Start up: smartwatches slow, Microsoft hikes UK prices, explaining Assange, recalling the botnet, and more


Okayyyy, that’s enough tablet time. Photo by Lars Ploughmann on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. What, again? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Smartwatch market declines 51.6% in the third quarter as platforms and vendors realign • IDC

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The worldwide smartwatch market experienced a round of growing pains in the third quarter of 2016 (3Q16), resulting in a year-over-year decline in shipment volumes. According to data from the International Data Corporation, (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, total smartwatch volumes reached 2.7 million units shipped in 3Q16, a decrease of 51.6% from the 5.6 million units shipped in 3Q15. Although the decline is significant, it is worth noting that 3Q15 was the first time Apple’s Watch had widespread retail availablity after a limited online launch. Meanwhile, the second generation Apple Watch was only available in the last two weeks of 3Q16.

“The sharp decline in smartwatch shipment volumes reflects the way platforms and vendors are realigning,” noted Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “Apple revealed a new look and feel to watchOS that did not arrive until the launch of the second generation watch at the end of September. Google’s decision to hold back Android Wear 2.0 has repercussions for its OEM partners as to whether to launch devices before or after the holidays. Samsung’s Gear S3, announced at IFA in September, has yet to be released. Collectively, this left vendors relying on older, aging devices to satisfy customers.”

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Total sales: 2.7m, of which Apple was 1.1m. Pretty much the entire decline compared to last year is fewer Apple Watch sales. Android Wear’s biggest vendor was Lenovo – 0.1m.
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Spies for hire • The Intercept

Jenna McLaughlin:

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the idea of a UAE-based company recruiting an army of cyberwarriors from abroad to conduct mass surveillance aimed at the country’s own citizens may sound like something out of a bad Bond movie, but based on several months of interviews and research conducted by The Intercept, it appears DarkMatter has been doing precisely that.

Most of those who spoke with The Intercept asked to remain anonymous, citing nondisclosure agreements, fear of potential political persecution in the UAE, professional reprisals, and loss of current and future employment opportunities. Those quoted anonymously were speaking about events based on their direct experience with DarkMatter.

Margaritelli isn’t the only one who insists that DarkMatter isn’t being truthful about its operations and recruitment. More than five sources with knowledge of different parts of the company told The Intercept that sometime after its public debut last November, DarkMatter or a subsidiary began aggressively seeking skilled hackers, including some from the United States, to help it accomplish a wide range of offensive cybersecurity goals. Its work is aimed at exploiting hardware probes installed across major cities for surveillance, hunting down never-before-seen vulnerabilities in software, and building stealth malware implants to track, locate, and hack basically any person at any time in the UAE, several sources explained. As Margaritelli described it in an email to me, “Basically it’s Big Brother on steroids.”

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Microsoft’s evolving hardware business • Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson says Microsoft needs new revenues sources in hardware, because Windows isn’t cutting much mustard:

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Surface has been one of the bright spots of Microsoft’s hardware business over the last two years. Indeed – this home-grown hardware line has compared very favorably to that acquired phones business we were just discussing:

As you can see, Surface has now outsold phones for four straight quarters, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Overall, Surface revenues are growing year on year, which is easier to see if you annualize them:

However, what you can also see from that first Surface chart is that revenues for this product line are starting to settle into a pattern: big Q4 sales, followed by a steady decline through the next three quarters. That’s fine as long as there is new hardware each year to restart the cycle, but from all the reporting I’ve seen it seems the Surface Pro and Surface Book will get only spec bumps and very minor cosmetic changes, which leaves open the possibility of a year on year decline. Indeed, this is exactly what Microsoft’s guidance says will happen:

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We expect Surface revenue to decline as we anniversary the product launch from a year ago.

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I suspect the minor refresh on the existing hardware combined with the push into a new, somewhat marginal, product category (all-in-ones) won’t be enough to drive growth.

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Ugh. “Anniversary” used as a verb. Anyway, the phone business is all but gone. So it’s Surfaces all the way down.
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Samsung offers upgrade program for South Korea Note 7 customers • Reuters

Se Young Lee:

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Samsung Electronics is offering an upgrade program option to Galaxy Note 7 customers in South Korea who trade in their recalled device for a Galaxy S7 phone, marking its latest attempt to retain customers.

In a statement on Monday, Samsung said customers who trade in their Note 7 phone for either a flat-screen or curved-screen version of the Galaxy S7 can trade up for a Galaxy S8 or Note 8 smartphone launching next year through an upgrade program.

The world’s top smartphone maker permanently ended Note 7 sales due to continued reports of fire from the flagship device. In addition to offering refunds or exchanges for a Galaxy S7 smartphone, Samsung has already offered financial incentives amounting to 100,000 won ($88.39) to affected customers in South Korea.

Users in the upgrade program will need to pay only half the price of a Galaxy S7 device, rather than the full amount, before exchanging to the S8 or the Note 8, Samsung said.

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I’m puzzled. What sort of customer would really want to go through a downgrade to an S7/S7 Edge (because they could have bought either already this year, but chose not to) and then in a few months’ time change phone again? It’s going to feel like a bad experience, even with the financial incentive.
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Microsoft to raise prices by up to 22% after slump in pound • Daily Telegraph

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Costs for Microsoft enterprise customers will increase by 13% for computer software and 22% for so-called online cloud services, where the company hosts a customer’s data in a virtual storage centre.

Microsoft is one of the biggest sellers of business software in the UK, led by its suite of Office programs such as Word, Powerpoint and Outlook. Its cloud service, Azure, sells access to vast computing power and is used by customers including the Ministry of Defence.

The price rise, which comes into effect at the start of next year, could cost the Government tens of millions of pounds a year.

While the Cabinet Office did not comment on how much it spends on Microsoft contracts, it is believed to be at least £100m a year.

The intended price rise comes at a bad time for the Government, given a major effort in Whitehall to reduce IT spending as part of a wider focus on civil service costs.

The price rise will only apply to new purchases, rather than ongoing contracts, and Microsoft said it would not increase prices for consumers.

However, the rise is likely to deal a blow to businesses, which may have to raise IT budgets or sacrifice other projects in order to pay for the increased charges.

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So it’s a price rise coming in next year which won’t affect consumers or existing contracts. Seems a bit half-cocked, put like that. I think other price rises are also in the works.
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Why the WikiLeaks attack fizzled • RealClearPolitics

Bill Scher:

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In failing to turn unvarnished internal political machinations into a paralyzing scandal, WikiLeaks may have inadvertently raised the bar on what constitutes a successful act of political cyberwar. If all an email hack accomplishes is the temporary embarrassment of some political aides and supersized serving of gossip for Washington cocktail parties, then the hack is hardly potent ammo.

The truth is, if we saw the raw email from the Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or Bernie Sanders campaigns we would surely see similar political calculations over tricky issues, deliberations how to quash negative media narratives and intemperate comments made about adversaries or even allies. (Whereas the Trump campaign emails are probably in their own category of insanity.) What we see in the Podesta emails is the grist of political life. It’s doesn’t make our politicians fundamentally dishonest or our democracy a sham.

After seeing how the Clinton sausage got ground, perhaps the voting public will now be more likely to view the contents of stolen emails through the prism of political reality. Without a truly scandalous bombshell, each subsequent cyberattack on Clinton’s team, or that of another politician, may be greeted with bigger and bigger shrugs.

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Yes, we can validate the Wikileaks emails • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

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Recently, WikiLeaks has released emails from Democrats. Many have repeatedly claimed that some of these emails are fake or have been modified, that there’s no way to validate each and every one of them as being true. Actually, there is, using a mechanism called DKIM.

DKIM is a system designed to stop spam. It works by verifying the sender of the email. Moreover, as a side effect, it verifies that the email has not been altered.

Hillary’s team uses “hillaryclinton.com”, which as DKIM enabled. Thus, we can verify whether some of these emails are true.

Recently, in response to a leaked email suggesting Donna Brazile gave Hillary’s team early access to [Democrat-on-Democrat] debate questions [in March, against Bernie Saunders], she defended herself by suggesting the email had been “doctored” or “falsified”. That’s not true. We can use DKIM to verify it.

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Brazile was caught bang to rights (though it was probably unnecessary for the Clinton team to see the questions). But it’s good to know we can do this to validate emails for future leaks, which one can feel sure we will see.
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Banning tablets is best for children • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

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A funny thing happened when I banned tablets in my house on weekdays and curtailed their use on weekends. My children, ages 6 and 4, became less cantankerous. They also became happier, more responsive and engaged in more imaginative play. They rediscovered their toys. Outside the home, they became less demanding and better at self-regulating.

Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics validated my experiment, recommending that children younger than 18 months get zero screen time, and those ages 2 to 5 be limited to one hour a day—half of its prior recommendation. The group recommended that the hour be “high quality programming” that parents watch with their children.

The academy doesn’t set limits for older children, but suggests curtailing screen time before bedtime and when it conflicts with healthy activities…

…Avoiding social media and email on my phone has certainly made me more available to my children, and has helped shape their behavior. I saw how screens affected my children’s lives, and had to think about how to reintroduce screens. I continue to be surprised by what I’m learning from the exercise, and if you’re a parent of young children, you might be too.

“One of the more troubling things I see as a pediatrician is a child getting an immunization and being handed an iPad or an iPhone to try to comfort them afterward,” says Dr. Christakis. “It often works, but think about what’s being displaced there — what they need is a hug, not an iPhone.”

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In short: we’re holding them wrong.
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Here’s what I learned about Julian Assange while working alongside him • BuzzFeed News

James Ball:

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Assange is routinely either so lionised by supporters or demonised by detractors that his real character is lost entirely.

Far from the laptop-obsessed autist he’s often seen as, he’s a charismatic speaker with an easy ability to dominate a room or a conversation. He may have little interest in listening to those around, but he can tell whether or not he has your attention and change his manner to capture it. He has, time and again, proving a savvy media manipulator, marching the mainstream media up the hill and down again to often damp squib press conferences. His technical skills are not in doubt.

What’s often underestimated is his gift for bullshit. Assange can, and does, routinely tell obvious lies: WikiLeaks has deep and involved procedures; WikiLeaks was founded by a group of 12 activists, primarily from China; Israel Shamir never had cables; we have received information that [insert name of WikiLeaks critic] has ties to US intelligence.

At times, these lies are harmless and brilliant: when, on the day the state cables launched, WikiLeaks’ site wasn’t ready (we hadn’t even written the introductory text), the site was kept offline after a short DDoS attack, with Assange tweeting that the site was under an unprecedently huge attack.

Six hours later, when we were done, all eyes were looking: What was so bad in the cables that someone was working so hard to keep the site offline? The dramatic flourish worked, but other lies were dumb and damaging – and quickly erode any kind of trust for those trying to work closely with him.

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Ball is entirely trustworthy on these points (even though Wikileaks boosters will try to deny this). Terrible headline, but excellent piece pointing out that Assange is far from the simple personality that many portrayals would want you to believe.
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China electronics firm to recall some US products after hacking attack • Reuters

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Chinese firm Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology Co Ltd said it will recall some of its products sold in the United States after it was identified by security researchers as having made parts for devices that were targeted in a major hacking attack on Friday.

Hackers unleashed a complex attack on the Internet through common devices like webcams and digital recorders, and cut access to some of the world’s best known websites in a stunning breach of global internet stability.

The electronics components firm, which makes parts for surveillance cameras, said in a statement on its official microblog that it would recall some of its earlier products sold in the United States, strengthen password functions and send users a patch for products made before April last year.

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It’s a start. Though one that shouldn’t have to be made.
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Not transparent, certainly not accountable: Google and the Right To Be Forgotten • Eerke Boiten’s blog

Boiten went to an event in London on RTBF, where Google’s European PR Peter Barron was on the panel:

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Accountability is even more central to my second point. Barron talked at some length about notifications – i.e., when something has been delisted, the publisher of the information is informed of this by Google. I have argued before that this is done in the first place to stir up a censorship storm. I concede Barron’s comment that these storms have subsided a little now (though several newspapers and the BBC still publish delistings – you will understand why I won’t link to those).

Barron’s justification for these notifications sounded quite credible. Delistings interfere with the publishers’ rights, so they deserve to be told. However, we need to examine that very closely. If Google does something, on behalf of an “injured” third party, that removes a publication from certain search results, Google wishes to be accountable to the publisher for the interference with their rights. So what if Google does something on its own behalf that removes a publication from certain search results? Or just moves it down so far the search results that it is effectively deleted? Would Google admit that the outcome of PageRank incurs an accountability to the web page publishers for how highly ranked their pages are? And, given that there are no third parties involved, would Google seek to accommodate challenges to ranking outcomes on the basis of publishers’ listing rights being infringed? Of course not.

So Google’s “accountability” through notifications is extremely selective. Google chooses to be “accountable” for something it doesn’t want to be doing and for which it can lay the blame elsewhere. It supports naive journalists in their view that Google search is a public good that presents an objective view of the world which gets distorted by RtbF.

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From Dropbox to iCloud Drive: a review and some thoughts • Finer Things in Tech

David Chartier has shifted 1TB of stuff from Dropbox over to iCloud Drive:

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For personal uses, iCloud Drive has performed pretty well for me the past couple months. The speed of saving files to and retrieving files from iCloud Drive feels on par with Dropbox on both iOS and Mac, thanks in part to improvements in macOS Sierra. However, I should restate that I do much less collaboration with raw files these days. I create and manage nearly all of my work in apps and services like Ulysses, Quip, Todoist, and Trello, then share or publish it with others in online systems like WordPress (this site), Weebly (my personal and business sites), Quip, or Google Drive. Of course, your mileage will vary.

The few raw files I still work with are things like PDF books I download, or media resources I snag from Unsplash, Envato, and elsewhere for content and blogging. If I need to receive files, I can of course still use my free Dropbox space, or I can visit Dropbox share links in a browser on any device. When it’s time to share files with others, Dropbox can still work, but so can Droplr.

Others who have made this transition told me there’s a noticeable performance boost to be had by uninstalling Dropbox from a Mac, which I just did yesterday. They weren’t kidding.

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Removing Dropbox speeds things up? This is getting worse and worse.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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