Start up: the GMO lies, Eddy Cue on Hollywood, EC hits Google again, UK welfare blockchain, and more

Mobile phone use can predict literacy. Photo by Unesco Africa on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

An open letter from technology sector leaders on Donald Trump’s candidacy for President • Medium

Katie Jacobs Stanton and many others:

»We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.


Lots of signatures to this one. (Though none from Google or Apple or Microsoft.) What I’ll say, from a British perspective, is that fine words butter no parsnips. Elections – especially binary ones like the US choice (and the British choice in the Brexit referendum) – are about emotion: how do the choices make you feel? The key question is how many Trump supporters there are, and how many undecideds, and how you make sure that the latter group doesn’t vote for Trump, and that you persuade the former group away from their original voting intent.

For more, read “How ‘Remain’ failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign” by Rafael Behr. And ponder the value of open letters on Medium.
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Eddy Cue on Apple’s TV plans and why Netflix isn’t a competitor • Hollywood Reporter

»Natalie Jarvey: Will Apple buy a Hollywood studio? And if not, why not?

Eddy Cue: That’s the great thing about Apple, it’s very focused on the things that we know how to do very well and not try to extend ourselves to areas that we know very little about or don’t have a lot of expertise in. So when we look at a studio, for example — this was discussed for why didn’t we buy a music label with iTunes — I’m not sure why we should do that. We’re always looking at things that come to us that make us better at things that we want to do or are doing. It’s not that we’ll never do anything, but I’m not sure why [we should] buy a studio. We like the fact that we’re working with all the studios.

NJ: There have been reports that you spearheaded acquisition talks with Time Warner. What was your pitch?

EC: Look, I read [the reports,] too. In general, there’s always a lot of speculation across many different companies, and some of that relates to the fact that we have a lot of money and so, therefore, we can afford to make acquisitions. So we have a lot of discussions with [Time Warner], but I don’t want to speculate. We’re not — at this point, certainly — actively trying to buy any studio.


Not actively trying to buy any studio. Passively? Or just not now? But Apple plus a Hollywood studio (even Pixar, when it was independent) simply doesn’t make sense. Hollywood is hit-driven, but it’s also done by numbers: lots of films, some work, some miss. Overall, it works out. Apple focuses on far fewer things, aiming for hits each time.
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Research: what do homeowners really want from the smart home? •

»We found that the smart home has gone mainstream.  Homeowners are excited about its promise to make things safer, smarter and more efficient.

There are some important conditions, however.  Our research indicates that homeowners want to avoid the frustrations commonly experienced by early adopters of the ‘standalone device’ model.

Instead, they prefer that connected devices work together automatically to proactively solve real challenges like security, energy savings and comfort.  With more devices joining the smart home, homeowners expressed a clear preference for professional service providers to install, service and monitor homeowners’ new technology.

Here are some of the key findings and data points of’s Homeowners Survey, a study of 1,022 homeowners in the United States.


Most not controversial, but seem to open up a new job category – the “smart home professional” who will come in and troubleshoot this pesky stuff.
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Are GMOs safe? Yes. The case against them is full of fraud, lies, and errors • Slate

William Saletan:

»I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.


I wrote a lot about GMOs and the row over their cultivation and inclusion in foods in the 1990s. I found a lot of the same attitudes as Saletan. Most jawdropping was the (less educated) opponents of GMOs who would say “but they have altered DNA!” This conveniently ignored – or overlooked – the fact that anything organic you eat has DNA.

The anti-GMO arguments which do carry weight involve hybridisation with weeds, and the use of patent enforcement on seeds. But the former has been discounted by careful trials.
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Mobile phone data reveals literacy rates in developing countries • MIT Technology Review

»[Telenor Research Ground member Pål] Sundsøy says that his machine learning algorithm has found several factors that seem to predict illiteracy. The most powerful is the location where people spend most of their time. “One explanation can be that the model catches regions of low economic development status, e.g. slum areas where illiteracy is high,” says Sundsøy.

Another predictor of illiteracy is the number of incoming texts and how they differ from the number of outgoing texts. That could be because people do not send texts to others who they know are illiterate, points out Sundsøy.

And the social network seems to be a useful indicator as well. “Illiterates tend to concentrate their communication on few people,” says Sundsøy. That’s in line with other work suggesting that economic well-being correlates with diversity among social contacts.

All in all, he says, his machine learning algorithm can spot illiterate individuals with surprising accuracy. “By deriving economic, social, and mobility features for each mobile user we predict individual illiteracy status with 70% accuracy,” he says, pointing out that this allows areas with low literacy rates to be mapped.

That could be a useful trick for aid agencies wanting to allocate resources to areas with low literacy rates.


From an ArXiv paper Can mobile usage predict illiteracy in a developing country?
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Microsoft promises to upgrade your PC by EOD or you’ll get a free PC • SuperSite for Windows

Rod Trent:

»If you’ve been delaying your upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft has just outlined a pretty sweet deal.

For a limited time (lasts until July 29, 2016), if you bring your current PC into a Microsoft Store, employees will upgrade it by close of business or they’ll give you a free Dell Inspiron 15. There are obviously a few caveats that come with the deal. They are…

• PC must be checked into the Answer Desk at a participating retail store before 12 noon local time.
• If your PC isn’t compatible with Windows 10, they’ll recycle it and give you $150 toward the purchase of a new PC
• If the store runs out of Dell Inspiron 15 PCs, Microsoft reserves the right to select the free device that will be provided to eligible customers.
• Limit of one offer per customer, per device/PC.


Microsoft really, really does want people on Windows 10. (So this is a good deal. Recommended.) Still looking a bit tight for that billion target a few years hence.
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Doing the two-step: Switching to Apple’s two-factor authentication • Six Colors

Dan Moren:

»The newer two-factor authentication is an improvement upon that process, which Apple started rolling out last year. While the principle is similar, the execution is refined. The verification code is now six digits and is automatically sent to all of your authorized devices. When a new device is logged into your iCloud account, you’re also shown the rough location of that device (on a city level), so that you can be sure it’s not someone halfway around the world trying to gain access; there are also buttons to allow or deny that login. Authentication only happens when you log into your iCloud account from a new device for the first time, or when logging into an account on the web. (In the latter case, you can choose to trust your browser so you don’t have to do that every time.)


2FA is always a great idea, though setting it up can be a huge pain. Not sure about having the code sent to all your devices. Isn’t there usually just one ur-device?
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Antitrust: Commission takes further steps in investigations alleging Google’s comparison shopping and advertising-related practices breach EU rules* • European Commission

And here’s the other bit:

»Following the Statement of Objections issued in April 2015 and Google’s response in August 2015*, the Commission has carried out further investigative measures. Today’s supplementary Statement of Objections outlines a broad range of additional evidence and data that reinforces the Commission’s preliminary conclusion that Google has abused its dominant position by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping service in its general search results.

The additional evidence relates, amongst other things, to the way Google favours its own comparison shopping service over those of competitors, the impact of a website’s prominence of display in Google’s search results on its traffic, and the evolution of traffic to Google’s comparison shopping service compared to its competitors. The Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries – this is to the detriment of consumers, and stifles innovation.

In addition, the Commission has examined in detail Google’s argument that comparison shopping services should not be considered in isolation, but together with the services provided by merchant platforms, such as Amazon and eBay. The Commission continues to consider that comparison shopping services and merchant platforms belong to separate markets. (link and emphasis added)

In any event, today’s supplementary Statement of Objections finds that even if merchant platforms are included in the market affected by Google’s practices, comparison shopping services are a significant part of that market and Google’s conduct has weakened or even marginalised competition from its closest rivals.

By sending a supplementary Statement of Objections the Commission has reinforced its preliminary conclusion whilst at the same time protecting Google’s rights of defence by giving it an opportunity to respond formally to the additional evidence. Google and Alphabet have eight weeks to respond to the supplementary Statement of Objections.


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Here’s why Google’s antitrust defence is faltering in Europe • Fortune

David Meyer:

»The third set [of antitrust complaints], unveiled Thursday, concerns AdSense for Search. This is Google’s advertising platform for the likes of online retailers and publishers and telecoms operators, who incorporate Google’s search functionality into their websites. The website publishers and Google share a roughly even split of the revenue from those ads.

According to the European Commission, when users searched for things in those boxes over the last decade, Google used various illegal tactics to stop them seeing ads coming from rival advertising platforms.

Sure, you might say, Google provided the box. So why can’t it dictate what goes in the box? The issue there is that Google has cornered approximately 80% of the European “search advertising intermediation” market, making it the dominant player by far—and saddling it with extra responsibilities as a result.

The Commission claims that, from 2006, Google forced website publishers not to source ads from Google’s competitors. Then, from 2009, it replaced this practice with demands for premium placement for ads coming from its own advertising network, and for the right to authorize ads coming from its rivals.

If this is all true, Google is in trouble. As competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it in a Thursday press conference: “We believe that all these restrictions allowed Google to protect its very high market share for search advertising. [It] stifled choice and innovation to the detriment of consumers.”


The highlighted bit shows that the EC agrees with Foundem, the comparison shopping site that was the original complainant and which demolished Google’s shopping claim in a blogpost back in June 2015.

What’s depressing is that it has taken 13 months for the EC to reach the same conclusion.
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The UK wants to police welfare recipients’ spending with the blockchain • Motherboard

Jordan Pearson:

»The UK government is tracking the spending of people who receive welfare by posting their purchases to a digital ledger that can never be altered—specifically, a blockchain, the technology underpinning virtual currencies like bitcoin.

The use of such technology to police how the poor spend their money has come under fire from privacy advocates and anti-poverty activists alike.

The trial, which began in June, is the result of a partnership between UK company GovCoin Systems, University College London, Barclays, and energy company RWE npower. The trial was announced by former banker and current Conservative Minister of Welfare Reform David Freud at the 2016 Payments Innovations Conference in London.

“Claimants are using an app on their phones through which they are receiving and spending their benefit payments,” Freud said, according to a press statement. “With their consent, their transactions are being recorded on a distributed ledger to support their financial management.”


The risk, as Jenni Tennison of the Open Data Institute points out, is that this very personal data could leak out. I don’t know why the government is choosing personal data, rather than something impersonal, for this blockchain test. (Via Matthew Leach.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start up: the GMO lies, Eddy Cue on Hollywood, EC hits Google again, UK welfare blockchain, and more

  1. On GMOs. You’re right. Yet I can’t get past the restrictive IP issues. For me that does more to create distrust than any Frankenstein headline. Above all, it underlines the impression the corporations behind GMOs don’t have your interests at heart.

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