Start up: not so SETI, Apple’s tax trouble, Google to absorb Nest, Facebook’s trend troubles, and more

The Android tablet Cambrian explosion! Photo by Kevin Marks on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Chew 40 times before swallowing. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Astronomers don’t think that so-called SETI signal is aliens—and neither should you • WIRED

Sarah Scoles:


While astronomers don’t know if this signal is squished or spread-out, they do know the middle frequency that the telescope was sensitive to: around 11 gigahertz.

Two things: Radio telescopes are supposed to catch cool waves from space. And they do that. But they also catch less cool waves from Earth, or from Earth-orbit. Airport radar, Wi-Fi, spark plugs, cell phones, and basically anything that runs on electricity emits radio waves. And satellites use these frequencies to ping and downlink. The research team has not presented data to rule out humans as the signal’s makers. In fact, one will note that 11 gigahertz is in the exact middle of a band of the radio spectrum allocated to “fixed satellites.”

“We see signals that come and go every day, all the time,” says Gerry Harp, Director of SETI Research at the SETI Institute. “We would not have given much credibility to this signal in our survey. It would be one of so many others, and they are almost always local interference.”


The aliens are us? Disappointing.
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Apple is working on iPad upgrades and refreshed Mac lineup • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Jungah Lee:


Upcoming software upgrades for the iPad include wider operating-system support for Apple’s stylus accessory, while hardware performance improvements are also in development, according to the people. The refreshed Mac hardware line includes new versions of the iMac desktop, MacBook Air laptop, and a 5K standalone monitor in collaboration with LG Electronics Inc., in addition to a thinner MacBook Pro laptop.

The company hopes to ship the updated iPad software next year, while the Macs are expected as soon as late 2016, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced products. Apple has not updated any Macs, besides the 12-inch MacBook, since last year. The company declined to comment.


More stylus support on the iPad, and USB-C on the Macbook Air and iMacs, and a weird OLED function key thing on the Macbook Pro. Macs arriving some time in October, iPad software landing next year.
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Weak tablet demand prompting vendors to leave segment • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:


With tablet demand continuing to weaken, Taiwan-based vendors have taken a conservative attitude about their tablet operation. Asustek Computer and Acer have turned to focus more on niche applications, while Micro-Start International (MSI) has already phased out of the business and to focus mainly on gaming PC product lines. China-based white-box players that have joined Intel’s China Technology Ecosystem (CTE), have also mostly stopped pushing tablet products.

Dropping demand is expected to cause Asustek’s tablet shipments to fall below three million units in 2016, according to sources from the upstream supply chain, leaving Apple the only player that is still able to achieve strong profits from the tablet sector.

The sources also pointed out that despite weakening tablet shipments, Wintel-based 2-in-1 devices continue to enjoy growth. However, growth rates are still not strong enough to offset the decline of tablets…

…As for the white-box tablet industry, the current number of players that is still releasing tablet products is only one-third of the industry’s peak. Many tablet white-box players that were selected by Intel’s nurturing project have already given up their tablet development as Intel has been cutting subsidies and new platform development.


Significant development: Asus(tek) made the Nexus 7, which was probably the best-selling Google Android tablet of all time. (Via Harvey.)
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Exclusive: Google will absorb Nest software developers • Fortune

Dan Primack and Leena Rao:


Nest’s entire platform team will become part of Google, which also resides under the Alphabet umbrella, in order to create a unified Internet of things platform. It will be led by longtime Google executive Hiroshi Lockheimer, who currently serves as senior vice president of Android and who recently assumed more responsibility for “living room” products. The combined group also will continue to work on Google Home, a smart speaker rival to the Amazon Echo, while simultaneously fending off Amazon challenges elsewhere in the smart home.

Nest and Google are likely to pitch this as an obvious synergy, but it also plays into ongoing efforts to pare costs at smaller Alphabet units other than Google. By moving Nest software developers over to Google payroll, Nest’s financial situation would improve dramatically (so long as new Nest-branded products continue to be developed).


I still think Jan Dawson’s overall analysis of the smart home scenario from May 2016 is correct: the problem for Nest is that the addressable market is still pretty small, so it needs to make different things, not just hope more people will buy its thermostats and smoke alarms.

Also not mentioned: what this does to Tony Fadell’s pledge that Nest wouldn’t share data with Google. Or is that long gone?
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Amazon’s Echo will be able to control Sonos speakers next year • The Verge

Chris Welch:


Beginning in 2017, anyone with an Alexa-enabled device — right now that’s the Echo, Echo Tap, or Echo Dot — will be able to control Sonos speakers with voice commands.

It’s a great pairing for both companies; Sonos speakers sound way better than the Echo, and Alexa is quickly evolving as the leading smart home voice assistant. And since everything works over Wi-Fi, all existing Sonos devices are supported; Amazon’s Echo is still handling the microphone / listening part and communicating commands to the Sonos gear.


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Why we still don’t have better batteries • MIT Technology Review

Richard Martin:


According to a recent analysis of more than $4bn in investments in energy storage by Lux Research, startups developing “next-generation” batteries—i.e., beyond lithium-ion—averaged just $40m in funding over eight years. Tesla’s investment in its Gigafactory, which will produce lithium-ion batteries, will total around $5bn. That huge investment gap is hard to overcome.

“It will cost you $500m to set up a small manufacturing line and do all the minutiae of research you need to do to make the product,” says Gerd Ceder, a professor of materials science at the University of California, Berkeley, who heads a research group investigating novel battery chemistries. Automakers, he points out, may test new battery systems for years before making a purchase decision. It’s hard to invest $500m in manufacturing when your company has $5m in funding a year.

Even if new battery makers manage to bring novel technologies to market, they face a dangerous period of ramping up production and finding buyers. Both Leyden Energy and A123 Systems failed after developing promising new systems, as their cash needs climbed and demand failed to meet expectations. Two other startups, Seeo and Sakti3, were acquired before they reached mass production and significant revenues, for prices below what their early-stage investors probably expected.


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Facebook recommended that this psychiatrist’s patients friend each other • Fusion

Kashmir Hill:


Most of her patients are senior citizens or people with serious health or developmental issues, but she has one outlier: a 30-something snowboarder. Usually, Facebook would recommend he friend people his own age, who snowboard and jump out of planes. But Lisa [the psychiatrist; not her real name] told me that he had started seeing [friend recommendations for] older and infirm people, such as a 70-year-old gentleman with a walker and someone with cerebral palsy.

“He laughed and said, ‘I don’t know any of these people who showed up on my list— I’m guessing they see you,’” recounted Lisa. “He showed me the list of friend recommendations, and I recognized some of my patients.”

She sat there awkwardly and silently. To let him know that his suspicion was correct would violate her duty to protect her patients’ privacy.

Another one of her female patients had a friend recommendation pop up for a fellow patient she recognized from the office’s elevator. Suddenly, she knew the other patient’s full name along with all their Facebook profile information.

“It’s a massive privacy fail,” said Lisa. “I have patients with HIV, people that have attempted suicide and women in coercive and violent relationships.”


Same sort of thing, at one remove, that got Google Buzz effectively shut down and earned Google a 20-year oversight from the US Federal Trade Commission.
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Confessions of an ex-Facebook trending news curator: ‘They are just going to get rid of the product altogether’ • Digiday

Tanya Dua got hold of one such, who had gems like this:


[the Gizmodo article] said we weren’t treated like other Facebook employees. That’s not true, we were treated like anybody else. We could go to the happy hours, participate in the events, people talked with us in the office. We weren’t tucked away in some corner. We got three free meals. But my biggest problem was that while all these perks were great, they pampered us into complacency.”

Q: What do you mean?
A: Most newsrooms have discussions about what’s going on. You don’t just sit on your computer and write with your headphones on all day. When we were on these topics, and I had a question or wanted to get an editor’s opinion, I always felt like I was bothering them. The push toward quotas and producing content didn’t allow for that. You never felt like you were able to voice any considerations. Like, for instance, there were problems with the tool’s tagging feature. There were pre-set keywords, but they were sometimes inaccurate and wrong, and there was nowhere for us to voice that these topics were insufficient…

Q: So the purpose of the trending team was just to teach the algorithm how to eventually filter the news itself?
A: I would like to believe that, because that would mean that we actually served a purpose and did something good. But if you’ve used the tool in the last few days, you’d realize that the algorithm didn’t learn shit. The topics are just wrong — they have bad articles and insufficient sources. I think they are just going to get rid of the product altogether, because there is going to be backlash when people who do use the tool realize that the quality has gone down — unless there are severe algorithmic changes that improve the quality of the topics.


A quote for the ages to come: “the algorithm didn’t learn shit.”
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Notes on that StJude/MuddyWatters/MedSec thing • Errata Security

Rob Graham on the “St Jude hackers approached hedge fund/shorting company Muddy Waters saying they had found zero-day flaws in MedSec pacemakers:


There are many ethical issues, but the first should be dishonesty and spin of the Muddy Waters research report.

The report is clearly designed to scare other investors to drop St Jude stock price in the short term so that Muddy Waters can profit. It’s not designed to withstand long term scrutiny. It’s full of misleading details and outright lies.

For example, it keeps stressing how shockingly bad the security vulnerabilities are, such as saying:


We find STJ Cardiac Devices’ vulnerabilities orders of magnitude more worrying than the medical device hacks that have been publicly discussed in the past. 


This is factually untrue. St Jude problems are no worse than the 2013 issue where doctors disable the RF capabilities of Dick Cheney’s pacemaker in response to disclosures. They are no worse than that insulin pump hack. Bad cybersecurity is the norm for medical devices. St Jude may be among the worst, but not by an order-of-magnitude.

The term “orders of magnitude” is math, by the way, and means “at least 100 times worse”. As an expert, I claim these problems are not even one order of magnitude (10 times worse). I challenge MedSec’s experts to stand behind the claim that these vulnerabilities are at least 100 times worse than other public medical device hacks.


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Apple made wireless headphones called ‘AirPods’ for iPhone 7 • Pocket-lint

Elyse Betters:


Something quite unexpected might be announced alongside the next iPhone models on 7 September. 

While everyone is focused on built-in hardware features for the so-called iPhone 7, Russian regulatory trademark filings spotted by seem to confirm that Apple is readying standalone hardware for its upcoming phones. The filings, which were published by the Eurasian Economic Commission on 29 August, refer to wireless headphones called AirPods.

This has been a long-rumored brand name for Apple’s wireless headphones for iPhone 7. The next iPhone is thought to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack, leaving customers with either the Lightning connector or Bluetooth technology for connecting audio devices like headphones. These AirPod headphones are likely a first-party accessory, as there is no indication they’re a Beats product.


Odd that they haven’t leaked from the supply chain, since Apple would have to be making them by the multiple millions.
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A message to the Apple community in Europe • Apple (IE)

Tim Cook:


Taxes for multinational companies are complex, yet a fundamental principle is recognized around the world: A company’s profits should be taxed in the country where the value is created. Apple, Ireland and the United States all agree on this principle.

In Apple’s case, nearly all of our research and development takes place in California, so the vast majority of our profits are taxed in the United States. European companies doing business in the U.S. are taxed according to the same principle. But the Commission is now calling to retroactively change those rules.

Beyond the obvious targeting of Apple, the most profound and harmful effect of this ruling will be on investment and job creation in Europe. Using the Commission’s theory, every company in Ireland and across Europe is suddenly at risk of being subjected to taxes under laws that never existed.


“Taxed in the country where the value is created” sounds good – but in that case why would subsidiaries of multinationals based in country A ever pay any tax on transactions and profit generated in country B, even though they might be doing transactions just like those of a non-multinational based in country B – which would be taxed?
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State aid: Ireland gave illegal tax benefits to Apple worth up to €13bn • European Commission press release


Following an in-depth state aid investigation launched in June 2014, the European Commission has concluded that two tax rulings issued by Ireland to Apple have substantially and artificially lowered the tax paid by Apple in Ireland since 1991. The rulings endorsed a way to establish the taxable profits for two Irish incorporated companies of the Apple group (Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe), which did not correspond to economic reality: almost all sales profits recorded by the two companies were internally attributed to a “head office”. The Commission’s assessment showed that these “head offices” existed only on paper and could not have generated such profits. These profits allocated to the “head offices” were not subject to tax in any country under specific provisions of the Irish tax law, which are no longer in force. As a result of the allocation method endorsed in the tax rulings, Apple only paid an effective corporate tax rate that declined from 1% in 2003 to 0.005% in 2014 on the profits of Apple Sales International.  

This selective tax treatment of Apple in Ireland is illegal under EU state aid rules, because it gives Apple a significant advantage over other businesses that are subject to the same national taxation rules. The Commission can order recovery of illegal state aid for a ten-year period preceding the Commission’s first request for information in 2013. Ireland must now recover the unpaid taxes in Ireland from Apple for the years 2003 to 2014 of up to €13bn, plus interest.


That’s a hell of a lot more than I had been expecting – yet even so Apple will be able to afford it quite easily. (It is going to appeal.) Here’s a notable point though:


The taxable profits of Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe in Ireland are determined by a tax ruling granted by Ireland in 1991, which in 2007 was replaced by a similar second tax ruling. This tax ruling was terminated when Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe changed their structures in 2015.


Is the structure more normal-tax-friendly now?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: scamming Trump, 23andme’s data trove, Facebook’s new fake problem, Apple’s image makers, and more

There’s an extraterrestrial signal – but is it a signal, or just noise? Photo by Paulgi 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 11 links for you. Can cause drowsiness. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

SETI has observed a “strong” signal that may originate from a Sun-like star • Ars Technica

Eric Berger:


It remains only the barest of probabilities that astronomers have just found evidence of extraterrestrial, intelligent life. Nevertheless, in the community of astronomers and other scientists who use radio telescopes to search the heavens for beacons of life there is considerable excitement about a new signal observed by a facility in Russia.

According to Paul Gilster, author of the Centauri Dreams website, the Italian astronomer Claudio Maccone and other astronomers affiliated with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence have detected “a strong signal in the direction of HD164595.” HD 164595 is a star of 0.99 solar masses about 95 light years from Earth, with an estimated age of 6.3 billion years. The system is known to have at least one planet, HD 164595 b, which is similar in size to Neptune and orbits its star in 40 days. Other planets may exist in the system as well.

The observation was made with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, in southern Russia, Gilster reports. He cautioned that the evidence is very preliminary:


No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization…



Kardashev 1: basically, us. (Can store and use some of a star’s energy.) Kardashev II: can use *all* the power from a star. Don’t ask about Kardashev III. Too scary.
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Meet the man siphoning money from Donald Trump • POLITICO

Shane Goldmacher:


At a glance, the two websites look virtually indistinguishable. Both feature a photo of Donald Trump, in a suit and red tie, in front of a giant American flag. Both seemingly offer a chance for two to win dinner with Donald Trump.

One is at; the other is at

The first belongs to Trump’s campaign. The second is a scheme run by Ian Hawes, a 25-year-old Maryland man who has no affiliation with Trump or his campaign and who has preyed on more than 20,000 unsuspecting donors, collecting more than $1 million in the process.

In just its first three weeks of operation, Hawes’ PAC spent more than $108,000 on Facebook ads, offering an opportunity to win “Dinner with Donald Trump” — and netted itself nearly $350,000 in donations, according to federal records.

The biggest chunk of the money raised — $133,000 — went to a company that Hawes founded and owns, CartSoft LLC. The purpose of the payments is described on federal records as “media” and “media purchasing,” though CartSoft’s website describes itself as an online payment-processing platform.

Since its launch, the PAC has collected more than $1 million, Hawes told POLITICO. It has reportedly spent $0 on behalf of Trump.


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23andMe’s consumer DNA data gold mine is starting to pay off • Fast Company

Christina Farr:


After decades of inconclusive results, researchers backed by Pfizer and Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that they had identified several genetic markers associated with depression earlier this month. It was the largest study of its kind, using data from more than 120,000 people.

In February, a new paper explored the role that genetics plays on an individual being a morning person or a night owl, and in April another study looked at resilience to Mendelian childhood diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.

Each of these studies used insights gathered from customers of 23andMe, the Google-backed company that makes a direct-to-consumer genetic test kit. Perhaps best known for its battles with regulators over its consumer genetics test in 2013, 23andMe has quietly expanded its business to include brokered access to its database of more than 1 million people’s DNA.


Tricky to know, though, whether the insights are real or just accident. Genetics is infuriatingly difficult like that.
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Hyper – HyperCard for the modern age

Intriguing app (for Android, iOS, Mac.. Apple TV?!) From the introduction:


Hyper lets you create very rich documents called Stacks, which are like your very own mini-apps for personal or work needs. No coding required.

With only a few taps, make a bespoke to-do list, a real-time collaborative shopping list for your next party, a travel guide for your summer trip, a poll or survey for work, a sleek web page listing your homemade crafts, a personalized expense tracker, your private Yelp clone or Instagram clone, a company face book, a photo blog, a lightweight ticket system for contractors… The possibilities are endless.

Hyper is made for multiple users, multiple devices and multiple screens

Hyper is designed for how people use software today: your stacks are always with you with native apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, and even Apple TV. Use your phone to add a photo to a stack while on the go, and use your desktop back at home if you need to enter lots of text.


Haven’t tried it, but the cross-platform element sounds good.
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Report: Automated fact-checking is coming (and soon) • Poynter

Alexios Mantzarlis:


[The fact-checking charity] Full Fact, like others before it, argues for combining several tools into a single automated fact-checking workflow.

The organization is at varying stages of designing or developing some of these tools. With “Hawk” and “Trends,” Full Fact tracks popular factual claims. “Stats,” the most intriguing of the lot, automatically checks claims against potentially relevant data it surfaces from the database of the British Office for National Statistics.

Ciampaglia notes that the report is “an ambitious plan” but that “there are indeed huge automation opportunities that can be reaped from just what is currently available off the shelf.”

Beyond providing details on the Full Fact’s own work, the report summarizes other initiatives while offering categorizations that can help clarify the scope of this field. By posing open questions to researchers and calling for a collaborative approach, it also aims to spark a wider conversation on automated fact-checking.


Just imagining what the effect of automated fact-checking – working as fas as speech – would be on political debate. (This is Full Fact’s blog post on the topic.)
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How Lending Club’s biggest fanboy uncovered shady loans • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin and Noah Buhayar:


When Lending Club went public in late 2014, [Bryan] Sims scraped together about $1,000 to buy stock. “It sounds dumb now,” he said, “but it felt like a chance to participate in history.” He was so taken by Lending Club that he began listening to the company’s earnings calls. “Like a weirdo,” he said. It was on one of these calls, in 2015, that he heard Chief Executive Officer Renaud Laplanche say that 14% of Lending Club’s borrowers, or more than 100,000 people, “returned for a second loan.” That struck Sims as curious. He knew that for all the information the company made public about its borrowers—incomes, employment histories, their reasons for borrowing—one thing it didn’t list was repeat customers.

Sims decided to take a look at the hundreds of loans he’d invested in, arranging them in a spreadsheet that displayed their amounts, interest rates, and information about borrowers’ salaries, employers, locations, incomes, and credit ratings (FICO scores, specifically). Two loans caught his eye. Both had been issued to individuals with the same employer in the same small town. So far, so coincidental. But looking deeper, Sims found that the salaries were nearly identical. Both borrowers had opened their first line of credit in the same month.

This, Sims realized, is the same dude. It wasn’t a borrower who’d paid off one loan and happily returned for a second. It was one person with two active loans, and Lending Club was treating them as completely unrelated, charging wildly different interest rates. The borrower was paying about 15% interest on one loan of about $15,000; on the other, he was paying 9% on twice the principal. That meant the investors who held only the second loan were leaving money on the table. And Lending Club didn’t seem to be doing anything to help them.


A terrific story of data revealing the story. (A bit like The Big Short, but with more limited impact.)
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Why did Facebook promote a fake story about Megyn Kelly? • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer, on what happened after the company fired all those tedious “journalist” people who used to look at trending stories in favour of engineers, who would watch over the sacred algorithms:


the company assured users that it would still remain discerning. “There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality—for example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world,” said a release from the company on Friday.

If so, they’re not doing their jobs very well. From Sunday evening to early Monday morning, Facebook allowed the topic “Megyn Kelly” to trend. Driving the trend was an article claiming that Kelly had been fired by Fox News for supporting Hillary Clinton. The story, hosted by, was completely inaccurate: Kelly has not endorsed Clinton, and she has not been fired by Fox. Yet with the assistance of Facebook’s algorithmic editors, it garnered 200,000 likes.

On Sunday night, I asked Facebook whether a human editor approved the topic before it trended, and how it plans to keep this from happening in the future; it had not responded by press time.


So not only are the engineers bad at this, they’re bad at responding.
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LinX Imaging Presentation • Scribd

Linx was acquired by Apple in April 2015. It produced array camera technology – and this is a presentation that it made in June 2014, saying “Array camera technology update – we are ready!” with details about its image quality capabilities, especially in low light, and its depth map capabilities, which can create 3D mapping “in milliseconds”. Useful for VR or AR, perhaps.
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Big data, Google and the end of free will •

Yuval Noah Harari (in an extract from his new book Homo Deus):


We are already becoming tiny chips inside a giant system that nobody really understands. Every day I absorb countless data bits through emails, phone calls and articles; process the data; and transmit back new bits through more emails, phone calls and articles. I don’t really know where I fit into the great scheme of things, and how my bits of data connect with the bits produced by billions of other humans and computers. I don’t have time to find out, because I am too busy answering emails. This relentless dataflow sparks new inventions and disruptions that nobody plans, controls or comprehends.

But no one needs to understand. All you need to do is answer your emails faster. Just as free-market capitalists believe in the invisible hand of the market, so Dataists believe in the invisible hand of the dataflow. As the global data-processing system becomes all-knowing and all-powerful, so connecting to the system becomes the source of all meaning. The new motto says: “If you experience something — record it. If you record something — upload it. If you upload something — share it.”

Dataists further believe that given enough biometric data and computing power, this all-encompassing system could understand humans much better than we understand ourselves. Once that happens, humans will lose their authority, and humanist practices such as democratic elections will become as obsolete as rain dances and flint knives.


There’s a lot of discussion around this book.
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Anker issues recall and replacements after researcher demonstrates unsafe USB-C cables • Android Police

Michael Crider:


It turns out that a specific cable from budget accessory provider Anker might be dangerous, because it “remembers” the voltage for the USB-C power input on some newer laptops like the Chromebook Pixel, then provides that same voltage to phones if not unplugged from a more powerful charging base. USB-C laptops are designed to take 15V-20V power input, but some phones are only designed to take inputs at up to 5V. The differential could damage low-power electronics or, in extreme cases, cause battery explosions or fires.

Here’s Nathan’s video demonstrating the faulty cable that sends unsafe voltages to devices that aren’t designed to accept them. With cables (or at least the USB-C connections on them) now compatible with everything from a tiny wearable to a full-power laptop, it’s a serious problem for end users.


Anker doing a recall (will everyone get the message? Will everyone swap them?). USB-C still feels like a poor bet: USB 1.0 never had this sort of problem, nor Firewire, nor Thunderbolt.
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I got scammed by a Silicon Valley startup • Medium

Penny Kim:


My first paycheck was late. Jessica, Tom (our new project manager who started in June), and I were the only ones that received cashier’s checks on July 20th. My sign on bonus was not included. I asked about it and was told it was coming in the next check. The other employees received nothing and I’m not sure why. I can’t recall a time in my life where I was paid my wages in a cashier’s check so I requested a pay stub. Charlie told me that they wouldn’t be able to help with payroll until we moved over to Gusto, a new accounting system. He and Michael would get back to me on this. I didn’t like this answer. Considering this was my first payroll experience, I abruptly halted my apartment search and paid for a temporary Airbnb covering the first half of August. The boxes of what was left of my life remained in the back seat of my car. Something was up and I started feeling uncomfortable.

Around this time, Bruce and I were sharing personal concerns and he confided in me that he had let Michael borrow $50,000 from his personal savings. Did you read that? A startup employee gave his life savings to our CEO. He wasn’t the only one. Another biz dev team bro who was crashing on the CEO’s couch, Bobby, apparently lent Michael five figures too. In disbelief, I asked why he needed money when he has $2M already committed in the company. Bruce said that Michael had his offshore money tied up with the IRS because of unpaid taxes and essentially his assets were frozen until he went to court. These people are not related by blood or lifelong ties so why would they trust Michael enough to do this after only knowing him a few months? Again, I chalked it up to bro culture and secretly hoped they would get their money back.


As you can guess, this has a big helping of “nope” with a side order of “nope nope nope”. Lots of valuable lessons, and not only for tech startup employees.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Apple’s Irish tax deadline, Facebook trends away, how broadband divides us, and more

Could you pick out a face from this crowd, even slightly disguised? Some people could. Photo by -AX- on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU to rule against Ireland in Apple tax case • Irish Times

Cliff Taylor:


The EU Commission is preparing to issue a final ruling that Ireland’s tax deal with Apple represented illegal state aid.

However sources believe the amount of tax Ireland will be asked to collect from the US giant will be much less than the billions of euro which had been originally suggested by some analysts.

The Government and Apple will immediately signal that they will challenge the ruling in the European courts, a process that could take some years. Sources say that government and the US company remain in “lock step” on the issue…

…While the precise terms of the EU Commission decision – and whether it will mention an actual figure – remain unclear, sources believe that the sum involved is likely to be in the hundreds of millions rather than the billions. One suggestion is that Ireland could be pressed to recoup somewhere between €500m and €1bn from Apple. However the final terms of the commission decision are not yet fully clear.


By me and Samuel Gibbs in in September 2014: “Apple may have to repay millions from government tax deal“. The figure suggested then was between €100m and €850m.
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The detectives who never forget a face • The New Yorker

Patrick Radden Keefe:


Studying the map, Porritt plotted the various routes and developed a hunch that the man [the police wanted to question] lived in Camden. Porritt grew up there, and he decided to go and ask around. He invited Alison Young, an officer who had just joined the unit, to tag along. Young is twenty-nine, with long red hair and an ebullient sense of humor. She had worked as a community-support officer for several years, but one day she was summoned to an auditorium at Scotland Yard, where dozens of officers were instructed to take a facial-recognition exam. Using a laptop, Young found matches in a series of faces that were presented like masks—without hair or other context. When the test was done, she was startled to learn that she had received the second-highest score.

By some estimates, as many as a million CCTV cameras are installed in London, making it the most surveilled metropolis on the planet. Boris Johnson, who before becoming Britain’s Foreign Secretary served as the city’s mayor, once said, “When you walk down the streets of London, you are a movie star. You are being filmed by more cameras than you can possibly imagine.”

Porritt thought that the cameras outside the Camden Road railway station might have caught the groper walking by, so he and Young visited the CCTV office there. As Porritt examined the equipment, Young gazed out a window at scores of rush-hour commuters streaming in and out of the station. Then, suddenly, she shouted, “Oh, my God. That’s him!”

Young was staring at a man just inside the entrance: he had a mustache and wore glasses. She watched him pick up a Metro from a stack on the floor and walk out of the station.

“We ran like maniacs,” Young recalled. They caught him, and after he was in handcuffs he muttered to Porritt, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” A fifty-six-year-old clerical worker named Ilhan Karatepe, he subsequently pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and received a suspended sentence. (He was also barred from riding public transportation by himself.)


link to this extract

How China outgrew Xiaomi • Tech In Asia

Steven Millward with more on Xiaomi’s struggle in its home market:


To see how Xiaomi’s divergence from Chinese consumers played out, you only need to look at the average selling price of new smartphones in China.

As China hits peak smartphone, a significant number of people have been trading up, pushing up the average selling price of new mobiles in the country. It looks like this:

The average new smartphone in China in 2013 cost just US$207 as most people opted for cheap models. That suited Xiaomi with its best-selling Redmi phones ranging from US$105 to US$150. But then, by 2015, IDC figures show that shoppers typically splashed US$257 per new smartphone as more shifted to pricier devices, including some opting for the iPhone 6. At that price point, Xiaomi’s most important phones had been left behind by shoppers.

“While users are slowly moving upstream, there are still significant volumes seen in the low-end market,” observes [IDC senior analyst Tay] Xiaohan.

The new Huawei P9, which costs from US$640, is propelling the Chinese tech giant to the top of the country’s smartphone battle at a time when Chinese consumers are spending more than ever on their smartphones. Photo credit: Huawei.

Xiaomi does have pricier phones, such as the Mi5 from US$270, but there are fewer choices for consumers in its upper ranges. And at a time when Chinese phone owners are going upmarket, Xiaomi’s top-end model, the big-screened Mi Note, has had no refresh for 19 months, putting it at odds with the usual annual upgrade cycle that shoppers now expect of smartphones.


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Carson Block takes on St. Jude Medical claiming hack risk • Bloomberg

Michelle Cortez, Erik Schatzker and Jordan Robertson:


Many in the technology and medical communities say the risk of such hacks is remote at best. But Block, no stranger to drawn-out corporate feuds, says in a 33-page report that St. Jude’s deficiencies are so great – and stand in such sharp contrast to offerings from rivals including Medtronic Plc – that its [pacemaker and defibrillator] equipment should be recalled and sales of the devices that account for 45% of St. Jude’s revenue should be halted until the problem is fixed. That could take years.

“The nightmare scenario is somebody is able to launch a mass attack and cause these devices that are implanted to malfunction,” Block said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. St. Jude “should stop selling these devices until it has developed a new secure communication protocol.”

Muddy Waters became aware of the potential flaws after a startup cybersecurity company, Miami-based MedSec Holdings Inc., approached the short-selling firm three months ago. The hackers had been working for more than a year, ferreting out security flaws in medical devices made by four leading companies. One stood out from the rest: St. Jude’s products had an “astounding” level of problems, including lack of encryption and authentication between devices, which could allow hackers to tap into implanted devices, said MedSec Chief Executive Officer Justine Bone, herself an experienced hacker.


Interesting (novel?) monetisation method for zero-day hacks: approach short-sellers so you can make a killing as the stock falls.
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Facebook fired its Trending editors, apparently trying to get rid of bias by getting rid of humans • Quartz

Joon Ian Wong , Dave Gershgorn & Mike Murphy:


A new group of humans will still be involved with Trending, although they’ll be asked to focus on correcting the algorithm’s mistakes, like preventing mundane or repetitive stories from appearing as news, according to a Facebook blog post. The retooled Trending feature will now automatically pull excerpts from news articles, a feature that may force Facebook to compensate news publishers in the European Union in the future, under proposed new rules from the European commission.

According to sources, the Trending team’s editorial staff were alerted at 4pm that they were being fired—as the news of Facebook’s switch to algorithms first broke—and were asked to leave the building by 5pm. The contractors (all of whom were at the company less than 1.5 years) were given severance equal to pay through September 1, plus two weeks, sources say.
However, removing human writers from Trending doesn’t necessarily eliminate bias. Human bias can be embedded into algorithms, and extremely difficult to strip out.


Such delightful hiring practices! And now the engineers will have even more boring tasks than the writers did. I’d be prepping my CV if I were one of those assigned to that.
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The NSA is hoarding vulnerabilities • Schneier on Security

Bruce Schneier on the “Shadow Brokers” hack of NSA tools:


what I want to talk about is the data. The sophisticated cyberweapons in the data dump include vulnerabilities and “exploit code” that can be deployed against common Internet security systems. Products targeted include those made by Cisco, Fortinet, TOPSEC, Watchguard, and Juniper – systems that are used by both private and government organizations around the world. Some of these vulnerabilities have been independently discovered and fixed since 2013, and some had remained unknown until now.

All of them are examples of the NSA – despite what it and other representatives of the US government say – prioritizing its ability to conduct surveillance over our security. Here’s one example. Security researcher Mustafa al-Bassam found an attack tool codenamed BENIGHCERTAIN that tricks certain Cisco firewalls into exposing some of their memory, including their authentication passwords. Those passwords can then be used to decrypt virtual private network, or VPN, traffic, completely bypassing the firewalls’ security. Cisco hasn’t sold these firewalls since 2009, but they’re still in use today.

Vulnerabilities like that one could have, and should have, been fixed years ago. And they would have been, if the NSA had made good on its word to alert American companies and organizations when it had identified security holes.


Al-Bassam was formerly known as the hacker known as Tflow – a member, in turn, of the hacking group Lulzsec. Strange how things turn out.
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Did better broadband make Americans more partisan? • The Guardian

Nick Cohen:


In a research paper published in the American Journal of Political Science, Yphtach Lelkes, Gaurav Sood and Shanto Iyengar found depressing proof that the web is fuelling segregation. The rollout of broadband in the US allowed them to conduct a controlled experiment. Access to new broadband services varied wildly because each state had different “rights of way” laws governing the use of the conduits, trenches and towers broadband providers need. The researchers matched the attitudes of those who did and did not have broadband with data on partisan hostility from studies of voters beliefs in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

Greater use of the web ensured that an admirer of Jon Stewart would think that conservatives were not just mistaken but stupid, or a viewer of Fox News would work on the assumption that liberals were wicked. Both sides could dismiss uncomfortable facts as lies. Both sides allowed their politics to become so bound up with their identity, opposing arguments felt almost as if they were physical assaults. As the authors put it in a separate paper: “Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race.”


This is an important topic – which may have growing importance pre- and post-election in the US. The paper is called “The Hostile Audience: the effect of access to broadband internet on partisan effect”.
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Government hackers caught using unprecedented iPhone spy tool • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


On the morning of August 10, Ahmed Mansoor, a 46-year-old human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates, received a strange text message from a number he did not recognize on his iPhone.

“New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons,” read the tantalizing message, which came accompanied by a link.

Mansoor, who had already been the victim of government hackers using commercial spyware products from FinFisher and Hacking Team, was suspicious and didn’t click on the link. Instead, he sent the message to Bill Marczak, a researcher at Citizen Lab, a digital rights watchdog at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

As it turned out, the message wasn’t what it purported to be. The link didn’t lead to any secrets, but to a sophisticated piece of malware that exploited three different unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS operating system that would have allowed the attackers to get full control of Mansoor’s iPhone, according to new joint reports released on Thursday by Citizen Lab and mobile security company Lookout.


How bad was it?


NSO’s malware, which the company codenamed Pegasus, is designed to quietly infect an iPhone and be able to steal and intercept all data inside of it, as well as any communication going through it.

“It basically steals all the information on your phone, it intercepts every call, it intercepts every text message, it steals all the emails, the contacts, the FaceTime calls. It also basically backdoors every communications mechanism you have on the phone,” [Lookout VP of research Mike] Murray explained. “It steals all the information in the Gmail app, all the Facebook messages, all the Facebook information, your Facebook contacts, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Telegram—you name it.”


A few thoughts on this.
• He received the message August 10; Apple’s update came out 15 days later – is this Apple’s fastest-ever security update?
• Mansoor has been repeatedly targeted, yet clearly he’s also able to shake off the UAE government repeatedly
• it’s a hell of a vindication for Apple’s stance on privacy. But the hackers have a huge monetary incentive to keep finding zero-day flaws.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: software to cut racism?, China’s CRISPR plan, inside Google Fiber, Excel’s biology flaw, and more

What if there isn’t life on alien planets? Would that be good or bad for our prospects? Picture by Ryan Somma on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Then you’ll get it from next week! Or maybe even today if you sign within an hour of the post going live. (You’ll need to click a confirmation link. It ain’t spam.)

A selection of 10 links for you. Tax-exempt. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Can software make you less racist? • Coding Horror

Jef Atwood:


With Nextdoor, you’re more connected with your neighbors than ever before. But through that connection you may also find out some regressive things about your neighbors that you’d never have discovered in years of the traditional daily routine of polite waves, hellos from the driveway, and casual sidewalk conversations. [To wit: some are racist, whether through intent or accident.]

To their immense credit, rather than accepting this status quo, Nextdoor did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: they changed their software. Now, when you attempt to post about a crime or suspicious activity …

… you get smart, just in time nudges to think less about race, and more about behavior.

The results were striking:


Nextdoor claims this new multi-step system has, so far, reduced instances of racial profiling by 75%. It’s also decreased considerably the number of notes about crime and safety. During testing, the number of crime and safety issue reports abandoned before being published rose by 50%. “It’s a fairly significant dropoff,” said Tolia, “but we believe that, for Nextdoor, quality is more important than quantity.”


I’m a huge fan of designing software to help nudge people, at exactly the right time, to be their better selves. And this is a textbook example of doing it right.


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Global tablet shipments to up over 16% on quarter in 3Q16 • Digitimes Research

Jim Hsaio:


Global tablet shipments will bounce back 16.3% sequentially to reach nearly 47m units in the third quarter, but the volume will still be down over 10% compared to the same quarter a year ago, showing the market is still in no condition of recovering, according to Digitimes Research.

The sequential shipment growth is attributed to vendors’ inventory build-ups for the year-end holidays in Europe and North America and the fact that several emerging markets have seen improved economies, which has increased tablet demand, Digitimes Research said.

Despite the absence of new models for the second half of 2016, Apple will see its tablet shipment dip only slightly on year to 9.5 million units in the third quarter thanks to steady demand for 9.7iniPad Pro. However, shipments by white-box tablet makers are expected to increase significantly to 18.5m units in the third quarter on growing shipments to retail shops in the US and Europe and an easing in the supply of some key parts and components.


Apple plus the white-box (no-name Android) vendors will be over half of volume, which doesn’t leave much for the bigger players. Notable too: “Lenovo may temporarily outperform Amazon to take the third position in third-quarter rankings, but its tablet business unit has decided to shift its focus to Chromebooks and other Android devices.”

In other words: there’s no profit in branded Android tablets (unless you’re Samsung).
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Fourteen years after decriminalizing all drugs, here’s what Portugal looks like •

Zeeshan Aleem:


In 2001, the Portuguese government did something that the United States would find entirely alien. After many years of waging a fierce war on drugs, it decided to flip its strategy entirely: it decriminalized them all.

If someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty. A vast majority of the time, there is no penalty.

Fourteen years after decriminalization, Portugal has not been run into the ground by a nation of drug addicts. In fact, by many measures, it’s doing far better than it was before.


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Subscribe and Save on Amazon? Don’t count on it • The New York Times

Brian Chen:


What do subscriptions to a newspaper, magazine or Netflix account have in common? Once you sign up, you expect to pay the same rate every month.

Yet that’s not the case at Amazon when you subscribe to its Subscribe & Save program, which automatically refills orders for household staples like instant coffee, napkins or trash bags.

Amazon’s subscription program, which was introduced in 2007, lets consumers register to have their favorite consumables delivered regularly — monthly, for example — in exchange for a discount of at least 5% off each order. Buried in the e-commerce company’s terms and conditions is that the Subscribe & Save discount is applied to the price of the item at the time that the order is placed. And on Amazon, prices change frequently — including sometimes rising.

I learned this the hard way while reviewing an email summary of my Amazon subscriptions. A pack of lint rollers that I had subscribed to for more than two years recently jumped to $18.04 a pack, up from $12.44 since the last delivery a few months ago, or almost a 50% increase.

A quick web search revealed other consumers were also surprised by price jumps for Subscribe & Save items. One Amazon customer said he signed up for a $10 box of chewing gum and was charged $100 for the same product a month later. In Amazon’s online forums, dozens of people posted about prices of Subscribe & Save items fluctuating, with some calling the program a “bait and switch” subscription scheme.


Often suspected, now confirmed. What about for one-off items when you’re logged in, logged out, or accessing by Tor? That varies too.
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This 100-year-old to-do list hack still works like a charm • Fast Company

James Clear:


Ivy Ledbetter Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”

“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

“How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.

“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity:

• At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
• Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
• When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
• Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
• Repeat this process every working day.

The strategy sounded simple, but Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000 [worth about $400,000 in today’s money].


To which you sort of hope Lee would say “What sort of shortchanging bastard are you?” But it’s a good technique, reputedly.
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inside the battle over Google Fiber • The Information

Kevin McLaughlin, on the project which has been going since 2010 and wanted to have passed 40m homes and have 5m subscribers by 2015 – but has instead come to six cities and got about 200,000 broadband users and perhaps 53,000 TV subscribers:


Last month, Alphabet CEO Larry Page ordered Google Fiber’s chief, Craig Barratt, to halve the size of the Google Fiber team to 500 people, said the second person close to Alphabet. (The Google Fiber unit is now known as Access.)

Mr. Page has also told Mr. Barratt to reduce the current cost of bringing Google Fiber to customers’ homes to one-tenth the current level.

Keeping Google Fiber going using cheaper technology and with lower overhead reflects a tenuous compromise among a group of senior executives at Alphabet with mixed feelings about the project. On one side, Alphabet co-founders Mr. Page and Sergey Brin aren’t satisfied with the pace of Google Fiber’s rollout or the costs.

CFO Ruth Porat, though known as a cost-cutter, has played a mediator role. She has told Mr. Page that Google Fiber has a solid business model that can succeed, and needs to be given time to work, said the person close to Alphabet. “She is in the middle saying, ‘Hey, relax, this is a complicated business, let’s see what they can do with the budget they have,” the person said. Still, “the Fiber group is on a pretty tight leash and getting a lot of feedback that they should solve the problems with technology,” using wireless.


Demanding the cost is cut by 90% is a typical Page move – demand what seems impossible, see what happens.
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Microsoft Excel blamed for gene study errors • BBC News


The researchers claimed the problem is present in “approximately one-fifth of papers” that collated data in Excel documents.
The trio, writing for the Melbourne-based academic institute Baker IDI, scanned 3,597 published scientific papers to conduct their study.

They found 704 of those papers contained gene name errors created by Excel.

Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, does not blame Excel and told the BBC: “What frustrates me is researchers are relying on Excel spreadsheets for clinical trials.”

The Excel gene renaming issue [where genes such as Septin 2, known as SEPT2, appear as the date September 2nd] has been known among the scientific community for more than a decade, Birney added.
He recommended that the program should only be considered for “lightweight scientific analysis”.


“Lightweight”. Ouch.
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Jig Saw : Daniel Eatock


This work was created for the Deptford Design Challenge, an annual project in which thirty artists/designers are invited to redesign discarded objects from the Deptford Thrift Market (London). Eatock selected a 2000-piece “JR” puzzle depicting a thatched English country cottage, photographed the loose puzzle pieces on a tabletop and used the resulting print as the image of a second puzzle. Gallery visitors are invited to assemble the loose pieces.


“What have you got me for Christmas?”

“It’s a 2000-piece puzzle..”
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Chinese scientists to pioneer first human CRISPR trial • Nature News & Comment

David Cyranoski:


Chinese scientists are on the verge of being first in the world to inject people with cells modified using the CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing technique.

A team led by Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University’s West China Hospital in Chengdu, plans to start testing such cells in people with lung cancer next month. The clinical trial received ethical approval from the hospital’s review board on 6 July.

“It’s an exciting step forward,” says Carl June, a clinical researcher in immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

There have been a number of human clinical trials using an alternative gene-editing technique, including one led by June, that have helped patients combat HIV. June is also a scientific adviser on a planned US trial that would also use CRISPR–Cas9-modified cells for the treatment of cancer.

Last month, an advisory panel of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved that project. But the trial also requires a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a university review board. The US researchers have said they could start their clinical trial by the end of this year.


Notable step. Could be huge; could be a flop; could be “great, but just for special cases” – which seems most likely.
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Why i hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing • Nick Bostrom

From 2008, but still relevant after the latest discovery of an Earth-like planet near another sun:


From these two facts [no observed alien civilisations; space is REALLY big] it follows that there exists a “Great Filter”. 1 The Great Filter can be thought of as a probability barrier. It consists of exist one of more highly improbable evolutionary transitions or steps whose occurrence is required in order for an Earth‐like planet to produce an intelligent civilization of a type that would be visible to us with our current observation technology. You start with billions and billions of potential germination points for life, and you end up with a sum total of zero extraterrestrial civilizations that we can observe. The Great Filter must therefore be powerful enough— which is to say, the critical steps must be improbable enough—that even with many billions rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals, at least none that we can detect in our neck of the woods.

Now, an important question for us is, just where might this Great Filter be located? There are two basic possibilities: It might be behind us, somewhere in our distant past. Or it might be ahead of us, somewhere in the millennia or decades to come. Let us ponder these possibilities in turn.


See if you can work out which of those two possibilities is preferable. Bostrom’s essay is unhurried and thorough, yet economical.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Amazon’s drone test site, AI at Apple, Spotify’s contract trouble, no Snowden 2.0, and more

Yes, Facebook really is testing autoplay video with sound! Photo by pasa47 on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We found Amazon’s secret drone testing site hidden in the English countryside • Business Insider

Sam Shead drove to Cambridge, and then its countryside, and seems to have found Amazon’s test site. A fun little narrative, well-told through simple photos. (Though could have done with better photos and Shead spending more time staking out the secret drone testing site, to be honest.)
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An exclusive look at how AI and machine learning work at Apple • Backchannel

Steven Levy usually gets insider interviews at Google; this time, it’s Apple, on its AI efforts:


The most recent purchase was Turi, a Seattle company that Apple snatched for a reported $200 million. It has built an ML toolkit that’s been compared to Google’s TensorFlow, and the purchase fueled speculation that Apple would use it for similar purposes both internally and for developers. Apple’s executives wouldn’t confirm or deny. “There are certain things they had that matched very well with Apple from a technology view, and from a people point of view,” says Cue. In a year or two, we may figure out what happened, as we did when Siri began showing some of the predictive powers of Cue (no relation to Eddy!), a small startup Apple snatched up in 2013.

No matter where the talent comes from, Apple’s AI infrastructure allows it to develop products and features that would not be possible by earlier means. It’s altering the company’s product road map. “Here at Apple there is no end to the list of really cool ideas,” says Schiller. “Machine learning is enabling us to say yes to some things that in past years we would have said no to. It’s becoming embedded in the process of deciding the products we’re going to do next.”

One example of this is the Apple Pencil that works with the iPad Pro. In order for Apple to include its version of a high-tech stylus, it had to deal with the fact that when people wrote on the device, the bottom of their hand would invariably brush the touch screen, causing all sorts of digital havoc. Using a machine learning model for “palm rejection” enabled the screen sensor to detect the difference between a swipe, a touch, and a pencil input with a very high degree of accuracy. “If this doesn’t work rock solid, this is not a good piece of paper for me to write on anymore — and Pencil is not a good product,” says Federighi. If you love your Pencil, thank machine learning.


Would not have guessed that. Though I will say that I predicted AI as the “next big thing” for your phone in the talk I gave at TedX Hilversum last year. Most noteworthy: how it reconciles privacy with machine learning. (By keeping it on the phone, in a 200MB store.)
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Spotify is out of contract with all three major labels – and wants to pay them less • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:


The Swedish streaming company has been out of a long-term deal with Universal Music Group for more than a year, say our sources.

Its contract with Warner Music Group expired in early 2016, while its licensing agreement with Sony Music Entertainment ran out of juice a few months ago.

In practical terms, this isn’t a huge problem.

Spotify continues to be licensed by all three majors on a rolling month-by-month basis, and the possibility of UMG, Sony or Warner catalogues being pulled is widely regarded as out of the question.

The majors, have, however, gnashed their teeth a little over Spotify’s recent promotional deals – not least its new family plan, which matches Apple Music’s equivalent by offering up to six people premium access for just $14.99 per month.

Some parties within Universal, Sony and Warner are believed to be uneasy about Spotify’s decision to announce such promotions without any long-term licensing agreements in place. (The situation was described by one senior major source to MBW today as a “very grey area”.)

Spotify’s investors, meanwhile, must be concerned about Daniel Ek’s chances of pulling off an IPO without long-term major label deals: the majors own around 75% of global recordings market share.


Spotify’s weakness is that it wants to cut the amount it pays – presently 55% of revenue (v 58% for Apple Music) – but is hardly in a strong place to bargain. And meanwhile, its debt-fuelled race for an IPO continues. It can’t service its debt without a big (IPO) cash infusion: it lost $200m on revenues of $2bn last year, and the debt adds an extra $55m to its costs in its first year.

If you were negotiating for a music label, how would you play this?
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Growing number of iPhone 6 and 6Plus devices affected by insidious ‘touch disease’ • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


As the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus approach their second birthday, a growing number of users are suffering from what appears to be a latent manufacturing issue that presents as a gray flickering bar at the top of the screen and a display that’s unresponsive or less responsive to touch.

In a new blog post and video, repair site iFixit says a number of third-party repair outlets have seen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models affected by the bug, which appears to be very common. STS Telecom owner Jason Villmer says he sees faulty iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models multiple times a week, while another repair tech in Louisiana sees up to 100 iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices that don’t respond well to touch.

“This issue is widespread enough that I feel like almost every iPhone 6/6+ has a touch of it (no pun intended) and are like ticking bombs just waiting to act up,” says Jason Villmer, owner of STS Telecom–a board repair shop in Missouri.

iFixit is calling the problem “Touch Disease,” and says Apple appears to be aware of the issue based on dozens of complaints on Apple’s support forum, but isn’t “doing anything about it.” Multiple people who brought their iPhones to Apple Stores were told that Apple doesn’t recognize it as an issue and nothing could be done as their iPhones were out of warranty.


iFixit says that it’s because of an inherent flaw in the design that links the Touch IC chips to the logic board. But in that case, wouldn’t every single phone have the problem, and probably sooner?
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Completely Wrong • Medium

“The Grugq” takes apart James Bamford’s piece suggesting that “there is another Snowden inside the NSA leaking all those files being auctioned by a hacker group“. It’s lengthy, but even this slice will tell you the thoroughness of the takedown:


The Auction Fallacy

• This assumes that the auction is real. There is no reason to believe that. The preparation for the distribution of the files — packaging, account creation, uploading, and announcing — spans weeks. From the way it was done we can conclude that the perpetrators were: careful (everything has been scrubbed, they used encrypted anonymous webmail); cautious (multiple locations guaranteeing wide dispersal and difficult removal); skilled (good crypto practices), and persistent (i.e. driven by purpose.) This is a lot of work for what is bound to be very little money (just over USD$1000, at this time.)

• Anyone who is skilled enough to setup this operation should be knowledgeable enough to know that selling the tools to non-FVEY nation states would be more profitable. They could literally do the exact same thing (minus the public announcement) and contact individual embassies from Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. They would get more money and run less risk. Hell, even just giving the bugs to ZDI would generate a bigger payout!

• Bitcoin is a terrible protocol to use when running an auction against the NSA. Determining where BTC are cashed out is simply a little bit of graph analysis. Know what the NSA is excellent at? Graph analysis. A Bitcoin based auction is not the way to monetise an NSA ops toolkit (and remain free.)

• To quote daveaitel: No team of “hackers” would want to piss off Equation Group this much. That’s the kind of cojones that only come from having a nation state protecting you. — Source

• If the auction was legitimate, there is no reason that 60% of the auction data would be “free” as proof. The screen shots and one or two tools/exploits (e.g. ones for old bugs) would be sufficient to pique the interest of potential bidders. Instead the “proof” file is, essentially, the entire kit and caboodle (pun absolutely intended.)


Consider yourself informed.
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Grab your headphones: Facebook is testing video with autoplay sound • Mashable

Ariel Bogle:


From Tuesday local time, some Australians may notice autoplay on all types of video (including ads and Facebook Live) acting differently on their mobile app.

In one version of the test, sound plays immediately as the video begins, if you have sound enabled on your device. Another group is able to turn sound on during the test session using an icon that will sit to the bottom right of videos. 

Both groups see a pop-up message informing them about how to use the controls, and sound will only play if the smartphone’s volume is up. If you don’t want to annoy your workmates, sound can also be turned to “always off” in Facebook settings.

“We’re running a small test in News Feed where people can choose whether they want to watch videos with sound on from the start,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable Australia. “For people in this test who do not want sound to play, they can switch it off in Settings or directly on the video itself.

“This is one of several tests we’re running as we work to improve the video experience for people on Facebook.”


How is this “improving” the video experience for ordinary people on Facebook? This is nonsense. The “people on Facebook” for whom this is improving the experience are advertisers on Facebook. But as Mashable points out, Facebook’s own research shows that 80% of people don’t like ads that play with sound without warning.

And what is the story, which is otherwise insightful, missing? A comment from an independent expert.
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I was wrong about the iPad Pro • Technobuffalo

Todd Haselton:


The iPad Pro 9.7 has changed my work habits. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll take it from my nightstand and start the day sitting at my kitchen table, reading the news, drinking coffee, and cruising through Twitter. If there’s something big going on, I’ll write a story before I take my wife to the train. The rest of the day is spent on my Windows 10 PC in my office, for the most part, until the evening when I return to the iPad Pro. I’ll finish editing and scheduling posts for some of our west coast writers from the iPad Pro while doing the daily NYT Crossword, for example, an app that I found isn’t available on Android tablets.

I love the portability. If I decide to change my work habits, I’ll bring the iPad Pro with me in the car, ready to edit or write a story from a coffee shop or diner over lunch. It’s lighter than my other devices and offers exactly what I need. And while my Chromebook offered a similar experience in terms of productivity, the better display, comfortable keyboard (it’s really amazing) and larger selection of apps keep bringing me back to the iPad Pro.


Notice how he calls his “work habits” the things he does when he’s not at work. Though I agree – the 9.7 iPad Pro is great, especially with a keyboard.
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Breaking News 1: How monetizing became malvertising • Reynolds Journalism Institute

Barrett Golding:


Bromium Labs found more than half the ads with malware payloads were on either news or entertainment websites, with news at the top of the pack (32 percent). Like all marketers, malvertisers want premiere placement on well-respected sites. The ad-bidding process grants them their wish.

In March 2016 the websites of The New York Times, BBC, Weather Network, The Hill, Newsweek, AOL, MSN, and NFL all, as CNET reported, “inadvertently ran malicious ads that attempted to hijack the computers of visitors and demand a ransom.”

This even juicier website-breaking news is from Engadget: “Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blockers in order to view the article. After doing so, visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information.”

Malicious advertisements sources, Bromium Labs

The problem is not new. It’s been happening on news sites for years. These headlines are from 2013:

The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind: The World Wide rip-off” – Adweek.
The $7.5 Billion Ad Swindle” – The Ad Contrarian.
Google has run an anti-malvertising team since 2009. Here’s a recent report on their progress:


Google is enabling traffic laundering, where websites with pirated content redirect visitors to shell websites displaying AdSense ads. These ads finance piracy, and Google is taking a cut in the process. Google clients have no clue of the reputational risk they run by using AdSense.
—“A Real Life Example of Google’s Implication in Ad Fraud and Traffic Laundering,” Kalkis Research


CNBC and CNN commentator Shelly Palmer wrote, “Ad tech has evolved into a toxic ecosystem that is killing itself, and it is taking digital advertising with it.” His article, “What We’ll Do When Ad Tech Dies,” concludes, “Ad tech will be with us in its current form until someone goes to jail.”


Why is it that news sites are so particularly targeted? Because they take a ton more ad-tech ads? (Via Rob Leathern.)
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Opting out: the illusion • Medium

Rob Leathern:


I wanted to opt out of all behavioral ads, not just AdRoll, and so landed on this [Ghostery] “Global opt-out” page. It was easy to select all and choose “Opt out of selected companies”. I saw stuff happening in the browser indicating to me that this seems to work (hard to know though, seems difficult to test as a user). But then I noticed that for a lot of these companies it said “go to site” to opt-out. So let’s go through the numbers here:

a. There are 615 names on this list
Here’s the full list in a Google Doc broken down by ones that you have to visit the site versus not. Here’s a screenshot of the interface.

Source:, August 11, 2016

b. I was able to opt-out of 269 of them (44%)
c. 4 Didn’t respond in the browser
d. 342 Required me to visit the website (56%)

AdRoll was one of the 342 that required me to visit the website to opt-out. I’ve heard of them and they’re generally thought of as a good company, but there are hundreds of names on this list even people who’ve worked in this industry for years have never heard of (and affiliations with industry organizations usually require a membership fee only, not any degree of vetting).


The best part? Opting out of being targeted on your cookie data requires cookie data.
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Strong demand for Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 tests supply chain • Reuters

Se Young Lee:


While robust demand could help deliver another solid quarter of earnings, Samsung also risks missing out on potential sales if it cannot boost supply quickly. Rivals such as Apple are poised to launch new phones which could pull customers away from Samsung if a shortage persists.

“As pre-order results for the Galaxy Note 7 have far exceeded our estimates, its release date in some markets has been adjusted,” Samsung told Reuters in a statement without commenting on where launch delays could occur.

Production problems for the curved displays for the Galaxy S6 edge phone resulted in disappointing sales last year, and some investors fear a repeat if the world’s top smartphone maker does not move quickly to meet Note 7 demand…

…”The party got more visitors than Samsung expected, so they just need to put more food out,” said Nomura analyst C.W. Chung, who said the supply situation was not a major risk given that Samsung made key parts such as displays and chips in-house.


And how big is that demand?


Samsung could sell as many as 15m Galaxy Note 7 phones this year, Chung said, compared with an estimated 9m Galaxy Note 5 phones sold last year.


For comparison, the iPhone SE could hit about 9m sales this year – and that’s its low-end phone. The Note 7 is a hit, but this stuff is all relative.

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Android Nougat’s single most confounding feature • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:


here’s something I just don’t get: Nougat retains the pointless eyesore of a status bar at the top, which quickly fills up with tiny notification icons that remind me of Windows 98, including dupes such as the three Facebook icons you can see below:

Now, I’m sure there are folks who like this feature. Fine. I can’t imagine, though, that I’m the only one who wants to turn it off. Not only does the operating system have no way to do that, but the third-party apps I know of that offer the ability either mess up Android in other ways or require the phone to be rooted.

I switch back and forth between iOS and Android on a regular basis; both are so good these days that I can’t decide which one I prefer. But every time I come back to Android and see those notification icons pile up, I wonder how they’ve survived so long.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start up: Europe’s detachable craze, GIANT blue screens, AI v cancer, Pinterest buys Instapaper, and more

Imagine not playing here – but getting paid handsomely for doing so. Photo by rodrigot on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Wash separately from other colours. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Soccer’s ultimate con man was a superstar who couldn’t play the game • Atlas Obscura

Tucker Leighty-Phillips:


Brazilian soccer star Carlos Kaiser had it all: exclusive contracts with popular teams, money, fame, and women. The professional soccer star was only missing one thing: the ability to play soccer. Arguably the greatest con artist in all of sports history, Kaiser (birth name Carlos Henrique Raposo) was able to maintain a career that spanned nearly two decades while playing in as few games as possible and never scoring a goal.

Admittedly, Kaiser was not completely devoid of soccer skill. He initially showed promise in youth leagues, signing a professional contract with popular club Puebla in 1979 after impressing scouts, but was quickly let go. However, Kaiser had devised a plan to keep his career going. By riding the coattails of more promising colleagues, faking injuries at pertinent times, and taking advantage of the lack of technology, Carlos Kaiser was able to maintain a professional athlete’s lifestyle without ever having to prove his athleticism.


OK, he could play the game (anyone can play soccer). But he didn’t spend any noticeable time actually playing. And “con man” – well, sort of.
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Consumer ultraslim and detachable uptake revitalizes PC and tablet market in western Europe • IDC


Chromebooks are gaining momentum and experiencing high growth, especially in the Nordics. As we are in the Nordics’ back-to-school season, many vendors pushed shipments in 2016Q2, in particular targeting the education sector in the region, where the adoption of this form factor is taking off. Volumes are still low, as Chromebook are in early adoption stage among schools, but the growth potential is promising, especially in Sweden (59.7% YoY increase in 2016Q2).

Similarly to ultraslims, detachables are experiencing interesting growth in Western Europe, as shipments rose from 0.5m in 2015Q2 to 1.6m units in 2016Q2, in contrast with the 6.0% decline of the tablet market. Detachables performed strongly across all Western Europe, posting triple-digit growth in all countries. Surface continued to be the most widely adopted detachable in the commercial segment, while iPad Pro reached first position in the consumer segment. Detachables posted strong growth in both consumer and commercial, showing that interest in this form factor continues to be on the rise in both segments. Despite the rapid growth in both segments, the drivers behind their performance differ between them.

“The interest in detachables in the commercial segment is generated by the number of premium devices available in the market and the increasing number of use cases in which detachables emerge as the optimal solution. While deployments are not massive, since detachables are mainly adopted either to address specific vertical needs or by top executive ranks, the number of companies adopting them is clearly picking up as some of the classic concerns such as device performance are being tackled by this wave of new releases” said Daniel Gonçalves, research analyst, IDC EMEA Personal Computing. “On the other hand the penetration of detachables in the consumer segment is driven by many local vendors and white brands moving away from the already saturated slate space dominated by Android. These players keep targeting market share in the entry-level space, and now they also supply 9- or 10-inch screen size, Windows-based devices with basic features and keyboard capabilities.”


IDC is taking the “PC plus tablet” market as the proxy for everything that’s going on – though at 17.2m (in western Europe) that still saw a 3.4% year-on-year fall, with tablets down by 6% while PCs fell by 1.6%.
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This must be the biggest Windows Blue Screen of Death ever seen •

Lee Mathews:


The Blue Screen of Death has been around for more than 20 years. You’ve probably seen one or two before, but you’ve never seen one quite this big.

That massive video wall (probably around 50 feet tall) you see below graces the entrance to CentralFestival, a shopping mall in Pattaya, Thailand. Blake Sibbit happened to be outside when the Windows-powered signage tripped over itself and captured this awesome image.


That is superb.
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Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets • Associated Press

Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael:


WikiLeaks’ global crusade to expose government secrets is causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, The Associated Press has found.

In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web. In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.

“They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” said a Saudi man who told AP he was bewildered that WikiLeaks had revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. “If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.”


Wikileaks used to be careful about this sort of thing. No more.
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Why AI development is going to get even faster. (Yes, really!) • Mapping Babel

Jack Clark:


Robotics has just started to get into neural networks. This has already sped up development. This year, Google demonstrated a system that teaches robotic arms to learn how to pick up objects of any size and shape. That work was driven by research conducted last year at Pieter Abbeel’s lab in Berkeley, which saw scientists combine two neural network-based techniques (reinforcement learning and deep learning) with robotics to create machines that could learn faster. Robots are also getting better eyes, thanks to deep learning as well. “Armed with the latest deep learning packages, we can begin to recognize objects in previously impossible ways,” says Daniela Rus, a professor in CSAIL at MIT who works on self-driving cars.

More distant communities have already adapted the technology to their own needs. Brendan Frey runs a company called Deep Genomics, which uses machine learning to analyze the genome. Part of the motivation for that is that humans are “very bad” at interpreting the genome, he says. That’s because we spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving finely-tuned pattern detectors for things we saw and heard, like tigers. Because we never had to hunt the genome, or listen for its fearsome sounds, we didn’t develop very good inbuilt senses for analyzing it. Modern machine learning approaches give us a way to get computers to analyze this type of mind-bending data for us. “We must turn to truly superhuman artificial intelligence to overcome our limitations,” he says.


Subtle point: machine learning systems can discern patterns that we can’t because we look for patterns.
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People disregard security warnings on computers because they come at bad times • Brigham Young University


Software developers listen up: if you want people to pay attention to your security warnings on their computers or mobile devices, you need to make them pop up at better times.

A new study from BYU, in collaboration with Google Chrome engineers, finds the status quo of warning messages appearing haphazardly—while people are typing, watching a video, uploading files, etc.—results in up to 90% of users disregarding them.

Researchers found these times are less effective because of “dual task interference,” a neural limitation where even simple tasks can’t be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss. Or, in human terms, multitasking.

“We found that the brain can’t handle multitasking very well,” said study coauthor and BYU information systems professor Anthony Vance. “Software developers categorically present these messages without any regard to what the user is doing. They interrupt us constantly and our research shows there’s a high penalty that comes by presenting these messages at random times.”

An example of a security message, the Chrome Cleanup Tool.

For example, 74% of people in the study ignored security messages (example above) that popped up while they were on the way to close a web page window. Another 79% ignored the messages if they were watching a video. And a whopping 87% disregarded the messages while they were transferring information, in this case, a confirmation code.


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Pinterest acquires Instapaper, which will live on as a separate app • Techcrunch

Matthew Lynley:


Pinterest said today that it would be acquiring the team behind Instapaper, which will continue operating as a separate app. The Instapaper team will both work on the core Pinterest experience and updating Instapaper.

Pinterest’s logic here is that one of the company’s core tenets is bookmarking — much like Instapaper’s primary goal with its app. The company has been on an aggressive acquisition binge in the past few months. In July, Pinterest acquihired the team behind Highlight and Shorts. It would seem that much like other apps that remain very popular in certain niches, Pinterest is going to let this one continue running (at least, until it ends up running its course).

We haven’t heard much from the Instapaper team in a while. One of the last major updates happened in May last year, and while the app has been chugging along (and will continue to do so as the team continues to work at Pinterest), a lot of the same functionality that Instapaper pioneered has found its way into other core user experiences.


“Acquiring the team behind” sounds subtly different from “acquiring the company”. An acquihire which will let Instapaper rot? Has Instapaper just reached the end of its innovative life, and is now being put out to pasture? Feels that way. Not that Pinterest has set the innovative world alight for some years now.
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Helping users easily access content on mobile • Google Webmaster blog

Doantam Phan, product manager:


Although the majority of pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.


Laudable aim, though I suspect that what will actually happen is that Google’s crawler bot won’t get interstitials (tested via the user-agent), and normal people will.
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Google recruiting web stars, Hulu for virtual reality push • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw:


Google will help promote projects from Hulu LLC and fund the production of 360-degree videos with YouTube stars like the Dolan twins and Justine Ezarik, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deals. The division of Alphabet Inc. has also partnered with video-game producers and sports leagues to boost its biggest virtual-reality initiative.

“It’s apparent they’ve spent a lot of money internally,” said Finn Staber, co-founder of TheWaveVR, a virtual-reality startup developing a music app for Daydream.

The company is relying on apps, shorts and games to promote Daydream, a hybrid store and software service that Google hopes will be the dominant way people engage in virtual reality, much like Android is for smartphones. An update to Android software that will support Daydream began rolling out Monday. The idea is to encourage the growth of the technology and ensure Google maintains a central role in helping people find things to watch.

Google is entering what has quickly become a crowded marketplace, with products from Facebook Inc., Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp. Whereas Sony’s Morpheus headset is tethered to its PlayStation video-game console, Google is focused on mobile-based VR, whereby consumers snap their phones into a visor or headset. With the headset on, Daydream presents users with an array of apps, from YouTube to HBO Now.


Pushing hard on what is very early days – but it’s a few million; to Google, that’s just seed money.
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Oculus rift founder is a sham, according to a new claim from Zenimax • Alphr

Vaughn Highfield:


it’s all part of an ongoing court case from 2014 against Oculus, Facebook and the acquisition of its VR tech. “Instead of complying with his contract, during his last days at ZeniMax, [Carmack] copied thousands of documents from a computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device,” reads the amended charges.

“He never returned those files or all copies of them after his employment with ZeniMax was terminated. In addition, after Carmak’s employment with ZeniMax was terminated, he returned to ZeniMax’s pemises to take a customized tool for developing VR Technology belonging to ZeniMax that itself is part of ZeniMax’s VR technology.”

The amended claim goes into deeper territory by accusing Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe of deliberately fabricating Luckey’s origin story to the press.

According to ZeniMax, Iribe “disseminated to the press the false and fanciful story that Luckey was the brilliant inventor of VR technology who had developed that technology in his parents’ garage.”


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Computers trounce pathologists in predicting lung cancer type, severity • Stanford Medicine News Center


Computers can be trained to be more accurate than pathologists in assessing slides of lung cancer tissues, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The researchers found that a machine-learning approach to identifying critical disease-related features accurately differentiated between two types of lung cancers and predicted patient survival times better than the standard approach of pathologists classifying tumors by grade and stage.

“Pathology as it is practiced now is very subjective,” said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. “Two highly skilled pathologists assessing the same slide will agree only about 60% of the time. This approach replaces this subjectivity with sophisticated, quantitative measurements that we feel are likely to improve patient outcomes.”

The research was published Aug. 16 in Nature Communications.


And could probably be applied to other forms of cancer. “Probably”? Certainly. How long before cancer diagnosis is done automatically, remotely, routinely – so that early-stage cancers are detected from some trivial sample?
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Browsing your website does not mean I want your spam • Medium

Fred Benenson had been doing some web shopping, and later got an email from Sears – despite never having given his email to Sears:


I was extremely curious how Sears managed to sign me up without ever knowing my email in the first place.

On Criteo’s website, it says received they received my email from a “partner” database:

What partner? What database? There’s no explanation of who gave my email address to Criteo.
But after puzzling through their site, here is what I think happened:

• I am signed up to some platform which is a Criteo partner. It’s entirely unclear who this partner is. While Criteo boasts a “close partnership” with Facebook, Facebook claims that they do not share personally identifying information such as your email address with ad partners. Regardless, a platform with my email address gave it to Criteo.
• That platform dropped a Criteo cookie in my browser at some point in the past.
• That platform delivered my information (a way to identify me using a cookie and a hash of my email address) to Criteo.
• A couple weeks ago servers alerted Criteo that my Criteo ID was browsing They are able to do this because loads Criteo code and uses a cookie (screenshot here).
• Criteo queries its partner for my email address when Sears wants to send spam to users who browsed their website.
• Sears gets my email via Criteo and subscribes me to a newsletter and sends me the spam.

Criteo (and their partners, like have successfully performed an end-run around the traditional newsletter opt-in process.


Wonder if this would breach data protection laws in the UK and Europe. I think the penultimate step might do – can’t pass an email that wasn’t already held to a business user.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Hey, remember that story in Wired about the “survey” by Rantic? They’ve struck it out on the basis that the survey can’t be confirmed as actually existing. Win.

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.

Start up: Pokemon Gone?, the trouble with tech journalism, questions for the Note 7, Nougat’s here, and more

Pictures like this of ocean sands off the Bahamas are available via the Landsat app. Photo by NASA Goddard 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How things work • Gawker

Nick Denton, two days from his 50th birthday, writes the last post on the site:


Peter Thiel has gotten away with what would otherwise be viewed as an act of petty revenge by reframing the debate on his terms. Having spent years on a secret scheme to punish Gawker’s parent company and writers for all manner of stories, Thiel has now cast himself as a billionaire privacy advocate, helping others whose intimate lives have been exposed by the press. It is canny positioning against a site that touted the salutary effects of gossip and an organization that practiced radical transparency.

As former Gawker developer Dustin Curtis says, “Though I find the result abhorrent, this is one of the most beautiful checkmates of all time by Peter Thiel.”

In cultural and business terms, this is an act of destruction, because was a popular and profitable digital media property—before the legal bills mounted. Gawker will be missed. But in dramatic terms, it is a fitting conclusion to this experiment in what happens when you let journalists say what they really think…

…Gawker’s remit was eventually so broad, news and gossip, that subject matter proved no barrier. And Gawker’s web-literate journalists picked up more story ideas from anonymous email tips, obscure web forums or hacker data dumps than they did from interviews or parties. They scorned access. To get an article massaged or fixed, there was nobody behind the scenes to call. Gawker was an island, one publicist said, uncompromised and uncompromising.


Best read it now: the site will be dead soon.
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Access, accountability reporting and Silicon Valley • Nieman Reports

Adrienne LaFrance:


It’s typical to see technology coverage that simply aggregates directly from a tech company’s blog—the modern-day equivalent of a press release—with little or no analysis or additional reporting. One damning example of this lack of skepticism is evident in the early, glowing coverage of Theranos, the health-technology company that said it had developed a cheap, needle-free way to draw and test blood. It wasn’t until last year that an investigative reporter from The Wall Street Journal, prompted by a sunny New Yorker profile of the Theranos founder, began to ask serious questions about whether the technology actually worked the way Theranos claimed it did. That reporting, from John Carreyrou, encouraged other reporters to be more skeptical, too, and ultimately led to a federal criminal investigation into whether the company misled investors and regulators about the state of its technology.

Investigations like Carreyrou’s—or getting inside the grueling corporate culture at Amazon, as The New York Times did last year; or detailing Google’s powerful but hidden lobbying efforts, as The Washington Post has; or contextualizing the cultural complexities of programs like Facebook’s Free Basics, as I’ve tried to do; or establishing a drumbeat of smart, in-depth coverage of the fight between Apple and the F.B.I.—is the only way to begin to understand the complex social and political impact of technology.

Technology companies “are all dedicated to revamping our daily existence,” says Streitfeld, who reported and wrote the Amazon piece for the Times with Jodi Kantor. “What happens when they succeed? Who loses? When they stumble, like Facebook in India, what does it mean? The rise of tech is, in my opinion, the great story of our time”…

…according to Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, “To actually cover technology properly,” Bell says, “it’s about society and culture and human rights. It’s about politics. This idea that you can have a Washington bureau where you don’t have somebody who really understands some of the issues in [computing] infrastructure or A.I., and how data is really political? They are new systems of power, and that’s one of the areas where I think news organizations have been slow.”


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ObservedEarth on the App Store


Want to explore our constantly changing Earth through high resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery? ObservedEarth simplifies the process of obtaining, processing, and visualising earth observation data.


Tons of Landsat imagery from a public repository. More details on the website:


A range of desktop, mobile, and web applications exist that provide access to satellite imagery. ObservedEarth differs in that it makes accessible a history of observations showing how the Earth has changed over time. Watch rivers change their path, bushfire destruction, forrest regrowth, expansion of urban developments, snowfalls. Earth observation data has wide ranging applications…

…ObservedEarth downloads unprocessed satellite data which is then processed locally on the iPhone/iPad, this enables much greater flexibility in the range of visualisations that can be offered. Raw data consumed by ObservedEarth is often available within hours of the satellite passing overhead.


iOS-only at present. Looks amazing. Here’s a video of what you can get:

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These charts show that Pokemon Go is already in decline • Bloomberg

Luke Kawa and Lily Katz:


Enthusiasm about the potential for Pokemon Go (and augmented reality gaming in general) to improve Nintendo Co Ltd.’s financial performance sent shares parabolic after the app launched in the U.S., and even spurred rallies in secondary plays linked to the success of the game.

Data from Sensor Tower, SurveyMonkey, and Apptopia, however, show that Pokemon Go’s daily active users, downloads, engagement, and time spent on the app per day are all well off their peaks and on a downward trend.

Source: Axiom Capital Management

Source: Axiom Capital Management

“The declining trends should assuage investor concerns about the impact of Pokémon Go on time spent on the above named companies,” writes Anthony.

If these declines prove enduring, this would cast aspersion not only on the viability and popularity of Pokemon Go, but augmented reality gaming at large, according to the analyst.

“The Google Trends data is already showing declining interest in augmented reality, whereas interest in virtual reality remains high,” he concludes.


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Pokemon Go technology is not just for fun and games, survey says • Fortune

Barb Darrow:


there are real business applications for similar augmented reality (AR) technology that have already proven themselves in the market. New research from consulting firm Deloitte bears this out.

Out of 500 mid-market companies surveyed, a whopping 89% said they already use augmented reality in their businesses. That may be surprising until you realize that companies like Hunter Douglas has offered an AR app for Apple devices for several years that lets you preview how a given window treatment will look in your own room before you buy it.

AR is different from virtual reality in that AR incorporates the real world into the view, while virtual reality, as enabled by products like Oculus Rift, builds an entirely new, all-immersive world.

Steve Keathley, deputy chief information officer for Deloitte said AR comes in handy for any application that requires a sneak preview of what a finished product will look like.


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Android 7.0 Nougat review — do more on your gigantic smartphone • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo with an incredibly thorough review of Nougat:


After a lengthy Developer Preview program starting in March, the final version of Android 7.0 (codenamed “Nougat”) is finally launching today. The OS update will slowly begin to rollout to devices over the next few weeks. This year, Google is adding even more form factors to the world’s most popular operating system. After tackling watches, phones, tablets, TVs, and cars, Nougat brings platform improvements aimed at virtual reality headsets and—with some help from Chrome OS—also targets laptops and desktops.

For Android’s primary platform (still phones and tablets), there’s a myriad of improvements. Nougat brings a new multitasking split screen mode, a redesigned notification panel, an adjustable UI scale, and fresh emoji. Nougat also sports numerous under-the-hood improvements, like changes to the Android Runtime, updates to the battery saving “Doze” mode, and developer goodies like Vulkan and Java 8 support.


You could skip to the final page – with the conclusions, and the observation that as nice as Nougat is for large-screened phones, most probably won’t see it. Marshmallow is a year old; about 15.2% of Android phones contacting Google Play have it. That inertia will probably get worse as the user base grows, and cheaper phones which don’t get updated are more prevalent.
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Apple acquires personal health data startup Gliimpse • Fast Company

Christina Farr and Mark Sullivan:


The acquisition will bolster Apple’s efforts in digital health. In recent years, Apple has delved into the sector with a range of services (HealthKit, CareKit, and ResearchKit) that allow patients, clinicians, and researchers to access important health and wellness data via a range of mobile devices. That’s in line with Gliimpse’s mission of uniting disparate streams of health information.

What stands out about the deal is that Gliimpse is intended for patients with diseases like cancer and diabetes. Apple recently hired a top pediatric endocrinologist who developed a HealthKit app for teens with Type 1 diabetes, signaling an increased interest in applications for chronically ill users.

It’s unlikely that this acquisition will bring Apple’s health technologies under the purview of federal regulators. CEO Tim Cook recently told Fast Company in an interview that he sees a major business opportunity for the company in the non-regulated side of health care: “So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”


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The Chinese (smartphones) are coming • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:


Just as television makers Zenith, Motorola and RCA were eventually replaced by Japanese names like Sony, Sharp and Panasonic, so too will Chinese brands overtake the US market.

The latest entrant looks set to be Xiaomi. The richly valued upstart appears ready to dip its toes in one of the world’s most important electronics markets. While China is larger by volume, the US is lucrative because average device prices are much higher.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday, Xiaomi’s vice president and international front man Hugo Barra said a US move is inevitable:


We will lead with social media, with the channels that allow us to get in touch with the young generation that are enthusiastic about new technology. We are definitely going there.


Xiaomi’s entry into the US has been in doubt on concern that the Chinese company, which has been widely criticized as a wholesale copycat of Apple and others, would immediately face intellectual property lawsuits.

However, Xiaomi’s purchase this summer of around 1,500 patents from Microsoft seems to have quelled those worries and given the Beijing startup the courage to move directly onto Apple’s home turf.


Good point about the TV sets. That is what smartphones are becoming – though more personal.
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The Note 7 still delivers embarrassing real-world performance • XDA Developers

Eric Hulse:


Every year we notice the same pattern: new Galaxy device comes out, it gets positive reviews (excluding, perhaps, the Galaxy S5), and among one of the positive points, you usually find performance… somehow.

This is something that, of course, varies from publication to publication. But in general, the story is the same year after year: we see the breakdowns from the more-mainstream publications speak positively about these devices’ performance, somehow suspending the otherwise year-long notion that Samsung’s software is in dire need of a serious rework. It’s not uncommon to see the same publications, or even the same reviewers, then admit that the devices had slowed down since their review was printed, often in such tremendous ways that make us forget that advancements like project TRIM ever happened. The Galaxy Note 7 has just come out, and with Grace UX – Samsung’s thorough redesign of TouchWiz – coupled with top-of-the-line components, we would hope this trend would be reversed on both fronts — coverage and reality.


Hulse points to problems with the performance of the Note 7 after a few days’ use: “The worst hiccups and stutters – or delays – happen only every now and then, but the phone itself is simply slower than its competitors at nearly every action.”

Odd how the reviews tend not to have used it for as long. Remarkable how XDA Developers should be the site to point to this. Keep that thought.
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Samsung reminds us — again! — that you can’t make people use an app they don’t want • Recode

Peter Kafka:


Samsung’s music service, which you didn’t know existed, stops existing next month.

As Variety reported earlier, Samsung will shutter Milk Music on Sept. 22. It joins Samsung’s Milk Video in the Graveyard For Samsung Media Services No One Wanted Except Samsung Executives.

It’s easy to pick on Samsung here, but they’re not the only company to overestimate the power of a distribution platform.

It’s true that you can’t get media/apps/services to customers without access to a platform. But control of the platform doesn’t mean customers are going to use your media/apps/services: They’ve got plenty of choice, and they’ll choose the ones they want.


Not forgetting Samsung’s ChatOn, closed in 1Q 2015.
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Should you charge your phone overnight? • The New York Times

Jonah Engel Bromwich:


in theory, any damage from charging your phone overnight with an official charger, or a trustworthy off-brand charger, should be negligible.

But the act of charging is itself bad for your phone’s battery.

Here’s why.

Most phones make use of a technology that allows their batteries to accept more current faster. Hatem Zeine, the founder, chief scientist and chief technical officer of the wireless charging company Ossia, says the technology enables phones to adjust to the amount of charge that a charger is capable of supplying.

The technology allows power to pulse into the battery in specific modulations, increasing the speed at which the lithium ions in the battery travel from one side to the other and causing the battery to charge more quickly.

But this process also leads lithium-ion (and lithium-polymer) batteries to corrode faster than they otherwise would.


Recommendation: use a lower-power charger which will charge it less quickly. It’ll charge slower, and last longer.
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VR Noir shows how virtual reality will transform television • VentureBeat

Joe Durbin:


VR Noir is a 360-degree film with interactive elements created by the Australian studio Start VR. The experience hits all the necessary beats of its namesake genre: the rumpled ex-cop P.I., the mysterious femme fatale and an even more mysterious murder to unravel. However, all of these familiar beats seem fresh and innovative in this immersive new medium.

Let’s be clear: if VR Noir was a standard television show it would not be considered that great. After watching it for myself, I’ve concluded that the performances are fine, but clearly amateur, the plot is on the flimsy side, and the twists feel lackluster. But the quality of the story and content isn’t what’s most important about this particular piece of filmmaking — it’s how it uses the technology.

As events unfold in VR Noir, you’re given agency within the narrative. You can choose to ask a client more questions, or simply take a case. You get to take control of a spy camera as you stake out a mark on a rooftop. And above all you get to experience a story as the main character, as opposed to simply watching from the sidelines. In this way, it carries forward the torch that Gone lit before it.

This nexus of interaction, immersion and narrative has the potential to become the de facto delivery system for entertainment in the future. VR Noir‘s producer, Nathan Anderson, laid out his commitment to this new style of production in an official statement accompanying the app’s release.


“We wanted to explore how film and gaming VR experiences they could live together,” Anderson said. “Can you have a cinematic experience that also allows you to have some agency in the outcome? My career quest is to find the convergence of storytelling, game design and interactivity.”



Very early days, and there must be limits to where/what you can view.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Inside the unprofitable world of (Lenovo’s) Android tablets (updated)

Lenovo’s Yoga Android tablet: likely not much profit here. Photo by pestoverde on Flickr.

Corporate reorganisations! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing – except in the rare cases when they force a company to restate its financial results using the new reporting lines. The fallout from this is that you can often figure out, at least for a few previous quarters, how previously hidden bits of the company were faring.

Which leads us to Lenovo, which in April reorganised itself from having a “PC” division which made PCs, and a “mobile” division which offered smartphones and tablets, to having a “PC and smart devices” group which offers PCs and tablets, and a “mobile” group which offers smartphones.

It restated its revenues and operating profits for those divisions for the previous four quarters. What happens when it does that is that you can see, by how the numbers shift, what sort of contribution tablets were making to the overall business.

Reshape, restate

The results for the April-June quarter (the calendar Q2, but Lenovo’s fiscal Q1) include this restatement:

Lenovo financial restatement

Of course the old numbers for the previous organisation are still there. So to find out how much business, and how much profit, we just go back and compare the old numbers with the new ones – that is, the PC-only figures for revenue and operating profit, and the PC-plus-tablet figures.

A quick bit of arithmetic then shows you the tablet revenues and operating profit.

(Note this is only the Android tablets – the Windows devices were already part of the PC division.)

Here’s what we get.

Lenovo Android tablet revenue
(“CQ” means “calendar quarter”, eg CQ1 is January-March.)

And as IDC records tablet shipment figures, we can also get the per-tablet average selling price (ASP) and per-tablet profit.

The raw figures for ASP, profitability and volume are these:
Lenovo tablet profitability

Which make this graph:

Lenovo tablet ASP and profitability
(figures in US$)

A bad business

What have we learnt? It’s long been fairly clear that Android tablets really aren’t a great business to be in. They’re low-volume, low-margin (if there’s any margin at all) and because it’s Android, people tend to have little brand loyalty – essentially, it’s a glorified screen.

I can’t see that any of the smaller competitors in Android tablets (Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Huawei, LG) are making an operating profit, or at least one worth considering. Sure, they will make gross profit – they get more money than the raw materials cost – but once you include other costs such as sales, marketing, administration and R&D, they’re sunk.

Samsung is the exception here: I’m confident its tablet business is profitable, because it has scale (it’s the largest Android tablet maker by some distance, with 6m shipped in the second quarter, making up about 25% of all Android tablet shipments) and also makes the components itself; that flywheel effect of creating your own scale with stuff you make yourself has a knock-on effect. But even Samsung has struggled with the idea of high-priced tablets; it has considered just giving them up and aiming for the low end. But it didn’t.

The lower you go

Looking at Lenovo’s ASPs, which wander around the $110 mark (I’ve previously guessed them at $100 and zero profit in my handset analysis; nice to have that confirmed), it’s easy to see why. There’s barely any money in Android tablets – a fact that was confirmed after I wrote this post (see the update at the end). Take a look at how small a part of Lenovo’s business they are:

Lenovo's PC, smartphone and tablet sectors

In his meta-analysis of the Android-iOS landscape, Benedict Evans estimated that there are 150m-200m Google Android tablets in use, and perhaps another 200m “naked Android” (no Google services) in China. For comparison, he reckons there are about 250m active iPads, of varying sizes.

The key difference is that Apple’s iPad sells for way more than Lenovo’s (or Samsung’s). The ASP for all iPads in the latest quarter was $490, and it has never fallen below $400. Sure, you can argue that the iPad is overpriced, but you can also expect that as long as it keeps selling, Apple will get the profit it needs to encourage it to keep going.

The other point: if you can can’t make a profit selling tablets, you won’t be able to improve them, or market them seriously.

Compare that with Apple’s efforts, where its True Tone screen (on the 9.7in iPad Pro) is likely – certain, really – to come to the new iPhones later this year. But in the tablets first. Lenovo can push – but only because it has the PC division. The tablets, have been dragging it down.

And finally..

There’s a nice coda. In its latest results, Lenovo says “Tablet: profitable with double-digit growth premium to the market”. Looking back, it has never before said that tablets were profitable; it’s done lots of talking about growth and position, but not profit. We can’t see how profitable, though, because we don’t have those comparative numbers as we did before.

The other coda: you can work out the tablet revenues and profits by using the pre- and post-split numbers from the smartphone division. But they come out different. Via the smartphone division, revenues come out as $1,231m v $1,150m via the PC division; operating profit comes out as -662m from the smartphone numbers, v -33m from the PC numbers. But I’ve gone with the PC figures, because there are all sorts of writeoffs – inventory, restructuring, redundancy, acquisition of Motorola – in the smartphone numbers which confuse things hugely. There are no such in the PC division numbers, so I’ve gone with them.

(Update: corrected typo of “if you can’t make a profit selling tablets..”)

Bigger update: a week after this appeared, Digitimes had two stories on the squeeze in the tablet market. The first noted that in 2Q 2016, the tablet market shrank again, to 40m units:

Among the three major camps [Apple, brand OEMs and cheap “white box” vendors], white box players performed the weakest in the second quarter. With more large-size independent design houses (IDH) quitting the market plus shortages of components including panels, memory and processors, white-box players saw their combined shipments drop to a new low at 13.8m units in the second quarter.

Non-Apple first-tier vendors’ inexpensive tablets were mostly released in the second quarter, but combined shipments were down 7.1% sequentially to reach only 16.98m units as product differentiation, number of models, and price competitiveness were all inferior to in 2015.

And then there was the news you might expect, of both brand names and white box vendors pulling out:

Asustek Computer and Acer have turned to focus more on niche applications, while Micro-Start International (MSI) has already phased out of the business and to focus mainly on gaming PC product lines. China-based white-box players that have joined Intel’s China Technology Ecosystem (CTE), have also mostly stopped pushing tablet products.

Dropping demand is expected to cause Asustek’s tablet shipments to fall below three million units in 2016, according to sources from the upstream supply chain, leaving Apple the only player that is still able to achieve strong profits from the tablet sector.

That’s pretty stark. (Note that the Digitimes stories go behind a paywall after a few days, if you’re coming to this late.)

Asus, you’ll recall, made the Nexus 7, which was probably the best-selling Android tablet ever – Sameer Singh estimated it at around 6m-8m units in 2012.

But a lot of the companies that jumped into the market thought that tablets would be like smartphones – updated every year, or perhaps every two. Turned out they were all wrong, including Apple; the sales cycle looks more like three or even four years, much closer to a PC. (The iPad 2, from 2011, is still widely used.) After the boom in 2012, the tablet bust has been abrupt – and only those with the manufacturing and financial muscle have been able to stay the course.

Start up: Facebook’s 98 data points, smartphones v relationships, Apple’s supplier struggle, and more

Conspiracy theories! They’re so reassuring. Photo by Kenya Allmond 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. That’s decimal 10. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I went on a weeklong cruise for conspiracy theorists. It ended poorly • Popular Mechanics

Bronwen Dickey did so you don’t have to:

»Inside my orientation tote bag was a shiny blue bracelet I was supposed to wear at all times. “Makes it easier to find members of the group,” Adele said. But that wasn’t necessary. Most of the cruisers—the vacationers, not our group—were generally outfitted in bright colors and loud prints. As the days passed, a lot of them began wearing novelty captain’s hats from the gift shop. The conspiracy group, on the other hand, was mostly serious-looking senior citizens in “Infowars” T-shirts. Some of them wore casts, others walked with canes. Two relied on motorized scooters. None looked like he or she could afford to spend money frivolously. One eighty-year-old man’s toes poked through the tops of his worn leather loafers.

I headed to the windowless conference room that had been temporarily renamed the Liberty Lab.

“Welcome everyone,” said Dr. Susan Shumsky, the founder of Divine Travels and (claim to fame) one-time personal staff member of Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (Her doctorate in divinity is from the Teaching of Intuitional Metaphysics in San Diego.) “I’d like to begin with a prayer.” Nearly everything the woman wore was either bright pink or sparkled. “Breathe in divine light!” she said. We closed our eyes and inhaled. Across the hall, in Gatsby’s Casino, slot machines clanged to a piped-in soundtrack of Taylor Swift and Rihanna.

Then sixteen presenters introduced themselves and gave brief synopses of their seminars. Laura Eisenhower—great-granddaughter of Dwight!—said she had been invited in 2006 to join a secret American colony on Mars and that aliens, including some prominent U.S. politicians, are already living on earth in disguise.


At this point you’d be looking for the emergency exits. Then you realise – you’re on a ship. There’s no getting off. And indeed, it didn’t end well.
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98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you • The Washington Post

Caitlin Dewey:

»Targeting options for Facebook advertisers*
1. Location
2. Age
3. Generation
4. Gender
5. Language
6. Education level
7. Field of study
8. School
9. Ethnic affinity
10. Income and net worth
11. Home ownership and type
12. Home value
13. Property size
14. Square footage of home
15. Year home was built
16. Household composition«

And plenty more where that came from. (“Relationship status” is at 32. But they’re in no particular order.)
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The new menage a trois • Psychology Today

Hara Estroff Marano on how smartphones intrude into relationships:

»It’s not just that we have only so much time and attention. Smartphones actually transform interpersonal processes. In a much-discussed 2014 study, Virginia Tech psychologist Shalini Misra and her team monitored the conversations of 100 couples in a coffee shop and identified “the iPhone Effect”: The mere presence of a smartphone, even if not in use—just as an object in the background—degrades private conversations, making partners less willing to disclose deep feelings and less understanding of each other, she and her colleagues reported in Environment and Behavior.

With people’s consciousness divided between what’s in front of them and the immense possibility symbolized by smartphones, face-to-face interactions lose the power to fulfill. Mobile phones are “undermining the character and depth” of the intimate exchanges we cherish most, says Misra. Partners are unable to engage each other in a meaningful way.

On or off, smartphones are also a barrier to establishing new relationships, observe Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex in England. When they assigned pairs of strangers to discuss either casual or meaningful events, the presence of a smartphone, even outside the  visual field, derailed the formation of relationships—especially if the participants were asked to talk about something personally significant. Smartphones “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduced the extent to which individuals felt understanding and empathy from their partners,” the team reports in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Subversion of the conditions of intimacy, they believe, happens outside of conscious awareness.


That’s really quite disturbing, in a subtle way.
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Hackers trick facial-recognition logins with photos from Facebook (what else?) • WIRED

Lily Hay Newman:

»Earlier this month at the Usenix security conference, security and computer vision specialists from the University of North Carolina presented a system that uses digital 3-D facial models based on publicly available photos and displayed with mobile virtual reality technology to defeat facial recognition systems. A VR-style face, rendered in three dimensions, gives the motion and depth cues that a security system is generally checking for. The researchers used a VR system shown on a smartphone’s screen for its accessibility and portability.

Their attack, which successfully spoofed four of the five systems they tried, is a reminder of the downside to authenticating your identity with biometrics. By and large your bodily features remain constant, so if your biometric data is compromised or publicly available, it’s at risk of being recorded and exploited. Faces plastered across the web on social media are especially vulnerable—look no further than the wealth of facial biometric data literally called Facebook.


Very theoretical – but probably the sort of thing that could be automated.
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Linux flaw that allows anyone to hijack Internet traffic also affects 80% of Android devices • Lookout Blog

Andrew Blaich:

»Lookout recently discovered a serious exploit in TCP reported this week also impacts nearly 80% of Android, or around 1.4bn of 1.8bn devices, based on an install base reported by Statista. The vulnerability lets attackers obtain unencrypted traffic and degrade encrypted traffic to spy on victims.

The issue should be concerning to Android users as attackers are able to execute this spying without traditional “man-in-the-middle” attacks through which they must compromise the network in order to intercept the traffic.

Researchers from University of California, Riverside and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently revealed a vulnerability in TCP at the USENIX Security 2016 conference, specifically pertaining to Linux systems. The vulnerability allows an attacker to remotely spy on people who are using unencrypted traffic or degrade encrypted connections. While a man in the middle attack is not required here, the attacker still needs to know a source and destination IP address to successfully execute the attack.


One for the nation-state attackers. But still one. (Notable from that Statista chart: for 2015, presumably end 2015, it puts iOS’s installed base at 463m devices, Windows Phone at 45m, BlackBerry at 19, and “other” at 31m. The BlackBerry number sounds low, as does the Windows one.)
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From Chrome apps to the web • Chromium Blog

Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, VP product management:

»We have always believed in making the open, interoperable web as strong as possible. For a while there were certain experiences the web couldn’t provide, such as working offline, sending notifications, and connecting to hardware. We launched Chrome apps three years ago to bridge this gap.

Since then, we’ve worked with the web standards community to enable an increasing number of these use cases on the web. Developers can use powerful new APIs such as service worker and web push to build robust Progressive Web Apps that work across multiple browsers. More capabilities will continue to become available on the web.

As we continue our efforts to simplify Chrome, we believe it’s time to begin the evolution away from the Chrome apps platform. There are two types of Chrome apps: packaged apps and hosted apps. Today, approximately 1% of users on Windows, Mac and Linux actively use Chrome packaged apps, and most hosted apps are already implemented as regular web apps. We will be removing support for packaged and hosted apps from Chrome on Windows, Mac, and Linux over the next two years.


1% is still a big number. Wonder, though, how many will notice this.
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Samsung took 82% profit share of Android camp in Q2 2016 • Strategy Analytics

Linda Sui:

»According to the latest published report from our Wireless Smartphone Strategies (WSS) services: Value Share: Global Smartphone Revenue, ASP and Profit by OS by Price-Tier : Q2 2016, global smartphone industry revenues dipped -5% annually during Q2 2016. Android maintained top position as the largest OS by revenue, followed by iOS. Microsoft and Blackberry platforms made no profit at all. Tizen fell to the fifth position by volume.

Samsung led the pack among all Android OEMs by volume, value and profitability. The Korean vendor took 26% volume share, 38% value share and 82% of profit share within Android camp during Q2 2016. Huawei ranked the second spot by volume and value among all Android OEMs. Chinese OEM OPPO and vivo pushed into top 5 list thanks to surging volumes and improved ASP.


If Tizen is fifth by volume, then it shipped fewer than 0.5m handsets. That remaining 18% of profit share – shared among all the other vendors – is $820m. LG made a loss; Lenovo made a loss; Sony made a $4m profit. So that suggests Huawei, OPPO and vivo might have made some money. And Xiaomi too?
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Taiwan makers reluctant to yield to Apple requests to lower quotes • Digitimes

Cage Chao and Steve Shen:

»Apple has met resistance from makers in Taiwan’s supply chain to lower their quotes for parts and components for iPhone 7 devices, a move which aims to force Apple to discontinue its established policy of constantly squeezing profits from Taiwan suppliers.

Apple is said to have asked downstream part and component suppliers, excluding Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Largan Precision, to reduce their quotes for iPhone 7 devices by as much as 20% even though order volumes for new phones are reportedly 30% lower than those placed a year earlier.

Major downstream suppliers, notably Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) and associated companies under the Foxconn Group, have replied Apple that they could not be able to accept orders without reasonable profits at this time.

Apple is leveraging the rising handset supply chain in China to force Taiwan-based companies to reduce their quotes comparable to those offered by China-based suppliers. But it makes no sense for such a requirment since the quality of products rolled out by Taiwan- and China-based suppliers is standing at different levels.


When your orders are falling, you can’t squeeze like you did.
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New Nokia smartphones confirmed for Q4 2016 • AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs:

»The company didn’t spill any details about the specifications of its upcoming smartphones and tablets, nor their targeted price points. However, a rumor that appeared earlier in the year suggests that Nokia is planning two premium phones, which will be powered by Android 7.0 Nougat. The Nokia smartphones are reported to feature 5.2 and 5.5-inch QHD OLED displays, a Snapdragon 820 processor, a 22.6MP camera, and a metal body with water and dust resistance.

Along with high-end smartphones, HMD is expected to unveil two new Nokia feature phones in the next six months. Nokia also completed a $191m acquisition of Withings in May, opening up an avenue into the connected halth market. Clearly Nokia is working to get itself back into the smartphone game, but are you excited to see what the company has to offer after all this time?


So this time Nokia *is* going to go Android. Let’s see how that goes.
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The meaning of trust in the age of AirBnB • Tim Harford

Tim Harford:

»Prosperity not only requires trust, it also encourages it. Why bother to steal when you are already comfortable? An example of poverty breeding mistrust comes from Colin Turnbull’s ethnographic study The Mountain People (US), about the Ik, a displaced tribe ravaged by Ugandan drought in the 1960s. If Turnbull’s account is itself trustworthy (it may not be), in the face of extreme hunger, the Ik had abandoned any pretence at ethical behaviour and would lie, cheat and steal whenever possible. Parents would abandon their own children, and children betray their own parents. Turnbull’s story had a horrific logic. The Ik had no hope of a future, so they saw no need to protect their reputation for fair dealing.

One of the underrated achievements of the modern world has been to develop ways to extend the circle of trust by depersonalising it. Trust used to be a very personal thing: you would trust your friends or friends of friends. But when I withdrew €400 from a cash machine, it was not because the bank trusted me but because it could verify that my bank would repay the money. This is a cold corporate miracle.

Over the past few years, people have been falling in love with a hybrid model that allows a personal reputation to work even between strangers. One example is Airbnb, which lets people stay in the homes of complete strangers, a considerable exercise of trust on both sides. We successfully used it on another stop in our Bavarian holiday. Airbnb makes personal connections but uses online reviews to keep people honest: after our stay, we reviewed our host and he reviewed us.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: counting Apple’s people, Uber gets trucky, fake Instagram billions, Xiaomi’s trouble, and more

Longer battery life is coming to smartphones – honestly. Photo by astio on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Refrigerate after opening. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Doubling battery power of consumer electronics • MIT News

»“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery. Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long,” says Hu, who co-invented the battery at MIT and is now CEO of [MIT spinout] SolidEnergy.

The battery essentially swaps out a common battery anode material, graphite, for very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which can hold more ions — and, therefore, provide more energy capacity. Chemical modifications to the electrolyte also make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable and safer to use. Moreover, the batteries are made using existing lithium ion manufacturing equipment, which makes them scalable.

In October 2015, SolidEnergy demonstrated the first-ever working prototype of a rechargeable lithium metal smartphone battery with double energy density, which earned them more than $12 million from investors. At half the size of the lithium ion battery used in an iPhone 6, it offers 2.0 amp hours, compared with the lithium ion battery’s 1.8 amp hours.

SolidEnergy plans to bring the batteries to smartphones and wearables in early 2017, and to electric cars in 2018. But the first application will be drones, coming this November.


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Apple hits roadblocks in cutting watch ties to iPhone • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Alex Webb and Scott Moritz:

»Ever since its inception, network carriers have been urging Apple to release a version of the watch that can connect to data networks independent of the iPhone, and the Cupertino, California-based company had been working to untether it from the handset, one of the people said. As it is now the watch must be synced with an iPhone to download most types of content and consistently track location.

Apple had been in talks this year with mobile phone carriers in the U.S. and Europe to add cellular connectivity to the watch, according to people familiar with the talks. A cellular chip would have theoretically allowed the product to download sports score alerts, e-mail and mapping information while out of an iPhone’s reach.

During the discussions, Apple executives expressed concern that the cellular models may not be ready for release this year and that the feature may be pushed back to a later generation, according to the people. Apple warned that, even on an aggressive schedule, the earliest possible shipment time-frame for cellular models would have been this December, one of the people said.

The source of the delay is that current cellular chips consume too much battery life, reducing the product’s effectiveness and limiting user appeal, according to three of the people. Apple has begun studying lower-power cellular data chips for future smartwatch generations.


I bet the carriers want Apple to have a phone-independent watch. Think of the data charges they could ring up. (Apple would use a software SIM, as in the iPad – no fiddling about putting them in.) Update: it’s been pointed out to me that the carriers would offer a special linked plan with your phone – as happens now with Android Wear 3G watches. Otherwise you get two different phone numbers for your watch and phone, which is sub-optimal.
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Counting Apple’s customers • Asymco

Horace Dediu:

»Even though it has not happened yet, the trend is pretty clear. Apple will at some point in time have a billion paying customers.

What is more significant that the specific count is that these customers mostly chose to be customers individually. Some may be have been given the products as gifts, but the vast majority bought the items for themselves. Apple benefitted from hundreds of million of individual purchase decisions.

Furthermore, having made the decision to purchase, chances are that they will do so again. Apple customers are a recurring revenue. In fact, it’s fairly easy to calculate that being an Apple customer is equivalent to spending about $1/day on its products and services, indefinitely.

Apple is not there yet, but a billion dollars a day from a billion customers is not inconceivable. That would be quite an achievement.


The graphs are worth casting a glance at.
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Our next chapter: Otto joins Uber • Official Otto Blog

»When we founded Otto, we committed to rethinking transportation. Today we are taking a leap forward by joining the Uber team to deliver on that promise.

Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are.

At Otto, we believe that drivers shouldn’t have to choose between safety and earnings. Our self-driving trucks will allow drivers to rest while their truck is moving, and our platform will ensure drivers can easily find loads and are paid fairly.

By combining these two technologies, we can create a freight network that is constantly learning and improving. Each truck that joins the network can provide valuable information that makes all other trucks safer and more efficient. In turn, drivers get paid more and shippers get a more reliable service. Self-driving trucks together with a marketplace create a virtuous cycle where everyone benefits.


Clearly, Uber’s aims go far beyond a simple taxi service now. Taken together with the news that it’s going to start testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh this month, we can begin to discern the shape of future commercial transport. There don’t seem to be a lot of human drivers in it.
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The Rich Kid of Instagram who isn’t quite what she seems • The Guardian

Marina Hyde:

»Lost in Showbiz is intrigued by the rise of a sublebrity by the name of Julia Stakhiva, who is featured in an absolute defeat of an E4 show called Rich Kids of Instagram. A hymn to the eye-watering conspicuous consumption of various young idiots, it has launched Julia on the scene as a “billionaire’s daughter”. She is given to dispensing unpleasant aphorisms for attention, such as “Anyone can be rich but not everyone can be beautiful”, and “I’m not suitable for an office job because of how well I dress and how educated I am”. Her most frequent refrain is a variation on the notion that she was born a billionaire’s daughter, and can only live a billionaire’s lifestyle.

If I have a cavil – and really, it’s such a tiny one – it is that until just a few weeks ago, Julia rented a room in my mother-in-law’s flat. And via that classic billionaire accommodation hook-up,

Indeed, it was interesting to discover that during a holiday absence by said owner, Julia had invited the cameras into the property, told some whoppers in order to sign the release forms, and used it to form the backdrop to her Rich Kids shenanigans. Various photoshoots also seem to have taken place. It is hard to pick a standout, but for me it’s probably edged by the snap of her reclining on my mother-in-law’s bed, stroking the latter’s cat in a casually proprietorial fashion. It’s like the bears in the old story ask: “Who’s been posing for the newspapers on MY BED?”


Ooooops. Rule 1: don’t pretend to be a billionaire’s daughter while using property owned by the relative of a newspaper reporter. Make sure to read it for the article’s killer final sentence.
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This is what’s missing from journalism right now • Mother Jones

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery:

»Shane Bauer’s prison project took more than 18 months. That included four months in the prison and more than a year of additional reporting, fact-checking, video production, and legal review, including work by more than a dozen other people on the MoJo staff. And that was the only way we could have gotten that story: By definition, incarceration is invisible to most people, and that’s doubly true for private prisons. Recordkeeping is spotty, public disclosure is limited, visits are difficult. The only people who can describe what really goes on inside are prisoners, guards, and officials, all of whom have a strong interest in spinning the story. To get at the truth, we had to take time, and go deep.

And we had to take considerable financial risk. Conservatively, counting just the biggest chunks of staff time that went into it, the prison story cost roughly $350,000. The banner ads that appeared on the article brought in $5,000, give or take. Had we been really in your face with ads, we could have doubled or tripled that figure—but it would have been a pain for you, and still only a drop in the bucket for us.

MoJo did have support from three foundations for our criminal justice reporting. That’s amazing—but foundation grants only go so far.


And what did they achieve? Nothing much, just changed US policy on the use of private prisons. Serious reporting has a problem. Talking of which…
link to this extract to end operations next week • Gawker

JK Trotter:

»After nearly fourteen years of operation, will be shutting down next week. The decision to close Gawker comes days after Univision successfully bid $135m for Gawker Media’s six other websites, and four months after the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed his clandestine legal campaign against the company.

Nick Denton, the company’s outgoing CEO, informed current staffers of the site’s fate on Thursday afternoon, just hours before a bankruptcy court in Manhattan will decide whether to approve Univision’s bid for Gawker Media’s other assets. Staffers will soon be assigned to other editorial roles, either at one of the other six sites or elsewhere within Univision. Near-term plans for’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized.


Pour one out; Gawker may have been infuriating at times, and completely missed the mark at others, but it did some really important balloon-bursting over the pomposity of people in tech that many of the mainstream sites just wouldn’t touch. However it never stood a chance against a billionaire determined to fund lawsuits to shut it down.
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What went wrong for Xiaomi • IBT

David Gilbert:

»Xiaomi’s meteoric rise was based on one simple fact: It was able to produce smartphones with premium hardware and features which cost a fraction of those on sale from Apple or Samsung. However that advantage rapidly vanished when multiple manufacturers followed suit and produced their own smartphones which offered premium specs at low prices.
However, unlike Xiaomi, its competitors were able to offer something new and something innovative. Vivo offered curved screens; Oppo and OnePlus dangled rapid charging; LeEco offered exclusive content; and Huawei threw in dual lens cameras and fingerprint sensors.

“I think Xiaomi’s current performance and growth in the smartphone space has stalled, as competitors with better R&D, vertical manufacturing expertise, and a wider distribution and geographic footprint has surpassed the brand,” Neil Shah, analyst with CounterPoint Research told IBTimes UK. “Xiaomi’s inability to innovate independently is one of the key reasons.”

Another issue for Xiaomi is its continued focus on the ultra-budget end of the market with products like its RedMi series, despite clear evidence that Chinese customers were willing to pay more for their smartphones…

…data from CounterPoint Research suggests that up to 85% of the company’s revenue comes from smartphones, while another major source of revenue comes from its software and services division.
This means that investments in the likes of Ninebot, the Chinese company that bought Segway, have yet to pay off — and it is unclear if they ever will.

As Steve Millward wrote on the Tech in Asia blog, “Xiaomi is in deep s**t”, and it is difficult to see a way back. “I don’t see much of a recovery coming for Xiaomi in the future,” Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research concludes.


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Verizon offered to install marketers’ apps on phones • AdAge

Garett Sloane:

»The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said.

Verizon started courting advertisers with app installations late last year, pitching retail and finance brands among others, agency executives said.

It has only offered the installations on Android phones, because Google’s software is open for carriers to customize. Apple controls its platform more tightly.

The proposed deals with brands ensure that their apps download to only new devices when consumers activate the phones and their software for the first time.

Verizon has 75 million smartphone post-paid subscribers and activates about 10 million new phones a quarter. Android phones command more than 50% of the U.S. market, according to ComScore.

It’s unclear whether Verizon sold any guaranteed app installations.


Cheaper, the article points out, than comparable pay-per-install campaigns on Facebook or Google, which can cost around $5. I’m not sure this is so terrible, as people can delete the app. But to judge from some of the coverage, it’s AWFUL.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Issie Lapowsky of Wired is looking into the “Rantic survey” from the other day. I think there’s a deeper story. Stay tuned.