Start up: Oracle’s $9.3bn Android, FOI v Land Registry, have a robot bin!, longer smartphone life, and more

Thrill to the arrival of Oculus Rift and the brave new possibilities it enables! Photo by Mike Cogh 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.

Oracle v Google: Big Red wants $9.3bn in Java copyright damages » The Register

Chris Williams:

»Last year, Oracle successfully argued that it can copyright software interfaces – not just the software itself, the way it interfaces with other code, too. However, the trial jury deadlocked on whether or not Android’s infringement of Oracle’s copyright constituted “fair use.”

The case is heading back to trial in May to effectively work out how much money Google owes Oracle. In the meantime, the pair have been squaring up to each other in San Francisco’s federal court. In January, Oracle revealed that Google has made $31bn in sales and $22bn in profit from Android since it launched in 2008 – figures Google fought fiercely to keep secret.

Now one of Oracle’s expert witnesses, James Malackowski, has produced an analysis [PDF] that concludes that Big Red is owed $475m in damages and up to $8.89bn in recovered Android profits. Malackowski is chief exec of Ocean Tomo, which does intellectual property valuations among other things.

«

That’s a lot of money. (Surprise! Google says the analysis is wrong.)
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Unable to open links in Safari, Mail or Messages on IOS 9.3 » Ben Collier

Collier was using booking.com’s app, which turned out to have screwed up in a big way:

»A lot of users (including myself and a few friends) are experiencing links in Mail and Messages not working, and some links in Safari, like Google Search results, not opening. A long press on a broken link causes the app you’re in to crash, otherwise a standard tap highlights the link but nothing happens.. It looks like there’s a bug in iOS that completely breaks the Universal Links if it gets served an app association file that’s too large.

Benjamin Mayo of 9to5mac.com reported installing the Booking.com app consistently broke their test devices – which led Steve Troughton-Smith (who else…) to take a peep at their association file, and tweet:

“Wow http://booking.com literally put every URL they had into their site association file. 2.3MB download ”

It seems that the large size of their file, due to it having every URL from their website inside it breaks the iOS database on the device. Apple allows you to have pattern based matching, so instead of having to include every hotel’s URL in the association file, Booking.com could just put /hotel/* to match all the hotels on their site.

Whilst Booking.com aren’t following the recommended approach, it’s not their fault that a third-party can break a fundamental system feature like web browsing. Apple should be handling these edges graciously.

The worst part – deleting the app doesn’t clear the Universal Link association. Because the OS process that handles the Universal Links has crashed, it appears unable to remove the corrupt database.

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You can just about fix it via lots of subtle rebooting and deleting. Quite a screwup.
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Oculus Rift review: a clunky portal to a promising virtual reality » The New York Times

Brian Chen:

»“People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post when he announced the Oculus acquisition. “But this is just the start. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”

Over the past week, I tested the Rift and many pieces of content for the system to see how true Mr. Zuckerberg’s words might ring. I can report that while the Rift is a well-built hardware system brimming with potential, the first wave of apps and games available for it narrows the device’s likely users to hard-core gamers. It is also rougher to set up and get accustomed to than products like smartphones and tablets.

«

Long setup, big downloads which can’t be done simultaneously with device use, and games where the VR benefits are unclear. Early days yet.
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A quick look at the Private Eye FOI’d “Offshore Landowners” data from the Land Registry » OUseful.Info

Tony Hirst:

»A few days ago, Private Eye popped up a link to the (not open) data they’d FOId from the Land Registry around land registry applications made by offshore companies: Selling England (and Wales) by the pound.

I thought have have a quick look at the data to see what sorts of thing it contained. I’ve popped a quick introductory conversation with it here: Private Eye – UK Land Ownership By Offshore Companies.

One of the things I learned was that solar panel installation companies can often get a hold on you…

«

This is precisely the sort of analysis, driven partly through FOIA, that would become impossible if the Land Registry were to be privatised.
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What does your reaction to a robotic trash can say about you? » Atlas Obscura

Cara Giamo:

»Imagine you’re in a cafeteria, finishing up a bag of chips and chatting with some friends. You’re beginning to think about getting up to throw away your wrapper, when—suddenly—the nearest trash barrel approaches you instead. It rolls back and forth, and wiggles briefly. It is, it seems, at your service.

How do you respond?

«

Like this:

»

The trash barrel has delivered some particularly unique insights. First of all, Sirkin and Ju say, it highlights how good people are at subtly refusing to acknowledge interactions they don’t want or need—a behavior the team has dubbed “unteracting.” If the trash barrel approaches a table of people, and they have no trash to give it, they generally won’t shoo it off. They’ll just steadfastly ignore it until it rolls away again. “They’re using their gaze as a tool for deciding when they’re engaging or not,” says Ju. (You can see this about halfway through the video, when a man on a cell phone refuses to look at the barrel until it backs off.)

On the other hand, people who did make use of the barrel felt miffed when it didn’t respond more. “People kind of expected it to thank them,” says Sirkin. “They’ll say ‘I fed the robot, and it didn’t thank me, and that was insulting.’” Some would also whistle for it, or dangle trash in front of it enticingly.

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Alphabet: the thriving cult of greed and evaluation » Medium

Jake Hamby:

»In Google, employees are evaluated every year according to an opaque “perf” system that generates numeric scores that the employee is not allowed to see or to challenge. If an employee’s perf isn’t improving, they face “Performance Expectation Plans” and “Performance Improvement Plans” of increasing severity, which the employee is told are designed to bring them back into the fold, but which are actually designed to create a paper trail for HR in order to terminate the individual’s employment if management determines they are no longer worth the amount it costs the company to continue to employ them.

The problem with companies like Google is that they’re losing engineers at every level of the company because it’s simply no longer fun to work there, or at least that was my experience. I was punished by my manager for lower “perf” than he expected from me, due to my complete loss of interest in the real overarching goals of Android (to provide a minimal platform for Google’s closed-source, proprietary apps) as opposed to the goals presented to the public and Google’s partners (to provide an exceptional platform for Google’s partners to make great smartphones), and to my depression over the recent loss of my father after his multi-year battle with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

«

Hamby left Google in 2014.
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What you should (and shouldn’t) do to extend your phone’s battery life » The Wirecutter

Dan Frakes, Nick Guy and Kevin Purdy:

»One of the biggest complaints people have about their smartphone is that the battery doesn’t last long enough. For many people, just making it through the day can be a challenge, which is why you see so many “How to make your phone’s battery last longer!” articles in your friends’ Facebook feeds. But many of the claims in those articles are specious at best, and some of the tricks they suggest could actually shorten your battery life. So which ones should you try?

We partnered with The New York Times to find the answer by testing, on both Android and iPhone smartphones, a slew of procedures that people, publications, and — in some cases — smartphone manufacturers suggest for getting more use time out of your phone.

«

Some of these are really surprising – like not bothering to turn off Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to save battery.
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“Internet Connection Records”: answering the wrong question? » Paul Bernal’s Blog

On the topic of the UK government’s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, which wants to introduce an “internet connection record” that could be queried for any person:

»The real problem is a deep one – but it is mostly about asking the wrong question. Internet Connection Records seem to be an attempt to answer the question ‘how can we recreate that really useful thing, the itemised phone bill, for the internet age’? And, from most accounts, it seems clear that the real experts, the people who work in the internet industry, weren’t really consulted until very late in the day, and then were only asked that question. It’s the wrong question. If you ask the wrong question, even if the answer is ‘right’, it’s still wrong. That’s why we have the mess that is the Internet Connection Record system: an intrusive, expensive, technically difficult and likely to be supremely ineffective idea.

The question that should have been asked is really the one that the Minister asked right at the start: how can we find all these terrorists and paedophiles when they’re using all this high tech stuff? It’s a question that should have been asked of the industry, of computer scientists, of academics, of civil society, of hackers and more. It should have been asked openly, consulted upon widely, and given the time and energy that it deserved. It is a very difficult question – I certainly don’t have an answer – but rather than try to shoe-horn an old idea into a new situation, it needs to be asked.

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AI’s biggest mystery is the ethics board Google set up after buying DeepMind » Business Insider

Sam Shead:

»DeepMind CEO and cofounder Demis Hassabis has confirmed at a number of conferences that Google’s AI ethics board exists. But neither Hassabis nor Google have ever disclosed the individuals on the board or gone into any great detail on what the board does.

Azeem Azhar, a tech entrepreneur, startup advisor, and author of the Exponential View newsletter, told Business Insider: “It’s super important [to talk about ethics in AI]. ”

Media and academics have called on DeepMind and Google to reveal who sits on Google’s AI ethics board so the debate about where the technology they’re developing can be carried out in the open, but so far Google and DeepMind’s cofounders have refused.

It’s generally accepted that Google’s AI ethics board can only be a good thing but ethicists like Evan Selinger, a professor of philosophy at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, have questioned whether Google should be more transparent about who is on the board and what they’re doing.

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Ransomware’s aftermath can be more costly than ransom » TechNewsWorld

John Mello:

»Downtime caused by a ransomware attack can cost a company more than paying a ransom to recover data encrypted by the malware, according to a report released last week by Intermedia.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of companies infected with ransomware could not access their data for at least two days because of the incident, and 32% couldn’t access their data for five days or more, according to the report, which was based on a survey of some 300 IT consultants.

“If you’ve got a large number of users and downtime runs into multiple days, then the cost of that downtime adds up pretty quickly to the kind of ransom amounts that cybercriminals are demanding potentially,” said Richard Walters, senior vice president of security products at Intermedia.

Those losses occur even if a company has taken precautions to back up its data. “You have to contain the infected systems, then wipe them completely and then restore them,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That process in more than half these cases took longer than two days.”

Companies faced with the decision between paying a ransom or restoring their systems from backups could find that it would cost them less to pay the ransom.

«

You can see how a pricing mechanism would take hold if the ransom was too high or too low. In which case, there must be an optimum ransom at which income is maximised, even though it’s too high for some companies. A case study for an academic somewhere, surely.
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Certified Ethical Hacker website caught spreading crypto ransomware » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»EC-Council, the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based professional organization that administers the Certified Ethical Hacker program, started spreading the scourge on Monday. Shortly afterward, researchers from security firm Fox IT notified EC-Council officials that one of their subdomains—which just happens to provide online training for computer security students—had come under the spell of Angler, a toolkit sold online that provides powerful Web drive-by exploits. On Thursday, after receiving no reply and still detecting that the site was infected, Fox IT published this blog post, apparently under the reasonable belief that when attempts to privately inform the company fail, it’s reasonable to go public.

Like so many drive-by attack campaigns, the one hitting the EC-Council is designed to be vexingly hard for researchers to replicate. It targets only visitors using Internet Explorer and then only when they come to the site from Google, Bing, or another search engine. Even when these conditions are met, people from certain IP addresses—say those in certain geographic locales—are also spared. The EC-Council pages of those who aren’t spared then receive embedded code that redirects the browser to a chain of malicious domains that host the Angler exploits.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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