Start up: trolling Wikileaks, Apple car slows, Obama on Silicon Valley, is Google AMP your friend?, and more

Facial recognition systems depends on knowing how much faces vary. Photo by TheSeafarer on Flickr.

Last chance: it’s tonight.

Going to be in London on October 18th? I’ll be giving a talk: “Social Networks and the Truth“:

How many people do you follow on Facebook or Twitter whose political views you fundamentally disagree with?

It’s probably in the single digits. Yet there are millions of them out there. So why aren’t you following them? And if you aren’t, does that make their views wrong – or yours?

What happens when an election cycle or a referendum runs around opposing camps of social media opinions? How important are news media in such a situation? And would you believe that being online is polarising us, rather than making us more willing to listen to other viewpoints?

This talk will explore that – and its consequences.

Some tickets left; £10 secures your place. Discounts available:

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 a facial recognition mismatch can ruin your life • The Intercept

Ava Kofman:

»In 2009, following the National Academy of Sciences’ call for stricter scientific standards to underpin forensic techniques, the FBI formed the Facial Identification Scientific Working Group to recommend uniform standards and best practices for the subjective practice of facial comparison. But the working group’s mission soon ran up against an objective difficulty: Like some other forensic sciences, facial comparison lacks a statistical basis from which its conclusions may be drawn.

This is, in part, because no one knows the probability of a given feature’s distinctiveness. As a FAVIAU slide on the “Individualization of People from Images” explained, “Lack of statistics means: conclusions are ultimately opinion-based.” To remedy this flaw, a 2008 FBI report recommended that the agency undertake research to quantify the frequency of facial features. But such efforts, which have been underway since at least the late 19th century, have so far proved inconclusive.

“What is similar enough? Nobody can tell you. It’s in the eye of the beholder,” said Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London. “You need to know that if this person has a right nostril bigger than the left nostril, are the chances one out of a million or is it every second person?”


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Google has unleashed Factivism to smite the untruthy • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

»A year ago Google floated the idea that it should now act as an arbiter, a kind of Ministry of Truth, by ranking search results according to its own metric of accuracy. Now, just in time for the 2016 Elections, Google News is going to give factivism a lift by promoting “fact checking” sites into news clusters, and giving “fact checking” stories a special tag. The tag will indicate that you can believe the tagged stories a bit more than you can the others. Not surprisingly, this has caused some disquiet.

For a start, “fact checking” sites are just a bit more subtle about advancing an agenda than other PR or activism hubs. Is it sufficient to self-certify as a fact-checking site to gain the promotion, and boost in attention? Who checks the fact checkers?

One fatal flaw is that it supposes the existence of a Brahmin caste, a Priesthood of dispassionate fact-checkers, who will deliver a verdict everybody will trust. Such a Priesthood doesn’t exist, and given what a decade of dubious appeals to authority, with the media complicit in these exaggerated and often apocalyptic tales – people are not likely trust what it says anyway.


I’m still wondering how Google knows whether a site using the fact-checking schema really checks facts.
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Could Limited Ad Tracking make Apple the largest ‘adblocker’? • MIDiA Research

Karol Severin:

»You may have noticed the setting on your iPhones and iPads called ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ – LAT (Setting➡️Privacy➡️Advertising➡️Limit Ad Tracking), or if you are most people, you may not have. Toggle it on, and much of your user data tracking for ad purposes will be disabled.

If you’re wondering what it is and why I’m writing about it, in short this means that ad companies are unable provide as individually targeted ads to LAT users as they can when LAT is off. In other words, they can’t sell their best products to their customers that are using the iOS version of their apps. This creates an ecosystem-within-an-ecosystem dilemma. This forces them to make a choice:

1) Sell a sub-par ad experience to LAT users to avoid revenue decline, but at the risk of annoying them even more


2) Stop serving ads to LAT users altogether. As crazy as this may sound, this option could make sense for Facebook and Google.


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The vigilante faking Wikileaks docs to dupe trump trolls • The Daily Beast

Ben Collins:

»If you’re not paying attention, it looks like a smoking gun—a leaked expense report tying Hillary Clinton to the media’s most powerful groups.

The numbers from the supposedly leaked document—printed out and marked up with a highlighter, for good measure—are damning: $75,000 directly from the Clinton Foundation to polling firm Public Policy Polling. Over $333,000 sent, somehow, to the Black Panthers. Then the kicker: $30,000 to the “Sharia Law Center.”

Of course, the whole thing is totally fake. The header for the page, “Voter Suppression,” probably should’ve given it right away. But for Trump supporters on Twitter and Facebook, a Fox News contributor, and even radio hosts like Hal Turner, it is still very much real to them.

Chris from Massachusetts (who declined to give his last name) got ’em again. He’s spent all week trying to assuage anyone responding to his tweet with doubts about the paper’s veracity that it is the truest WikiLeak of all.


Anyone who thinks this is funny – including the creator – is seriously misguided. There are people who will believe this stuff, and hang decisions on it. At a time when there’s enough misinformation around, trolling doesn’t help anyone. How would “Chris” feel if his pranks led to Trump being elected?
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Google’s AI can now learn from its own memory independently • ScienceAlert

David Nield:

»Another example the researchers give is a public transit system, like the London Underground. Once it’s learned the basics, the DNC can figure out more complex relationships and routes without any extra help, relying on what it’s already got in its memory banks.

In other words, it’s functioning like a human brain, taking data from memory (like tube station positions) and figuring out new information (like how many stops to stay on for).

Of course, any smartphone mapping app can tell you the quickest way from one tube station to another, but the difference is that the DNC isn’t pulling this information out of a pre-programmed timetable – it’s working out the information on its own, and juggling a lot of data in its memory all at once.

The approach means a DNC system could take what it learned about the London Underground and apply parts of its knowledge to another transport network, like the New York subway.

The system points to a future where artificial intelligence could answer questions on new topics, by deducing responses from prior experiences, without needing to have learned every possible answer beforehand.


This feels significant, and cloud-the-size-of-a-man’s-hand worrying.
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Some comment on the Twitter buyout rumours • Bronte Capital

John Hempton, writing before everyone decided they weren’t interested in buying Twitter any more:

»Losses seem stubbornly stuck at half a billion per annum. That is real money – just burnt – and burnt by a business that is already established.

In other words costs have gone up by $1.5 billion give or take something. That is billion with a b.

Now if costs were rising that fast and the service were noticeably improving and engagemet growing then you could be tolerant. Making money is far less important in a growing tech company than increasing your relevance and the moat that surrounds your business. (Amazon is the leading example of a company which increases the moat every day.) The short-hand for that thinking is that revenue follows relevance.

But – as a pretty dedicated tweeter (with almost 20 thousand followers) – I have noticed almost no changes in twitter that improve my user experience. It is almost impossible to find out what they spend that $1.5 billion extra per annum on. I gather there are some improvements in the monetisation side but this is just a website – and it does roughly what it did in 2012 – and but spends well over a billion dollars more to do the same thing. [From my perspective the marginal improvement is that I am seeing fewer failed-to-load pages… but that is it.]

Twitter has become a parody of bad Silicon Valley management – the sort of management that existed in the dot-com boom where quite literally burning shareholder funds was considered a mark of innovation.


Hempton reckons it needs a good ol’ Gordon Gekko (aka “Wall Street Bastard”) to buy it in a LBO and shake it into shape. Not sure that’s going to happen now, but it’s fun to imagine.

(Via Ben Thompson’s Stratechery newsletter.)
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Remarks by the President in opening remarks and panel discussion at White House Frontiers Conference •

This, from Barack Obama:

»The final thing I’ll say is that government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy.  This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view.  And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.

So sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things.  And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences – setting aside my Syria and Yemen portfolio – then I think those suggestions are terrific.  (Laughter and applause.)  That’s not, by the way, to say that there aren’t huge efficiencies and improvements that have to be made.

But the reason I say this is sometimes we get, I think, in the scientific community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked.  No, it’s not inherently wrecked; it’s just government has to care for, for example, veterans who come home. That’s not on your balance sheet, that’s on our collective balance sheet, because we have a sacred duty to take care of those veterans.  And that’s hard and it’s messy, and we’re building up legacy systems that we can’t just blow up.


The whole speech and discussion are worth a look, especially his point about accepting scientific findings and fact: “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny that Sputnik was up there.”
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How Apple scaled back its titanic plan to take on Detroit • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb:

»Apple has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project.

Hundreds of members of the car team, which comprises about 1,000 people, have been reassigned, let go, or have left of their own volition in recent months, the people said, asking not to be identified because the moves aren’t public.

New leadership of the initiative, known internally as Project Titan, has re-focused on developing an autonomous driving system that gives Apple flexibility to either partner with existing carmakers, or return to designing its own vehicle in the future, the people also said. Apple has kept staff numbers in the team steady by hiring people to help with the new focus, according to another person.

Apple executives have given the car team a deadline of late next year to prove the feasibility of the self-driving system and decide on a final direction, two of the people said. Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr declined to comment.


Doing prototypes is easy, but it’s the go-to-market strategy for a “car” that’s so difficult. Do you build it yourself (on contract)? With a partner? How do you sell it in the first or second case? How do you make it special? Who will want it? How much will they pay? What’s the correct scale to aim at? Those are the question that have to be answered alongside the simple technological ones – which aren’t trivial either.
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Apple poaches Imagination Technologies COO • Business Insider

Kif Leswing:

»The biggest hire is John Metcalfe, whose LinkedIn profile says he’s been working as a senior director at Apple since July. He was Imagination Technology’s COO for a decade before that, and was nearly a 20-year veteran of the company. Last October, Apple hired Imagination’s VP of Hardware Engineering to be a director based in the United Kingdom.

The moves are notable as Apple is reportedly the third-largest shareholder in Imagination Technologies.

Other recent hires from Imagination Technologies now work for Apple in London in positions like GPU Architect, Engineering Manager, FE Hardware Design, and Design Manager. The hires worked on Imagination Technology’s PowerVR product, which is what is included in the iPhone.

Six technical employees from Imagination Technologies have joined Apple since September. The hires may be working on GPU technology in Greater London. Apple has long been rumored to be working on its own GPU design but it has never been confirmed. The company has a GPU-focused office in Orlando, Florida as well.


Neil Cybart (of Above Avalon) reckons this is Apple bringing GPU design expertise in-house for future designs. Pretty hard to read it any other way, after Apple declined to buy Imagination Technologies in March. It’s basically picking people off now.
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A women’s history of Silicon Valley • Medium

Jessi Hempel:

»On a recent Sunday morning, a friend texted me a photo from the checkout line of a Palo Alto Whole Foods. It was the cover of a Newsweek special issue entitled “Founding Fathers of Silicon Valley.” Seven faces graced the cover: Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. David Packard. Bill Hewlett. Jeff Bezos. Elon Musk. Steve Jobs.

Three words for you, Newsweek: What the hell?

Ok, put aside the fact that three of those men don’t live in the Bay Area. At least one of them wasn’t born when the valley’s orchards were first being transformed into ground zero for the computer revolution. And any history that holds up seven white men as the founders of the computer revolution obscures the true collective nature of innovation.

Most important, it eliminates a valuable recruiting tool for getting women into tech, and for propelling them to more powerful positions: representation. As Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund said in the 2011 documentary Miss Representations: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”


Her list of founding mothers of Silicon Valley is terrific. (And that Newsweek one is appalling. Jeff Bezos?!)
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Adspend on mobile display overtakes PC for first time • Internet Advertising Bureau UK

»The PwC / Internet Advertising Bureau UK Digital Adspend report also shows the amount spent on mobile display ads (£802m) overtook that of PC and tablet display (£762m) for the first time. This significant development reflects the rapid growth of time spent on smartphones.

Total mobile ad spend, including search and classifieds, increased by 56.1% in the first half of 2016. Consequently, 36p in every £1 spent on digital advertising now goes to mobile, up from 4p just five years ago.

“Mobile use today is more akin to a computer than merely a phone, as people increasingly rely on them as their information, entertainment and communications hub,” said the IAB UK’s Chief Strategy Officer, Tim Elkington. “People now spend more time online on their mobile than they do on a computer. Consequently, marketers devote more ad spend to mobile as they increasingly cotton on to the fact that people essentially carry an ad platform with them wherever they are.”


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Google may be stealing your mobile traffic • Alex Kras

Kras tried AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) – the Google-ordained “faster HTML” – for his site, but realised something was off:

»Unfortunately, in the process of fixing the Web, Google broke something else. It used to work like this:

• Search Google
• Find interesting result
• Go to the site
• Explore the site further OR hit the back button to go back to Google search results

Now it works like this:

Search Google
• Find interesting result
• Read the content without leaving Google
• Try to explore the original site AND get redirected back to Google search results.

The web used to be the place where anybody could publish quality content, help thousands of people, and earn a few dollars along the way. Google Adsense was one of the main products that made this reality possible.

A lot of authors hope that people would find their content useful, stay for a while and come back in the future. None of this will work if readers are not able to get to the site in the first place.

In addition, given the wide spread of Ad Blocking software, mobile platform remains one of few places where ad revenue continues to be a viable option.

By hijacking the mobile traffic and keeping users from leaving their site, Google gets to benefit from somebody else’s content while at the same time displaying their ads. This cuts further into already narrow margins of independent publishers.


As the growth in internet users stalls but the demand for growing revenues continues, I expect Google to put more ads in front of people (as it’s doing for its own products on its homepages) and do things like this which help it, but not content producers.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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