Start up: Windows 10 hits 300m, a new virus war, gene therapy’s bust, Land Registry’s real value, and more

Facebook’s face recognition system is quite a lot better than this – which has led to lawsuits over privacy invasion. Photo by Chris Devers on Flickr.

You could always sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Unless you’re reading this in email. (I’d love to prevent this bit appearing in the email, but can’t.)

A selection of 14 links for you. Things happened, OK? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A selection of 14 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Software security suffers as upstarts lose access to Google-owned virus data • Reuters

Joseph Menn:


A number of young technology security companies are losing access to the largest collection of industry analysis of computer viruses, a setback industry experts say will increase exposure to hackers.

The policy change at the information-sharing pioneer VirusTotal takes aim mainly at a new generation of security companies, some with valuations of $1 billion or more, that haven’t been contributing their analysis. Older companies, some with market valuations much smaller than the upstart rivals, had pressed for the shift.

Alphabet Inc’s Google runs the VirusTotal database so security professionals can share new examples of suspected malicious software and opinions on the danger they pose. On Wednesday, the 12-year-old service quietly said it would cut off unlimited ratings access to companies that do not share their own evaluations of submitted samples.


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Windows 10 adoption hits 300 million as Microsoft warns the free upgrade will end soon • PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

»Microsoft says that 300 million devices now run Windows 10. And if yours isn’t among them, time is running out.

On Thursday, Microsoft began showing potential customers of Windows 10 the carrot as well as the stick, touting Windows 10’s success but also warning that the free upgrade offer would expire in a couple of months. If consumers don’t upgrade their PCs from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 by July 29, Microsoft will charge $119 for a copy of Windows 10 Home when they eventually do.


But the benefit is that the “upgrade to Windows 10” app will stop bugging you.

The free upgrade translates to billions of foregone revenue and profit.
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New research exposes risks in privatising the UK Land Registry and restricting its data • Open Data Institute

Peter Wells:

»Some of this data is already open so government is already seeing some of this extra tax revenue. The current openness of Land Registry data contributes to it, particularly price paid data which is used by organisations such as Zoopla, Land Insight and RentSquare. This extra tax revenue is incremental to the regular surplus shown in the Land Registry’s accounts.

But the consultation on moving the operations of the Land Registry to the private sector leaves the door open for any future owner of the Land Registry to release additional data under restrictive licensing or paid models. The future owner might even choose to keep some data closed so that only they can use it. As the research shows us, these actions will inhibit GDP growth and reduce that tax revenue.

A private owner has a legal duty to maximise profit for their shareholders. By necessity they will seek to maximise their own return. It is government’s job to consider the impact on the economy as a whole.


The ODI is doing all the research on added value from open data that I wish I’d had ten years ago when the Free Our Data campaign started. Wells, by the way, is looking for examples of companies which have benefited from making their data openly available. I thought of Netflix releasing data to get people to improve its film selection algorithm. Any others?
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Digital pioneer, Jaron Lanier, on the dangers of “free” online culture • WIPO Magazine

Catherine Jewell:

»Q: What are your main concerns about the digital market today?

Lanier: We have seen an implosion of careers and career opportunities for those who have devoted their lives to cultural expression, but we create a cultural mythology that this hasn’t happened. Like gamblers at a casino, many young people believe they may be the one to make it on YouTube, Kickstarter or some other platform. But these opportunities are rare compared to the old-fashioned middle-class jobs that existed in great numbers around things like writing, photography, recorded music and many other creative pursuits.

Economically, the digital revolution has not been such a good thing. Take the case of professional translators. Their career opportunities have been decreasing much like those of recorded musicians, journalists, authors and photographers. The decimation started with the widespread Internet and is continuing apace. But interestingly, for professional translators the decrease is related to the rise of machine translation.

Automated translations are mashups of real-life translations. We scrape the translations made by real people millions of times a day to keep example databases up to date with current events and slang. Elements of these phrases are then regurgitated into usable machine translations. There is nothing wrong with that system. It’s useful, so why not? But the problem is we are not paying the people whose data we are taking to make these translations possible. Some might call this fraud.

All these systems that throw people out of work create an illusion that a machine is doing the work, but in reality they are actually taking data from people – we call it big data – to make the work possible. If we found a way to start paying people for their actual valuable contributions to these big computer resources, we could avoid the employment crisis that otherwise we will create.


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Inside the crash of London’s $2.7bn unicorn Powa Technologies • Business Insider

Oscar Williams-Grut:

»[Powa CEO Dan] Wagner had been trying to give prospective clients a demonstration of the company’s newest and most exciting product — PowaTag.

The app stored people’s credit-card details and let them quickly buy products with a few clicks on their smartphone by scanning QR codes, ads, audiowaves, and iBeacons. Wagner had raised $76 million on the back of the product and said the app would help turn Powa into “the greatest technology company of all time.”

Except right now, during this demo in early 2014, it wasn’t working.

“Dan Wagner comes down to level 34, which was rare, bellowing and F-ing and blinding at people,” a former employee who witnessed the incident told Business Insider. Wagner believed the company’s firewall was preventing the PowaTag demo from working, our source said. “Bearing in mind what PowaTag does, it holds your credit-card details in a database, his solution — and he screamed this across the office — was to ‘take the f—— firewall down right now.’”

If the firewall went down, all the world’s hackers could have cherry-picked customer details from Powa’s servers.

“We didn’t have many consumers, but you don’t take down the firewall on something that’s holding credit cards,” says the former employee who witnessed the confrontation.


This is a great collection of all the things that really weren’t good about Powa. I met Wagner a couple of times; the promise always seemed ahead of the reality. I thought Powa was perhaps a startup worth a few million. Quite how it got to be a unicorn escaped me.
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The world’s most expensive medicine is a bust • Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:

»when the Berlin physician Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen wanted to give a patient Glybera last fall, it wasn’t so easy. She says she had to prepare a submission as thick as “a thesis” for German regulators and then personally call the CEO of DAK, one of Germany’s large sickness funds, or insurers, to ask him to pay the $1 million price tag.

Last September, she gave 40 injections to the muscles of a 43-year-old woman with an ultra-rare disease called lipoprotein lipase deficiency. Such patients don’t process fat correctly. “You draw blood and you are astonished, there is no red blood, it’s cream,” Steinhagen-Thiessen says. One symptom is debilitating abdominal pain. Her patient had been hospitalized more than 40 times.

A dose of Glybera contains trillions of viruses harboring correct copies of the lipoprotein lipase gene. And Steinhagen-Thiessen says the treatment, at Charite Hospital in Berlin, was a success. The woman hasn’t been back to the emergency room since the treatment and is now “living like you and me.”

But this single use of the drug just proves that Glybera is a flop. The problem is its staggering million-dollar price tag, too few patients, and questions about how effective it is.


When I was writing about science from 1995-2003, the promise of gene therapy cures was held out again and again; but the only trials went badly wrong. Cystic fibrosis was always the target – single gene, should be easy to hit – but without success.
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Facebook to face privacy lawsuit over photo tagging • USA Today

Jessica Guynn:

»A San Francisco federal judge rejected Facebook’s request to toss a lawsuit alleging its photo-tagging feature that uses facial recognition technology invades users’ privacy.

U.S. District Judge James Donato allowed the case to move forward against Facebook under an Illinois law that bans collecting and storing biometric data without explicit consent.

“The Court accepts as true plaintiffs’ allegations that Facebook’s face recognition technology involves a scan of face geometry that was done without plaintiffs’ consent,” Donato wrote in Thursday’s ruling.

Facebook launched the photo-tagging tool in 2010. It automatically matches names to faces in photos uploaded to the social network.

In 2008, Illinois passed a Biometric Information Privacy Act, that requires companies to get consent from consumers before collecting or storing biometric data, including “faceprints,” which is what companies such as Facebook and Google use to identify people in photos.

In March, Google was hit with a lawsuit alleging its photo-tagging system violates Illinois law.


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Lenovo and Apple are fastest growing among India’s top 10 smart phone vendors • Canalys

»India’s smart phone market grew by 12% year on year, with 24.4 million units shipping in Q1 2016. The top five vendors stayed the same, with Samsung in the lead, followed by Micromax, Intex, Lenovo and Lava. Lenovo grew the most, thanks to its value-for-money handsets and offline channel strategy – its shipments were up 63% on Q1 2015. Established international brands Microsoft, BlackBerry, Sony and LG were the biggest losers as the market shifted toward low-cost and value-for-money handsets…

…But other vendors are maneuvering to move up the market share rankings. Though in eighth place, Apple continued to climb in India, increasing shipments by 56% to make it the second fastest-growing vendor in the top 10. ‘Apple is outperforming the overall market in India, and still has great growth potential,’ said Canalys Mobility Analyst Wilmer Ang. It is seriously challenging Samsung’s dominance of the premium segment. For devices priced over US$300 (INR20,000), Samsung’s market share fell from 66% in Q1 2015 to 41% in Q1 2016, while Apple grew its market share from 11% to 29%. Successive price cuts to the iPhone 5S made it the most popular Apple device on the market, despite its smaller screen and outdated hardware.


Not clear how much the $300+ market is growing, though.
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Digital prejudice: When software doesn’t play fair • The Boston Globe

Hiawatha Bray:

»The issue caught fire three years ago. That’s when Latanya Sweeney, a computer scientist and professor of government at Harvard University, discovered that Google searches of her name were usually accompanied by ads for companies offering criminal background checks. An African-American woman of spotless character, Sweeney got curious. She soon found that names that sounded like they belonged to black people, like Latanya, were 25% more likely to trigger ads for criminal records than names that sounded white, say, Kristen.

Is Google’s search software racist? Not likely. It merely contains algorithms — step-by-step instructions — that alter the program’s performance, depending on how humans use it. Imagine thousands of searches like “Latanya criminal records.” The searchers might be racist white people, or black people trying to check out a new best friend. Either way, if Google gets many such requests, background-check ads will appear whenever someone types “Latanya.” Google’s algorithms learn from our behavior, whatever its motive.

Similar cases abound. Last year, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University found that Google’s advertising service seems to discriminate by gender. Internet users who identified themselves as female were less likely to see ads for high-paying jobs than male users. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Maryland found that Google searches of Democratic presidential candidates produced more flattering results than those of Republicans. Searching, say, “Hillary Clinton” delivers more upbeat Web pages than “Donald Trump.”


The fault lies not within Google, but ourselves, of course.
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Garbage in, garbage out: why Ars ignored this week’s massive password breach • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»Earlier this week, mass panic ensued when a security firm reported the recovery of a whopping 272 million account credentials belonging to users of Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo, and a variety of overseas services. “Big data breaches found at major email services” warned Reuters, the news service that broke the news. Within hours, other news services were running stories based on the report with headlines like “Tech experts: Change your email password now.”

Since then, both Google and a Russia-based e-mail service unveiled analyses that call into question the validity of the security firm’s entire report.

“More than 98% of the Google account credentials in this research turned out to be bogus,” a Google representative wrote in an e-mail. “As we always do in this type of situation, we increased the level of login protection for users that may have been affected.” According to the report, the compromised credential list included logins to almost 23 million Gmail accounts…

…What has been clear all along to anyone paying attention is that the plaintext credentials recovered by Hold Security almost certainly didn’t come from hacks on the e-mail providers. Instead, they most likely were collected by hackers who hit dozens, hundreds or thousands of third-party Web services over the years and dumped the account databases into a single list.


Which is why you should use different passwords at every site. There are simple methods for doing this
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Logical fallacies in the hunt for Satoshi • Hacking, Distributed

Emin Gün Sirer is a professor at Cornell:

»The task of identifying Satoshi goes far beyond user authentication. Satoshi is not Anonymous#4356365 on a forum. He is not trying to edit an old post. And more importantly, we, the public at large, are not a computer system, narrowly tasked with making a simple access control decision. What is at stake is larger than the $500m in coins thought to belong to Satoshi: intellectual standing and social status far in excess of any figure that can be captured with a dollar sign.

Critically, having access to Satoshi’s funds is not the same thing as being Satoshi. The problem here is broader, less like user authentication in a computer system, and more like unveiling the true identity of the pseudonymous author of a book. This problem of “persona authentication” is complicated, as it necessarily relies on human factors.

Can a Satoshi claimant recall unique facts about interactions he/she has had with others?

Can a Satoshi claimant accurately account for the time he/she spent developing Bitcoin?

Can a Satoshi claimant convince others that he/she possesses the technical know how to be Satoshi?

These are the real questions. Anyone who cannot answer them will have failed to resolve the Satoshi mystery, even if they collect the coins.


In other words, it’s a lot more than just moving a few bitcoins.
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Mashable’s costly path to video • The Information

Tom Dotan:

»after talks with Time Warner’s Turner division, the [effort to sell Mashable] fell through. Mashable’s $300m price tag was too high. Instead, Turner led a $15m fundraising, the second by a Time Warner unit in Mashable.

Mashable’s dive into video has shown some positive early returns. The company had a 46% growth in revenue during the first quarter compared with last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person said Mashable expects to maintain that growth rate through the year. After some heavy cost cutting—including layoffs of 30 employees, many of whom worked on the editorial side—it expects to turn profitable this year. But one person who has looked at Mashable’s books believe that the company may need to invest more to meet those revenue growth targets, potentially delaying profitability.

The expense of ramping up video production has been a challenge for many digital publishers. Even with great demand, BuzzFeed struggled last year with the long lead times it takes to create branded video, often dealing with hands-on agency executives who demanded more creative input in the final product than they did for sponsored articles. BuzzFeed faces higher talent costs: the company has had to start signing its best-known personalities to two-year contracts, cutting them in on branded video deals, to stop them defecting.


Video is this year’s media saviour – following on from “just being online”, “having a paywall”, “having a mobile app” and “having a tablet app”. No doubt in a year or two it will be “having VR content”. (Some have already started that.)
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Truth and Trumpism • The New York Times

Paul Krugman expressing concern that US media, in its absurd pursuit of “balance”, will mischaracterise the presidential candidates’ policies and support:

»I’ve seen claims that Tea Partiers were motivated by Wall Street bailouts, or even that the movement was largely about fiscal responsibility, driven by voters upset about budget deficits.

In fact, there was never a hint that any of these things mattered; if you followed the actual progress of the movement, it was always about white voters angry at the thought that their taxes might be used to help Those People, whether via mortgage relief for distressed minority homeowners or health care for low-income families.

Now I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.”

Trump support in the primaries was strongly correlated with racial resentment: We’re looking at a movement of white men angry that they no longer dominate American society the way they used to. And to pretend otherwise is to give both the movement and the man who leads it a free pass.

In the end, bad reporting probably won’t change the election’s outcome, because the truth is that those angry white men are right about their declining role. America is increasingly becoming a racially diverse, socially tolerant society, not at all like the Republican base, let alone the plurality of that base that chose Donald Trump.

Still, the public has a right to be properly informed. The news media should do all it can to resist false equivalence and centrification, and report what’s really going on.


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Siri’s creators say they’ve made something better that will take care of everything for you • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

»Ask Siri to “buy me a ticket for the Beyoncé concert” and she’ll pull up a link to Ticketmaster’s Web page. Ask her to reserve a table at a restaurant near your house and she can pull up the time and date you requested, but you can’t book the reservation unless you have the OpenTable app installed.

That wasn’t how it was supposed to be, Kittlaus said. The original Siri wasn’t supposed to be a clever AI chatbot. The goal was to reinvent mobile commerce itself. When it initially launched as an independent app in 2010, Siri could buy tickets, reserve tables and summon a taxi — all the while bypassing search pages and without a user having to open or download another app. She was able to siphon data from 42 Web services, including Yelp, StubHub, OpenTable and Google Maps.

But nearly all of the partnerships were dissolved once Apple took over. To build them, Kittlaus had essentially gone door-to-door to various tech companies asking for permission to connect to their stores of proprietary data. Kittlaus and Cheyer, who became close with Apple’s Steve Jobs before his death in 2011, will not discuss what happened beyond this from Kittlaus: “Steve had some ideas about the first version, and it wasn’t necessarily aligned with all the things that we were doing.” Kittlaus quietly left Apple the following year. A third of the original Siri engineering team members, including Cheyer, eventually followed him and are now building Viv.


Viv will be shown off in public today, Monday. Apple’s decision to pull back seems odd now, but at the time the app economy was riding high; Jobs might have wanted to keep it growing, because that benefited Apple. Now, six years on, the landscape is different, and that decision has become a strategy tax.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

1 thought on “Start up: Windows 10 hits 300m, a new virus war, gene therapy’s bust, Land Registry’s real value, and more

  1. “The free upgrade translates to billions of foregone revenue and profit.”… for OEMs as much as for Microsoft? My hunch would be that most consumer upgrades of Windows have come when upgrading hardware in the past. Will be interesting to see if the free upgrade just futher stretches the average Windows PC lifetime.

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