Start up: the copyright abusers, Windows Phone is dead, browser bloat in detail, and more

Peter Thiel: the new public enemy No.1? Photo by apostolosp on Flickr.

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

Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet • The Guardian

Alex Hern, with a story that starts when Annabelle Narey complained on Mumsnet about the work done by BuildTeam Holborn Ltd of London; the company complained, she and Mumsnet declined to remove it. But:

in April, the decision was made for her, in a very peculiar way. Mumsnet received a warning from Google: a takedown request had been made under the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), alleging that copyrighted material was posted without a licence on the thread. As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure. In fact, no copyright infringement had occurred at all. Instead, something weirder had happened. At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled “Home Improvement Tips and Tricks”. The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Obviously, shenanigans. The question is by who, for what, and when. Any more details on that website or its operators welcomed. (Or other examples of similar backdate-and-DMCA.)

Startup employees invoke obscure law to open up books • WSJ

Rolfe Winkler:

For more than a year, Jay Biederman has pestered Domo Inc. for its financial statements. The former manager wants to estimate how much his tens of thousands of shares in the tech startup are worth. Domo, whose software analyzes corporate data, has rejected those requests, he said, keeping its financial records under wraps like most privately held startups. But the law may be on Mr. Biederman’s side. He recently discovered section 220 of Delaware’s corporate law, which can compel locally incorporated companies such as Domo to open up their books to shareholders. The law, little known in Silicon Valley, is a potentially valuable tool for thousands of tech workers who received stock awards to join fast-growing startups, as well as other small investors, who now question their shares’ worth… …Some companies are now pushing employees to waive their right to inspect the books as a condition for receiving stock awards, says Richard Grimm, an executive compensation attorney. Fitness tracking company Fitbit Inc. and online dating site Zoosk Inc. both did so as private companies, according to their IPO filings. Fitbit declined to comment. Zoosk didn’t respond to questions.

You just have to ask. Another tricky thing: lots of startup employees are given options to buy, not actual shares.

Xiaomi – Broken engagement • Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor thinks Xiaomi has poor engagement with its ecosystem and is struggling on the smartphone side:

I think that there is real risk that in Xiaomi’s 2016 [smartphone] units decline YoY on the back of a much softer market and much tougher competition. The edge that Xiaomi carved out for itself did not last long and I see it having to cut prices in order to minimise market share losses. Hence, it is not difficult to see revenues declining by 10% or more in 2016. In this instance, Xiaomi will have to act quickly and trim its operations back in order to avoid a loss both at the EBIT level and in terms of cash flow.

He puts a price tag of $5bn on it – rather than the $50bn others did last year when investing. Seems more reasonable.

Molekule ::

Welcome to a whole new air purification experience—unobtrusive, portable, and 100% effective. From the inside out, Molekule has reimagined what clean air ought to look and feel like.

Yours for $800. Let me think for a moment about what air should look like. And feel like. Still, good to know we’re not in a bubble.

Parsing Spotify’s financials • Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson does a deep dive:

The other interesting aspect of Spotify’s results is the split in its revenue sources, among which paid subscriptions and advertising account for over 99%. The split between those two has remained relatively constant over the last three years, with subscribers generating roughly 90% of revenue, and advertising the other 10%. That’s notable, because Spotify has over two times as many free subscribers as paid subscribers, but those paid subscribers generate nine times as much revenue. To look at it another way, the paid subscribers generate roughly 80 euros a year in revenue each, while the free subscribers generate just $3-4. This has been a matter of some controversy within the music industry, but in that podcast episode I referred to earlier, we discussed this, and Ryan Wright’s take was that the existence of free streaming is actually important from a perspective of creating a funnel for future paid subscribers.

I’ll have “paying subscribers”, please. Spotify’s problem filling its ad inventory, even as it does it better, is how poorly they pay relative to the costs they impose through licensing payments to labels. Fun exercise which only Spotify can do: what if you removed the cost of the label payouts for free streamers? How does that affect the costs v revenues? That’s where Apple Music is. (I think it’s “a lot less lossmaking”.) The other point to look at is how much of the IFPI’s paid streaming money comes from Spotify. It’s surprising.

Pointless features add to browser bloat and insecurity • The Register

Richard Chirgwin:

It might be time for the warlocks of the Web and brewers of JavaScript to revisit their ever-burgeoning developer wish-lists and sweep away the rubbish. Researchers from the University of Illinois have looked at how users and Website designers respond to the feature-list, and their study suggests there’s a whole lot of kruft that nobody – site owners or end users – are using. Or, as El Reg would put it: your browsers and Web servers are bloating with features nobody wants, and contribute nothing but extra lines of code. As they write at Arxiv: “We find, for example, that 50 per cent of the JavaScript provided features in the web browser are never used by the top ten thousand most popular websites,” the paper states. It’ll surprise nobody that at least some of the non-execution of features is down to site ad-blockers and the like, but the end result is: “83 per cent of available features are executed on less than 1 per cent of the most popular 10,000 websites.”

Examples: “ambient light events” (lets browser react to light level around machine; used by 14 of 10,000 in the study – and why do they use it? Isn’t that an OS thing?); “Encoding standard” which converts between encodings. One site uses it. And guess what? Those extra features also create security vulnerabilities. Clearly there’s a space for a new, lightweight browser. Again.

Sunk • The Atavist Magazine

Mitch Moxley with an epic tale of what sounds like the modern Heaven’s Gate:

The script called for an epic battle. In the movie’s third act, the forces of the Eight Faery Kingdoms defend their aquatic empires from annihilation by the evil Demon Mage and his spectral legions. Five hundred extras would play the opposing armies. But in January 2010, when Jonathan Lawrence, the director of Empires of the Deep, showed up for the shoot, in Qinyu, a resort town in coastal China, he saw only about 20 extras, mostly ornery Russians complaining that they hadn’t been paid in weeks. How would he turn 20 people into 500? On top of that, their costumes—swamp green rubber suits decorated with scales, octopus suckers, and shells—looked like poorly made Halloween getups. Some of them had fins glued to their heads. Lawrence was in most ways a strange choice to be running a massive film set in China. A 40-something director from Los Angeles with just one feature-film credit, he made his living directing shorts, commercials, and music videos. But then again, ever since he saw Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark as a teenager in 1981, he had waited for this chance.

Then again, remember how everyone thought John Carter (the daft sorta-sci-fi film from 2012 which cost $264m to make) would bankrupt its studio? Took $284m at the box office. Nobody knows anything.

Microsoft announces streamlining of smartphone hardware business • Microsoft News Center

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced plans to streamline the company’s smartphone hardware business, which will impact up to 1,850 jobs. As a result, the company will record an impairment and restructuring charge of approximately $950m, of which approximately $200m will relate to severance payments. “We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation — with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “We will continue to innovate across devices and on our cloud services across all mobile platforms.” Microsoft anticipates this will result in the reduction of up to 1,350 jobs at Microsoft Mobile Oy in Finland, as well as up to 500 additional jobs globally. Employees working for Microsoft Oy, a separate Microsoft sales subsidiary based in Espoo, are not in scope for the planned reductions. As a result of the action, Microsoft will record a charge in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016 for the impairment of assets in its More Personal Computing segment, related to these phone decisions.

I take it that “Enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability” requires the intersection of all three elements, since you can get the first two all over the place. And “consumers who value the same” seem to be in short supply. Microsoft is going to be selling so few of these phones it may as well deliver them by courier.

Avoiding BlackBerry’s fate • The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks responds to Marco Arment’s “this looks bad for Apple” re AI:

Let’s assume that Marco is right and Apple isn’t even fucking trying big data or AI. (I personally feel there is little chance this is a correct assumption, but whatever. It actually doesn’t matter.) Let’s say, for shits and giggles, that Facebook wins at AI and Google wins at big data and Amazon does something else we don’t care about for this post. Does Apple become irrelevant? If you assume that they do, then essentially you think the iPhone paved the way. You think that the iPod was the first MP3 player, you think OS X was state of the art — and on and on. Apple rarely does it first. None of those things did it first. It’s not a zero-sum game. Apple succeeds right now because they do it better. Will it be hard to catch up? Maybe, but so far it’s not been hard for Apple at all. Not under Steve Jobs, and not under Tim Cook. Let’s also not forget Maps. When the iPhone came out, I don’t think Apple was prepared for just how crucial mapping would be. They just relied on Google to get it right. And then, Apple Maps. Is it better? That’s subjective. But it is most certainly good enough. The Apple Watch wasn’t even close to being the first. Is it amazing? Depends. But is it better than any other smart watch? Yes. So, even if Facebook, Google, and Amazon beat Apple to something, they would all very much want their something on the iPhone. Because: iPhone.

Tricky argument. A lot of the doomsaying is predicated on the idea that nobody can catch up on Google in machine learning (likely) *and* that nobody can make an adequate ML system even if they try to catch up. The latter doesn’t quite hold up when you think about it.

Inside Disney’s messy (and now closed) video game business • Tech Insider

Ben Gilbert:

One of the most common refrains among ex-Disney staffers was that Disney had a strong aversion to risk. They say Disney was rarely willing to make the investment — both financial and philosophical — required to become a major player in the video game business. “Disney is very buttoned up, financially, to an extent that was surprising to me,” former Disney Interactive senior VP and general manager Alex Seropian told Tech Insider. Seropian was the guy in charge of running Disney’s “core” game group from 2009 until 2012. He was the guy who oversaw various game studios that Disney bought, who worked with external development studios to create games that could be made in-house. He’s also a co-founder of Bungie Studios, the development studio that created blockbusters like “Halo” and “Destiny.” After nearly twelve years as CEO, Seropian moved over to Microsoft after its purchase of Bungie to oversee the launch of the first ever “Halo” game. Seropian understands how to create major new video games within a large corporation. But his knowledge and experience only got him so far at Disney. “Any big company has a finance department, has financial folks embedded in the product units, or business units will take the finances of the business very seriously, etc.” Seropian said. “But I found at Microsoft that there was a little more of a focus on the product, at least from the business decision-making aspect, with a little bit more of, ‘If we make the right thing the profits will come.'” Not at Disney.


Champerty, Gawker and Peter Thiel •

Caterina Fake (who co-founded Flickr and many others):

It’s hard to pick a side in the Gawker-Thiel-Hogan lawsuit, reported today in Forbes, but the lawsuit and its outcome are a mere sideshow to the main story, which is that this case is a terrifying development for those of us who value a free, democratic media. What is most frightening about this lawsuit is that the press has always played a significant role in defending the small and powerless against the big and powerful. Gawker has played this role in its own tabloid style, but Thiel’s funding of this lawsuit shows how money can protect that power through third-party litigation funding.

Nah, it’s not hard to pick a side. Gawker were arses in putting up the Hulk Hogan content, but under the law that applies in the US it had a perfectly valid First Amendment right to do so. (A court has already ruled to that effect; the Hogan win elsewhere will be struck down on appeal.) That would have been different elsewhere with tougher privacy laws. But Gawker’s in the US, and it pokes usefully at the pompous in tech. Thiel, meanwhile, has made himself as welcome as the proverbial turd in the swimming pool. There’s some discussion as to whether Gawker became a target for Thiel because of this story. (Which is also unimportant – but that’s how the First Amendment works.)

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