Start up: Facebook’s news problem, LG dumps modular, the IoT’s weak spots, Ikea’s economics, and more

Google’s aiming to get rid of the unknowns when you browse the web. Photo by Paul Jacobson on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. May contain truth. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook employees pushed to remove Trump’s posts as hate speech • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:


Facebook—which stands to collect an estimated $300 million from online political advertising this year, according to Nomura analysts—has strived to appear nonpartisan and neutral, amid complaints that the company and key executives favor Democrats. A May report from tech blog Gizmodo alleged Facebook contract workers manipulated its trending topics feature for political purposes. Facebook denied bias, but in August, fired the contractors so that it could run the feature largely by software.

“They are confronting in a very real way for the first time the political dimensions of their platform,” said Anna Lauren Hoffmann, who teaches information ethics at the University of California, Berkeley.

About 44% of Americans get at least some of their news from Facebook, according to Pew Research.

The company insists it is a neutral platform for open debate. Yet it has strict rules around what users can post. The rules, which Facebook has tightened in recent years, ban discrimination toward people based on their race and religion. Facebook typically removes content that violates the rules.

Legal experts say Facebook isn’t bound by the Federal Communications Commission’s equal-time rules, which require radio stations and broadcast networks, with exceptions, to devote the same airtime to political candidates.

Issues around Mr. Trump’s posts emerged when he posted on Facebook a link to a Dec. 7 campaign statement “on preventing Muslim immigration.” The statement called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Mr. Trump has since backed away from an outright ban based on religion, saying his policies would target immigrants from countries with a record of terrorism.

Users flagged the December content as hate speech, a move that triggered a review by Facebook’s community-operations team, with hundreds of employees in several offices world-wide.


Among those who complained directly to Zuckerberg was a Muslim. Facebook has a growing problem: either it gives this stuff to machines (which would probably zap Trump’s posts – so you’d need human oversight) or you accept that you have to do it by humans. So looks like it’s humans, in which case you get called out for your inconsistencies.
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The cheap phone is dead in China – Bloomberg

Bruce Einhorn:


Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo all make phones that stack up well against most iPhones and Galaxies, and together they ship 40% of the world’s phones in the $500-and-up category that Apple and Samsung dominate.

The average sales price for those leading three Chinese brands has risen above $300, says Jessie Ding, an analyst in Shanghai with market research company Canalys. “People want more premium phones,” she says. “People are now thinking about good quality and service instead of just low prices.” That’s one reason Beijing-based Xiaomi, which made a splash in 2014 and 2015 selling inexpensive devices, has faded; its average phone sales price is about $180.

As their ambitions grow, China’s phone makers are benefiting from a unique agreement the government reached with Qualcomm in 2015. To settle antitrust charges, the San Diego chipmaker agreed to pay a fine of $975m and reduce the royalties it charges in China. Royalties on Qualcomm’s industry-standard technology there are now based on 65% of a given phone’s in-country sales price, not 100%.


Helpful of the Chinese government. But that trend towards more expensive devices is one to watch.
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Akamai finds longtime security flaw on two million Internet of Things devices • WIRED

Lily Hay Newman:


It’s well known that the Internet of Things is woefully insecure, but the most shameful and frustrating part is that some of the vulnerabilities that are currently being exploited could have been eradicated years ago. Now evidence of how these bugs are being used in attacks is calling attention to security holes that are long overdue to be plugged.

New research released this week from the content delivery network Akamai takes a closer look at how hackers are abusing weaknesses in a cryptographic protocol to commandeer millions of ordinary connected devices — routers, cable modems, satellite TV equipment, and DVRs — and then coordinate them to mount attacks. After analyzing IP address data from its Cloud Security Intelligence platform, Akamai estimates that more than 2 million devices have been compromised by this type of hack, which it calls SSHowDowN. The company also says that at least 11 of its customers — in industries like financial services, retail, hospitality, and gaming — have been targets of this attack.


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The Insecurity of Things: part two • Xipiter

Stephen Ridley:


With some really dead-simple techniques this device was easily compromised. Furthermore not only can you attack your own device, but an attacker could (without purchasing a device) potentially just download the firmware image from the manufacturer (as linked from the manufacturer’s wiki), extract the filesystem image using binwalk and unsquashfs, and navigate to the right directories on the filesystem to retrieve the ssh private keys used to access the manufacturers backend.

From there potentially (if SSH works the way we think it does), this key can be used to access ALL THE OTHER devices like it in the world currently connected to the internet. It should be noted that as the interns discovered these vulnerabilities in this device, they found “prior art” vulnerabilities found by D. Crowley (then of Trustwave Spider Labs) although there was no explicit mention of the ability to potentially access all the other devices via the manufacturer’s servers (via the hardcoded SSH keys).


Basically, showing how you’d take over one of those IoT devices which brought down a chunk of the internet last week.
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Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is frustrated by his Apple iPad • Fortune

Barb Darrow:


Earlier this week, New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick unleashed an atypical, long-winded rant (six minutes!) about his mis-behaving Microsoft Surface device. Earlier in the month, he was seen on national TV spiking the tablet.

On Wednesday, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon had to deal with a malfunctioning Apple iPad before the fourth game of the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

Fox’s fox FS1 commentators noted that Maddon couldn’t use his iPad to enter lineups before the game between the Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, causing him to spend 90 minutes with technical support before the game to address the issue. Apparently, it was a futile effort because he ended up using his phone to do the job.

It was unclear whether the problem was with the device itself, the software running it, the wireless network—or some combination of all of the above.


Can’t do real work on tablets, I guess. (Thanks @papnic for the link.)
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The Independent returns to profit after axing newspaper • FT

David Bond:


The company says its digital switch has been vindicated by significant growth online — from 15.8m unique users in February to 21m in June ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership, before falling back to 16.2m in August, according to ComScore, the research firm.

By comparison, ComScore said Mail Online was the biggest newspaper website in the UK with 26.4m unique users in August, while the Guardian had 24m.

Separate figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation show the Independent had 74.3m unique browsers in August 2016 — a 41% year-on-year increase. Its Facebook page has 5m likes — 1.3m more than the Telegraph.

The company says its digital advertising revenues have grown by 45% year on year and that it is likely to record about £20m of revenues in 2016.

With a younger staff on lower salaries and no printing or distribution costs, the Independent said it now had a sustainable long-term future.


Unexpected. But that last paragraph probably sums it up. Also a smaller staff.
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The weird economics of Ikea • FiveThirtyEight

Oliver Roeder:


Although [Boston University economist Marianne] Baxter can’t yet prove its particulars — more data cleaning and analysis is necessary for her ultimate Ikea project — there is a sort of evolutionary dynamic at play in the annual Ikea catalog: survival of the fittest furniture. She noticed that the company tends to discontinue products that remain expensive. “If they can’t figure out how to make them more cheaply, or retool them or slightly redesign them, it seems like the things disappear,” she said.

Indeed, the products have evolved. In 1992, part of the Poäng was changed from steel to wood, allowing the chair to ship more densely and efficiently in the company’s flat packs. (“Shipping air is very expensive,” [Ikea product PR manager Marty] Marston said.) And the Lack table was changed from solid wood to a honeycomb “board on frame” construction, decreasing production costs and increasing shipping efficiency. Baxter theorizes, though, that if a product is finicky — requiring design in Sweden, manufacture in China and intricate pieces from Switzerland, say — it may eventually be abandoned.

Marston thought the Darwinian idea was interesting, but that the deletions from the catalog were less about persistently high prices and more about popularity. “If a product doesn’t perform well — we have certain sales expectations — then it will cease to exist. The public didn’t like it for some reason, so why continue to sell it?” she said.


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Apple approached Time Warner about possible merger before AT&T talks • WSJ

Shalini Ramachandran, Dana Mattioli and Keach Hagey:


Apple approached Time Warner about pursuing a combination a few months ago, and though the discussions didn’t progress beyond a preliminary stage, Apple is now monitoring the media giant’s talks with AT+T, people familiar with the matter said Friday.

AT+T is now in advanced talks to purchase Time Warner, The Wall Street Journal has reported, and a deal could come together within days…

…From Apple’s end, executives under Chief Executive Tim Cook were involved in the earlier talks. Apple has pursued plans to build an online TV service and has begun creating original programming of its own. Before its most recent approach, Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, brought up a potential combination in a meeting with Time Warner’s head of corporate strategy Olaf Olafsson last year, the people said, though the talks never went further than that. The Financial Times earlier reported last year’s approach.


Crazy. Then again, if the cars thing isn’t going to work…
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LG Electronics to eliminate ‘modules’ for its next smartphone (G6) • Korean Electronics News

Keonil Yun:


LG Electronics is not going to apply modularized structure for its next strategic Smartphone called ‘G6 (tentative)’ that is expected to be released in 2017. It is basically withdrawing its strategy of modularization that was first introduced to G5 in just a year.

According to an industry on the 20th, LG Electronics has decided not to apply modularized Smartphone structure, which was introduced for G5, for G6. It is currently developing G6 according to internal policies. G6 is expected to have an integral structure just like previous LG Smartphones and other products.

“It is heard that LG Electronics has decided not to modularize its next Smartphone.” said multiple representatives from multiple industries. “Corresponding products such as boards and audio chips are currently being prepared accordingly.”

LG Electronics released world’s first modularized Smartphone called G5 at the end of March. Because bottom part of this product can be separated, users can attach additional devices such as audio module or camera module.

At that time, it had drawn huge attention since it was a new attempt that was not done before to previous Smartphones. However LG Electronics was not able to achieve results that it expected because need for modules was not really needed when people have actually started using G5…

…It is heard that LG Electronics is internally worried from withdrawing its modularization strategy. It can possibly lose trust from markets after changing its strategy in just a year and devices that were sold can be useless since they won’t be compatible with Smartphones that will be released in the future.

LG Electronics is focusing on not repeating its mistakes. Also it is planning to restore its benefits through stable products rather than having to put up with risks.

“It probably was not easy for LG Electronics to put up with risks since its Smartphone business is already not doing too well.” said a representative for an industry.


Let’s see.. we were told LG “will keep toying around” with the modular idea back in the summer. Back in February, I said that “Modularity in the handset kills premium pricing even faster than OS modularity.” In between we’ve seen the death of Project Ara. Motorola is trying it, in a small way; given its losses, I don’t think it will stick with it. Guess modular smartphones aren’t destined to be a thing.
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Google has quietly dropped ban on personally identifiable web tracking – ProPublica

Julia Angwin:


this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on the keywords they used in their Gmail. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people’s real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.

“The fact that DoubleClick data wasn’t being regularly connected to personally identifiable information was a really significant last stand,” said Paul Ohm, faculty director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law…

…Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville emailed a statement describing Google’s change in privacy policy as an update to adjust to the “smartphone revolution”

“We updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices,” Faville wrote. She added that the change “is 100% optional – if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged.”


Personalised ads earn more, and Google now needs to earn more from mobile ads as desktop gets ever less important.
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There is a blind spot in AI research • Nature News & Comment

Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo:


“People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.” This is how computer scientist Pedro Domingos sums up the issue in his 2015 book The Master Algorithm. Even the many researchers who reject the prospect of a ‘technological singularity’ — saying the field is too young — support the introduction of relatively untested AI systems into social institutions…

…As a first step, researchers — across a range of disciplines, government departments and industry — need to start investigating how differences in communities’ access to information, wealth and basic services shape the data that AI systems train on.

Take, for example, the algorithm-generated ‘heat maps’ used in Chicago, Illinois, to identify people who are most likely to be involved in a shooting. A study8 published last month indicates that such maps are ineffective: they increase the likelihood that certain people will be targeted by the police, but do not reduce crime.

A social-systems approach would consider the social and political history of the data on which the heat maps are based. This might require consulting members of the community and weighing police data against this feedback, both positive and negative, about the neighbourhood policing. It could also mean factoring in findings by oversight committees and legal institutions. A social-systems analysis would also ask whether the risks and rewards of the system are being applied evenly — so in this case, whether the police are using similar techniques to identify which officers are likely to engage in misconduct, say, or violence.


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Slow-motion wrecks: how thawing permafrost is destroying Arctic cities • The Guardian

Alec Luhn, in Norilsk:


Cracking and collapsing structures are a growing problem in cities like Norilsk – a nickel-producing centre of 177,000 people located 180 miles above the Arctic Circle – as climate change thaws the perennially frozen soil and increases precipitation. Valery Tereshkov, deputy head of the emergencies ministry in the Krasnoyarsk region, wrote in an article this year that almost 60% of all buildings in Norilsk have been deformed as a result of climate change shrinking the permafrost zone. Local engineers said more than 100 residential buildings, or one-tenth of the housing fund, have been vacated here due to damage from thawing permafrost.

In most cases, these are slow-motion wrecks that can be patched up or prevented by engineering solutions. But if a foundation shifts suddenly it can put lives at risk: cement slabs broke a doctor’s legs when the front steps and overhanging roof of a Norilsk blood bank collapsed in June 2015. Building and maintenance costs will have to be ramped up to keep cities in Russia’s resource-rich north running.

Engineers and geologists are careful to note that “technogenic factors” like sewer and building heat and chemical pollution are also warming the permafrost in places like Norilsk, the most polluted city in Russia. But climate change is deepening the thaw and speeding up the destruction, at the very same time that Russia is establishing new military bases and oil-drilling infrastructure across the Arctic. Greenpeace has warned that permafrost thawing has caused thousands of oil and gas pipeline breaks.


Have a look at the temperatures in Norilsk on your favourite weather app. It’s damn cold. But not cold enough any longer, it seems.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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