Start up: EC v Android?, the human chatbots, Metallica v YouTube, Wall Street’s new mortgage con, and more

Guess what the priciest search ad keywords in the UK are associated with. Photo by Javmorcas on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Be ineffable. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU prepares for Android crackdown » FT.com

Christian Oliver and Murad Ahmed:

»The EU has given its strongest signal to date of its intent to crack down hard on Google’s mobile operating system, comparing an imminent antitrust case against Android to Brussels’ epic confrontation with Microsoft a decade ago.

People involved in the case said that EU regulators were very close to opening a long-expected new front in their showdown with Google, which has already been hit with charges that it abused its dominance of online searches.

A second charge sheet, in relation to Android, is almost finalised. Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner, would probably be ready to deliver it as early as this week, the people said, although the timing could not be confirmed.

Ms Vestager said on Monday that she was concerned that Google could be unfairly taking advantage of consumers’ desire to have pre-installed apps, ready for use as soon as “we take a new smartphone out of its box”. This could stifle innovation by keeping fledgling app makers and service providers out of the market.

“Our concern is that, by requiring phonemakers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” she said in a speech in the Netherlands.

Explaining her logic, she alluded to the European Commission’s landmark battle with Microsoft, which lasted years and culminated in 2007 with combined fines of more than €2bn.

«

Very like the search charges (which were filed a year ago, and absolutely nothing has happened). Except that 1) Google really did manipulate search results to keep out rivals 2) phonemakers have always been able to use AOSP and then fill it in with apps – as happened with the Nokia X. I don’t think the Android case is as strong as the search case.
link to this extract

 


The top 100 most expensive keywords in the UK: new research » Search Engine Watch

Chris Lake:

»Back in the day, around 2003, somebody asked me a question regarding paid search: “Do you know what the most expensive keyword is on Google Adwords, and how much it costs?”

I made a bunch of guesses, gradually increasing the amount I thought it might be acceptable to pay every time somebody clicks on an ad. £20? No? £30? Surely not!

The grand reveal was that I was horribly wrong, and that some advertisers were paying “about £70 a click” for the term ‘mesothelioma’, which is a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It was immediately apparent that legal firms would spend that kind of money because they were hunting for big ticket compensation lawsuits.

Roll forward to the present day and I wondered how things had changed, as Google’s revenues have grown to more than $67bn globally and keyword inflation is a big deal in a lot of sectors.

The good folks at SEMrush provided me with a huge list of the most expensive keywords in five countries, and for my first piece of research I’ve focused on the UK.

I had 2,000 keywords to analyse (from its database of 12m in the UK) and here are the top results…

«

Now it’s gambling which leads the pack; gambling-related keywords make up 67 of the 100 most expensive key word searches.

In other words, if you’re using Google services for free in the UK (and who isn’t?), then gambling helps pay for it through the expensive keyword ads. The next ones? Financial spread betting and day trading; “big data” and cloud services; business-to-business (especially cheap electricity); and legal compensation. Gambling, finance (or gambling finance), tech, legal and B2B complete the 100.

Would love to know what percent of total AdWord revenues come from each category, and what percentage the top 100 represent.
link to this extract

 


The humans hiding behind the chatbots » Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

»[Willie] Calvin joined X.ai [which offers an email chatbot “Amy” which sets up appointments in response to emails] in December 2014 just a few months after graduating from the University of Chicago with a public policy degree. He was under the impression that his $45,000 annual salary job as an AI trainer would be half product development and half reviewing the algorithm’s accuracy. He said he was asked, as part of the job application, to write a one-page essay on why automation would be good for jobs and workers. X.ai declined to comment on specific hiring practices.

He was excited at the chance to do product development at a tech startup, but once he started work, he said he found that the product part of the job never materialized. Instead, Calvin said he sometimes sat in front of a computer for 12 hours a day, clicking and highlighting phrases. “It was either really boring or incredibly frustrating,” he said. “It was a weird combination of the exact same thing over and over again and really frustrating single cases of a person demanding something we couldn’t provide.” Kristal Bergfield, who oversees X.ai’s trainers, said that that the job has evolved over time and entails hard work. “We’re building something that’s entirely new,” she said. “It’s an incredibly ambitious thing, and so are the people who work here.”

«

Still, on the plus side, it means that robots aren’t going to take our jobs. Downside: our jobs will become subsidiary to those of robots.
link to this extract

 


Metallica manager: ‘YouTube is the devil’ » BBC News

Mark Savage:

»Peter Mensch, the manager of bands including Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse, says YouTube is killing the record industry.

“YouTube, they’re the devil,” he told a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the music business. “We don’t get paid at all.”

He said the site’s business model, in which artists make money by placing ads around their music, was unsustainable.

“If someone doesn’t do something about YouTube, we’re screwed,” he said. “It’s over. Someone turn off the lights.”

Mensch’s arguments echo concerns raised in the annual report of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which was released last week.

It said there was widening “value gap” between the volume of music consumed on free, “user-upload” services – including YouTube, Daily Motion and Soundcloud – and the amount of revenue they generate for the industry.

An estimated 900 million consumers on these sites resulted in revenue of $634m (£447m) in 2015. By contrast the world’s 68 million paying music subscribers generated about $2bn (£1.4bn).

«

Once again, Metallica is OK (as they were when they were suing Napster in 2000) but it’s the other, mid-tier bands that will be missing out. Streaming is a terrible business model, but YouTube makes it look like a goldrush.
link to this extract

 


Sony says Kumamoto plant not main site for smartphone components » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki:

»Sony Corp said on Monday that its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which has been shut since earthquakes hit southern Japan last week, makes components mainly for digital cameras.

Sony’s plant in Nagasaki, which resumed full operations on Sunday, is the company’s major production facility for image sensors for smartphones, it said.

The company said it had yet to decide when to restart the Kumamoto plant.

There had been concerns that plant shut downs because of the earthquakes could affect production of Apple Inc’s iPhones, including the iPhone 7.

“The impact of the Kumamoto plant suspension on Apple is expected to be limited,” Hiroyuki Shimizu, principal research analyst at Gartner, said.

«

link to this extract

 


Wall Street veterans bet on low-income home buyers » NYTimes.com

Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein:

»As the head of Goldman Sachs’s mortgage department, Daniel Sparks helped make the bank more than a billion dollars betting against the market as housing prices began to crash in 2007.

Today, he is betting on home buyers who no longer qualify for mortgages in the fallout of that housing crisis.

Shelter Growth Capital Partners, an investment firm Mr. Sparks founded in 2014 with two other former Goldman Sachs executives, has been buying homes that were foreclosed on during the financial crisis and later resold to buyers under long-term installment contracts.

The firm has bought just over 200 homes from Harbour Portfolio Advisors, a Dallas investment firm that has specialized in selling homes to lower-income buyers through what is known as a contract for deed. In these deals, a seller provides the buyer with a long-term, high-interest loan, with the promise of actually owning the home at the end of it.

These contracts, a form of seller financing, have ballooned in recent years as low-income families unable to get traditional mortgages have turned to alternate ways to buy homes.

The homes are often sold “as is,” in need of costly repairs and renovations, and many of the transactions end in eviction when buyers fall behind on payments.

«

So poorer would-be buyers are screwed once again because although money is cheaper than it has ever been (and so the loans don’t have to be high-interest; the houses aren’t going to run away), they are – yet again – the marks in the new shell game being played by Wall Street.
link to this extract

 


Hacking your phone » CBS News

Sharyn Alfonsi spoke to a team of German hackers who have found a flaw in SS7, aka Signalling System 7, the phone protocol for voice calls and text – and had a demo of how they could hack into her call to a congressman Ted Lieu, who is knowledgeable about technology, by knowing the number for the iPhone that CBS had provided to Lieu :

»[Karsten] Nohl told us the SS7 flaw is a significant risk mostly to political leaders and business executives whose private communications could be of high value to hackers. The ability to intercept cellphone calls through the SS7 network is an open secret among the world’s intelligence agencies — -including ours — and they don’t necessarily want that hole plugged.

“We live in a world where we cannot trust the technology that we use.”

Sharyn Alfonsi: If you end up hearing from the intelligence agencies that this flaw is extremely valuable to them and to the information that they’re able to get from it, what would you say to that?

Rep. Ted Lieu: That the people who knew about this flaw and saying that should be fired.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Should be fired?

Rep. Ted Lieu: Absolutely.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Why?

Rep. Ted Lieu: You cannot have 300-some million Americans– and really, right, the global citizenry be at risk of having their phone conversations intercepted with a known flaw, simply because some intelligence agencies might get some data. That is not acceptable.

«

link to this extract

 


Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives » Columbia Journalism Review

Chava Gourarie:

»[Algorithms are] also anything but objective. “How can they be?” asks Mark Hansen, a statistician and the director of the Brown Institute at Columbia University. “They’re the products of human imagination.” (As an experiment, think about all of the ways you could answer the question: “How many Latinos live in New York?” That’ll give you an idea of how much human judgement goes into turning the real world into math.)

Algorithms are built to approximate the world in a way that accommodates the purposes of their architect, and “embed a series of assumptions about how the world works and how the world should work,” says Hansen.

It’s up to journalists to investigate those assumptions, and their consequences, especially where they intersect with policy. The first step is extending classic journalism skills into a nascent domain: questioning systems of power, and employing experts to unpack what we don’t know. But when it comes to algorithms that can compute what the human mind can’t, that won’t be enough. Journalists who want to report on algorithms must expand their literacy into the areas of computing and data, in order to be equipped to deal with the ever-more-complex algorithms governing our lives.

«

As Gourarie points out, there aren’t yet any journalists with the title of “Algorithm correspondent”, but maybe there should be; algorithms are (going to be? already?) as powerful as politicians, but less easy to interview. Though in the case of Google search and Facebook’s News feed, no single person, nor even group of people, quite knows for certain why they do what they do. What does that mean?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

2 thoughts on “Start up: EC v Android?, the human chatbots, Metallica v YouTube, Wall Street’s new mortgage con, and more

  1. Pingback: EU vs. Android

  2. I wrote a book chapter about algorithms and media, many years ago. I’ve become quite discouraged about the whole topic since then. It’s a subject that requires expertise, and support for independent investigation is basically being destroyed.

    By the way, all things being equal, I’d say algorithms are in fact much easier to interview than politicians. They don’t lie to you, you can often ask them as many questions as you want, they don’t get upset if you are suspicious of what they tell you. It might seem different to you because of spending years honing a craft of how to interview politicians, and working in a context where they don’t simply ignore you. But if you had spent the same amount of time learning how to interview algorithms (i.e. reverse engineering), and had the same sort of access, the algorithms might make for far more amenable interviewees.

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