Start up: Spotify’s freemium finish?, where robots will go, NHS and Deepmind details, evil PDF!, and more

Making you walk is exactly the point for a data-gathering company. Photo by edowoo on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 14 links for you. Take them, take them all. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cyber security will soon be the work of machines •

Anjana Ahuja:

»next month, all eyes will be on the Cyber Grand Challenge in Las Vegas, a competition hosted by the research arm of the US military.

Seven teams will compete against each other on a given system, to locate cyber attacks and “patch” them in real time. And, for the first time, there will be no human fixer behind the patches, just supercomputers racing against each other. The event, which will be streamed live, is being billed as the first all-machine hacking tournament.

Computers are already used to detect vulnerabilities in networks, and to ferret out malicious software that can exploit chinks in security. Once a flaw is detected, though, the remedy requires human input — and it can take months for software engineers to effect a fix. This means the status quo favours cyber attackers over defenders.

Two years ago, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) launched a grand challenge to develop machines that could write fixes automatically. Upgrading cyber security to the speed of machine learning, the agency said, would shift the status quo. Darpa even offered to fund the best proposals.


link to this extract

This blind Apple engineer is transforming the tech world at only 22 • Mashable

Katie Dupere writes about Jordyn Castor, who was born prematurely and has been blind since birth, and is now 22:

»Sarah Herrlinger, senior manager for global accessibility policy and initiatives at Apple, says a notable part of the company’s steps toward accessibility is its dedication to making inclusivity features standard, not specialized. This allows those features to be dually accessible — both for getting the tech to more users, as well as keeping down costs.

“[These features] show up on your device, regardless of if you are someone who needs them,” Herrlinger tells Mashable. “By being built-in, they are also free. Historically, for the blind and visually impaired community, there are additional things you have to buy or things that you have to do to be able to use technology.”

At that job fair in 2015, Castor’s passion for accessibility and Apple was evident. She was soon hired as an intern focusing on VoiceOver accessibility.

As her internship came to a close, Castor’s skills as an engineer and advocate for tech accessibility were too commanding to let go. She was hired full-time as an engineer on the accessibility design and quality team — a group of people Castor describes as “passionate” and “dedicated.”

“I’m directly impacting the lives of the blind community,” she says of her work. “It’s incredible.”


link to this extract

Mechanical Turk requesters: a mix of academics and businesses • Pew Research Center

»During the week studied, Pew Research Center found that 36% of the unique requesters were either academic groups, professors or graduate students. That was slightly more than the 31% which were businesses. Identifiable nonprofits were barely represented at 1%.

While the total number of academics and businesses were fairly close, the details of how each type of group used the site were very different.


Cheaper than interns, perhaps?
link to this extract

The subprime ad crisis is here • Medium

Rob Leathern:

»the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book ‘The Big Short’, Mark Baum (played by Steve Carell) explains the shortsighted thinking that led to the subprime mortgage meltdown:


We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball… What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not nice. Or that fraud is mean. For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than this, I really did.


The advertising and media world have likewise wrongly been focused on short-term outcomes, and via disjointed incentives have either perpetrated outright fraud on their customers and/or the public, or have stood by while other companies they’ve trusted have done so.


Also linked in the piece, from 2014: “The coming subprime advertising crisis” by Joe Marchese. Taking a while, but it did too for subprime mortgages.
link to this extract

The end of freemium for Spotify? • Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan on new numbers suggesting Spotify has hit 37 million subscribers – the question being, paying what?

»As the IFPI’s 2015 numbers revealed, the average label revenue per music subscriber fell globally from $3.16 in 2014 to $2.80 in 2015, with price discounting a key factor. According to Music Business Worldwide, 4 million of Spotify’s newly acquired 7 million subscribers were on promotional offers and around 1.5 million of those are expected to churn out when their promotional period ends. That might sound high but it actually represents a 79% conversion ratio, which is a stellar rate by anyone’s standards. Meanwhile Spotify’s total user base is 100 million which means the free-to-paid ratio is 37%. So price promos are converting at more than double the rate of freemium. Does this mean the end of freemium?

…the burgeoning success of Spotify’s mid-priced-subscriptions-by-stealth strategy provides a bulging corpus of supporting evidence. In fact, the average spend of Spotify’s 7 million net new subscribers in Q2 2016 was $3.09 a month. The tantalizing question is whether that 1.5 million promo users that are expected to churn out would take a $3.99 product if it was available?


Mulligan suggests that Spotify is essentially adding new subscribers at lower price points by offering deals such as family sharing. (Apple does exactly the same.)
link to this extract

PDFs are the Cheques of the 21st Century ← Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden on the frustrations of trying to understand and index the multi-million word Chilcot report (on the Iraq war), which is in PDF form:

»This isn’t a new rant – Jakob Nielsen was criticising PDF back in 2001.

I truly believe that the Internet needs to treat the PDF as harshly as it treated Flash. We should be embarrassed that such legacy technologies have been allowed to create a stranglehold on our creativity. They are stifling our democracy by trapping vital information in a digital tar pit.

We must drive PDF out – cast it to the winds – make it as impolite to use as auto-playing MIDI on a website.

You wouldn’t accept being paid by paper cheque – why should you accept receiving data by PDF?

If you’d like to help convert the Chilcot Report to a more open, accessible, and semantic format please get involved with


Tagged PDFs can be useful, but Chilcot is wilfully not tagged or machine-readable.
link to this extract

Where machines could replace humans – and where they can’t (yet) • McKinsey & Company

Michael Chui, James Manyika, and Mehdi Miremadi:

»as our research has begun to show, the story is more nuanced. While automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the next decade, it will affect portions of almost all jobs to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of work they entail. Automation, now going beyond routine manufacturing activities, has the potential, as least with regard to its technical feasibility, to transform sectors such as healthcare and finance, which involve a substantial share of knowledge work.

These conclusions rest on our detailed analysis of 2,000-plus work activities for more than 800 occupations. Using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*Net, we’ve quantified both the amount of time spent on these activities across the economy of the United States and the technical feasibility of automating each of them. The full results, forthcoming in early 2017, will include several other countries, but we released some initial findings late last year and are following up now with additional interim results.


Construction, forestry and raising outdoor animals all safe for now. Welding and soldering on assembly lines, food prep, packaging stuff – not so safe.
link to this extract

Under fire, Theranos CEO stifled bad news • WSJ

John Carreyrou:

»At a presentation to Theranos Inc. employees last month, Elizabeth Holmes displayed a slide saying the company had developed 304 tests using small volumes of blood, according to an attendee.

Left unsaid: Most of those experiments hadn’t progressed beyond laboratory research, according to the attendee.

The slideshow was part of a pattern: Ms. Holmes has continued to put a positive spin on her embattled blood-testing company—while broadly keeping employees in the dark on many issues—even as Theranos’s regulatory and legal troubles mount…

…When Sunny Balwani joined the company as second-in-command in early 2009, former employees say, the culture of secrecy intensified. Departments were separated from one another with keycards. Employees were discouraged from discussing their work with colleagues in other departments, they say.

The silos impeded progress on the company’s blood-testing technology because they prevented Theranos’s engineers and chemists from working as a team to solve problems during the research-and-development process, the former employees say. In May, Theranos announced Mr. Balwani was retiring.

Last fall, Theranos general counsel Heather King took issue with the notion that the company was secretive and had silos. “Theranos takes great pride in having created a culture of innovation, collegiality, and collaboration,” she said.


Among those not on Elizabeth Holmes’s Christmas card list: John Carreyrou.
link to this extract

NHS memo details Google/Deepmind’s five year plan to bring AI to healthcare • Techcrunch

Natasha Lomas follows up on New Scientist obtaining a memorandum of understanding between the NHS and Deepmind:

»Even if you factor in the medical uncertainties of predicting [the kidney conditjon] AKI — which might suggest you need to cast your data collection net wide — the question remains why is the data of patients who have never had a blood test at the hospitals being shared? How will that help identify risk of AKI?

And why is some of the data being sent monthly if the use-case is for immediate and direct patient care? What happens to patients who fall in the gap? Are they at risk of less effective ‘direct patient care’?

Responding to some of these critical questions put to it by TechCrunch, the Royal Free Trust once again asserted the app is for direct patient care


link to this extract

Google wants you playing Pokemon Go – this might be why! • Snub Club

Johnny Kolasinski:

»There are some hints that Google used the data gleaned from Ingress to improve Google Maps walking directions and even their indoor maps of malls and other public buildings. When you’re driving with Google Maps running, Google’s using the information you send them to improve their routing, detect traffic, etc. Especially since they acquired the Waze app, users have Google maps open even on their daily commute. It’s pretty rare, though, to use Google Maps when walking a route you’ve used before. By encouraging Ingress users to walk to nodes – especially with the app open – they’re getting useful pedestrian data. Google’s never confirmed that they used Ingress in this way, but quite a few former Google developers and project managers lent support to the theory by up-voting it on Quora.

There are some specific aspects of play that further validate the idea that Niantic (and potentially Google) have plans for data gathered from Pokémon Go. Randomly dropped egg items can only be hatched if a user walks 2, 5 or 10 km with the app running in the foreground – most modern phones have accelerometers that could feed the distance traveled to the game when the game isn’t actively running, but that data wouldn’t include any map or routing info. Similarly, the app’s “battery-saver” mode only turns off your phone’s screen – the game is still running normally and able to gather all of that data. This also helps explain why it’s so much easier to catch a Pokemon in places with heavy pedestrian traffic.


This would explain perfectly why Pokemon GO wants full access to your Google account, yes? Not that many people care, as the following stats show.
link to this extract

Five charts that show Pokémon GO’s growth in the US • Similarweb

Joseph Schwartz:

»As of now, the app is only (officially) available in the US, Australia, and New Zealand but in those countries, it has already caught fire. On July 8th, only 2 days after the app’s release, it was already installed on 5.16% of all Android devices in the US. If that doesn’t seem like much, consider that by Thursday, July 7th, Pokemon GO was already installed on more US Android phones than Tinder.

It’s not just on installs where Pokémon GO is killing it. On app engagement as well, the app’s usage has been unbelievably high. Over 60% of those who have downloaded the app in the US are using it daily, meaning around 3% of the entire US Android population are users of the app. This metric, which we refer to as Daily Active Users has put Pokémon GO neck and neck with Twitter, and in a few more days, Pokémon GO will likely have more users Daily Active Users than the well-established social network.


link to this extract

You have to see what Pokémon go has done to Central Park • Business Insider

Ian Phillips:

»The Pokémon Go phenomenon continues to fulfill every child’s question: what if Pokémon existed in real life?

The app recently passed Tinder in monthly active users, an amazing feat, given that the game has only been live for about a week now.

Writer and Twitter user Jonathan Perez recently caught a scene that is an incredible real-life demonstration of the game’s popularity.

In a short video, dozens of people could be seen congregating around one tiny spot in New York’s Central Park, looking for Pokémon.


Passed Tinder for MAUs. Though I wonder if there’s much intersection between the two groups.
link to this extract

Nintendo value surges £6bn on new Pokémon app • The Guardian

Sean Farrell:

»The Pokémon GO effect has sent Nintendo’s shares surging for the second day running, driving the Japanese company’s value up by more than a third since the game’s launch last week.

Nintendo’s shares jumped 24.5% to ¥20,260 (£153.50) in Tokyo – their biggest gain since 1983. The increase follows a 10% rise on Friday. The shares have risen by 36% in two days, adding almost £6bn to Nintendo’s market value.

Pokémon GO is the first edition of the 21-year-old game for mobile phones and lets people catch the eponymous monsters in the real world using their smartphone cameras. The game is free but it makes money by tempting people to buy extra PokéBalls and other in-app features – and the signs are that it is highly compulsive.


link to this extract

We must stop solicitors from using e-mail as soon as possible • Consult Hyperion

Dave Birch:

»After all these years, we still can’t make e-mail security work. Imagine the hassle that the average solicitor would face in trying to get an average customer to install GPG or something. It’s never going to happen. The solution, as Ian Grigg pointed out seven years ago when I was going on about the security of e-mail another time, is to stop trying to fix e-mail and (as my teenagers did) move somewhere else. Why not use messaging systems that are secure, like Facetime? Yes, they aren’t interoperable (so you would need to know whether the customer had Skype or Yahoo or WeChat or WhatsApp or whatever) but I don’t think it would be hard to set up a few accounts. Then the fraudsters would have to take over the solicitor’s account rather than just send an e-mail. This would have two immediate benefits: first, the security of the account would be specifically the problem of the solicitor and they would fix it by using strong authentication and, second, all communications could be encrypted (I remember that we worked on a pilot system like this – for financial services rather than for solicitors – a few years ago and even then the overheads associated with encrypting and signing were negligible).

We need solicitors to stop using e-mail as soon as possible, but we need to provide a viable alternative. If not social media or messaging, then why can’t we have something like they have in Denmark, where everyone has a sort of secure government postbox?


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: “Github” was spelt wrongly in a tweet yesterday. We’ve fired whoever was responsible.

2 thoughts on “Start up: Spotify’s freemium finish?, where robots will go, NHS and Deepmind details, evil PDF!, and more

  1. An interesting note, to me, about Theranos: It seems like most, if not all, articles on the subject continue to give Theranos the benefit of the doubt. That their technology really did work at some point in the past when it is far more likely that they were the modern equivalent of snake oil. The structure of the company, its board, the methodologies they deployed, etc. none of them pass the smell test. Yet, the kid gloves remain on until John Carreyrou’s work is published. I think there is a deeper issue involved when deliberate fraud is painted over.

    • The problem is that unless you get an expert in diagnostic technology to write the article, they can’t evaluate the claims with any accuracy. And Theranos probably wouldn’t let such a person anywhere near their products. This is why we have regulators: they evaluate the claims with expertise. Carreyrou though did a hugely valuable thing: he kept asking “how?”. It’s that which too few people do. But equally, most companies aren’t built on fabrication or exaggeration. Theranos really is a unicorn in that respect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.