Start up: rogue algorithms, Luckey unlucky for Oculus, Snapglasses!, robots that see, and more


Always wondering who might be buying it. Photo by Chris Corneschi on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. No debate there. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Kansas couple who live in a ‘digital hell’ sue mapping company MaxMind • Fusion

Kashmir Hill (who wrote the original story about how a family was being hassled by police and others claiming their house was the location shown on a map of Bad Things):

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“At that time, we picked a latitude and longitude that was in the center of the country, and it didn’t occur to us that people would use the database to attempt to locate people down to a household level,” MaxMind co-founder Thomas Mather told me earlier this year. As with Pokémon Go, the company didn’t realize its digital map of the country would have consequences for the people located at the real-world coordinates.

When I wrote the first story, I spoke with Joyce Taylor, the 82-year-old owner of the property, who also suffered from the digital fall-out. Her renters, the Arnolds, did not talk with me, because as their lawyer Randall Rathbun explains, “they are very private people.”

In their lawsuit, the Arnolds say that MaxMind’s conduct “placed them in a false light and invaded their privacy,” resulting in “great emotional distress, fear for their safety, and humiliation.” The damages amount to at least $75,000. Rathbun estimates that it will take at least a year for the case to go to trial.

MaxMind did not respond to a request for comment. But after my story, they changed the default location for the U.S. in their database. It is now conveniently located in a nearby lake.

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At Twitter, who makes decision to sell? • The Information

Martin Peers and Steve Nellis:

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reports on Friday of bidding interest in Twitter could be speculation stirred up by investment bankers looking for a deal. But the question of who decides remains crucial.

Is it Mr. Dorsey’s call? He only owns about 2% of Twitter stock, after putting about a third of his stake into an employee equity incentive program this past spring, securities filings show.

That ranks him well below several other people, including co-founder Evan Williams, who owns 6.2%, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who has said he owns about 4% and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia who owns another 4.99%, according to filings. Twitter doesn’t have a dual-class voting structure, so Mr. Dorsey doesn’t have supervoting shares that would inflate his voting power.

What he surely does have, however, is influence on the board. And it’s the board, not shareholders, that will consider any offer that comes in. Nearly half of the directors now serving are those who agreed to put Mr. Dorsey back into the CEO Job last September. The other half, including BET CEO Debra Lee and Pepsico CFO Hugh Johnston, have joined since then. It’s a good bet, therefore, that Mr. Dorsey has the loyalty of much of the board

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Apple offers mixed signals on auto strategy • FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

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[Last] week, it emerged that Apple had approached McLaren Technology Group, the British supercar engineer and Formula 1 team owner, about a potential investment or acquisition over the summer. While McLaren has denied that any talks are still in progress, the news follows reports in the German press that Apple had previously tried to strike partnerships with BMW and Daimler.

Traditional automakers might be comforted that Apple felt unable to break into their industry without the help of an established manufacturer — albeit the maker of expensive sports cars.

Nonetheless, in Silicon Valley, the car market is seen as ripe for disruption. “The analogies between what happened to the phone industry and what is going to happen to cars are very close at every piece of the value chain,” says Benedict Evans, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “The differentiation became the design and then all the value moved into software.”

Even as it is rethinking its strategy, Apple’s commitment to entering the automotive industry seems undiminished. Its annual R&D budget has doubled to $10bn in the three years since Project Titan started hiring hundreds of employees.

“Something has changed but I don’t think there is a lack of interest in the car business at Apple,” says Horace Dediu, a tech industry analyst who writes at his site Asymco.

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‘Rogue algorithms’ and the dark side of big data • Knowledge@Wharton

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In the wake of a financial crisis that was at the very least exacerbated by loose credit, banks are understandably trying to be more rigorous in their assessment of risk. An early risk assessment algorithm, the well-known FICO score, is not without its problems; but for the most part, [author of “Weapons of Math Destruction” Cathy] O’Neil writes, it is an example of a healthy mathematical model. It is relatively transparent; it is regulated; and it has a clear feedback loop. If default rates don’t jibe with what the model predicts, credit agencies can tweak them.

In recent years, however, a new, pseudoscientific generation of scoring has proliferated wildly. “Today we’re added up in every conceivable way as statisticians and mathematicians patch together a mishmash of data, from our zip codes and internet surfing patterns to our recent purchases.” Crunching this data generates so-called “e-scores” used by countless companies to determine our creditworthiness, among other qualities. Yet unlike FICO scores, they are “arbitrary, unaccountable, unregulated, and often unfair.”

A huge “data marketplace” has emerged in which credit scores and e-scores are used in a variety of applications, from predatory advertising to hiring screening. In this sea of endless data, the author contends, the line between legitimate and specious measures has become hopelessly blurred. As one startup proclaims on its website, “All data is credit data.”

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Personal blogging has declined in popularity but it will never be obsolete • The Pool

Emma Beddington:

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the trend is clear: I delete, regretfully, another voice lost, and I almost never add. What about my own blog, eight years old and still staggering on? My posting is sporadic at best and the traffic reflects that.  When I don’t post for weeks, the pressure to write something “good enough” to make up for my absence feels paralysing, so I dither and feel guilty. Why do I bother – who reads blogs now anyway? Is it time to pull the plug? 

Blogging is dead: I’ve been reading about its demise for years. The blogs that are thriving have become businesses: “lifestyle websites”, carefully curated, monetised and cross-channel promoted. Mommy blogging – the kind with giveaways and reviews – is still alive and kicking too, but old-school personal blogs – visually unlovely, text-heavy – are an endangered species, heading towards extinction.

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Emma’s a friend, who our family got to know through her wonderful blog; you can tell a lot about someone from their blog. (Pause for reflection.) Blogs have been endangered since they stopped growing, but something about her sort of blog – intimate, funny, personal – feels eternal.
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Developers ditching Oculus over Luckey’s pro-Trump memes • Tom’s Guide

Andrew Freedman:

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On social media, indie developers are denouncing Luckey and his involvement, with some threatening to drop Oculus Rift support from games until Luckey steps down or is removed from his job.

Polytron, the makers of the hit indie game Fez, put out a statement on Pastebin and on Twitter that it won’t support the Oculus Rift with its new game, SuperHyperCube due to Luckey’s funding the pro-Trump group.

“In a political climate as fragile and horrifying as this one, we cannot tacitly endorse these actions by supporting Luckey or his platform,” the team wrote.

“Hey @oculus, @PalmerLuckey’s actions are unacceptable. NewtonVR will not be supporting the Oculus Touch as long as he is employed there,” developer Tomorrow Today Labs wrote on Twitter. NewtonVR is a free physics-based tool for VR developers, and Oculus Touch is the VR company’s upcoming controllers to support its Rift headset.

Developer Scruta Games also voiced discontent on Twitter: “Until @PalmerLuckey steps down from his position at @oculus, we will be cancelling Oculus support for our games.”

Late Friday night, Luckey released a statement on Facebook:

“I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners,” he wrote. “The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views.”

He claimed to have contributed $10,000 to Nimble America, which he said he wrote “had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards.”

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So yup, he used his money to contribute to pro-Trump propaganda. He says his vote is going to neither, which almost feels like it makes it worse.
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Snapchat’s 10 second video glasses are real and cost $130 • TechCrunch

Fitz Tepper:

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Snapchat’s long-rumored camera glasses are actually real. The startup’s first foray into hardware will be a pair of glasses called “Spectacles” and will go on sale this fall for $129.99, as first reported by The WSJ and confirmed to TechCrunch by the newly rebranded Snap Inc..

The glasses will only come in one size, but will be available in three colors – black, teal and coral.

To start recording you tap a button on the side of the glasses. Video capture will mimic Snapchat’s app, meaning you can only capture 10 seconds of video at once. This video will sync wirelessly to your phone, presumably making it available to share as a snap.

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I think Tepper meant to write that the glasses are “actually in prototype”. It’s a long road to sales in volume. The Wall Street Journal’s Seth Stevenson had the scoop, which says that “Spectacles’ camera uses a 115-degree-angle lens, wider than a typical smartphone’s and much closer to the eyes’ natural field of view. The video it records is circular, more like human vision.”

I’ve never thought of my field of vision as circular, to be honest. More like a broad oval. Also, Spiegel looks like Brains from Thunderbirds in those glasses. (Also, you can get glasses that do something like that from Amazon already.)
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Doubts about digital ads rise over new revelations • WSJ

Suzanne Vranica and Mike Shields:

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Despite their reservations, marketers will have little choice but to keep increasing spending on digital ads, especially on mobile devices, if they hope to reach consumers spending more time away from traditional media.

In Facebook’s case, the company disclosed that the metric it reported for two years for the average time users spent watching videos was artificially inflated, because it only factored in video views of more than three seconds. Big ad agencies pressed Facebook for more details and ad buyer Publicis Media, a division of Publicis Groupe SA, was told that the Facebook error likely overestimated average time spent viewing videos by 60% to 80%, The Wall Street Journal reported.

On Friday, Facebook apologized for the erroneous video metric. “While this is only one of the many metrics marketers look at, we take any mistake seriously,” said David Fischer, vice president of business and marketing partnerships, in a Facebook post.

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Here’s, by contrast, is what one Overspill reader who works in marketing told me about the Facebook video stuff:

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Facebook video ads. They are amazing, and here’s why.

It’s true a lot of views are for barely seconds as most user scroll by. A view on Facebook seems be be costing me between 0.1p to 2p. If views were as expensive as YouTube ads (which are cheap, but far from this cheap), it would be terrible.

In practice, I’m getting a bunch of people scroll past, and a minority watching a sensible amount. Two things happen:

1. We still get to identify a great audience for a great price. I had a video over five minutes for one client, and when you look at the cost per view for people watching 95% of the video, it worked out at just under 30p per view. That’s an amazing price for getting someone to sit down and hear the ‘pitch’ from the business owner for five minutes. And everyone who watches less than 95% is, in this scenario, effectively a free view,

2. We can ‘retarget’ people who watch a certain length (10 seconds, 25%, 50%, 75%, 95%, and 100%). This is huge.

This means video lets me create a quality engaged audience for a great price. Our real advertising starts when we’ve built a retargeting audience using the awesomely cheap video ads at the start of this funnel.

So yes, viewability is pathetically low on Facebook, but the goal isn’t to get everyone to watch. It’s to get our real audience to identify themselves by showing an interest.

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UK news publishers say digital news ‘not sustainable’ because of Google and Facebook and urge Government action • Press Gazette

Freddy Mayhew:

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The News Media Association has called on the Government to protect news publishers who are investing in original online journalism from those who capitalise on the content without sharing the expense.

In a briefing to ministers, the news publishers’ association detailed what it saw as the threat to news media organisations from ad-blocking and the industry’s “relationship” with digital giants Facebook and Google.

The NMA said the existing model was “not sustainable”, adding: “The value chain of digital news has become wildly out of step with the contribution that each player makes”.

“Significant value is being captured by companies who do not invest in original journalism at the expense of those who do,” it said.

According to figures from the Advertising Association, the “internet” took 43% of the overall UK ad spend last year, up 17.3% year-on-year, while the share of this going to newspapers and magazines declined.

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BAD “the internet”.

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the NMA highlighted the news media’s role as a creator of “highly sought after news content” which “can be counted on to provide the subject matter of the country’s democratic conversation”.

[The NMA] added: “The online news environment is characterised by aggregation of news stories by third party players who repackage, serve, link to and monetise that content.

“In particular, Google dominates these activities in search and Facebook dominates in social.

“There are potential benefits for news publishers in working with them, not least in terms of reaching new audiences. However, the situation is far from win-win and significant value is being captured by companies who do not invest in original journalism at the expense of those who do.”

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Perhaps related: Guardian US lost $15.85m on revenues of $15.5m in the 12 months to April 2016 (that is, spent $31.35m – two dollars spent for every dollar of revenue).

Also worth reading: The comments on Roy Greenslade’s article about this topic – Google saying it doesn’t have ads on Google News (true, except search drives more stories), and a commenter saying that they found all sorts of copyrighted content illicitly uploaded to YouTube, being monetised by Google, and:

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“If I was doing this on bootleg DVDs or offering these through my own website what would happen to me? Why does Google seem to have a get out of jail free card?”

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How to build a robot that “sees” with $100 and TensorFlow • O’Reilly Media

Lukas Biewald:

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Running tensorflow/contrib/pi_examples/label_image/gen/bin/label_image on an image from the camera will output the top five guesses. The model works surprisingly well on a wide range of inputs, but it’s clearly missing an accurate “prior,” or a sense of what things it’s likely to see, and there are quite a lot of objects missing from the training data. For example, it consistently recognizes my laptop, even at funny angles, but if I point it at my basket of loose wires it consistently decides that it’s looking at a toaster. If the camera is blocked and it gets a dark or blurry image it usually decides that it’s looking at nematodes—clearly an artifact of the data it was trained on.

Finally, I connected the output to the Flite open source software package that does text to speech, so the robot can tell everyone what it’s seeing.

Here are my two homemade robots running deep learning to do object recognition.

From 2003 to 2005, I worked in the Stanford Robotics lab, where the robots cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and couldn’t perform object recognition nearly as well as my robots. I’m excited to put this software on my drone and never have to look for my keys again.

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Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers – sources • Reuters

Yoshiyasu Shida:

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n a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

Under those deals, surplus stock of older iPhones is kept out of the market and sent to overseas markets, such as Hong Kong, according to industry sources.

The carriers, locked in a costly battle to win consumers who covet iPhones, also bulk purchase the Apple smartphones and sell them at a discount, which gives the U.S. company an advantage over rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co, according to the two government officials and an industry source.

Both iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge model sell for 93,960 yen ($932) under Docomo’s main service package without any contract, but the cost for the iPhone drops sharply to 38,232 yen with a two-year contract, while the Galaxy falls to 54,432 yen.

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There have been similar rumblings about Apple and carriers in Europe, though so far it has come to nothing.
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Yahoo! This is personal • Joe Leech

The aforementioned Joe Leech:

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Yahoo was the first website I ever visited. My first real email was a Yahoo! email address. In 1997 I loved Yahoo! and everything it did. For many years it was the #1 company I wanted to work for.

Then somehow I pissed Yahoo! off and it became personal.

My very first website in a friendly welcoming place called Geoctities. I loved Geocities, I made lifelong friends there. Yahoo! learned this and bought it in 1999 taking their time, playing with me but eventually shutting Geocities down in 2009.

The crusade against me had started.

Yahoo! 1-0 mrjoe

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It’s a match of rather more than one half.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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