Start up: why Disney dropped Twitter, why Thiel?, the fake social graph, selfie passwords, and more

Your first port of call to see Apple and Google’s newest trademarks. Photo by kingston99 on Flickr.

Thanks to all those who came to my talk on Tuesday evening in London on “Social networks and the truth”. I’ll aim to put up the slides, with some commentary, on this site in the next week or so.

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. Effortless. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Shame on Y Combinator •

Marco Arment:

»Y Combinator is extremely influential in tech startups and startup culture.

Peter Thiel, an investor who often participates in Y Combinator, is donating $1.25m to Donald Trump’s political efforts, which has incited outrage among the tech community with many calling for Y Combinator to sever ties with Thiel.

Y Combinator has apparently decided not to. President Sam Altman defended this position in a blog post, framed as a Clinton endorsement, that begins with a partial overview of how reprehensible and dangerous Trump is, but ends with a defense of continuing Thiel’s involvement in Y Combinator that’s effectively framed as a free-speech or tolerance issue.


Altman ties himself in knots, suggesting that having Thiel around is a sort of “diversity” thing. That’s right – what Y Combinator’s board really needs is a gay right-wing rich white man, to balance out all those straight left-wing rich white men.

Arment is having none of it:

»Wrapping reprehensible statements or actions as “political beliefs” doesn’t protect them or exempt their supporters from consequences. Racism is racism. Sexual assault is sexual assault. Labeling reprehensible positions as “political beliefs” is a cowardly, meaningless shield.


Expect this to develop over the next week or so. Altman is going to wake up with the cognitive dissonance pinging around his brain.
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Disney dropped Twitter pursuit partly over image • Bloomberg

Alex Sherman , Chris Palmeri , and Sarah Frier:

»Walt Disney Co. decided not to pursue a bid for Twitter Inc. partly out of concern that bullying and other uncivil forms of communication on the social media site might soil the company’s wholesome family image, according to people familiar with management’s thinking.

The producer of family fare like “Finding Dory” had gone so far as to hire two investment banks, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Guggenheim Partners LLC, to help evaluate a bid for Twitter. Disney management also listened to a presentation about the business from Twitter executives, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

There were other reasons for Disney not to pursue Twitter. The social media pioneer, creator of the 140-character tweet, is losing money and yet sports a market value of almost $12 billion. That would a big deal even for Disney, which has a market value 12 times that. Some of Disney’s largest investors called the company over the past few weeks to express their displeasure with a Twitter purchase for those reasons, people close to the companies said.


Everyone hates Twitter who isn’t Twitter.
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Samsung’s uneven handling of Galaxy Note 7 fires angers Chinese • The New York Times

Sui-Lee Wee:

»Zhang Sitong was saving a friend’s phone number on his Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone when it started to vibrate and smoke. He threw it on the ground and told his friend to start filming.

Two employees from Samsung Electronics showed up at his house later that day, he said, offering a new Note 7 and about $900 in compensation on the condition that he keep the video private. Mr. Zhang angrily refused. Only weeks before, even as Samsung recalled more than two million Note 7s in the United States and elsewhere, the company had reassured him and other Chinese customers that the phone was safe.

“They said there was no problem with the phones in China. That’s why I bought a Samsung,” said Mr. Zhang, a 23-year-old former firefighter. “This is an issue of deception. They are cheating Chinese consumers.”…

…After he rejected the offer from Samsung, Mr. Zhang quit his job and hit the road. He joined up with Hui Renjie, another man who said his Note 7 had also blown up, to visit laboratories to figure out the problem with their phones. The trip and the testing were paid for by CCTV [China’s state broadcaster], which featured the two in Tuesday’s report.

In the report, CCTV said an independent lab could not determine the cause of the fire that consumed Mr. Zhang’s phone. It said an external heat source was not responsible for the fire that destroyed Mr. Hui’s phone.


This might just be accident – some phones do combust – but chances are not. And it was already struggling for sales in China.
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Five reasons why Netflix just said no to China • Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

»1. China’s streaming sites are really strong
China has nearly a dozen well-established and well-funded video sites run by some of its biggest tech giants – like Alibaba-owned Youku and Baidu spin-off Qiyi.

They started out as spaces for people to upload videos of their kid falling off a bike, but now they’re focusing a lot more on movies and TV series – ones they license from around the world, as well as some commissioned by the companies themselves.

All these Chinese streaming sites are largely free and ad-supported, even for big-name shows and films.

2. Prices are low
But… an increasing amount of content is being restricted to “VIP” users who pay a monthly or annual fee. Jack Ma’s ecommerce powerhouse Alibaba took that one step further just over a year ago with the launch of its subscription-only streaming service, TBO, which is available only to owners of its set-top box.

As Chinese consumers move slowly away from piracy and ad-supported streaming, companies are being careful to make the price tag as tiny as possible.

On both TBO and Youku, Alibaba charges just over five bucks per month or US$59 per year. Those are way below the US$10 monthly fee Netflix charges in the US – or even the more gentle US$8 in India.

3. Censorship and restrictions are crazy
This is actually the biggest barrier to Netflix – China’s media environment is not just “challenging,” the legislation is downright hostile to foreign companies.


Three’s more than enough.
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Driverless cars will be like ‘Learners’, so we’ll bully them • The Memo

Oliver Smith:

»Surveying some 12,000 drivers, the London School of Economics and Goodyear found that many drivers expect these autonomous cars to be extra cautious and patient on the road, and that they plan to take ruthless advantage of this.

“The autonomous cars are going to stop. So you’re going to mug them right off,” said one participant. “They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip round.”

The survey found that especially among more “competitive” drivers driverless cars are perceived as a potential nuisance, an opportunity to take advantage of, or “bully” on the roads.

Overall there was a feeling that autonomous vehicles would lack “common sense” on the roads.

So next time you see a car struggling to edge out on a roundabout, will you be the sympathetic one to let the driverless car out?


These cars are going to get slaughtered in London traffic.
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We’re afraid of getting hacked, but we’re not doing much about it • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin:

»Since the group last polled the public in 2014, the percentage of people worried about threats like malware and identity theft either fell or held constant. This year’s poll found that a large majority of Americans, 69%, is concerned about email hacking—but that’s down from 71% in 2014.

That’s surprising, given that the 2014 poll was conducted before the Sony Pictures hack, widely considered a wakeup call that companies should be more careful with their data.

Most people don’t appear to have taken this message to heart, said Stefan Hankin, the Lincoln Park Strategies pollster. “People are saying, ‘I’m not the DNC, I’m not Hillary’s campaign,’” Hankin said. “People should be freaked out, but they’re not connecting the dots.”

Not yet, anyway. Hankin thinks that at some point consumers will begin to punish companies that don’t care for their data. “We’re one more hack away,” he said, from people beginning to take security and privacy more seriously.


Poll paid for by Craig Newmark of Craigslist.
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The “social graph” is neither • Pinboard Blog

The peerless Maciej Ceglowski on Silicon Valley’s over-eagerness to create graphs out of “links” between people:

»But when you start talking about building a social graph that transcends any specific implementation, you quickly find yourself in the weeds. Is accepting someone’s invitation on LinkedIn the same kind of connection as mutually following them on Twitter? Can we define some generic connections like ‘fan of’ or ‘follower’ and re-use them for multiple sites? Does it matter that you can see who your followers are on site X but not on site Y?

One way to solve this comparison problem is with standards. Before pooling your data in the social graph, you first map it to a common vocabulary. Google, for example, uses XFN as part of their Social Graph API. This defines a set of about twenty allowed relationships. (Facebook has a much more austere set: close_friends, acquaintances, restricted, and the weaselly user_created).

But these common relationships turn out to be kind of slippery. To use XFN as my example, how do I decide if my cubicle mate is a friend, acquaintance or just a contact? And if I call him my friend, should I interpret that in the northern California sense, or in some kind of universal sense of friendship?

In the old country, for example, we have two kinds of ‘friendship’ (distinguished by whether you address one another with the informal pronoun) and going from one status to the other is a pretty big deal; you have to drink a toast with your arms all in a pretzel and it’s considered a huge faux pas to suggest it before both people feel ready. But at least it’s not ambiguous!

And of course sex complicates things even more. Will it get me in hot water to have a crush on someone but have a different person as my muse? Does spouse imply sweetheart, or do I have to explicilty declare that (perhaps on our 20th anniversary)? And should restrainingOrder be an edge or a node in this data model?


It’s five years old, but still perfectly nails all the flawed attempts by sites to make us fit into their “graphs”.
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‘We’ve created a monster’: Publishers vent ad tech frustrations • Digiday

Jessica Davies:

»“What used to be small [exchange] partners have now totally disintermediated us from our customers, our control of pricing and distribution,” said a national newspaper programmatic director who preferred to stay anonymous. “We’ve created a monster which now has greater influence than we do.”

We spoke to a range of national newspaper and magazine publishers about their biggest concerns. All spoke under condition of anonymity. Here are the takeaways:

1) Eroding Trust
Publishers, both large and niche, are more suspicious of ad tech’s “agenda” than ever for a mix of reasons. Chief among them: the shift in power. “In the early days of programmatic, publishers gave ad tech a foothold, supporting vendors on the promise of partnership, empowerment and incremental business value,” said one programmatic chief at a national newspaper. That has certainly worked: Publishers have managed to squeeze much-needed additional revenue as a direct result of ad tech partners. The same exec likened this relationship to that of a “crocodile having its teeth cleaned by a plover bird,” to both parties’ mutual benefit and happy co-existence.

But somewhere along the way, an imbalance has taken root. “For publishers and tech, it’s developed into a perverse situation: akin to a leech growing bigger than the body from which it draws blood,” said the exec. “As a result, we’ve become hugely suspicious of ad tech’s agenda, which we’ve found to be driven by aggressive pursuit of short-term business value.”


There are plenty more. Jared Diamond’s investigation into civilisations’ collapse suggests that overcomplexity strangles them. Ad tech and online news increasingly looks like an example of that, happening before our eyes. Eventually both collapse.
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Companies try out selfies as password alternatives • WSJ

Trisha Thadani:

»Selfies, long derided as a symbol of narcissism and oversharing, have found a more serious purpose.

Companies and government agencies—ranging from the ride-hailing service Uber Technologies Inc. and credit-card giant MasterCard Inc. to the Alabama Department of Revenue—are asking people to snap self-portraits on their smartphones as proof of identity.

As the quality of smartphone cameras improves and facial-recognition software becomes more affordable, the digital future might involve fewer convoluted passwords and more selfies. But there’s a downside: some cybercrime experts worry that people might be too quick to offer up their smiling faces, saying the technology is rife with privacy and security concerns.

“People see this technology and presume that it is automatically safe, but in the end, it all just comes down to math,” said Marc Goodman, a global security consultant. and author of the book “Future Crimes.”“There is nothing safer about [facial recognition], except that it rules out the challenges of password management.”


At least you don’t have “face123”. But you are relying on the facial recognition system’s false positive/negative rate.
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LG V20 will cost $799 unlocked from Newegg and B&H, include free G Pad tablet • Android Police

Richard Gao:

»While customers who pre-ordered the V20 from select carriers will get the $150 B&O PLAY H3 in-ear headphones as a launch bonus, those of you who buy from B&H or Newegg will have a $150 LG G Pad 7.0″ tablet thrown in instead. Considering this G Pad’s 800p screen, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage, I think I’d rather have the headphones.

The G Pad’s specs may be weak, but the V20’s certainly aren’t. The phone sports a 5.7″ 1440p display, a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, 16MP and 8MP rear cameras, and a removable 3200mAh battery. It’s also got an excellent DAC, and it’s (technically) the first phone to ship with Android 7.0 Nougat.


I don’t see that LG’s brand is strong enough, nor any of those specs exclusive in any way, to justify that price. Sure, iPhones are pricey – but Apple brings the iOS ecosystem exclusively to them, along with the stores and extras. LG brings exactly the same stuff that every other Android OEM in the US does, namely Google Play and other Google services.

The only thing that might swing it for a few people is the removable battery – but that’s beginning to look like a truly antiquated feature.
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The boy geniuses of Silicon Valley are totally deluded if they think they can fix online dating • Daily Telegraph

Zoe Strimpel is well qualified to talk on this, as she is completing a PhD in the history of dating:

»Is it better to date via niche sites like the pro-beard app Bristlr, huge sites like Plenty of Fish, expensive sites like eHarmony, or free ones like OkCupid? Should the “algorithm” control who you see, or should you? Are people even capable of engaging in proper conversations anymore? Impossible to say.

I would suggest that their problem is insurmountable. That is to say that a healthy haul of complete weirdos (and indeed pleasant but woefully incompatible try-hards) is inextricable from internet dating as an activity. Shorn of “co-presence” (sociological jargon for being in the same space at the same time as another person) there is no easy way to ensure compatibility. And without the robust quality control which comes with recommendations through friends and real-life social networks, it’s hard to be sure of what you’re getting. But that is the price we pay for the one thing, the only thing, that technology can do for dating: sheer numbers.

Online dating is about scale. It drastically decreases the cost, and thereby increases the frequency, of your contact with potential partners. They say there’s plenty more fish in the sea; why not be a trawler? Of course all these extra “contact hours” mean you are much more likely to encounter people you don’t want to; that’s the nature of the beast. No $7 fee, no option to “like” a photo, no being “dropped into a story”, will do the rest of the work. The bare truth is that if the people you meet are wrong, you’ll need to meet more. Denizens of the dating world don’t need new app features: they need patience.


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Why Jamaica knows about Apple’s new products before the rest of the world — Quartz

Joon Ian Wong and Christopher Groskopf:

»The tech giants are exploiting a US trademark-law provision that lets them effectively claim a trademark in secret. Under this provision, once a mark is lodged with an intellectual property office outside the US, the firm has six months to file it with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When the firm does file in the US, it can point to its original application made abroad to show that it has a priority claim on the mark.

In the meantime, though, the provision prevents competitors from guessing at a firm’s product plans from public filings. “Competitors could search, ‘What has Apple filed for? What are they thinking about?’” says Nehal Madhani of legal-software provider Alt Legal, who has researched the issue. Think of it as arbitraging global intellectual-property laws.

The filings made overseas aren’t, of course, actually secret—they’re just not easy to access if you can’t go in person. For instance, the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office allows visitors to search filings in person at its office in Kingston. People can also ask the office to search filings for them, but a Jamaican address is required to receive the results, and the process takes three weeks. A lawyer in Jamaica, however, can be appointed to perform the search, the office told Quartz. It said it has no current plans to put its filings database online. Alt Legal compiled a list of 65 other countries with offline trademark databases like Jamaica’s.


This is a story about Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, among others. You’ll know Apple’s brand really has trouble when headlines on stories like this one mention Google rather than Apple. (Notice how Microsoft has faded from view in that sense.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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