Start up: YouTube’s music economics, Brexit and privacy, LED lights v garage doors, and more


Here’s an essential technology you’ll need to shuft down for a successful coup. Photo by miguelb on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. On such a day as this. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

My experience with the Great Firewall of China • Zorinaq

Marc Bevand went to China and tried various methods to get across the Great Firewall (GFW) but kept being thwarted:

»None of the information above is new to those familiar with the GFW. It is only after I reached this point in my tests that I did some deeper reading and learned that the GFW uses machine learning algorithms to learn, discover, and block VPNs and proxies.

It all makes sense now: the GFW engineers do not even have to define explicit rules like I described above (if ApplicationData #2 is short, if ApplicationData #4 is around 1-4kB, etc). They train their models using various VPN and proxy setups, and the algorithms learns the characteristics of those connections to identify them automatically.

My proxy setup and custom relay script injecting random padding were running on my laptop which I could use at the hotel, and it worked very well. But I also needed a solution for my phone when out on the streets.

I used the commercial service ExpressVPN which seems to be 1 of the top 3 VPN service used to evade the GFW. It is simple and easy to configure: I installed their Android app and I was up and running in no time. ExpressVPN built their service on OpenVPN and have dozens of VPN servers located in many countries.

However I was not pleased when I saw that their OpenVPN root CA certificate RSA key size is only 1024 bits! Why, why, why?

«

At which point further suspicion arises.
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Someone’s finally lifted the veil on YouTube • Bloomberg Gadfly

Leila Abboud looks at Mark Mulligan’s report into YouTube:

»

• Lesson #1: YouTube is no longer a haven for pirated music

A mere 2% of YouTube music videos are unofficial, meaning they’re technically pirated when put up by a fan. Meanwhile three-quarters are posted by labels as part of promotion efforts, or by Vevo, a joint venture between Sony, Universal and Google. Vevo, a YouTube channel, symbolizes the music labels’ contradictory approach. They want YouTube to pay more, but instead of withholding stars to wrangle better contract terms, their marketing departments are popping their best stuff up there for free. This makes it hard to swallow industry bleating about copyright reform.

• Lesson #2:  YouTube has a much sweeter deal than the streamersUnlike streaming providers, YouTube pays music labels a share of the ad revenue generated each time a video gets played. This means the payment correlates with ad sales, which fluctuate by country and even by season. By contrast, Spotify pays a fixed royalty each time a song is listened to.

This is important because consumption of music on YouTube is exploding, while ad sales aren’t keeping up. So YouTube puts way more music onto the Internet than any streaming service, but its fees are far lower. Spotify paid labels €1.6bn ($1.8bn) last year, nearly all of its revenue, according to Mulligan. Meanwhile, YouTube paid out only $740m, leading him to conclude that its revenue could be about $7bn (although Google doesn’t give a number).

So YouTube’s payment to labels per video watched is dropping, even as usage soars. The rate fell from $0.0020 per video in 2014 to $0.0010 in 2015. Spotify’s rate for its free, ad-supported music – probably the fairest comparison to YouTube – is $0.0015 per song.

«

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Tearful mum thanks Pokémon Go for changing autistic boy’s life • The Memo

Kitty Knowles found a post on Facebook, and rewrote it. The original post is really delightful, though she does a poor job of transcribing it. (Fortunately it’s included at the end of the post.)
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Brexiters and Bremainers also divided on rights to online privacy • The Online Privacy Foundation

»Brexit supporters are far more likely than Remain supporters to support the Investigatory Powers Bill proposed by the UK Government and dubbed the ‘Snoopers Charter’. The Bill is part of the policy agenda of the new UK Prime Minister, Theresa May  . It would give the Government bulk powers to record and collect citizens’ online history. The Bill also permits UK law enforcement agencies to remotely monitor and hack computers and smartphones for national security matters.

The Online Privacy Foundation study also found that:

• Leave voters scored higher on the scale of Right Wing Authoritarianism¹, a trait found to be associated with the acceptance of reductions in civil liberties in order to combat real or perceived threats such as terrorism. The higher someone scores on the Right Wing Authoritarian scale, the more likely they were to agree with the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument.

• Remain voters tended to disagree with the statement across all age groups, while Leave voters’ tendency to agree with the statement increased as they got older.

«

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How I could steal money from Instagram, Google and Microsoft • Arne Swinnen’s Security Blog

»TL;DR: Instagram ($2000), Google ($0) and Microsoft ($500) were vulnerable to direct money theft via premium phone number calls. They all offer services to supply users with a token via a computer-voiced phone call, but neglected to properly verify whether supplied phone numbers were legitimate, non-premium numbers. This allowed a dedicated attacker to steal thousands of EUR/USD/GBP/… . Microsoft was exceptionally vulnerable to mass exploitation by supporting virtually unlimited concurrent calls to one premium number. The vulnerabilities were submitted to the respective Bug Bounty programs and properly resolved.

«

Because they’ll let you link a mobile phone number to an account, and send a text to it, and a followup call – which can turn out to be via a premium-rate number.
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Why coups in the modern age need to consider cyberpower too • Medium

“The Grugq” (an acute observer on cyber security who lives in Thailand):

»The [attempted] putsch [in Turkey at the weekend] takes over the main TV station (TRT) and has the news reader read a statement announcing the coup is “to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for law and order to be reinstated.” They also order the people to stay indoors.

This is very standard stuff. Take over the means of mass communication and keep the civilians out of the way so they can’t interfere.

But this is the era of cyberpower. Simply taking over the TV stations is not enough. The Internet is a more powerful means of communication than TV, and it is more resilient — especially with a sophisticated population. The Turks are experienced at handling attempts to cut their access to social media, and the putsch never even took over the ISPs.

The failure to block the Internet meant that the coup was battling a leadership that still had a very powerful capability: cyberpower. The ability to push out information that allowed them to coordinate a defence. In addition, both Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live allowed civilians to share their experiences, disseminate information, and build moral support for direct action.

It is an Intelligence service axiom that intelligence is of no value if not disseminated. Facebook Live, Twitter, and Periscope, provide a means of real time raw intelligence collection and dissemination. The civilian population is able to stay informed and make individual decisions, that collectively, can alter the course of events.

«

I never thought I would hear FaceTime described as a cyberweapon. But there it is, right there.
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How LED lights can cause problems with your garage door opener • Some Content Farm Or Other

»If you’ve been experiencing problems with your garage door opener remote unit – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – and can’t track the problem down, you might look to the type of lights you’re using in and around your garage for the culprit.

The heart of the problem lies in the control circuit that provides the long life that LED (light emitting diode) lights are known for. LED lights get their efficiency from something called pulse width modulation, or PWM, which turns the light off and on more than 15 times per second. The energy savings comes from the fact that the light is actually on for only half the time. You don’t realize that the light is off part of the time because of the phenomenon of persistence of vision.

Government guidelines for LED manufacturers require these control circuits to operate on frequencies between 30 and 300 MHZ. By coincidence, most garage door opener remotes have been assigned frequencies between 288 and 360 MHZ.

«

I came across this via Marco Arment and, like him, feel that it’s simply something off a content farm. Yet it’s amazingly helpful. (And I can’t find the “original”.) I didn’t know that about LEDs and the radio frequency interference (RFI) they can cause.

(There’s more discussion on this forum.)
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IDC estimates that Macintosh sales slipped at nearly twice the market rate • Pixel Envy

Nick Heer:

»Of the current lineup, fully half of all Macs — the Mac Pro, the Retina MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air — are the most stale that those products have ever been.1 I’m not counting the non-Retina MacBook Pro as part of the Mac lineup because Apple seems to be winding down their promotion of the product. For the record, though, it would be the most stale product in Apple’s lineup by far: it hasn’t been refreshed in 1492 days, or just over four years.

The Mac Pro hasn’t been substantially updated since the new cylindrical model launched in December of 2013. The pro Macintosh situation is so dire that some designers and developers, like Mike Rundle and Sebastiaan de With, have opted to deal with the moderate hassle of building a “hackintosh” in order to get the performance they need for their work. Critical products like the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro are well over a year old, too.

«

The incredible age of these products, and Apple’s apparent indifference to that ageing, is flummoxing and astonishing. Who is in charge of the Mac line, and don’t they care about this?
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After one year, 10 lessons learned for Windows 10 • ZDNet

Ed Bott goes into a long list, but I feel he rather buries the story by having this right down at the very end:

»In April 2015, Terry Myerson drew a line in the sand, predicting that “Windows 10 will be installed on 1 billion devices within two to three years”.

I did the math on that claim a few weeks later and said it was realistic. But my numbers relied on Windows Phone continuing to sell at least 50 million handsets per year for a total of 200 million or more Windows 10 Mobile devices.

That’s not going to happen. And, meanwhile, the traditional PC market continues to shrink, slowly.

Add those two factors together and you get a longer ramp-up, which Microsoft officially confirmed to me this week, with a statement from Yusuf Mehdi:

»

Windows 10 is off to the hottest start in history with over 350 million monthly active devices, with record customer satisfaction and engagement. We’re pleased with our progress to date, but due to the focusing of our phone hardware business, it will take longer than FY18 for us to reach our goal of 1 billion monthly active devices.

«

«

I said last week that hitting that billion target looked tight. (I was going to do the maths for a blogpost..). Now it’s been pushed back because the PC market keeps shrinking, and so does the Windows Phone market. The statement seems to push it back by at least a year. That’s a long time in the technology world.
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Revealed in court: 100% cast iron evidence of how Uber lies to secretly investigate and smear its critics • Pando

Paul Carr:

»A week or so ago, a judge ordered the release of documents that show beyond all reasonable doubt that Uber hired a CIA-linked private investigation firm to investigate the personal and professional life of Portland attorney Andrew Schmidt and his client, Spencer Meyer. Meyer had recently filed a lawsuit against Uber and Kalanick.

The emails, some of which are embedded below courtesy of the Bangor Daily News, show Uber executives contracting the investigations firm, Ergo, to dig into the backround of Meyer and Schmidt.

The plan begins with Ergo contacting colleagues and friends of Schmidt, and lying about the purpose of their emails and calls, in order to trick them into revealing damaging information which could form the basis of further investigation. Kalanick had previously denied that Uber was aware of any kind of secret investigation against Meyer and Schmidt.

«

They also encrypted the emails. (NB: this article might be paywalled by the time this goes up.)
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Apple, stop being stingy with the iCloud storage • Macworld

Kirk McElhearn:

»These services, once dependent on an annual subscription ($99 a year for MobileMe in the US; $149 for a family plan), are now free. But as the price dropped, so did the amount of storage allocated to users. From 10GB with .Mac (initially, .Mac offered 100MB), to 20GB with MobileMe, iCloud only offers 5GB per user. You can pay to get more storage, of course, and that’s how Apple makes some spare change. But only 5GB per user? Seriously?

Remember, you use your iCloud storage not only for your data—photos, email, files, etc.—but also to back up your iOS devices. The files are stored just once, no matter how many devices you own, but each device needs space for its backup. I’m probably not alone in having more than one iOS device. Many people have an iPhone and an iPad, and backing up two devices with a 5GB plan is difficult. If you have an average photo library (mine is 3.9GB), and I don’t take a lot of photos, then you’re quickly short on space. And while I’m not an email hoarder, I know people who have gigabytes of email. And when people run out of space, the first thing they probably do is turn off backups for their devices, which isn’t a good idea. If anything, device backups shouldn’t count against the iCloud storage quota, because they are so important.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and that iCloud account really isn’t “free;” it’s factored into the cost of the devices we buy. So why doesn’t Apple give us 5GB of iCloud storage for each device we own? If you have an iPhone, you get 5GB. If you also have an iPad, you get another 5GB. And if you have a Mac, perhaps you get an additional 10GB, especially because of the new optimized storage feature in macOS Sierra that will let you offload infrequently used files to iCloud.

«

There are lots of oddities about Apple’s policy on iCloud storage. For one, the free tier hasn’t shifted in years, even while the base amount you get with a phone or iPad has doubled. For another, there’s the fact that it’s per account, not per device. And there’s the puzzle of quite what in your backups counts against it.

Possibly Apple is waiting to double it along with the next iPhone launch; at the same time it could update its ancient Mac Pros (900+ days since update), and the Mac mini (keeps going backward) and the MacBook Pros (only really gained Force Touch, no significant processor upgrades).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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 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? • Alarm.com

»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 Alarm.com’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.)

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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

Start up: Chromebook infiltrate PC market, Privacy Shield arrives, Britain’s favourite map spots, and more


Apple wants to own all this. Times a BEEEELLLLLION. Photo by Adam Melancon 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.

PC shipments beat expectations in Q2 2016 as US market returned to growth while other regions continued to decline • IDC

»”The PC market continues to struggle as we wait for replacements to accelerate, along with some return of spending from phones, tablets, and other IT,” said Loren Loverde, vice president, Worldwide PC Trackers & Forecasting. “Our long-term outlook remains cautions. However, the strong results in the U.S. offer a glimpse of what the market could look like with pockets of growth and a stronger overall environment. It’s not dramatic growth, but it could push the market into positive territory slightly ahead of our forecast for 2018.”

“As expected, the start of the peak education buying season helped generate large Chromebook shipment volumes in the U.S.,” stated Linn Huang, research director, Devices & Displays. “A somewhat unexpected boost came from intensified inventory pull-in as cautious channel players, who had been working to pare down inventory over the last several quarters, opened up inventory constraints a bit. This was likely a one-time shipment boost to bring aggregate inventory levels back to market equilibrium. The larger story remains whether an early wave of enterprise transition to Windows 10 could help close out a 2016 that is increasingly looking stronger in the U.S.”

«

The US market was 17.03m units including those Chromebooks, according to IDC, while Gartner – which doesn’t count Chromebooks (don’t ask me why), puts the US market at 15.22m. Suggests that Chromebooks were 1.81m – just behind Apple’s figure of 1.87m (Gartner) or 1.91m (IDC).

If Chromebooks are over 10% of the US market, that’s beginning to be important. (By that calculation, Chromebook shipments in 2Q15 were 1.2m in a total market of 16.2m. Strong growth.)

The Windows PC market, meanwhile, isn’t healing.
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Ad Blocker Beta • Optimal

»We’ve been building a better ad blocker that will give you more fine-grained control over your online experience. In early tests running 20+ tabs in Chrome across the top 50 news websites, it outperforms the most popular ad blocker (which itself saves just 6% browser memory vs. no blocking). It led to less tracking (66% fewer URLs loaded) and also cuts down on bandwidth use tremendously: 39% less memory, 52% less data.

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Sign up for the beta.

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Apple’s plan to own the entire music industry • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»Following the Beats acquisition, I see Apple striving to take back the music narrative with the goal of eventually owning the entire music industry. There are four distinct steps to Apple’s strategy.

• Pivot into paid music streaming.
• Leverage a strong balance sheet to control the music narrative.
• Remove oxygen from the music streaming industry by grabbing revenue share.
• Create an environment for independent artist sustainability.

Although each step becomes progressively more difficult, ultimately, the four are interrelated…

…Any deal for Tidal would not be about getting access to the service’s 4.2 million subscribers. Instead, Apple would be interesting in gaining access to Jay Z and friends. Losing out on Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Kanye West album exclusives over the past year irked Apple. While Apple Music eventually got access to most of the exclusive content, the amount of attention and breathing room that Tidal received was obviously not something Apple enjoyed. Acquiring Tidal and bringing Jay Z on board Apple Music will be a way for Apple to make Apple Music more attractive and capable of getting additional revenue share.

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Privacy Shield transatlantic data sharing agreement enters effect • Computerworld

Peter Sayer:

»[European Commissioner for Justice Vera] Jourová’s nice distinction between bulk data and mass surveillance didn’t impress campaign group European Digital Rights (EDRI), nor Max Schrems, the Austrian whose complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner about Facebook’s handling of his data ultimately led to the CJEU ruling.

“In Annex VI of the Privacy Shield decision, the U.S. government explicitly confirms that U.S. services conduct ‘bulk collection’ by using data from U.S. companies. While the U.S. highlights what it called limitations (for example for only six broad purposes), the mere possibility of such mass surveillance is contrary to the CJEU judgement,” Schrems said via email.

EDRi Executive Director Joe McNamee doesn’t give Privacy Shield long: “We now have to wait until the Court again rules that the deal is illegal and then, maybe, the EU and U.S. can negotiate a credible arrangement that actually respects the law, engenders trust and protects our fundamental rights,” he said.

«

link to this extract


Britain’s most popular grid squares • Ordnance Survey Blog

»You may have heard us saying that there are over 500,000 routes in our OS Maps service…well, we’ve been analysing all of that data to look at which areas you most like to #GetOutside and explore. We’ve compiled a list of the 20 most popular grid squares in Britain, using 10 years of public routing data compiled in OS Maps and its predecessors.


Britain’s most popular grid squares – 18 are in the Lake District!

We suspected that the Lake District would feature highly, but were amazed to discover that eighteen of the top twenty most popular grid squares to create a route fall in the heart of the Lake District National Park, close to  popular tourist locations Keswick, Ambleside, Grasmere, Helvellyn and Scafell Pike. The other two top twenty places can be found in Snowdonia and the Yorkshire Dales.

«

link to this extract


AR will be startup dominated, VR will not • Reaction Wheel

Jerry Neumann:

»In analyzing any new medium, it pays to figure out the various pieces of the delivery value chain and which ones will have the ability to take whatever share they desire of the overall margin available. These will be the one that become the valuable players in that market.

Virtual reality’s value chain is going to be dominated by content creation. Somewhat like the movies and more like computer gaming. The cost of creating VR content will be high so content creation will economically dominate distribution and discovery. The high cost of creating quality content will mean that less quality content is created, allowing discovery through typical marketing/PR and word of mouth (like how movies are discovered now.) Because recouping the cost of high-quality content will require large audiences, VR headsets will need to be cheap. They may at first be subsidized, but will eventually be required by the content makers to be high-volume, low-margin hardware. Expensive, and thus scarce, content will tend towards the lowest common denominator (like console computer games) so risk can be managed through a portfolio approach (like music and movies.) This suggests that VR content will eventually be dominated by a few very large companies, and probably mainly companies that enter from adjacent industries (my bet would be on EA.)

There may be other uses for VR other than the mass media/broadcast model I describe, such as in business. But because the largest piece of the market will drive revenue in the rest of the value chain down, any other value chain that avoids the chockpoint but uses the other pieces will have very low barriers to entry because its suppliers will have no bargaining power. For instance, the creation of training films for businesses avoided the content creation chokepoint in the consumer media business and benefited from the lower cost of movie-making equipment and talent. But because these had been made plentiful by the mainstream industry, there was no way to build a big business in corporate film-making. Something similar will happen in VR.

Augmented reality is completely different.

«

link to this extract


Apple versus Samsung is so yesterday • Kantar

Lauren Guenver:

»Starting with the US, in the three months ending May 2016, Samsung accounted for 37% of smartphone sales and Apple 29%. However, sales of their respective flagship models reveal a much closer competition, with the Galaxy S7/S7 Edge accounting for 16% of sales and the iPhone 6s/6s Plus at 14.6%. What’s more, when we look at where these purchases are coming from, just 5% of Samsung purchases came from those switching away from Apple, while 14% of Apple purchasers came from those switching away from Samsung. In both cases, the majority of sales came from customers repurchasing and upgrading within their preferred brand. Among those intending to change devices within the next year, 88% of current Apple users and 86% of current Samsung users intend to stay loyal.

Great Britain reveals a closer race between the two brands, who together account for nearly three of every four phones sold, each with 36% of sales. Here we see the iPhone 6s and 5s as the two best-selling devices in the three months ending May 2016, followed by the Samsung Galaxy J5, and the iPhone SE.

Interestingly, in both the US and UK markets, Samsung and Apple claim the entire top 10 list of smartphones sold. Only when expanding our view to the top 20 do we begin to see brands such as LG (in the US) and Sony (in the UK) make an appearance. These markets have also seen smartphone sales flatten or drop in the latest year, as fewer new consumers are available and consumers are upgrading at a slower pace.

«

That doesn’t sound like “so yesterday”. More like “so current”. But in China it’s different:

»Unlike in Western markets where brand loyalty is high and fewer consumers defect for other brands, in China, loyalty remains low. For current top brand Huawei, just 19% of consumers were repurchasing the brand, while 24% switched over from Samsung. For Apple, 42% were repeat purchasers, and 25% came from Samsung. Xiaomi hasn’t captured as many former Samsung consumers as the other two (9%), primarily getting consumers from repeat purchases (45%); 12% of Xiaomi’s new customers switched over from Huawei.

«

link to this extract


Mercedes’ F1 team challenges fans to create new VR/AR experience • UploadVR

Jamie Feltham:

»With the help of F1 star Lewis Hamilton the group is offering some $50,000 as a grand prize. The second stage of the competition is asking contestants to come up with a unique VR and AR experience, but not one that simply simulates driving one of the state of the art racing cars.

Instead, the experience must offer a solution to help the team working on the track-side at a race and those working remotely from the team’s UK-based factory. As it stands, engineers develop a race strategy, review component changes and fix issues with audio communications and video feeds between the track and factory. Contestants will be tasked with refining this process with the help of VR and AR during mid-season tests and more. The aim is to help the two teams involved operate much more efficiently together.

«

link to this extract


Pokémon Go will make you crave augmented reality • The New Yorker

Om Malik:

»Open the app and, pretty much wherever you are, you could be alerted that there is a Pokémon in the vicinity. The other day, I had some time to spare at the San Francisco airport, so I started looking. An animated version of Google Maps popped up on my screen, along with indications that there might be Pokémon around. The more you move around, the more creatures you find. I found only one, but I got a good workout. More important, the game made me happy; it had served a real function.

The technology to make this happen is something we haven’t seen applied before in gaming. Whereas a typical massively multiplayer online game is decentralized among different servers and players, Niantic wanted to create a single source for its game. This requires extraordinary computing power and a fundamental rethinking of how gaming software is written. If a system is fragmented, all users might not be getting new information at the exact same time. Financial-trading systems also run on a single source, because everyone needs to know the correct price of a stock at the same time. “Since everything is changing constantly, this is more like a real-time financial system,” Hanke said, pointing out that the usage on Niantic’s system was “a lot, even by Google standards.”

Hanke has long been interested in mapping and the interplay of our physical and digital worlds. He was the founder of Keyhole, a startup that was acquired by Google and renamed Google Earth. During our conversation, he pointed out that Google Earth was made possible by a convergence of digital photography, broadband networks, mapping, and the small near-Earth satellites that emerged around that time. Augmented reality, he said, is on a similar track—powerful smartphones, faster and more robust networks, a new generation of computer infrastructure, and data collection are all converging.

«

It’s the last point that’s most important: we’re hitting a new inflection point because of the confluence of all these things becoming available. Pokemon Go (indifferent though I am to the game itself) looks like an iPhone moment for AR: many have done it before, but none in a way that grabs such huge attention as to make everything before look poorly worked out.
link to this extract


Exclusive: Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch upcoming update preview • Sam Mobile

»On the convenience front, Samsung has made a huge change – you no longer need to pick up your paired smartphone to install recommended apps on the watch. The same extends to a few watch faces as well.

Over in the world clock app for the Gear S2, Samsung has switched to a flatter design. The clock face now turns white during the day and goes dark at nighttime. Clicking on one of the displayed times will get you sunrise and sunset information as well.

In the weather app (powered by Accuweather), Samsung has added UV index information. It doesn’t give you tips on what you should do based on the UX levels, but at least you can know if you need to put on some sunscreen before going out.

«

Would like to know how it does the “no phone required” trick: does it have a 3G embedded SIM? Samsung beat Apple in round 1 of the usability battle for smart watches – the rotating bezel is a clever idea – but we’ll have to see how the double-tap for apps works on watchOS 3. (I haven’t tried it yet.)
link to this extract


EU regulators near end of Apple inquiry, delay Google one • Silicon Beat

Troy Wolverton:

»The Apple inquiry focuses on whether the low-cost tax structure it has benefited from in Ireland amounts to illegal government aid to the company. Some analysts have estimated that its tax arrangements have saved the Apple billions of dollars. The company has denied any wrong-doing, but has previously agreed to pay back taxes in Italy.

Even as the European Apple inquiry appears to be heading to a conclusion, a Google investigation is getting dragged out. European antitrust regulators postponed the deadline by which the company would have to respond to charges that it has abused its control over the Android operating system.

The company now has until September 7 to respond to the allegations, which focus on the company’s alleged efforts to force phone manufacturers who use Android operating system and want access to the Google Play store to also install other Google apps, including its search app and Chrome browser.

Previously, Google was supposed to file a response by July 27.

«

You may be wondering what happened to the search antitrust investigation. So is everyone else.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: the wearable PIN leak, bitcoin’s split, chatbot psychology, Facebook’s gun problem, and more


Counterfeits are a growing problem on Amazon. Photo by priceminister 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Oops! Wearables can leak your PINs and passwords • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»Collaborative research conducted by a team from the department of electrical and computing engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology and Binghamton University in New York State, has demonstrated how a wearable device such as a smartwatch could end up compromising a user’s PIN thanks to the motion sensing data it generates.

The team combined wearable sensor data harvested from more than 5,000 key entry traces made by 20 adults with an algorithm they created to infer key entry sequences based on analyzing hand movements, applying the technique to different types of keypads (including ATM style and Qwerty keypad variants) and using three different wearables (two smartwatches and a nine-axis motion-tracking device).

The result? They were able to crack PINs with 80% accuracy on the first attempt, and more than 90% accuracy after three ties… Ouch. Albeit, I guess you can say wearables are useful for something then.«

link to this extract


Bitcoin ‘miners’ face fight for survival as new supply halves • Reuters

Jemima Kelly:

»As the bitcoin price has risen, as transaction numbers have grown and as the computers have become so specialized that they can only perform the function of bitcoin mining, a whole industry has emerged.

It can be profitable if firms are able to keep their expenses low. But the costs of running these machines, which cost around $1,800 each, and keeping them cool are fiendishly high.

[Bitcoin miner Marco] Streng reckons that, on average, it costs about $200 in electricity, including cooling power, to mine one bitcoin. Equipment, rent, wages and business running costs are on top.

On Saturday, all else being equal, the halving of the reward will double that cost, to $400, leaving a small margin for profit at the current exchange rate of around $640 per bitcoin.

«

The shakeout is likely to favour Chinese miners, and big ones; electricity costs make up about 90-95% of mining costs so you need to be in Iceland or similar to benefit.
link to this extract


The psychology of chatbots • Psychology Today

Dr Liraz Margalit:

»There are power differences in many real-life relationships. Power refers to a capacity of influencing another’s behavior, making demands and having those demands met (Dwyer, 2000). When interacting with bots, people expect to have more power than the other side, to feel they can control the interaction and lead the conversation to whatever places they feel like.

Unconsciously this makes them feel better about themselves and gain back a sense of control over their lives. In other words, in order to boost our self-esteem, we have a hidden desire to hold at least one power-driven relationship in our life. There is no better candidate for this relationship than chatbots.

But in developing robots that are specifically designed to be companions, people experience artificial empathy as though it were the real thing. Unlike real humans, who can be self-centered and detached, chatbots have a dog-like loyalty and selflessness. They will always be there for you and will always have time for you.

The combination of intelligence, loyalty and faithfulness is irresistible to the human mind. Being heard without having to listen to the other person is something we implicitly crave. The danger is that such interactions with chatbots could lead to a preference among some for relationships with artificial intelligence rather than with fallible and sometimes unreliable human beings.

«

Imagine immersive VR plus a chatbot that always seemed to obey you. It would probably be irresistible to many people.
link to this extract


Waiting for Gödel • The New Yorker

Siobhan Roberts on the man who came up with the Incompleteness Theorem (if you don’t know what it is, read the piece; if you do, read the piece too):

»A mathematician is said to be a machine for turning coffee into theorems, and at that Gödel excelled, although he said that the coffee in Vienna was wretched. For Peter O’Hearn, an engineering manager at Facebook and professor at University College London, the incompleteness “wow moment” was fuelled by visits to the brewpub during graduate school. O’Hearn is the co-recipient of this year’s Gödel Prize—he and a colleague, Stephen Brookes, invented concurrent separation logic, a revolutionary proof system for computer software. “Gödel’s theorem has a major impact on what all computer scientists do,” he told me. “It puts a fundamental limit on questions we can answer with computers. It tells us to go for approximation—more approximate solutions, which find many right answers, but not all right answers. That’s a positive, because it constrains me from trying to do stupid things, trying to do impossible things.”

«

If you’ve never read Gödel Escher Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, please do.
link to this extract


Did a study really find there aren’t racial disparities in police shootings? Not so fast. • Vox

German Lopez:

»Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s new study… analyzed data from several police departments across the country to measure racial differences in police use of force. Quoctrung Bui and Amanda Cox reported:

A new study confirms that black men and women are treated differently in the hands of law enforcement. They are more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, even after accounting for how, where and when they encounter the police.

But when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

But diving deeper into the study, those conclusions are based on some fairly shaky ground. Specifically, the data the study uses only looks at racial biases after a police officer engages with a suspect. That excludes a key driver of racial biases in policing: that police are more likely to stop black people in the first place, producing far more situations in which someone is likely to be shot. The study also looks at a fairly limited number of police departments, meaning its findings may not apply nationwide.

«

It’s good that there is available data; it’s bad that the topic has to be addressed. In the UK there have been similar complaints about “stop and search” as being racially driven – and, sometimes, leading to deaths in custody.
link to this extract


Live footage of shootings forces Facebook to confront new role • The New York Times

Mike Isaac and Sydney Ember:

»Facebook is confronting complexities with live videos that it may not have anticipated just a few months ago, when the streaming service was dominated by lighter fare such as a Buzzfeed video of an exploding watermelon. Now Facebook must navigate when, if at all, to draw the line if a live video is too graphic, and weigh whether pulling such content is in the company’s best interests if the video is newsworthy.

“There are a handful of companies at the moment in a position to offer a live-streaming service where individual broadcasts are easily discoverable and shareable,” said Jonathan L. Zittrain, a law and computer science professor at Harvard University. “It just puts companies in positions they weren’t designed to deal with well.”

In a Facebook post on Thursday before the Dallas police shootings, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, wrote about Ms. Reynolds’s live broadcast. While the images of Mr. Castile dying “are graphic and heartbreaking,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote, such videos also “shine a light on the fear that millions of members of our community live with every day.” He did not address what Facebook’s greater role in policing that content will be in the future.

«

Turns out to be tricky to be the world’s broadcaster. Facebook probably thought it would all be exploding watermelons. More likely it’s going to be a lot more brutal.
link to this extract


Pokemon Go and business model innovation • Tech-thoughts

Sameer Singh:

»At the moment, Pokemon Go’s monetization model is fairly pedestrian -gamers can buy in-game virtual goods to enhance gameplay. However, more interesting avenues open up if it is successful in expanding beyond Pokemon fans. Since the game’s mechanics require players to travel to specific locations, sponsored locations are poised to become a massive revenue opportunity. Local businesses could pay to become a sponsored PokeGym or just become havens for rare Pokemon. Based on the foot traffic we have already seen at “hot” Pokemon Go locations, this could become a reality sooner than we expect. Of course, sponsored locations aren’t a unique revenue model and have been used by companies like Foursquare before. However, the efficacy of sponsored locations is entirely dependent on the user base and engagement of the service in question. Pokemon Go (and Niantic’s future games) will certainly have the upper hand here.

«

I’m going to go out grumpily on a limb here and say that Pokemon Go will not expand past its enthusiast market. Then the question is: is there any AR game that adults would want to play?
link to this extract


Amazon is full of Chinese counterfeits and they’re driving out legit goods • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

»When Amazon decided to allow Chinese sellers to direct-list their products on the service (rather than going through domestic importers), it was seen as a defensive move against Alibaba, their deep-pocketed Chinese rival and vendor of everything from legit gadgets to crime supplies.

The older model was less efficient at getting Chinese goods to western customers, but it was also an important filter for counterfeits, because the domestic importers were easier to track down and punish for the worst offenses.

Now Amazon is filling up with counterfeits, a term that can mean several things:

* A near-identical (or identical) knock-off, sometimes even made in the same factory as the original goods, and sold out the back door

* Factory rejects that failed inspection

* Low-quality fakes that look like originals, but are made from inferior or defective materials or suffer from defective/shoddy manufacturing

In late 2015, there were a spate of warnings about knockoff sex toys on Amazon made from toxic materials that you really didn’t want to stick inside your body. Now this has metastasized into every Amazon category. Sometimes its clothes and other goods that have weird sizing, colors, or poor construction. Sometimes its goods that generate no complaints, but are priced so low that the legit manufacturers can’t compete, and end up pulling out of Amazon or going bust.

«

There’s also a first-person account of these effects at CNBC, showing that it’s putting American companies out of business:

»Whaley still counts on Amazon for 90% of her revenue but she’s actively trying to drive traffic to her own website and partner with other retailers. She’s lost all trust in Amazon.

«

Amazon wants to be “The Everything Store”. But as Theodore Sturgeon so aptly put it, 90% of everything is crap.
link to this extract


Inside the secret group for gun owners banned from Facebook • Forbes

Matt Drange (of the Forbes staff, rather than a “contributor”):

»His name is Chuck Rossi, and he’s a director of engineering at Facebook. He’s also one of the company’s most prominent gun enthusiasts, who, by his own account, has trained hundreds of fellow employees to shoot pistols. More recently, Rossi has taken on a new, unofficial, role: advocate for gun groups on Facebook.

For months, Rossi has harnessed his technical expertise and internal connections to help gun groups get reinstated after they were shut down for violating Facebook’s new ban on gun sales. This has put Rossi at the epicenter of a behind-the-scenes battle between gun enthusiasts and proponents of comprehensive background checks, who have been busy reporting to Facebook groups that appear to violate the company’s policy.

While Rossi’s stated purpose is to give the groups a chance to comply with the site’s rules and bring back those pages dedicated to conversations about guns rather than transactions, he has, perhaps unwittingly, undermined Facebook’s efforts to eliminate unregulated gun sales through the site. Some of the groups Rossi helped to reinstate have continued to be havens for gun sales. Many have taken the opportunity to move from “private,” which allows anyone to search for and request access to the page, to “secret,” an unlisted setting which makes it difficult for anyone not already a member to find the groups, let alone view the content in them.

«

Underground gun sales continue to happen on Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if exactly the same happens in the UK.
link to this extract


How technology disrupted the truth • The Guardian

Katharine Viner:

»The brazen disregard for facts did not stop after the referendum: just this weekend, the short-lived Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom, fresh from a starring role in the leave campaign, demonstrated the waning power of evidence. After telling the Times that being a mother would make her a better PM than her rival Theresa May, she cried “gutter journalism!” and accused the newspaper of misrepresenting her remarks – even though she said exactly that, clearly and definitively and on tape. Leadsom is a post-truth politician even about her own truths.

When a fact begins to resemble whatever you feel is true, it becomes very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and “facts” that are not. The leave campaign was well aware of this – and took full advantage, safe in the knowledge that the Advertising Standards Authority has no power to police political claims. A few days after the vote, Arron Banks, Ukip’s largest donor and the main funder of the Leave.EU campaign, told the Guardian that his side knew all along that facts would not win the day. “It was taking an American-style media approach,” said Banks. “What they said early on was ‘Facts don’t work’, and that’s it. The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”

It was little surprise that some people were shocked after the result to discover that Brexit might have serious consequences and few of the promised benefits. When “facts don’t work” and voters don’t trust the media, everyone believes in their own “truth” – and the results, as we have just seen, can be devastating.

How did we end up here? And how do we fix it?

«

Viner is editor-in-chief of The Guardian, and you can tell that – like other journalists – she is finding the way in which the ground of “truth” is shifting under our feet very alarming.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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 • FT.com

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 official-inquiries.com.

«

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.
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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.

Start up: Theranos’s last days?, Samsung’s water-unproof S7 Active, the Pokemon Go craze, and more


Planning a crewed lunar mission? There’s some code for you on Github! Photo from Nasa Goddard Space Research Centre on Flickr.

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

Theranos dealt sharp blow as Elizabeth Holmes is banned from operating labs • WSJ

John Carreyrou, Michael Siconolfi and Christopher Weaver:

»Silicon Valley startup Theranos Inc. is fighting for its life after regulators decided to revoke its license to operate a lab in California because of unsafe practices and to ban founder Elizabeth Holmes from the blood-testing business for at least two years.

The sanctions were laid out in a letter to Theranos released Friday by the agency that oversees US labs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Theranos said it is still seeking to resolve its issues with the regulator.

One sanction, a monetary fine of $10,000 a day until all deficiencies have been corrected, goes into effect July 12. The most serious sanctions, such as the ban of Ms. Holmes, won’t go into effect for 60 days.

If it fails to reach a settlement with the government, Theranos’s options are limited. Almost any course it takes will dramatically reshape the company that Ms. Holmes founded in 2003 as a Stanford University dropout and grew to a valuation of more than $9 billion in a 2014 fundraising round.

«

The first version of this that I saw at 0643 BST (0143 EST) Friday had a single byline (Siconolfi’s) and began more tamely: “US federal health regulators dealt a major blow to Theranos by banning founder Elizabeth Holmes from operating a blood-testing laboratory for at least two years and pulling regulatory approval for the company’s California lab.”

Clearly, the addition of two reporters and 18 hours sharpened up the intro (“lede” in the US; first paragraph to everyone else) quite a bit. And gave them time to put a very spooky picture of Holmes at the top.

And Theranos indeed looks cooked.
link to this extract


DNA sequencing costs plotted over time • National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

»

To illustrate the nature of the reductions in DNA sequencing costs, each graph also shows hypothetical data reflecting Moore’s Law, which describes a long-term trend in the computer hardware industry that involves the doubling of ‘compute power’ every two years (See: Moore’s Law [wikipedia.org]). Technology improvements that ‘keep up’ with Moore’s Law are widely regarded to be doing exceedingly well, making it useful for comparison.

In both graphs, note: (1) the use a logarithmic scale on the Y axis; and (2) the sudden and profound outpacing of Moore’s Law beginning in January 2008. The latter represents the time when the sequencing centers transitioned from Sanger-based (dideoxy chain termination sequencing) to ‘second generation’ (or ‘next-generation’) DNA sequencing technologies. Additional details about these graphs are provided below.

These data, however, do not capture all of the costs associated with the NHGRI Large-Scale Genome Sequencing Program. The sequencing centers perform a number of additional activities whose costs are not appropriate to include when calculating costs for production-oriented DNA sequencing. In other words, NHGRI makes a distinction between ‘production’ activities and ‘non-production’ activities. Production activities are essential to the routine generation of large amounts of quality DNA sequence data that are made available in public databases; the costs associated with production DNA sequencing are summarized here and depicted on the two graphs.

«

We’re good at sequencing, but less good at understanding what genomes tell us. That hasn’t improved as quickly.
link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy S7 Active fails Consumer Reports water-resistance test • Consumer Reports

Jerry Bellinson put not one but two successive Galaxy S7 Actives into the equivalent of five feet of water for 30 minutes. They didn’t make it:

»For a couple of days following the test, the screens of both phones would light up when the phones were plugged in, though the displays could not be read. The phones never returned to functionality.

Samsung says it has received “very few complaints” about this issue, and that in all cases, the phones were covered under warranty.

“The Samsung Galaxy S7 active device is one of the most rugged phones to date and is highly resistant to scratches and IP68 certified,” the company said in a written statement. “There may be an off-chance that a defective device is not as watertight as it should be.” The company says it is investigating the issue.

The Active is one of three versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7, and it was the only one to fail our water-immersion test.

«

Could be two lemons, but that doesn’t speak well to the quality control. Waterproofing seems to be a popular feature with testers, at least, because you can.. test it.
link to this extract


Teen playing new Pokémon game on phone discovers body in Wind River • County 10

»Shayla [Wiggins] tells County 10 that she woke up this morning and began playing a game on her cell phone called Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that encourages the user to capture as many Pokémon as possible. “The Pokémon are all over Riverton,” she said. Shayla showed County 10 the game on her cellphone which displayed a map of Riverton where these Pokémon are located.

“I was trying to get a Pokémon from a natural water resource,” she explained. She said that she jumped over the fence to go towards the river in search of a Pokémon.

“I was walking towards the bridge along the shore when I saw something in the water,” Shayla said. “I had to take a second look and I realized it was a body.” She said the figure was floating about three feet from the shore and it looked like an average size male body. She reports that she thinks the man was native, but she can’t be certain. She saw a black shirt and black pants. All of the body was reportedly submerged except for part of his back and butt.

«

This game is taking people into bizarre situations. There are even reports of people setting up armed robberies (unproven) and using it while on patrol against Isis with Kurdish militias (verified). I’m amazed; Pokemon seems to me so transparently stupid – a set of Top Trump cards – that I’m amazed anyone over the age of 12 indulges in it. And yet…
link to this extract


A malicious ‘Pokémon Go’ app is installing backdoors on Android devices • Motherboard

Joshua Kopstein:

»wannabe Pokémon masters should take heed: amid high demand for the game as it slowly rolls out across the globe, security researchers have discovered a malicious version of the Pokémon GO app floating around that installs a backdoor on Android phones, allowing hackers to exploit Poké-hype to completely compromise a user’s device.

The security firm Proofpoint discovered the malicious application, or APK, which was infected with DroidJack, a remote access tool (RAT) that compromises Android devices by silently opening a backdoor for hackers. The malicious app was uploaded to an online malware detection repository on July 7, less than 72 hours after Nintendo released the game in Australia and New Zealand.

To install it, a user needs to “side-load” the malicious app by disabling an Android security setting that normally prevents the installation of unverified third-party apps from “unknown sources.”

This is potentially a huge deal, since the game’s slow roll-out to different regions has led some impatient players to download the app from third-party websites instead of waiting for the official release on Android’s Play store, which requires side-loading to install. Proofpoint notes that several major news outlets have even provided instructions on how to find and install the app from a third party.

«

link to this extract


Original Apollo 11 Guidance Computer (AGC) source code • Github

Lots of people are cloning it and improving it – just in case they, you know, need to pilot a lunar lander mission.
link to this extract


We need to talk about AI and access to publicly funded data-sets • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas with a hugely important analysis:

»DeepMind says it will be publishing “results” of the Moorfields research [on eye disease] in academic literature. But it does not say it will be open sourcing any AI models it is able to train off of the publicly funded data.

Which means that data might well end up fueling the future profits of one of the world’s wealthiest technology companies. Instead of that value remaining in the hands of the public, whose data it is.

And not just that — early access to large amounts of valuable taxpayer-funded data could potentially lock in massive commercial advantage for Google in healthcare. Which is perhaps the single most important sector there is, given it affects everyone on the planet. If you don’t think Google has designed on becoming the world’s medic, why do you think it’s doing things like this?

Google will argue that the potential social benefits of algorithmically improved healthcare outcomes are worth this trade off of giving it advantageous access to the locked medicine cabinet where the really powerful data is kept.

But that detracts from the wider point: if valuable public data-sets can create really powerful benefits, shouldn’t that value remain in public hands?

«

Yes. Exactly. This is a key point which is being ignored: data is the necessity for Google and the British government is not seeking sufficiently clear repayment for it.
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AI, Apple and Google • Benedict Evans

Quite a long musing on where we are with AI – which typically never quite arrives, because every time it does something smart (understands speech, identifies faces) we say “oh, that’s just computing“:

»A common thread for both Apple and Google, and the apps on their platforms, is that eventually many ‘AI’ techniques will be APIs and development tools across everything, rather like, say, location. 15 years ago geolocating a mobile phone was witchcraft and mobile operators had revenue forecasts for ‘location-based services’. GPS and wifi-lookup made LBS just another API call: ‘where are you?’ became another question that a computer never has to ask you. But though location became just an API – just a database lookup – just another IF statement – the services created with it sit on a spectrum. At one end are things like Foursquare – products that are only possible with real-time location and use it to do magic. Slightly behind are Uber or Lyft – it’s useful for Lyft to know where you are when you call a car, but not essential (it is essential for the drivers’ app, or course). But then there’s something like Instagram, where location is a free nice-to-have – it’s useful to be able to geotag a photo automatically, but not essential and you might not want to anyway. (Conversely, image recognition is going to transform Instagram, though they’ll need a careful taxonomy of different types of coffee in the training data). And finally, there is, say, an airline app, that can ask you what city you’re in when you do a flight search, but really needn’t bother.

In the same way, there will be products that are only possible because of machine learning, whether applied to images or speech or something else entirely (no-one at all looked at location and thought ‘this could change taxis”). There will be services that are enriched by it but could do without, and there will be things where it may not be that relevant at all (that anyone has realised yet). So, Apple offers photo recognition, but also a smarter keyboard and venue suggestions in the calendar app – it’s sprinkled ‘AI’ all over the place, much like location. And, like any computer science tool, there will be techniques that are commodities and techniques that aren’t, yet.

«

link to this extract


Exclusive: why Microsoft is betting its future on AI • The Verge

Casey Newton got to meet lots of people at Microsoft who are working on bots and AI:

»I meet with Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of marketing for Office. He shows me a range of ways where intelligence is making Office easier to use. In September 2014 Microsoft introduced Delve, a kind of Fitbit for productivity that is included with Office 365. The app analyzes how much time you spend in email and in meetings, and highlights times on your calendar where you have extended periods of time to do more complicated, meaningful work. It tells you what percentage of people you sent an email to actually read it, and how quickly. It will suggest reaching out to colleagues that you haven’t emailed in a while. It even shows you response times for your colleagues, and for yourself.

If your organization lives in Google Apps, as do many big Silicon Valley companies, browsing Delve felt like a revelation. You don’t have to be a numbers nerd to find this kind of information useful. If you’re a manager, Delve can tell you at a glance how much time you’ve spent with each of your employees over the past week. This kind of intelligence isn’t as sexy as a general AI that anticipates your every need — but it’s here today, it works, and it makes Google Apps look like a neglected backwater by comparison.

«

1) Google Apps pretty much is a neglected backwater
2) would love to know if the statistics gathered by Delve actually have any meaning in the real world, or are just numbers collected because they can be.
link to this extract


Security Flaw in OS X displays all keychain passwords in plain text • Medium

Brenton Henry:

»This afternoon, a friend learned the hard way that you don’t let an unofficial company take control of your computer to provide “support”. However, it was what I learned that shocked me the most.

There is a method in OS X that will allow any user to export your keychain, without sudo privileges or any system dialogs, to a text file, with the username and passwords displayed in plain text. As of this writing, this method works in at least 10.10 and 10.11.5, and presumably at the least all iterations in between.

«

I tried his method; I had to click an “Allow” dialog for every single item in my keychain, which wasn’t a trivial number. So this exploit isn’t one to think deeply about. More to the point: what happened to his friend? Was it keychain-related?
link to this extract


How the Feds use Photoshop to track down paedophiles • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»The most innocent clues can crack a case. In 2012, a holiday photo of a woman and child holding freshly caught fish ended up being a key lead in a child pornography investigation.

Found within a cache of illegal, explicit material, the photo would eventually point detectives to a outdoor camping site in Richville, Minnesota, and result in the victims’ rescue, and suspect’s conviction in December 2012.

But first, detectives had to determine where the photo was taken. To do that, they cropped out the fish, sanitized the image, and sent it to Cornell University for identification, Jim Cole, the National Program Manager for Victim Identification at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), recalled to Motherboard in a phone call.

The university determined the species of fish, which was found in a particular region. Investigators then edited the suspect and victim out of the photo, Cole said, and distributed it to advertisers for camping grounds in the area, one of which recognized the location.

When detectives arrived, the same photo was on the wall of the camping office, Cole added.

“It’s all about making the haystack smaller, so we can find the needle,” he said.

«

A logo on a sweatshirt? A bottle of pills in the background? It can all contribute to cracking the case
link to this extract


Exclusive: Google is building two Android Wear smartwatches with Google Assistant integration • Android Police

David Ruddock has a strong and detailed rumour:

»The inevitable question with these Google smartwatches is “why?” I’m afraid I don’t have a concrete answer for you. But I can speculate. As Android Wear has evolved, manufacturer interest in it has not skyrocketed as Google likely hoped it would. At best, it appears to be holding steady. Once considered Wear’s strongest partner, LG has announced no new mainstream Wear device since the old Urbane last spring (the LTE is unashamedly niche with limited availability, and was heavily delayed). The number of new Wear OEMs announced lately has been modest, aside from a few niche fashion products that are unlikely to have a major impact on Wear’s distribution.

By building its own smartwatches, Google can implement exactly the hardware and features it believes will best demonstrate Android Wear’s capabilities.

«

Good luck with that. The OEMs aren’t doing it because they aren’t selling. (Unless they’re selling in China, in which case Google will have trouble too.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Apple opens betas, Counter-Strike’s gambler scandal, Blackphone’s black future, and more


Too many of these things driving you mad? Get used to it. Photo by KylaBorg 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.

Foxconn IPO shows an unfit industry • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»Foxconn Technology Group’s latest IPO is giving the world a clearer picture of just how tough the technology environment really is.

In 455 pages of pre-listing documents filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange, Foxconn affiliate FIT Hon Teng gives an array of data that, despite its sales pitch, actually shows how weak the industry looks.

FIT — which stands for Foxconn Interconnect Technology — is the connector unit of the world’s biggest contract electronics manufacturer. Crucially, it got 35.7% of sales last year from Foxconn’s Taipei-listed flagship Hon Hai, best known as the maker of iPhones.

While not sexy, connectors are at the heart of almost every electronics device. They include the USB cables and plugs that link your phone to your PC or wall charger, the HDMI cables that hook up your TV, and the myriad audio jacks used in everything from landline phones to music players. That makes the connector industry a good market to watch for signs on the state of the overall technology hardware industry.

FIT thinks it has an edge in the connector market.”We believe our customers value our collaboration with Hon Hai Group which help shorten development and production lead times and provide cost advantages for brand companies in the end markets we serve.”

That edge hasn’t staved off a continued slide in revenue, margins and profit over the past couple of years, according to the filing. What’s worse, revenue and gross margin both fell in the first four months of this year, FIT said.

«

link to this extract


Apple beta software program • Apple

»The Apple Beta Software Program lets users try out pre-release software. The feedback you provide on quality and usability helps us identify issues, fix them, and make Apple software even better. Please note that since the public beta software has not yet been commercially released by Apple, it may contain errors or inaccuracies and may not function as well as commercially released software. Be sure to back up your Mac using Time Machine and your iOS device with iTunes before installing beta software. Install only on non-production devices that are not business critical. We strongly recommend installing on a secondary system or device, or on a secondary partition on your Mac.

«

One day will there be one for a car? Anyhow, presently just for Mac and iOS devices. No fee.
link to this extract


Counter-Strike YouTuber offers apology in light of gambling scandal (update) • Polygon

Allegra Frank:

»Trevor “Tmartn” Martin uploaded a video apologizing for not disclosing his involvement in CS:GO Lotto, a popular gambling site that he and fellow YouTube creator Tom “ProSyndicate” Cassel have equity in and were promoting on their channels.

The two-minute video opens with Martin playing with his golden retriever before he launches into his public statement.

“I’m going to try to make this as short and sweet as possible,” he said, followed by an expression of gratitude for his fanbase and those who have stuck by him during the scandal, in which he was exposed by several YouTubers for obscuring the fact that he owned CS:GO Lotto during his promotional videos. He then moved into his involvement with CS:GO Lotto.

“Now, my connection to CS:GO Lotto has been a matter of public record since the company was first organized in December of 2015,” he said, a point that has been refuted by fans and others who have watched his older videos. (Martin has since made many of his Counter-Strike gambling videos private.) “However, I do feel like I owe you guys an apology. I’m sorry to each and every one of you who felt like that was not made clear enough to you.”…

…The exposure of YouTubers with financial stakes in the gambling sites they promote is just the latest development in the ongoing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive legal drama. A member of the game’s community filed suit against Valve in late June, charging that the company facilitated underage betting and other unlawful practices.

«

Ethics? What’s that? The BBC’s You & Yours programme recently had an item about Twitter tipsters who actually get kickbacks from the sites where people are encouraged to gamble. And they get more if people lose. This seems similar.
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End of cycle? • Elad’s blog

Elad Gil:

»we are seeing a shift to a boom in the variety and type of companies being funded as tech investors pursue other areas that I would characterize as “software aware” (I mean some software is used by the startup; however, the true basis for value for the startup has little to do with software despite claims by the founders) versus “software driven” . There are two ways I interpret this trend:

1. There are lots of industries suddenly available for transformation.

While I think the range of markets about to be transformed by software is large, the interpretation of what is truly a tech business is being misapplied. Software, the Internet, and AI are transforming a variety of industries on an ongoing basis and I am a huge fan of software is eating the world pmarca statement. However, people are starting to apply software valuations to low gross margin, physical good businesses that are not software businesses. In other words, lots of tech investors are now investing in areas they do not understand, at valuation multiples that do not make sense for these alternate businesses. This is similar to the 2001-2003 bad period of cleantech and nanotech.

2. We are at the end of an economic cycle for tech, and tech investors are desperate for the next new thing.

It is always hard to call the end of an economic or innovation cycle[2]. Technology-driven shifts will continue to be incredibly resilient and transformative. However, the rate of creation of truly fundamental massive businesses accelerated for a few years, and may decelerate for a few years before the next wave hits. During this period of deceleration, entrepreneurs and investors will go into a search pattern to try to find the next wave.

«

link to this extract


Why Silicon Valley loves Universal Basic Income even though it is completely unworkable • The Policy

Dare Obsanjo:

»The fundamental challenge of UBI proposals is the Basic Income Impossible Trinity which I first discovered in a Bloomberg article about Switzerland’s plan to vote for a UBI.
The UBI impossible trinity is shown below

An explanation of the terms are as follows:
• Large basic transfer: A UBI proposal only makes sense as a replacement for people losing their jobs if it actually starts coming close to matching the income from a job. The Swiss proposal was for 2,500 Swiss francs which is about $2,560 which is inline with the average income in the US.

• Low phase out rate: This is effectively a low rejection rate for citizens getting access to the UBI check. This aligns with the railing against “means testing” and other requirements for citizens to get a check which is what makes it universal.

• Same cost as existing system: Self explanatory

Any universal basic income proposal can only have two of these. In Switzerland, the proposal was for a system that combined #1 and #2 above. This proposal was soundly rejected in a referendum by the Swiss people due to the fact that it would have cost an additional $200bn in taxes…

…Given a solution that seems so obviously unworkable, why is this idea so seductive to the seemingly brilliant techies who continue to write enthusiastically about universal basic income?

The primary reason is guilt.

«

link to this extract


The tyranny of messaging and notifications • The Verge

Walt Mossberg bemoans how many alerts and notifications and messaging services he has to deal with:

»when I have to reach someone with something important and time-sensitive, I often wind up resorting to two or more similar but independent pathways, because I’m never sure which one will be likelier to work, since he or she is under a similar assault.

And then there are the notifications, ever-present on every operating system on every device. Sure, you can fine tune or even silence them with some work (more on that later), but most people don’t, or don’t know how, or feel they don’t dare. Notifications are supposed to save you time, but often they wind up doing the opposite.

Many mornings, it’s common for the lock screen of my iPhone and the right-hand side of my Mac’s screen to be jammed with notifications about “news” I don’t care about, messages whose relevance has come and gone overnight, tips on birthdays of people I’m not close to, reminders of meetings I’m not attending, and warnings of traffic tie-ups on roads I don’t use. The signal-to-noise ratio is very poor, and gets only marginally better during the work day.

«

Gee, I wonder what it would be like if you could gamify that. Perhaps like…
link to this extract


Clash of Clans rules everything around me • Real Life

Tony Tulathimutte:

»In Clash, absolutely everything can be purchased, every building and troop is military and replaceable; the battle reports tell you how many troops you “expended.” Unlike other cartoon-styled games, where characters are “knocked out” or “eliminated,” there’s no ambiguity about death. When mowed down, troops turn briefly into ghostly skeletons, then gravestones, and tapping on the gravestones converts them into elixir (read again: oil).

This capitalist angle gets a lot more interesting when you consider that Clash’s purpose is to extract the world’s most important resource from its player base (this time, read: money). Gameplay largely involves waiting for things to finish building. If you don’t want to wait, you spend. Gems allow you to bypass the wait times for constructions and upgrades, which ordinarily take hours, days, or even weeks to complete. The bright green color of grass, greed, and envy, gems can be earned a few at a time through gameplay but can be purchased with real money to the tune of $4.99 for 500, or up to $99.99 for a 14,000-gem war chest; each gem is worth somewhere between one and 20 minutes of time.

«

link to this extract


Sorry privacy lovers, the Blackphone is flirting with failure • Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

»The failure of the first Blackphone, according to the exhibits filed by Geeksphone lawyers, was in part down to a mistaken belief in demand for the device and associated partnerships that went sour. A letter dated March 21st 2016 from Matt Neiderman, Silent Circle’s general counsel, to Geeksphone co-founder Rodrigo Silva-Ramos Pidal, laid out the Blackphone project’s woes in detail. It noted that when Silent Circle agreed to buy back half of SPG, it did so in the belief it had secured big distributor agreements with three partners: BigOn Telecommunications in Dubai, South Korea’s Kumion and America Movil in South America. Between them, Silent Circle believed they would purchase 250,000 devices. But BigOn, according to Neiderman, never bought the 25,000 devices it was due to purchase. The Sumion deal also fell through, whilst America Movil had only acquired 6,000 of the 100,000 Blackphones it had promised to buy, the letter noted, adding the latter was “the one agreement that has had some legitimacy.”

«

The court documents (and another) make quite juicy reading. But the short version is: privacy alone is not a selling point for smartphone users in any volume. BlackBerry knows that already; it has been reliant on an existing user base for years.
link to this extract


Tesla said autopilot crash would be ‘material’ contradicting CEO Musk • Fortune

Stephen Gandel:

»The fatal accident, the first known case related to the autopilot feature, occurred 11 days before Musk and Tesla sold $2bn shares in an offering on May 18. Yet the company made no mention of the crash in its offering documents. The news of the accident didn’t come out until last week, when it was reported by federal highway authorities — six weeks after the offering.

Musk told Fortune via email that the deadly crash wasn’t “material” information that Tesla investors needed to know. After the article appeared on Tuesday, Musk called the article “BS” in a tweet and said that the fact that Tesla’s shares rose on Friday following the accident’s disclosure showed that the accident wasn’t material.

But back in early May, Tesla said exactly the opposite of what its founder is saying now in an SEC filing. The company warned investors that a fatal crash related to its autopilot feature, even a single incident, would be a material event to “our brand, business, prospects, and operating results.” The disclosure said that the company may face product liability claims due to “failures of new technologies that we are pioneering, including autopilot in our vehicles,” adding that “product liability claims could harm our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition.”

«

link to this extract


Tesla’s dubious claims about autopilot’s safety record • Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

»Tesla and Musk’s message is clear: the data proves Autopilot is much safer than human drivers. But experts say those comparisons are worthless, because the company is comparing apples and oranges.

“It has no meaning,” says Alain Kornhauser, a Princeton professor and director of the university’s transportation program, of Tesla’s comparison of U.S.-wide statistics with data collected from its own cars. Autopilot is designed to be used only for highway driving, and may well make that safer, but standard traffic safety statistics include a much broader range of driving conditions, he says.

Tesla’s comparisons are also undermined by the fact that its expensive, relatively large vehicles are much safer in a crash than most vehicles on the road, says Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. He describes comparisons of the rate of accidents by Autopilot with population-wide statistics as “ludicrous on their face.” Tesla did not respond to a request asking it to explain why Musk and the company compare figures from very different kinds of driving.

«

As Ben Thompson also pointed out in his Stratechery newsletter, the fact that Tesla opened its blogpost about this death significantly caused by its technology with statistics, rather than an expression of empathy for the dead person and those affected, is an indictment of its tone-deafness.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: revising China’s phones, oldies don’t buy music, a disabled view of Apple Watch, Brexit raises tech prices, and more


Conference calls: we all hate them, right? But what if you could tune out and let a computer do the work of listening? Photo by alexhung 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Using speech-to-text to fully check out during conference calls • Github

Josh Newlan:

»This script listens to meetings I’m supposed to be paying attention to and pings me on hipchat when my name is mentioned.

It sends me a transcript of what was said in the minute before my name was mentioned and some time after.

It also plays an audio file out loud 15 seconds after my name was mentioned which is a recording of me saying, “Sorry, I didn’t realize my mic was on mute there.”

Uses IBM’s Speech to Text Watson API for the audio-to-text.

«

Two thoughts. Probably shouldn’t have given his real name on this; anyone else itching to use this?
link to this extract


Surprise! It’s the older people who don’t pay for music • Business Insider

Nathan McAlone:

»

This makes intuitive sense given the nostalgia many have for the music of their youth, which makes new purchases less likely as time goes on. But it also brings up an important point about the future of music.

The music industry seems to be in the midst of an unstoppable move toward streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, and unlike digital downloads, this model is built on paying for access instead of ownership. You pay a monthly fee and get to listen to anything on Spotify.

This means that the age graph above could actually change over time. When the 46% of 18 to 24-year-olds who have paid for music in the last month push past 65, does that mean they will cancel their Spotify accounts? Likely not, as this would mean not only losing the ability to find new music, which they might cease to care about, but also being able to listen, on-demand, to those old songs that have been woven into their emotional memory.

This could boost the revenues of the music industry, which some analysts already think is headed for a big turnaround.

«

Though it doesn’t show how much they paid for music. On average, people who buy downloads or CDs get an album a month – about the same as a music service subscription.
link to this extract


F.B.I. director James Comey recommends no charges for Hillary Clinton on email • NYTimes.com

Mark Landler and Eric Lichtblau:

»on a day of political high drama in Washington, Mr. Comey rebuked Mrs. Clinton as being “extremely careless” in using a private email address and server. He raised questions about her judgment, contradicted statements she has made about her email practices, said it was possible that hostile foreign governments had gained access to her account, and declared that a person still employed by the government — Mrs. Clinton left the State Department in 2013 — could have faced disciplinary action for doing what she did.

To warrant a criminal charge, Mr. Comey said, there had to be evidence that Mrs. Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully mishandled classified information. The F.B.I. found neither, and as a result, he said, “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

The Justice Department is highly likely to accept the F.B.I.’s guidance, which a law enforcement official said also cleared three top aides of Mrs. Clinton who were implicated in the case: Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin and Cheryl D. Mills.

«

But:

»In saying that it was “possible” that hostile foreign governments had gained access to Mrs. Clinton’s personal account, Mr. Comey noted that she used her mobile device extensively while traveling outside the United States, including trips “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.”

«

Dear Hillary, please read on for useful advice.
link to this extract


Securing a travel iPhone • Filippo

Filippo Valsorda (who works at CloudFlare’s security team) has a number of recommendations, with the general ones being:

»Turn the phone off before entering any situation that might lead to you being coerced to use your fingerprint to unlock the phone. ProTip: if you reboot the phone and not unlock it, it will still let you listen to music if you use the EarBuds remote.

Upon entering hostile networks, start refusing iOS, app and carrier updates. Use Airplane mode extensively. Turn off WiFi when you don’t need it.

Avoid syncing or pairing the phone with a computer. To extract pictures, use Dropbox Camera Upload with a dedicated account and a shared folder going to your primary account. To save notes, message or email them to your main account. (Remember that email is unencrypted!)

Needless to say, keep the phone on your person at all times.

«

You’d have to be expecting pretty hostile security environments for this stuff, but some people do. Maybe Hillary Clinton’s next phone will be one of these?
link to this extract


Centre Stage Applewatch • Molly Watt Trust

“Lady Usher” has Usher’s syndrome, which means that she is profoundly deaf and is losing her sight:

»I used to rely wholly on my cumbersome iPhone6+ to help me to navigate the maze of London’s streets with my guide dog. Most people don’t realise that you need both hands to work a guide dog, and I had to clumsily juggle the lead, harness and phone, while trying to orientate myself to where I was going. The sun’s glare often made it impossible for me to read the screen. I was stopped twice by police officers telling me to put my phone away, apparently, ‘a blind person carrying a phone is asking for trouble’.

My new AppleWatch has made things so much easier. I simply key in my route on my phone, pop it in my bag and the watch, hidden safely on my wrist, vibrates to tell me to go left and right using two different tactile pulses. Another signal lets me know when I have arrived at my destination. It is such a simple idea and so damn enabling.

Just three weeks after I got the watch, my guide dog and I entered a month-long team steps challenge at my work place. Together, we walked almost 200 miles through the busy streets of London, simply by following the vibrations of the AppleWatch and the simple on screen instructions. For the first time ever, it felt like we owned the streets. The whole of London has opened up to me for the first time since I lost my sight.

«

As she says,

»”If there was ever a good time to be losing your sight when you are already deaf, it is 2016. We are on the verge of great technology breakthroughs that will help to level the playing field even for those who are both deaf and blind. Driverless cars, haptic virtual reality, wearable technology – they will all soon be an everyday reality.”

«

Often we forget how transformative tech really can be.
link to this extract


The AI that (almost) lets you speak to the dead • Ars Technica UK

Bob Dormon:

»The source of this existential conundrum is Luka, a company that focuses on what it calls “high-end conversational AI.” It has a free iOS app, also called Luka, which seems pretty benign, featuring a number of chatbots covering a range of tasks that rely on text input to respond and interact in a friendly way. That’s a lot more than just the Q&A you get with Siri. The company develops new chatbots for all sorts of different purposes all the time. For instance, three recent ones are based on the cast of the HBO series Silicon Valley. Fans can talk to these fictional characters and get responses in keeping with their on-screen persona.

Very recently however, Luka was adapted in a brand new way, to include a chatbot based on a real human being—one who just so happens to be dead. It’s this ghost-in-the-machine that has the audience spellbound, as Luka’s cofounder Eugenia Kuyda explains how text messages, social media conversations, and other sources of information on the deceased were grafted onto an existing AI platform. It started out as an experiment that, in a matter of months, enabled her and others to continue to interact with Roman Mazurenko, a fellow Russian who had died in a road traffic accident in November last year, the man she describes as her soul mate.

«

Amazingly, the whole (quite long) feature goes all the way through without once mentioning that this was pretty much the basis of an episode of Black Mirror.
link to this extract


Amazon.com: Matthew Garrett’s review of AuYou Wi-Fi Switch, Timing Wireless Smart …

Garrett is a security researcher, and he got one of these free in return for writing an honest review. Hold tight:

»In practice the app is looking for a network called “SmartPlug” and this version of the hardware creates a network called “XW-G03”, so it never finds it. I ended up reverse engineering the app in order to find out the configuration packet format, sent it myself and finally had the socket on the network. This is, needless to say, not a reasonable thing to expect average users to do. The alternative is to find an older Android device or use an iPhone to do the setup.

Once it’s working, you can just hit a button on the app and your socket turns on or off. You can also program a timer. If your phone is connected to the same network as the socket then this is just done by sending a command directly, but if not you send a command via an intermediate server in China (the socket connects to the server when it joins the wireless and then waits for commands)…

…This is a huge problem. If anybody knows the MAC address of one of your sockets, they can control it from anywhere in the world. You can’t set a password to stop them, and a normal home router configuration won’t block this. You need to explicitly firewall off the server (it’s 115.28.45.50) in order to protect yourself. Again, this is completely unrealistic to expect for a home user, and if you do this then you’ll also entirely lose the ability to control the device from outside your home.

In summary: by default this is stupendously insecure, there’s no reasonable way to make it secure, and if you do make it secure then it’s much less useful than it’s supposed to be. Don’t buy it.

«

Apart from that, how’s it going with the Internet of Things? (AuYou has withdrawn the device from sale.)
link to this extract


Asian market turmoil: HTC and Huawei down, Vivo, OPPO and Asus on the rise • AndroidAuthority

Kris Carlon:

»this year Huawei looks to be in a little trouble. While still maintaining the number one spot in terms of production volume estimates (a loose indicator of sales success), Huawei’s dominance looks to be on the decline. Market analysts TrendForce have just downgraded Huawei’s production estimates for the year. This potentially puts the number one spot up for grabs next year as other OEMs ascend rapidly.

Just as Huawei is starting to plateau, smaller companies like Vivo and OPPO are on the rise. While Huawei’s predicted growth has been lowered to 10.2% year-on-year, OPPO has been estimated to grow by 59.2% and Vivo by 40.4%. Xiaomi and Lenovo are expected to see negative growth in 2016, continuing their decline. Meanwhile, young upstart LeEco is enjoying massive growth of 300% year-on-year, even if its production volumes are still well below its more established competition.

«

OPPO and vivo are low-end devices; Huawei is pushing into the higher-end space. Xiaomi and Lenovo have problems though if that forecast holds.
link to this extract


Tech companies blame price rises on Brexit vote • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

»US computer-maker Dell and the Chinese smartphone company OnePlus are both raising their prices in the UK and saying the move is the result of the nation’s vote to leave the EU.

Another company, used by several camera equipment-makers to bring their goods to the UK, has also revealed it will soon follow suit. Intro 2020 said it had been “punched in the stomach very hard” by sterling’s drop after the Brexit referendum. Experts predict further price rises.

The pound hit a fresh 31-year low against the dollar earlier on Wednesday – it has dropped more than 12% since the eve of the Brexit referendum result. Falls against some Asian currencies have been even larger.

«

Others will follow; it’s just going to be a matter of time. Only a lunatic would have hedged for that big a drop in sterling, which means dollar-denominated prices will rise in a month or two.
link to this extract


HummingBad malware puts 10 million Android devices at risk • SlashGear

JC Torres:

»According to Check Point, as many as 10m devices around the globe have infected apps installed on their Android smartphone or tablet. Unsurprisingly, majority of those come from China, India, and the usual Asian countries, but the US isn’t clean of it either.

hummingbad-2

At the moment, however, HummingBad isn’t doing maximum damage. It does attempt to root devices in order to further spread its malware, install more infected apps, and whatnot. Failing to do that, it has fallback measures to gain access. All of these are being done in the name of generating ad revenue. However, considering it tries to gain root access, its actual potential is far more frightening. That said, based on Check Point’s own data, older Android devices are more prone to getting infected, with Android 5.0 Lollipop and Android 6.0 Marshmallow showing the smallest shares.

hummingbad-3

However, it is the narrative around HummingBad that is actually more worrying. Check Point traced the malware to a Chinese entity named YingMob, which turned out to be a mobile ad server company. In a nutshell, it is actually a legit company partnering with other legit companies to serve ads. Most malware groups turn to hide underground, but YingMob operates out in the open, though the group behind HummingBad is just one part of the company.

«

Usually Android malware is restricted to China; this is unusual and worrying.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: DeepMind’s eye challenge, South African open data, the Linksys router that can, bad hamburger!, and more


Too much of that little switch near the top may make pilots less good. And what about car drivers? Photo by pysta 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tesla and the glass cockpit problem • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

When news spread last week about the fatal crash of a computer-driven Tesla, I thought of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a top computer scientist at Google. We were talking about some recent airliner crashes caused by “automation complacency” — the tendency for even very skilled pilots to tune out from their work after turning on autopilot systems — and the Google scientist noted that the problem of automation complacency is even more acute for drivers than for pilots. If you’re flying a plane and something unexpected happens, you usually have several seconds or even minutes to respond before the situation becomes dire. If you’re driving a car, you may have only a second or a fraction of a second to take action before you collide with another car, or a bridge abutment, or a tree. There are far more obstacles on the ground than in the sky.

With the Tesla accident, the evidence suggests that the crash happened before the driver even realized that he was about to hit a truck. He seemed to be suffering from automation complacency up to the very moment of impact. He trusted the machine, and the machine failed him. Such complacency is a well-documented problem in human-factors research, and it’s what led Google to change the course of its self-driving car program a couple of years ago, shifting to a perhaps quixotic goal of total automation without any human involvement.

«

Carr is author of The Glass Cage, which notes how reliance on automation for systems which may pitch you back into control carries big risks.
link to this extract


Moorfields announces research partnership • Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

»

Two million people are living with sight loss in the UK, of whom around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. At the moment, eye health professionals rely on digital scans of the eye to diagnose and determine the correct treatment for common eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

These scans are highly complex and to date, traditional analysis tools have been unable to explore them fully. It also takes eye health professionals a long time to analyse eye scans, which can have an impact on how quickly they can meet patients to discuss diagnosis and treatment…

…Faster and more efficient diagnosis of eye disease could help prevent many thousands of cases of sight loss due to wet age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, which together affect more than 625,000 people in the UK.

Moorfields Eye Hospital will share approximately one million anonymised digital eye scans, used by eye health professionals to detect and diagnose eye conditions. Anonymous clinical diagnoses, information on the treatment of eye diseases, model of the machine used to acquire the images and demographic information on age (shown to be associated with eye disease) is also being shared. This has been collected over time through routine care, which means it’s not possible to identify any individual patients from the scans. And they’re also historic scans, meaning that while the results of our research may be used to improve future care, they won’t affect the care any of our patients receive today.

«

What we want machines to do: take over tedious routine which conceals important data. I’m meantime wondering: is machine learning already being used for airport X-ray scanning?
link to this extract


If you’re complaining about Facebook’s news feed changes, you’re missing its true marketing potential • The Drum

Jerry Daykin is global digital partner at Carat Global:

»

Promoted posts aren’t a tax on marketers, they’re a huge opportunity to reach well beyond a core existing audience and out to over a billion targeted consumers who can be exactly who you want them to be. Anyone fighting for an extra tiny percentage of their followers to see something should look up and see that they could be reaching 10,000% with a basic media strategy. In reality that’s the audience you need to be reaching to grow and if you’re not willing to invest to do so then you’d be better off spending your time elsewhere. Tweaks to Facebook’s news feed of this sort have absolutely no impact on the scale you achieve through promoted content, and these posts will still be inserted throughout the timeline.

News feed algorithms ultimately improve the experience for users, keep more of them coming back more often and for longer, and thus create an even bigger audience for advertisers to target. Helpfully this growth of time spent will also increase inventory, helping avoid escalating prices due to increased competition. The industry should be welcoming the change, alongside new algorithms from Twitter and Instagram. As Mondelez’s Sonia Carter says: “We wouldn’t have these headlines if ITV changed its schedule to include more popular programmes.”

«

That last point is a zinger. Getting people to read the newsfeed more, and perhaps disfavouring publishers’ posts, is rather like an advertising-funded TV channel replacing rolling news with reruns of favourites and auction shows and Jeremy Kyle. Nobody’s going to complain. But you won’t end up wiser.
link to this extract


The 17 equations that changed the world • World Economic Forum

Andy Kiersz:

»

In 2012, Mathematician Ian Stewart came out with an excellent and deeply researched book titled “In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World.”

His book takes a look at the most pivotal equations of all time, and puts them in a human, rather than technical context.

“Equations definitely can be dull, and they can seem complicated, but that’s because they are often presented in a dull and complicated way,” Stewart told Business Insider. “I have an advantage over school math teachers: I’m not trying to show you how to do the sums yourself.”

He explained that anyone can “appreciate the beauty and importance of equations without knowing how to solve them … The intention is to locate them in their cultural and human context, and pull back the veil on their hidden effects on history.”

Stewart continued that “equations are a vital part of our culture. The stories behind them — the people who discovered or invented them and the periods in which they lived — are fascinating.”

«

They not only changed the world – they enable the world to continue working as it does. Though you could argue (feel free) that they existed all the time; what they really did was to change our understanding of the world. See how many you already know. And quote them at the kids who complain about maths making no sense.
link to this extract


South African MPs sing for their supper • Indigo Trust

Matt O’Reilly:

»

Do you know how many debates your MP appears at? I don’t have a clue and I certainly don’t know what a good attendance rate looks like. South African voters now have a chance to compare the attendance record of their representative with that of other MPs to see who’s the hardest working and who’s sleeping on the job. Take a look at PMG’s attendance page and you’ll see attendance rates that vary between 0% and 100%. The following article – that recently appeared in South Africa’s Financial Mail – explains the work in more detail

«

I recall how after the UK MPs’ expenses row, when the Guardian built tools to analyse the huge amounts of data that came out, people from other countries were interested to use them. The tools built by Tom Steinberg’s MySociety were also looked at eagerly. This is a great implementation; though I suspect what it also needs, in a print-oriented country, is for this sort of stuff to be printed regularly in the papers. (Thanks William Perrin for the link.)
link to this extract


Independence Day: How developer and customer revolt will dethrone Apple • ZDNet

Jason Perlow:

»

as iOS becomes more and more defined as a “luxury” product when comparable products from Chinese device manufacturers begin to cost 60% or 70% less, the end-user calculus points toward tossing the “tea” in Apple Harbor.

Presumably everyone who does business at the App Store will also do business at Google Play, or via a Android side-load, where it is less restrictive and innovation may not be as blocked.

Perhaps a new 3rd-party, truly independent app store that is not tied to Google or an existing player is called for. So that developers and end-users can truly self-determinate.

I don’t know if Spotify is going to break off from the Crown and decide to put up its permanent shingle at Android and Windows and as a 3rd-party Mac or web-only app.

It might back down. Then again it might not. It could be that a “Tea Party” protest in the traditional sense is at hand.

Is it time to throw the iOS tea into Apple harbor and declare independence from Evil King Tim? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

«

Agreeably nutty. (Also about three times too long.) One can reliably state that articles entitled “How X will dethrone Apple” are wrong per se.

link to this extract


The WRT54GL: a 54Mbps router from 2005 still makes millions for Linksys • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

In a time when consumers routinely replace gadgets with new models after just two or three years, some products stand out for being built to last.

Witness the Linksys WRT54GL, the famous wireless router that came out in 2005 and is still for sale. At first glance, there seems to be little reason to buy the WRT54GL in the year 2016. It uses the 802.11g Wi-Fi standard, which has been surpassed by 802.11n and 802.11ac. It delivers data over the crowded 2.4GHz frequency band and is limited to speeds of 54Mbps. You can buy a new router—for less money—and get the benefit of modern standards, expansion into the 5GHz band, and data rates more than 20 times higher.

Despite all that, people still buy the WRT54GL in large enough numbers that Linksys continues to earn millions of dollars per year selling an 11-year-old product without ever changing its specs or design.

“To be honest, it somewhat baffles my mind,” Linksys Global Product Manager Vince La Duca told Ars. But production won’t stop any time soon as long as Linksys’ suppliers, including chipmaker Broadcom, keep selling the parts needed to build the WRT54GL. “We’ll keep building it because people keep buying it,” La Duca said.

Linksys doesn’t bother promoting the WRT54GL much. But La Duca mentioned the continued production of the WRT54GL recently when I interviewed him for a story on Linksys’ project to let users install open source firmware on new routers without breaking the latest FCC anti-interference rules. The WRT54GL was the first wireless router I ever purchased about a decade ago; I was surprised that Linksys still produces them, so I asked the company for more details.

«

A lovely piece of journalism and writing, where Brodkin puts his inspiration – the discovery it still sells – out front and then digs in. There’s even a cameo from Bill Gates. By the way, in my house there’s nothing “just” about 54Mbps. More like “if only our broadband could saturate our router, but it’s only managing 5%.”
link to this extract


Hamburger menus and hidden navigation hurt UX metrics • Nielsen Norman Group

Kara Pernice and Raluca Budiu did an in-depth study of those things that are increasingly used on desktop as well as mobile screens:

»

The other three metrics that we collected focused on the quality of the user experience:
• Content discoverability. Our tasks were fairly simple and gave users a fair amount of freedom (e.g., “Find a technology article that interests you”), so people were actually able to complete them most of the time. However, given the focus of our study, we used a more nuanced measure of success (content discoverability) that took into account not only whether people completed the task, but also how they completed it. Thus, content discoverability measured whether users were able to find the content they were looking for by using navigation (and not search) in those cases when the content wasn’t directly linked from the homepage.
• Task-difficulty rating. At the end of each task, we asked participants to rate how easy or difficult the task was on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 being easy and 7 being difficult. The task difficulty is a subjective metric; it measures users’ self-reported assessment of the task. It usually reflects their overall experience in using the site, so a high estimated difficulty rating will indirectly indicate actual difficulty in locating the navigation and navigating through the site.
• Time on task. This metric represented the time it took participants to complete the task, whether successfully or not. A menu can add or decrease task time, if it is easy or difficult to find, open, or use, so longer task times also reflect the added interaction cost due to a less usable navigation.

Our findings show that, across all three different metrics, hidden navigation significantly decreases user experience both on mobile and on desktop.

«

link to this extract


Trump days • The New Yorker

George Saunders touted around a number of states watching Trump rallies and speaking to his supporters:

»

The Trump supporter comes out of the conservative tradition but is not a traditional conservative. He is less patient: something is bothering him and he wants it stopped now, by any means necessary. He seems less influenced by Goldwater and Reagan than by Fox News and reality TV, his understanding of history recent and selective; he is less religiously grounded and more willing, in his acceptance of Trump’s racist and misogynist excesses, to (let’s say) forgo the niceties.

As for Trump’s uncivil speech—the insults, the petty meanness, the crudeness, the talk about hand size, the assurance, on national TV, that his would-be Presidential dick is up to the job, his mastery of the jaw-droppingly untrue personal smear (Obama is Kenyan, Ted Cruz’s dad was in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald, U.S. Muslims knew what was “going on” pre-Orlando), which he often dishonorably eases into the world by attaching some form of the phrase “many people have said this” (The world is flat; many people have said this. People are saying that birds can play the cello: we need to look into that)—his supporters seem constitutionally reluctant to object, as if the act of objecting would mark them as fatally delicate. Objecting to this sort of thing is for the coddled, the liberal, the élite. “Yeah, he can really improve, in the way he says things,” one woman in Fountain Hills tells me. “But who gives a shit? Because if he’s going to get the job done? I’m just saying. You can’t let your feelings get hurt. It’s kind of like, get over it, you know what I mean? What’s the big picture here? The big picture is we’ve got to get America back on track.”

«

Again, I’d like to see a similar version, but with Hillary supporters/rallies.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: why tech support annoys, Shazam for makeup, the iCloud hackers, Brexit v filter bubble, and more


HTC has sold an estimated 100,000 Vive VR headsets. Is that good news? Photo by pestoverde on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. You missed 14 yesterday, if you missed them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why tech support is (purposely) unbearable • The New York Times

Kate Murphy:

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You can also find excellent tech support in competitive markets like domain name providers, where operators such as Hover and GoDaddy receive high marks. Also a good bet are hungry upstarts trying to break into markets traditionally dominated by large national companies. Take regional internet and phone service providers like Logix and WOW, which rank near the top in customer support surveys.

But tech support veterans and mental health experts said there were other ways to get better tech support or maybe just make it more bearable. First, do whatever it takes to control your temper. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Losing your stack at a consumer support agent is not going to get your problem resolved any faster. Probably just the opposite.

“I definitely remember seeing parts of myself I didn’t know were there as far as getting irritated with people and using passive-aggressive behaviors,” said John Valenti, a video producer in Rochester, who worked as a tech support agent at an internet phone company from 2007 to 2012 to put himself through graduate school. He made an absurdist film about it for his master’s thesis at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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Here’s the film – 21 minutes of your time, perhaps to be watched while you’re on hold about something:

TECH SERVICE: A Memoir by John Valenti from John Valenti on Vimeo.

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The fallacy of job insecurity • The New Yorker

Mark Gimein:

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our collective nostalgia misrepresents historical job security so completely that it gets it close to backward. We imagine a past where everyone had thirty-year careers (or, less pretentiously, jobs), tapering off into a work twilight and then retirement. This memory is surprisingly at odds with the data: the typical worker now stays at a job six months longer than the average worker did a decade ago. Taking an even longer-term view, the typical worker has stayed at the same job for more than four and a half years, versus just three and a half years in 1983.

Whether that increase in stability is wholly positive is arguable. In roaring economies, workers switch jobs more often, looking for higher pay or better bosses. The length of time spent at one job goes up in times of economic stress (such as the mid-aughts), when workers hang on for dear life. But whatever the cause, it’s clear that younger workers switch jobs less often than in the past. For women, also, the length of time at the average job has gone up markedly. (It’s now almost the same as for men.) To the extent that there was security in the past, it didn’t apply to women.

One group, however, has suffered in terms of job stability. You can probably guess which one: men in the later stages of their careers. The share of men older than fifty-five who have been at their jobs for twenty years or more has plummeted.

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China restricts online news sites from sourcing stories on social media • Ars Technica

Glyn Moody:

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China’s Internet censorship body has warned online media not to use stories found on social networks as the basis of news reports without first asking permission from the authorities. The Cyberspace Administration of China said: “It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts.”

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Imagine if this applied to the Daily Mail. It would barely have anything to write about.
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Startup Timelines

This is fun: tracking (via the Wayback Machine?) how many, many, many startups’ web pages looked, going right back to the start. And yes, including TheFacebook from February 2004.
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HTC Vive headset nearing 100,000 sales • Road to VR

Ben Lang:

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Steamspy aggregates data from millions of Steam users into useful statistics about games sold on the platform. And though SteamSpy doesn’t track the number of HTC Vive headsets running on Steam, it does track the three VR games that come bundled with each Vive purchase: Tilt Brush, Fantastic Contraption, and Job Simulator. Thus, we can see the total number of owners of these games, giving us what appears to be a fairly accurate indication of Vive sales.

According to SteamSpy, Tilt Brush is the most popular of the Vive’s bundled games, now sitting at 94,911 (± 8,213 margin of error). Assuming each owner of Tilt Brush is also a Vive owner, the margin of error brings the headset’s sales as high as 103,124 or as low as 86,698 three months since launch. While that’s still far from ‘mainstream’, the steep $799 price means that with only 100,000 sales HTC has already pulled in nearly $89m in revenue.

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Which then puts Oculus Rift CV1 at 36,000 and Oculus Rift DK2 at 8,700 in use. Encouraging for HTC? Well..
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Can we stop pretending HTC has a future in VR? • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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HTC is struggling mightily in the smartphone market and is still good for a 40% year-over-year decline in revenue every month. The Vive—a “joint effort” between HTC and Valve—is a rare bright spot in the company’s lineup, but I think it’s a temporary reprieve. Evidence shows HTC had little to do with the technology behind the Vive. HTC is more like Valve’s tool, and while the company is in charge of manufacturing the Vive right now, HTC won’t be left with any IP or competitive advantages once Valve is done with it.

“HTC Vive” makes about as much sense as “Foxconn iPhone.” The name “Valve Vive” would probably be more appropriate. HTC seems more like the contract manufacturer for the device, building the Vive for Valve the same way Foxconn builds iPhones for Apple. The Vive is a product of Valve research using licensed Valve technology and Valve software in an effort to kickstart Valve’s VR ecosystem. The only oddity is that, through a weird quirk of branding, HTC’s name ended up on the side of the device.

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Amadeo makes a convincing case that all HTC brought to this is the outward design of the headset, and the supply chain to build and distribute it. Panels from Samsung, head tracking from Valve, and so on.
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Rimmel London releases a Shazam for makeup • Glossy

Grace Caffyn:

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Rimmel’s social content is increasingly influencer-heavy. There are Snapchat takeovers and shoppable Youtube videos, but also a growing focus on micro-influencers. A recent #LondonLook competition flew 18 fans to the capital to create their own content around the brand. It received over 12,000 entries.

Besides tapping into the pulling power of those being zapped, Rimmel also wants Get The Look to pull in its own community of microinfluencers. Users on the app can share their virtual makeovers with friends on social media. They can also submit their photos to Rimmel’s gallery.

Downloads are important, but the key metric for Rimmel will be engagement. “If it uplifts sales as a consequence, then great. But it’s more than a sales tool. It’s about enhancing the consumer experience,” [Rimmel VP of global marketing Montse] Passolas said. 

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“Microinfluencers”. Mm.
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A second US man pleads guilty to hacking celebrity accounts • Computer Weekly

Warwick Ashford:

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A second US man has pleaded guilty to gaining authorised access to celebrity iCloud and Gmail accounts and stealing nude images that were leaked online in 2014.

Edward Majerczyk (28) of Chicago, Ilinois used similar methods as Ryan Collins (36) of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but US authorities have not made any connections between the two men.

Although both used phishing emails to trick celebrities into divulging their passwords, neither have been linked to leaking stolen private images and videos online.

Police investigations into the online leaks that involved more than 100 celebrities, including Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence, led to the arrest of Majerczyk and Collins.

Collins targeted victims with emails that appeared to come from Apple and Google to get their log-in details, while Majerczyk’s sent messages that looked like security warnings from internet service providers that tricked victims into visiting malicious websites designed to steal log-in information…

…Majerczyk is believed to have stolen the log-in credentials more than 300 Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts between November 2013 and August 2014, including those of around 30 celebrities, according to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office.

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Note the ages; these weren’t, as the banter would have it, teens in their basement pounding the iCloud servers to exploit a weakness in the Find My iPhone password system. Security breaches are usually about the path of least resistance, not most complication.
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Gut bacteria spotted eating brain chemicals for the first time • New Scientist

Andy Coghlan:

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Bacteria have been discovered in our guts that depend on one of our brain chemicals for survival. These bacteria consume GABA, a molecule crucial for calming the brain, and the fact that they gobble it up could help explain why the gut microbiome seems to affect mood.

Philip Strandwitz and his colleagues at Northeastern University in Boston discovered that they could only grow a species of recently discovered gut bacteria, called KLE1738, if they provide it with GABA molecules. “Nothing made it grow, except GABA,” Strandwitz said while announcing his findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston last month.

GABA acts by inhibiting signals from nerve cells, calming down the activity of the brain, so it’s surprising to learn that a gut bacterium needs it to grow and reproduce. Having abnormally low levels of GABA is linked to depression and mood disorders, and this finding adds to growing evidence that our gut bacteria may affect our brains.

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We’re just starting to get an inkling of how important our microbiome (the bacteria etc in the gut) is to how we behave. (Of course, the Ramones had a song about this – GABA GABA hey.)
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The truth about Brexit didn’t stand a chance in the online bubble • The Guardian

Emily Bell:

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After an active campaign to persuade publishers to use their platform more, Facebook saw engagement numbers drop and became concerned that news was “flooding” its users’ timelines; and therefore it boosted the idea that “friends and family” links and recommendations would now be the central organising principle for the platform.

This seems nothing more than a mild prophylactic against the world joining [deputy Labour party leader] Tom Watson on Snapchat, but it raises the same kinds of questions raised by [Leave campaign donor Aaron] Banks’s chilling assertion that facts don’t matter in political campaigns.

We saw in [Michael Gove’s columnist wife] Sarah Vine’s email the astonishing degree to which media titans like Rupert Murdoch and [Daily Mail editor] Paul Dacre are perceived to hold influence, when in fact Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter et al are the de facto organisers of much of the information we receive and discuss. Tweaking an algorithm to favour “family and friends” is the engineering equivalent of “people have had enough of experts”, in that it acknowledges that how people feel is a better driver of activity than what people think. For Facebook, and other social platforms, it is also good business. Facebook does not see itself as responsible for the information diet of the world, even though this is exactly what it is becoming.

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The filter bubble is becoming harder, not easier, to escape; this has serious implications for us all.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the name “Piper” for Google’s commit system predates the TV series “Silicon Valley” by a number of years.