Start up: how Facebook beat Google+, Fadell’s exit interview, iPad Pro review, Appelbaum leaves Tor, and more


Is there too much of this kind of thing between Google and influential European administrative positions? Photo by axi11a 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.

Wal-Mart says it is 6-9 months from using drones to check warehouse inventory • Reuters

Nandita Bose:

»The remotely controlled drone captured 30 frames per second of products on aisles and alerted the user when product ran out or was incorrectly stocked. Natarajan said drones can reduce the labor intensive process of checking stocks around the warehouse to one day. It currently takes a month to finish manually.

Finding ways to more efficiently warehouse, transport and deliver goods to customers has taken on new importance for Wal-Mart as it deals with wages costs while seeking to beat back price competition and boost online sales.

Wal-Mart said the camera and technology on top of the drones have been custom-built for the retailer.

«

Becoming totally quotidien. My only thought when watching Top Gear is how many of the aerial shots have been done using a drone.
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Google: new concerns raised about political influence by senior ‘revolving door’ jobs • The Guardian

Jamie Doward:

»New concerns have been raised about the political influence of Google after research found at least 80 “revolving door” moves in the past decade – instances where the online giant took on government employees and European governments employed Google staff.

The research was carried out by the Google Transparency Project, an initiative run by the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a US organisation that scrutinises corporations and politicians. The CfA has suggested that the moves are a result of Google seeking to boost its influence in Europe as the company seeks to head off antitrust action and moves to tighten up on online privacy.

In the UK, Google has hired people from Downing Street, the Home Office, the Treasury, the Department for Education and the Department for Transport. Overall, the company has hired at least 28 British public officials since 2005.

Those hired have included Sarah Hunter, a senior policy adviser to Tony Blair when prime minister, who became head of public policy for Google in the UK. Hunter is now head of policy for Google X, the arm that deals with new businesses such as drones and self-driving cars.

«

The response from some people? “Who funds the CfA – I bet it’s some company that doesn’t like Google.” Rather than “why is there an echelon of people who just shift from policy job to policy job?”
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How Mark Zuckerberg led Facebook’s war to crush Google Plus • Vanity Fair

Antonio García Martínez:

»As part of the budding media seduction around this new product, Google posted eye-popping usage numbers. In September 2012, it announced that the service had 400 million registered users and 100 million active ones. Facebook hadn’t even quite reached a billion users yet, and it had taken the company four years to reach the milestone—100 million users—that Google had reached in one. This caused something close to panic inside Facebook, but as we’d soon learn, the reality on the battlefield was somewhat different than what Google was letting on.

This contest had so rattled the search giant, intoxicated as they were with unfamiliar existential anxiety about the threat that Facebook posed, that they abandoned their usual sober objectivity around engineering staples like data and began faking their usage numbers to impress the outside world, and (no doubt) intimidate Facebook.

This was the classic new-product sham, the “Fake it till you make it” of the unscrupulous startupista, meant to flatter the ego and augment chances of future (real) success by projecting an image of current (imagined) success.

The numbers were originally taken seriously—after all, it wasn’t absurd to think Google could drive usage quickly—but after a while even the paranoid likes of Facebook insiders (not to mention the outside world) realized Google was juicing the numbers, the way an Enron accountant would a revenue report. Usage is always somewhat in the eye of the beholder, and Google was considering anyone who had ever so much as clicked on a Google Plus button anywhere as part of their usual Google experience a “user.” Given the overnight proliferation of Google Plus buttons all over Google, like mushrooms on a shady knoll, one could claim “usage” when a Google user so much as checked e-mail or uploaded a private photo. The reality was Google Plus users were rarely posting or engaging with posted content, and they certainly weren’t returning repeatedly like the proverbial lab rat in the drug experiment hitting the lever for another drop of cocaine water (as they did on Facebook). When self-delusion and self-flattery enter the mind-set of a product team, and the metrics they judge themselves by, like the first plague rat coming onto a ship, the end is practically preordained.

«

From a forthcoming book by this ex-Facebooker.
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Bait and switch: the failure of Facebook advertising — an OSINT investigation • Medium

Hunchly (which is software that integrates to Google Chrome for online investigations) noticed, and proved, that you can create Facebook ads which seem to be pointing to reliable domains – such as CNN – but actually go to a scammy one:

»In the security world we have long been pushing to make sure that products become more “secure by default”. This means that no matter how little a user knows, they are protected as best as possible from day one. While we are all aware that there are ways to commit fraud through advertising networks, in a lot of cases it requires numerous tricks or a relatively high level of sophistication. Google AdWords is extremely vigilant when it comes to placing a new ad (go try it) to make sure that you are not doing anything suspicious. While AdWords is not a perfect system, like anything in security the idea is to raise the bar high enough that only the most sophisticated fraudsters can game the system.

Facebook is missing a simple check that is leaving users at risk. We are not talking about enhancing or tweaking a sophisticated anti-fraud algorithm.

«

It’s just three lines of code, though I think it would screw up a lot of ads which go through third-party ad-tech systems.
link to this extract

 


A few thoughts on True Tone – the 9.7″ iPad Pro review • Anandtech

Brandon Chester:

»True Tone works exactly as intended by providing good relative accuracy. As you move to different environments the color temperature of the display shifts to match how your eye adjusts its perception of white depending on the temperature and brightness of the light around you. This obviously leads to inaccuracy relative to the sRGB standard, but that’s missing the point of True Tone entirely. My tests were simply meant to demonstrate how much shifting occurs in different environments, along with a clarification on some misunderstandings I had heard regarding the relationship between True Tone and the DCI-P3 gamut, which are really unrelated technologies.

True Tone works very well, and in a way Apple has proven me wrong here because I was initially skeptical. I’ve seen this attempted before, particularly by Samsung, and the implementations have not been good at all. When I first got the 9.7″ Pro I felt like the True Tone mode shifted too far toward the red. However, after using it for some time I began to realize that this was the product of me using other devices that all shift toward blue, which ruined my perception of the display. When using the iPad Pro on its own for reading or doing work, pulling out another device with a blue shifted display is absolutely jarring, as the iPad has adjusted to match how my eyes perceive things in different lighting, while all my other displays are forever blue. In a way, the biggest problem with True Tone is that it’s not in everything, and I think this is something Apple should be bringing to all of their portable devices.

It’s difficult to photograph True Tone, as depending on where your camera’s white balance lands the iPad Pro will look too red, or the other display will look too blue. I really recommend checking out True Tone for yourself, although if you decide to do it in an Apple Store you probably won’t see the benefits because Apple’s other products are designed to look neutral under the same sort of fluorescent lighting as those stores.

«

link to this extract

 


Forbes has quit bugging (some) people about their adblockers • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

»Forbes was still preventing me from visiting the site with an adblocker on Tuesday, but several of my colleagues accessed it with adblockers on. Forbes did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Tuesday, so we can’t be sure whether or not it’s a policy shift or a backend snafu.

In recent months, sites like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have taken cues from Forbes and Wired and are getting tougher on users with adblockers enabled. Both the Times and the Journal are greeting some adblocker users with messages asking them to whitelist the sites or subscribe; even some people who already pay for subscriptions are seeing the adblocking messages. The Guardian has also said that it will consider “stricter” measures against adblocker users (for now, it just gently notes at the bottom of a page that it has detected an adblocker).

Not surprisingly, all of these policies have annoyed certain users, but Forbes’ appeared to inspire particular aggravation and mocking, perhaps in part because Forbes is not viewed as an essential news source…

«

link to this extract

 


How LinkedIn’s password sloppiness hurts us all • Ars Technica

Jeremi Gosney:

»Let’s quickly remember why we hash passwords in the first place: password hashing is an insurance policy. It ensures that should the password database be compromised in any way or through any vector, including physical theft, the passwords will not be recovered until engineers have an opportunity to identify and contain the breach, notify the public, and give users an opportunity to change their passwords anywhere else they may have used them. The stronger and slower the password hashing is, the more time a sites buys for itself and its users in the event of a breach.

Therein lies the problem. We’ve known about the necessity of slow hashing since the 1970s, yet due to a global failure in threat modeling, adoption has been extremely low. It is only in light of a string of high-profile breaches in the last five years that slow hashing has begun to make its way into the mainstream. Thanks to services like LinkedIn, who negligently failed to employ slow hashing (the combined 184 million passwords dumped in 2012 and this year all used unsalted SHA1), hackers have had more than a few fantastic opportunities to collect and analyze massive amounts of password data.

What this means is even if the next big breach does employ slow hashing, it likely will not be anywhere near as effective as it would have been even five years ago. Post-LinkedIn, it will now take hackers many fewer attempts to guess the correct password than it otherwise would have.

«

Two-factor authentication for everything?
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Jacob Appelbaum, digital rights activist, leaves Tor amid sexual misconduct allegations • Mic.com

Jack Smith:

»On Thursday, the Tor Project quietly announced the departure of leading digital rights activist Jacob Appelbaum from its board. At first, they didn’t say why — now, we know.

On Friday afternoon, members of the cryptography community accused Appelbaum publicly of multiple instances of sexual assault against people in the Tor community, and attributed these accusations to Appelbaum’s departure from the Tor Project.

On Saturday, the Tor Project confirmed in a blog post that complaints of this nature are, in fact, the reason for Appelbaum’s departure. Appelbaum is a notorious hacker and activist for digital rights who has worked with both WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden documents. He is prominent in the cryptography and online activism community, and influential among civil liberties projects and foundations.

“We do not know exactly what happened here,” Tor Project executive director Shari Steele wrote. “We don’t have all the facts, and we are undertaking several actions to determine them as best as possible. We’re also not an investigatory body, and we are uncomfortable making judgments about people’s private behaviors.”

“That said, after we talked with some of the complainants, and after extensive internal deliberation and discussion,” the statement continued, “Jacob stepped down from his position as an employee of the Tor Project.”

«

The accusations made in the article and on Twitter against Appelbaum are very serious; remains to be seen if and where any charges will be laid.
link to this extract

 


Software now to blame for 15% of car recalls • Popular Science

Apps freezing or crashing, unexpected sluggishness, and sudden reboots are all, unfortunately, within the normal range of behavior of the software in our smartphones and laptops.

While losing that text message you were composing might be a crisis for the moment, it’s nothing compared to the catastrophe that could result from software in our cars not playing nice.

Yes, we’re talking about nightmares like doors flying open without warning, or a sudden complete shutdown on the highway.

The number of software-related issues, according to several sources tracking vehicle recalls, has been on the rise. According to financial advisors Stout Risius Ross (SSR), in their Automotive Warranty & Recall Report 2016, software-related recalls have gone from less than 5% of recalls in 2011 to 15% by the end of 2015.

SSR points to the sheer volume of software code that interfaces vehicle components, many of them developed to different protocols. While there are about 9 million lines of code in an F-35 fighter jet, today’s cars can contain up to 100 million lines, the firm says.
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Tony Fadell defends his record and methods • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance got the exit interview:

»Bloomberg: The internet says you might be a tyrant. Are you a tyrant?

Fadell: You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. That style may not be for everyone. But, you know, there are people that worked with me years ago at General Magic, and they have their kids working for me now. If it was true, it would get around like crazy. The Valley’s a small place. I’ve been here 25 years, right?
To me, it’s truly, what’s your mindset? Are you coming to work? Are you truly respecting the mission we’re on? Yes, things are going to go up and down. But because we have a true respect for the people, because they respect what we’re trying to do, we’ll get through anything together. And that’s what counts, right?

Bloomberg: What do you wish you had done differently at Nest?

Fadell: I don’t know of any regrets that I have. You can take something as a challenge or take it as a learning experience. And so for me, it’s always growth. We all make mistakes. We have to make mistakes when we learn to speak or we learn to walk or crawl. So to do what we do at the level we do it, no one’s done it before. So you’re bound to make mistakes.

Bloomberg: What was your relationship like with (Google co-Founder and Alphabet Chief Executive Officer) Larry Page over the years? What did you learn from him?

Fadell: I respect what he’s built. I respect what Larry and Sergey (Brin) have built. I’ve learned a lot from Larry, and a lot of the people that they’ve hired are just top-notch.

For me, it’s really contrasting this with Steve (Jobs), because I learned a lot from Steve about experience and marketing and product design.

«

That’s not quite a strong boost he’s giving Page and Brin, to my mind. Also: Google’s multi-billion hardware acquisitions – Motorola, Nest, Boston Dynamics – haven’t worked out too well, have they?
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Reuters finds readers want quality news, but aren’t willing to pay for it • Digiday

Jessica Davies:

»Reuters in April polled 1,230 of its readers as part of an attempt to figure out its future strategy. The good news: People value quality news. The bad: They still don’t want to pay for it.

Although 81% of respondents said that a news brand is synonymous with trusted content, with nine out of 10 of them turning to a particular news brand to verify breaking news, two-thirds of them said they wouldn’t be willing to pay for any online content, regardless of quality.

“We have an incredible history as a news organization, going back 165 years. But we must answer some of the questions around what audiences want from news going forward, or we won’t have the same relevance in the next 165 years,” said Reuters commercial director, EMEA, Jeff Perkins in an interview.

«

Anyone who hasn’t bought a newspaper (which is a growing number now in the US especially) isn’t aware of having paid for news; the idea that advertising monetises their consumption will have passed them by. Thus of course they don’t show any inclination to pay for it.

The latest great savious: news on VR. Bet you people won’t pay for the news itself there.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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