Start up: the Gawker-Thiel fiasco in detail, Three to try adblock, how Genius screwed security, and more

Hello! Your internet thermostat is happy to control your home temperature. Photo by claireonline on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Aren’t they pretty? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Market watchers pessimistic about 2-in-1 market • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Steve Shen:

»To maintain the sales momentum of the Surface Book, Microsoft plans to launch upgraded models of its Surface Pro family products with improved CPU performance in the third quarter of 2016, indicated the sources.

Asustek also plans to launch a Surface Book-like model soon to cash in on the prevailing trend for 2-in-1 products, revealed the sources, adding that Asustek will roll out the new model at a rate of 40,000 units a month.

However, since the 2-in-1 models mostly come with a display in 12- to 13-inch size, demand for such models are likely to be limited, and therefore the proliferation of new models is likely to bring a price war in the segment in the second half, commented the sources.

«

Could be crowded; the 2-in-1 market is definitely limited, but a price war will hurt them.
link to this extract

 


Google wins Java copyright case against Oracle • WSJ

Jack Nicas:

»A federal jury here ruled that Google’s use of Oracle Corp.’s Java software didn’t violate copyright law, the latest twist in a six-year legal battle between the two Silicon Valley titans.

Oracle sued Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., in 2010 for using parts of Java without permission in its Android smartphone software. A federal appeals court ruled in 2014 that Oracle could copyright the Java parts, but Google argued in a new trial this month that its use of Java was limited and covered by rules permitting “fair use” of copyright material.

A 10-person jury on Thursday agreed.

Google acknowledged using 11,000 lines of Java software code. But it said that amounted to less than 0.1% of the 15 million lines of code in its Android mobile-operating system, which runs most of the world’s smartphones.

«

Good. Let that be the end of it, please God. (But no, Oracle says it will appeal.)
link to this extract

 


Apple’s secret AI technology: meet VocalIQ, the self-learning technology that is a part of Siri2 • Medium

Brian Roemmele:

»If Apple utilizes just a small subset of the technology developed by VocalIQ [a Cambridge UK startup it bought at the end of 2015], we will see a far more advanced Siri. However I am quite certain the amazing work of Tom Gruber [who worked on the original Siri; no relation to John Gruber] will also be utilized.

Additionally the amazing technology from Emollient, Perception and a number of unannounced and future Apple acquistions will also become a big part of Apple’s AI future. I wrote about how the Voice First, Voice Commerce and Voice Payments world will play out here. As I have asserted in my 1989 Voice Manifesto, there will not be advertising in Voice First devices, there will be Voice Commerce and Voice Payments. The push mechanisms of advertising give way to Intelligent Agents pulling ontologies.

Apple has entered into a new era. Steve Jobs saw this in the twlight of his life and made sure the company had a firm foothold into the future. This future will be lead by Viv, Alexa, Google Home, Facebook M and 100s of companies that no one has yet heard of toiling in garages around the world quite like Apple did in 1975.

«

link to this extract

 


Peter Thiel’s dangerous campaign against Gawker • Fusion

Felix Salmon:

»[Peter Thiel] Thiel end up bankrolling the hugely expensive Hulk Hogan case against Gawker, along with an unknown number of others. And thus did the Hogan case become an attempt to bring a media organization to its knees, more than it was an attempt to deliver justice for Hulk Hogan himself.

Hogan could have accepted a substantial financial settlement; he could also have made it much more likely that he would get paid, by suing in such a manner as to make Gawker’s insurance company liable for any verdict. Instead, he refused all settlements, and withdrew the insurable complaints, to ensure that the company itself would incur as much damage as possible.

The next step, after the Hogan verdict, was for Thiel to go public. After the enormous damages were announced and the long appeals process creaked into action, it started to become obvious that Gawker would need to raise more capital in order to continue to be able to fight the case. (In the worst case scenario, it would need to put up a $50 million bond.) Gawker had already sold some new stock in January; there was talk of doing the same thing again. With cash, Gawker could fight the Hogan verdict, get it reduced or even thrown out entirely, and carry on as a going concern.

But then the Thiel bombshell dropped. The Hogan case, it turned out, wasn’t a war in which Gawker could emerge victorious; instead, it was merely a battle in a much larger fight against an opponent with effectively unlimited resources.

«

Rich rightwingers outspokenly or through subterfuge funding attacks against publications isn’t new; Robert Maxwell (as greedy a capitalist as ever there was) and Jimmy Goldsmith come immediately to mind. Clearly it’s the expectation that because someone is a tech-head they will be progressive that is the wrong one.

Salmon, by the way, thinks that Thiel outed himself to Forbes as the source of funding for Hogan.
link to this extract

 


Conservative Facebook investor Peter Thiel funded anti-ACORN videographer • Village Voice

Steven Thrasher:

»[James] O’Keefe is now well known as the young man who dressed up as a pimp with a colleague, Townhall.com blogger Hannah Giles, who was dressed like a prostitute. The pair traveled around the country, seeking advice from ACORN [Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now] workers about how to hide prostitution money for tax purposes. At five of the offices they visited, ACORN workers gave such advice while O’Keefe’s hidden camera was rolling. The videos have cost ACORN the support of Congress, the U.S. Census and the White House, and the organization stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in government grants.

O’Keefe, meanwhile, has repeatedly claimed to be financially independent. In an interview with the New York Post shortly after the ACORN videos hit the Internet, O’Keefe claimed to be “absolutely independent.” Giles said she had “drained my entire savings” to spend the summer making the undercover videos. O’Keefe estimated his budget at $1,300, and said that Giles had paid for her own plane ticket to California. The couple said they lived off of Power Bars and Subway sandwiches for two months.

But O’Keefe turns out to have a substantial history of being funded by conservative figures.

«

Thiel kicked in with funding of somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000, which isn’t a lot on its own, but sure helps. ACORN is defunct as of November 2010, but used to “advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighbourhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues”.
link to this extract

 


Gawker founder looking to sell after losing Hogan judgment • New York Post

Claire Atkinson:

»Gawker Media founder Nick Denton has begun quietly soliciting bids for the sale of his company, The Post has learned.

Denton hired Houlihan Lokey media banker Mark Patricof to advise him on the valuation of the cash-hungry company in the event that he needs to sell it to pay damages to Hulk Hogan, who was awarded $140m by a Florida jury after Gawker posted a sex video of the wrestling legend, sources said.

At least one unnamed party has already expressed interest with a deal valued at between $50m and $70m, sources said.

Denton owns a 68% stake in Gawker after bringing in his first outside investor earlier this year. He sold a minority stake for $100m to technology firm Columbus Nova Technology Partners, injecting some much-needed cash as the company fought the Hogan suit.

The value of the business was pegged at $250m around the time of that deal, but that number has since sunk, sources said.

«

link to this extract

 


Mt. Gox creditors seek trillions where there are only millions • The New York Times

Nathaniel Popper:

»$2,411,412,137,427.

That figure — $2.4 trillion for those with an untrained eye for very large numbers — is in the same ballpark as the annual economic output of France.

It is also exactly the amount that people around the world claim they lost when Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based virtual currency exchange, collapsed into bankruptcy in 2014, after huge, unexplained losses of the volatile digital currency Bitcoin.

As with most of the people who lost money with Bernard L. Madoff, the investment manager who was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme, most of those who put their Bitcoin in Mt. Gox will be disappointed: The Japanese trustee overseeing the case said on Wednesday that only $91 million in assets has been tracked down to distribute to claimants — a small portion of the more than $500 million in assets that Mt. Gox claimed it had in the weeks before it went bankrupt in February 2014, and a tiny portion of the amount that claimants have requested.

«

Though as the story notes, the value of BTC currently extant is about $7bn, or 0.3% of $2.4trn. BTC hasn’t fallen that far. So there are lots of fake claims.
link to this extract

 


My internet-connected home gadget hell • NY Mag

The wonderful “Internet of shit” account holder on her/his experience:

»At first, I found myself obsessing over the app and my newfound insights into the home. I would check the temperature multiple times a day, as if I needed to know how warm it was inside. As with all home gadgets, my interest eventually waned as it did its job. Eventually, I forgot about the thermostat — until its “smart” features started failing gradually. One time I arrived home to a bitterly cold house, about 10°C (50°F), wondering what had gone wrong — it turned out the internet had gone down while I was away, so the thermostat hadn’t bothered to do anything.

This would eventually become a recurring theme with my thermostat. In the middle of winter it began disconnecting, frequently overnight — even when there was a solid internet connection — and didn’t have a backup mode. I’d wake up seeing my own breath, then spend hours rebooting the thermostat, boiler, and router to get it working again. The only way to control the gadget is via the app, so when it breaks you’re really screwed.

«

I have a Hive (controls heating and hot water via an app or web, remotely or there). The hot water stopped working. Must be a problem with the Hive, right? Spent ages on the phone with British Gas rebooting, checking connections, all that stuff.

Outcome: it was a problem with a valve in the hot water system. Nothing to do with Hive. It had simply added an extra layer of debugging to the system. (Via Charles Knight.)
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Can BuzzFeed News survive the shift to video? • CNN

Dylan Byers:

»BuzzFeed is increasingly staking its future on video, where entertainment is top priority. At the beginning of 2015, video accounted for 15% of the company’s revenues. Today, it’s approaching 50%, according to a company spokesperson. Peretti even moved to Los Angeles last year — for personal reasons, he said, but also because BuzzFeed’s L.A.-based video division was the “fastest growing team” at the company.

Taken together, the reduced revenue projections and the shift to video signal a shift in the balance of power that favors entertainment over journalism. Many industry observers and some staff believe that BuzzFeed will eventually curtail or even jettison its news division in order to focus on more profitable revenue streams.

“The halo that BuzzFeed got from ‘News’, they don’t need it any more,” said one media executive who is familiar with BuzzFeed’s plans. “Entertainment, video, production — that’s where the money is, that’s where they can get growth.”

BuzzFeed News is in “retrenchment,” one senior member of the BuzzFeed editorial staff said. “The growth mode has stopped.”

«

So Buzzfeed can survive the shift fine – it’s whether, or to what extent, the news side can that’s in question. (Related: CNN has autoplay video. Beware.)
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Three network to run 24-hour adblocking trial • The Guardian

Jasper Jackson:

»Mobile provider Three is to run a 24-hour adblocking trial in the UK in the first step towards removing ads for all its customers.

The company is planning to contact customers and ask them to sign up for the trial, which will take place in mid June.

Three claims it wants to introduce adblocking to improve customer privacy, reduce data costs and provide a better experience accessing the web on phones. The company said advertisers should pay for the data costs associated with ads, but that it isn’t trying to get ads removed completely.

Three UK chief marketing officer Tom Malleschitz said: “This is the next step in our journey to make mobile ads better for our customers. The current ad model is broken. It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardise their privacy. Something needs to change.”

“We can only achieve change by working with all stakeholders in the advertising industry – customers, advertising networks and publishers – to create a new form of advertising that is better for all parties.”

Despite Three’s insistence it wants to work with the companies that are showing its customers ads, many publishers will view the move as an all-out attack on their businesses.

«

This could get ugly.
link to this extract

 


Could there be a fifth fundamental force of nature? • Popular Science

Ryan Mandelbaum:

»The Hungarian group found their new force while looking for a “dark photon,” light that only impacts dark matter. They hit a strip of lithium with protons, the lithium sucked up the protons to become an unstable version of beryllium, which threw up pairs of electrons and positrons, the electron’s antiparticle partner. When the protons hit the lithium at a certain angle, 140 degrees, out came way more electrons and positrons than the Hungarians were expecting. They think all that excess stuff could be from a new particle 34 times heavier than the electron, and a hint that maybe there’s a new force lurking somewhere.

Nature reports that other physicists seem skeptical, but are excited about the new force. Still, researchers at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, CERN, and other labs are trying to see if they can recreate the Hungarian team’s results in their own experiments.

«

Just noting this in case posterity finds a use for it.
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How Genius annotations undermined web security • The Verge

Vining Assar:

»The primary way Genius annotations are accessed on the web is by adding “genius.it” in front of any URL as a prefix. The genius.it server reads the original content behind the scenes, adds the annotations, and delivers the hybrid content. The Genius version of the page includes a few extra scripts and highlighted passages, but until recently it also eliminated the original page’s Content Security Policy. The Content Security Policy is an optional set of instructions encoded in the header of the HTTP connection which tells browsers exactly which sites and servers should be considered safe — any code which isn’t from one of those sites can then be ignored.

Content Security Policies were first introduced in 2012 and are not yet in widespread use, since they can interfere with scripts used for advertising and social-network functionality, and thus tend to be implemented only by sites with high security standards. Still, the sites that do supply Content Security Policies include PayPal, BuzzFeed, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Pinterest, CNN, and IMDb, among others. Since the web-annotator product is designed to work as a substitute for any webpage on the internet, Genius presented a substantial new attack surface, theoretically usable by any malicious hacker who could lure their victims into clicking on a Genius redirect…

…I began to realize that the entire service is built on top of a unique approach to overriding the standard security practices of the web.

«

“Let’s annotate the web!” has been the war cry of various people down the years (including, briefly, Microsoft). It never turns out to be a good idea.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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