Start up: ransomware evaluated, Brexit and the death penalty, True Tone iPhones?, Swatch swoons, and more

Maybe our future wars will be about fooling these things. Photo by wim hoppenbrouwers on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. So there. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why these online criminals actually care about your convenience • F-Secure


»Crypto-ransomware criminals’ business model is, of course, encrypting your files and then making you pay to have them decrypted so you can access them again. To help victims understand what has happened and then navigate the unfamliar process of paying in Bitcoin, some families offer a “customer journey” that could rival that of a legitimate small business. Websites that support several languages. Helpful FAQs. Convenient customer support forms so the victim can ask questions. And responsive customer service agents that quickly get back with replies.

We think this is a pretty interesting paradox. Criminal nastiness, but on the other hand willingness to help “for your convenience,” as one family put it. We decided to dig a little deeper.

We evaluated the customer journeys of five current ransomware families (Cerber, Cryptomix, TorrentLocker, Shade, and a Jigsaw variant), and got an inside look we’re sharing in a new report, Evaluating the Customer Journey of Crypto-Ransomware. From the first ransom message to communicating with the criminals via their support channels, we wanted to see just how these criminals are doing with their customer journey – and whose is the best (or rather, least loathsome).


Those five won’t be pleased at the emergence of ransomware that just takes your money and deletes your stuff anyway.
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Poké power: Pokémon GO has more in-game buyers than the rest of the mobile gaming market • Slice Intelligence

»Nostalgia or not, in-app spending by Millennials account for the majority of  Pokémon GO’s in-game revenue. With 52% of the buyers being between the ages of 18-34, many of these individuals were part of the prime target audience when the Pokémon frenzy first hit the United States in the mid-’90s. In addition to age gender also plays a role here; nearly three-quarters of paying Pokémon players are men. Here’s the full age breakdown:


This is totally what I expected: Pokemon Go is that perfect storm of a game that people adored when they were children, and a product that has come along just in time to reawaken that adoration.
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Apple begins rolling out iTunes Match with audio fingerprint to Apple Music subscribers • Loop Insight

Jim Dalrymple:

»One of the biggest complaints about Apple Music over the past year was that it wouldn’t properly match songs subscribers had in their existing iTunes libraries. That problem is being fixed by Apple.

Apple has been quietly rolling out iTunes Match audio fingerprint to all Apple Music subscribers. Previously Apple was using a less accurate metadata version of iTunes Match on Apple Music, which wouldn’t always match the correct version of a particular song. We’ve all seen the stories of a live version of a song being replaced by a studio version, etc.

Using iTunes Match with audio fingerprint, those problems should be a thing of the past.

If you had songs that were matched incorrectly using the metadata version of iTunes Match, the new version will rematch to the correct song. However, it will not delete any downloaded copies of songs you have in your library. This is a very good thing—we don’t want songs auto-deleting from our libraries.


The latter said with a lot of feeling by Dalrymple, who had some songs deleted from his library when he first signed with Apple Music last year.
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Robot war and the future of perceptual deception • BLDGBLOG

Geoff Manaugh:

»Finding ways to throw-off self-driving robots will be more than just a harmless prank or even a serious violation of public safety; it will become part of a much larger arsenal for self-defense during war. In other words, consider the points raised by John Rogers, above, but in a new context: you live in a city under attack by a foreign military whose use of semi-autonomous machines requires defensive means other than — or in addition to — kinetic firepower. Wheeled and aerial robots alike have been deployed.

One possible line of defense — among many, of course — would be to redesign your city, even down to the interior of your own home, such that machine vision is constantly confused there. You thus rebuild the world using light-absorbing fabrics and reflective ornament, installing projections and mirrors, screens and smoke. Or “stealth objects” and radar-baffling architectural geometries. A military robot wheeling its way into your home thus simply gets lost there, stuck in a labyrinth of perceptual convolution and reflection-implied rooms that don’t exist.

In any case, I suppose the question is: if, today, a truck can blend-in with the Florida sky, and thus fatally disable a self-driving machine, what might we learn from this event in terms of how to deliberately confuse robotic military systems of the future?


That’s kinda paranoid, but this sort of thing will be part of army planning in future.
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Brexit voters, authoritarianism and the death penalty • Birkbeck University of London department of politics

Professor Eric Kaufman:

»culture and personality, not material circumstances, separate Leave and Remain voters. This is not a class conflict so much as a values divide that cuts across lines of age, income, education and even party. A nice way to show this is to examine the relationship between so-called ‘authoritarianism’ questions such as whether children should obey or the death penalty is appropriate, and support for the EU. The British Election Study’s internet panel survey of 2015-16 asked a sample of over 24,000 individuals about their views on these matters and whether they would vote to leave the EU. The graph below, restricted to White British respondents, shows almost no statistically significant difference in EU vote intention between rich and poor. By contrast, the probability of voting Brexit rises from around 20% for those most opposed to the death penalty to 70% for those most in favour. Wealthy people who back capital punishment back Brexit. Poor folk who oppose the death penalty support Remain.

A similar pattern holds in the British Values Survey for the strongly worded question probing respondents’ desire to see those who commit sex crimes “publicly whipped, or worse”. Political psychologists show a close relationship between feeling fearful of change, desiring certainty, and calling for harsh penalties for criminals and discipline for children. These are people who want a more stable, ordered world. By contrast, those who seek change and novelty are willing to embrace immigration and the EU.


This feels like an extreme version of “take back control”. (Support for the death penalty is just under 50% in the UK, but would never achieve a majority vote in Parliament; MPs know its failings, which include killing innocent people.)

The note dates back to the day after the referendum, but is still notable – and it has things to say about Donald Trump. (Unfortunately he’s in the news.)
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Apple shows interest in expanding True Tone color accuracy beyond the 9.7″ iPad Pro • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:

»The US Patent & Trade Office published an Apple patent filing on Thursday, discovered by AppleInsider, that details the technology that would eventually be introduced to the world this March as the iPad Pro True Tone display.

In the filing, Apple notes that the ultimate goal of its advanced display technology is to have “colors appear as they would on a printed sheet of paper.” That’s similar to Apple’s own marketing materials for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and its True Tone display, which it boasts is “almost like looking at a sheet of paper.”

As with most applications, Apple’s proposed invention is all-encompassing, noting that while OLED displays are shown in accompanying illustrations, any compatible display can be used to implement the patented technology. The filing suggests the technology could have practical applications on devices ranging from small wearable displays, like an Apple Watch, to large desktop computers, such as Apple’s iMac.


I’d be astonished if this tech (which is great) isn’t on the forthcoming iPhones.
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Why the Microsoft Kinect could have been great — and why it wasn’t • Business Insider

Matt Weinberger:

»Much of “FRU’s” development time was taken up with “research,” he says. Most Kinect developers made the same mistake: They assumed that you could just take a game or genre that already existed, bolt Kinect motion controls onto it, and call it a day.

Not every title is suited to that, though, especially given the Kinect’s not-so-perfect record at actually tracking players’ motion. And then, when gamers got frustrated, they blamed the Kinect and went back to traditional games, and developers followed them back to safer waters.

But Kinect-style motion controls “don’t work 100%, and that’s just a fact,” Traverso said. “You have to understand the limitations of the technology and use it to your advantage.”

And so, much of Through Games’ focus was on solving some basic issues. How long can a player reasonably be expected to stand up to complete each level of the game? How fast can the player move before the Kinect stops reliably picking up on their motion? And so on, and so forth. The result is a game that put a lot of time and energy into making sure it used the Kinect to the fullest extent.


Seems like “why it wasn’t” is pretty much explained in that penultimate paragraph. If you’re having to work around something that doesn’t work 100% and which is the essential interface for the game, you’re screwed.

The Kinect will always feel like the great lost wonder of technology. It could have been remarkable; instead it was a bust.
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Swatch plunges as luxury malaise spreads from Asia to Europe • Bloomberg

Corinne Gretler:

»Swatch Group AG shares plunged as the watchmaker warned of a collapse in first-half profit and cut sales guidance for the year, adding to a luxury malaise that has spread from Hong Kong to other top markets such as France and Switzerland.

The stock fell as much as 14% as the Swiss maker of Omega and Tissot timepieces said earnings slid 50% to 60%. Analysts expected a 22% drop in net income. The impact on demand of Thursday’s deadly attacks in Nice means sales will be less than forecast earlier in the year, Chief Executive Officer Nick Hayek said by phone.

“Investor confidence will be shaken,” said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich. He estimates the operating profit margin fell to 9% from 18%, which is either a “disaster” or represents one-time charges. Hayek said the first-half profit didn’t include any one-time items.


Gosh, I wonder if..


Swatch’s Tissot brand may have been one of the worst performers, partially because it’s in a price segment that competes directly with smartwatches from Apple Inc. and others, according to Bank Vontobel analyst Rene Weber.


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Ad-tech exits: wait for 2017 • OpenX

Archie Sharma:

»If we look at the number of new ad-tech companies founded over the last 15 years (Fig. 1), it has consistently grown and peaked in 2012, meaning we can now see normalization in industry entrants. Equally informative is Fig. 2, showing that the number of exits continues to grow each year. The trend highlights the state of many ad-tech companies that are at the point in their lifecycle where their investors are looking for exits.

That the number of industry entrants peaked in 2012 but the number of exits still continue to increase, suggests that net consolidation in the industry will continue apace for the next few years. The common exits are IPO’s, acquisitions, or failure (going out of business). IPO’s make-up less than 5% of exits; leaving the primary reasons for exits: acquisitions (82%) and failures (13%). Acquisitions and failures reduce the net companies in the industry, leading to further consolidation.

So, how long will consolidation last?

Our data driven approach suggests a high number (200+ per year) of exits through 2018, suggesting the continuation of a strong consolidation trend in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In order to predict the number of exits in the future, we looked first to the past and determined (Fig. 3) that the average lifespan of an ad-tech firm is approximately 6 years. Additionally, less than 5% of ad-tech firms have survived past 10 years.


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Yahoo reports second quarter 2016 results • Yahoo

»Yahoo! Inc. today reported results for the quarter ended June 30, 2016.
“With the lowest cost structure and headcount in a decade, we continue to make solid progress against our 2016 plan.  Through disciplined expense management and focused execution, we delivered Q2 results that met guidance across the board and in some areas exceeded it,” said Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo.


Yeeaaaah. Well. Gross revenue actually increased, from $1.243bn to $1.308bn compared to the year-ago quarter. But traffic acquisition costs (what Yahoo pays companies to bring traffic to it) rose from $200m to $466m, so that revenue after TAC fell from $1.04bn to $841m. Most of the TAC went on search (that’s the Firefox deal, where Mayer outbid an uninterested Google): up from $105m to $392m, so that it’s larger than post-TAC search revenue.

This is a lot of ways to say Yahoo is a zombie; it just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
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Apple scores GlaxoSmithKline study in key test of health apps • Bloomberg

Caroline Chen and Alex Webb:

»Glaxo wants to record the mobility of 300 participants over three months and will also ask the patients to input both physical and emotional symptoms, such as pain and mood. The app Glaxo created from ResearchKit comes with a guided wrist exercise that uses the phone’s sensors to record motion, giving the drugmaker a standardized measurement across all users. The company will use the results to help design better clinical trials.

The success of the study could help determine the pharmaceutical industry’s future appetite for using Apple’s products to conduct research. Drugmakers have to balance the lower costs of using the app with their ability to gather accurate, reliable data. Risks include that test subjects will tire of entering information into the app, and, given the iPhone’s $399 starting price, the sample may be skewed toward wealthier demographics.

By using ResearchKit, London-based Glaxo may be able to reduce research costs, which can stretch into the millions of dollars.


The point about the iPhone’s starting price is meaningless in the US and UK and other contract (pre-pay) markets, because the pricing structure with carriers’ contracts obscures the price differential with Android phones. In the US, iPhone price differences were completely hidden for years.
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How falling behind the Joneses fuelled the rise of Trump • The New York Times

Thomas Edsall:

»A May 2015 Federal Reserve report provides a window into the financial condition of many in the working class. It found that 47% of Americans do not have the resources to cover a $400 bill for such unanticipated costs as a car repair or a health emergency. They would be forced to borrow from friends of family, to sell something, to go to a payday loan company or to add to their credit card debt.

For those in the bottom third of the income distribution, even essential expenditures have become unaffordable: the $7,000 to $10,000 average cost of a funeral, the $33,865 average cost of a new car, the $18,000 average annual cost of child care.

Crucially important is the fact that rising inequality constitutes a double whammy. It raises the cost of sought-after goods and it increases the economic gap between the working class and the affluent, spurring nostalgia for what was (even if what was really wasn’t).

This point was well put in an essay, “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” by Neil Fligstein, a professor of sociology at Berkeley, Pat Hastings, a Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley, and Adam Goldstein, professor of sociology at Princeton, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association:

Growing income inequality in the U.S. has meant that as those at the top are able bid up the price of valued goods like housing and access to good schools, those in lower groups have struggled to maintain their positions.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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