyone, instead of certain outlets or requiring email, to disable responses to appear linked; they can still be made, they just don’t appear at the end of the referenced post.)

«

Past experience suggests News Genius will die a death; it’s just a question of how long it will take, and how many people will have lousy experiences like Dawson.
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Wikipedia doesn’t realize it’s the developing world’s internet gatekeeper » Motherboard

Jason Koebler:

»If you’re just catching up, Angolans are using free access to Wikipedia and Facebook to trade copyrighted movies, music, and television shows, a development that is decidedly against Wikipedia’s rules. The product is called Wikipedia Zero, which “zero rates” all data going to and from Wikipedia websites from mobile phone users in 64 developing countries, meaning the customer doesn’t pay any money for it. In Angola, 50mb of mobile data normally costs $2.50; the median annual salary is $720.

At first glance, giving people in developing nations unlimited access to Wikipedia or Facebook’s Free Basics program seems like a no-brainer. Some access is better than no access, the thinking goes, and Wikimedia, as a nonprofit corporation focused on spreading knowledge, has gotten less public flak than Facebook has for Free Basics, which critics say serves only to indoctrinate the developing world into Facebook’s ecosystem. But the situation in Angola shows that there are problems with zero-rating that Wikimedia’s nonprofit status and knowledge-sharing mission can’t solve.

«

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Land Registry faces privatisation » The Guardian

Heather Stewart, Hilary Osborne and Rowena Mason:

»The Land Registry is being put for up for sale less than two years after the Liberal Democrats blocked previous plans for a £1bn-plus privatisation.

Sajid Javid, the business secretary, faced immediate criticism for announcing the selloff of the 150-year-old agency – which maintains records on the ownership of land and property across England and Wales – just as the Easter break was about to begin.

Union leaders criticised what they called the “cynical” timing. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: “Homebuyers and owners rely on the Land Registry to provide an impartial professional service and it must remain under public control, free from any profit motive and conflict of interest.

«

In the UK, sales of properties and land must be registered with Land Registry. Privatising it would create a private monopoly with the force of law. This would create a company that could raise fees on any product and which would not be answerable to Freedom of Information requests.

This is an unbelievably stupid idea. I’m thus not surprised that Savid Javid is backing it.
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Fly-eye phones are coming » Kevin Marks

Written in January, and increasingly relevant:

»the cameras built into phones have reached the limits of useful resolution, and the differences in responsiveness have been competed away too. The next step will be multiple cameras on each side of the phone. I expect we’ll first see 2 cameras at opposite ends of the phone, so you can take stereoscopic images and videos with natural eye spacing.

However, having simultaneous spaced images means you can extract 3d information from the photo – Google’s camera app has done this for a while but you need to pan up and down. This means you can change depth of field synthetically to give nicer images by blurring unwanted foreground or background details out. This also means you can more easily compensate for lens distortion, making faces less spherical looking in close-ups.You can even reconstruct 3d objects, scanning smaller ones, or panning around a room to derive a more accurate 3d model.

Once you have an accurate 3d model of the room, doing Augmented Reality becomes much more practical – you can place elements on the walls or floors, and have them pass behind and in front of object in a more realistic fashion. Think of the gratuitous effects Snapchat can do with that – 3d halos, birds flying around your head.

«

Look what Snapchat can already do with face recognition (Face Swap) and you get an inkling.
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TayAndYou – toxic before human contact » Smerity.com:

Stephen Merity argues, very convincingly, that Microsoft’s Tay going haywire wasn’t shocking, surprising or unpredictable at all:

»The entire situation was made worse by a few factors:

• TayAndYou would repeat phrases uttered to it, a trivial attack vector
• The facial recognition on images included a small number of utterances, another trivial attack vector that could be gamed for negative results
• TayAndYou produced over 96,000 tweets in a single day, meaning little to no quality oversight would be in place – if there were any potentially insulting responses they were near guaranteed to be found

Was implementing a filter for swearing out of scope..? To be fair, the bot would still find something insulting to say but I’m certain the majority of worst cases would be flagged.

Even if filtering on the generation end was considered too much, the training data shouldn’t have been toxic. Maybe at least filter the training data for anything discussing Hitler. If a PR department wouldn’t want their humans tweeting about Hitler, I’ve no clue why you’d want a bot to.

«

Meanwhile, Microsoft is ever so ever so sorry.

If you’re working in AI/deep learning, Merity’s blog is worth rummaging through.
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Donald Trump will win in a landslide. *The mind behind ‘Dilbert’ explains why. » The Washington Post

Michael Cavna:

»[Scott] Adams, in other words, believes that Trump himself has turned the campaign game around. On the stump, the real-estate mogul is not running on the knowledge of his numbers or the dissection of the data. He is running on our emotions, Adams says, and sly appeals to our own human irrationality. Since last August, in fact, when many were calling Trump’s entry a clown candidacy, the “Dilbert” cartoonist was already declaring The Donald a master in the powers of persuasion who would undoubtedly rise in the polls. And last week, Adams began blogging about how Trump can rhetorically dismantle Clinton’s candidacy next.

Adams, mind you, is not endorsing Trump or supporting his politics. (“I don’t think my political views align with anybody,” he tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, “not even another human being.”) And he is not saying that Trump would be the best president. What the Bay Area-based cartoonist recognizes, he says, is the careful art behind Trump’s rhetorical techniques. And The Donald, he says, is playing his competitors like a fiddle — before beating them like a drum.

«

It’s about irrationality. And people are irrational, no matter what they might think. (I’m very much hoping this is wrong.)
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The readers’ editor on closing comments below the line » The Observer

Stephen Pritchard is the readers’ editor of The Observer, the Sunday sibling to The Guardian:

»While there is a general desire to open comments on as many subjects as possible, moderators are made aware in advance of opinion pieces that are likely to need careful handling.

Last weekend, after consultation, comments were delayed on several Observer articles, including Nick Cohen on becoming a Jew, Victoria Coren Mitchell on the Adam Johnson underage sex case and Barbara Ellen on Jamie Oliver’s advocacy of breastfeeding.

Comments opened once moderators were in place, but within minutes antisemites and Holocaust deniers were hounding Cohen, apologists for sex with teenagers were appearing in the Coren Mitchell thread and misogynists were busy insulting Ellen. It had to stop.

The Telegraph is in the process of ending commentary on its site. That’s not being proposed here, but editors need to think harder about when it would be wise to switch off the ability to comment if a subject is likely to attract so much rage that a mature conversation becomes impossible. It devalues our journalism and offends our readers.

«

Fewer open comment threads also means less moderation, which saves money. But I think this is a broader trend: general news sites will have fewer and fewer open comment threads. It’s just not worth the trouble. Speaking of which…
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Public Access: we’re shutting down our comments … see you next week » Engadget

Here’s Amber Bouman at tech site Engadget:

»The thing is, we like having a comments section. It gives our readers a place to share their experiences, point out mistakes we’ve made, offer up different perspectives and provide more information. Our comments section can be an incredible place to visit, and we value that our readers take the time out of their day (often repeatedly) to participate. But we can’t take pride in a comment system that isn’t offering you the features you need to participate; that runs amok with racist, sexist or homophobic slurs and threats; or that takes joy in in-fighting and provoking fights.

A quality comments section should make it easy for users to contribute. A good comments section has users who feel a sense of duty and kinship, who act as a community. An exceptional comments section informs its readers, corrects authors and provides worthwhile insights in a polite and constructive manner.

«

It can be done; I think you make people pay to be commenters, and revoke that – without refund – if they cross the line.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none specified.

One thought on “Start up: Hubspot culture, bad citations, Wikipedia for piracy, how Tay was pre-broken, and more

  1. Pingback: Start up: the chat bots are here!, what Windows Phone?, Spotify’s IPO debt sprint, fixing iOS 9.3, and more | The Overspill: when there's more that I want to say

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