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: http://bit.ly/2dhMMhy


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?”

«

link to this extract


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

OR

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

«

link to this extract


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 • whitehouse.gov

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.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Google gets factual, Note 7’s determined users, the silence of Yahoo, how US voting works, and more


Huaqiangbei: the electronics everything market. Photo by Nagarjun on Flickr.


This happens tomorrow!

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.


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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google News now has a “Fact Check” tag • Poynter

»The links tagged as “fact checks” are from websites that apply a corresponding label to their code, ClaimReview markup. Google will also flag fact-checking content from “sites that follow the commonly accepted criteria for fact checks,” though these too will need to use the ClaimReview markup. This is currently in use by fewer than 10 domains. A Google spokesperson wouldn’t confirm the full list of websites; searches for the moment yield results from PolitiFact and Full Fact.

In the announcement, Google Head of News Richard Gingras writes that the organization is “excited to see the growth of the Fact Check community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin.”

Fact-checking guru Bill Adair called this move a “huge step” on Twitter.

This tagging may well lead to increased traffic for fact-checking outlets, which are already seeing record growth in the United States. Whether it will help “crowd out” false claims on the internet remains to be seen.

«

What’s to stop a site which just makes stuff up from using the ClaimReview label? Sure, it’s a little twiddly, but if there’s Google News traffic in it.. why not?
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Samsung Galaxy Note 7: usage [was] highest ever as explosions continue • Apteligent

»Our original post outlined how users of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 were defying the recall, and were still using their devices at roughly the same rate a week later. Usage did drop off slightly in the midst of the recall but has trended upwards in the past few weeks as replacement devices have largely been distributed. Unfortunately new reports are out this past week that show replacement devices continue to explode.

As of this past Monday, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 now has the highest usage rate in its history. In fact, Note 7 usage was over 23% higher on Monday than the date of the recall. We urge consumers to stop using this phone immediately.

Update: Graph updated through end of day Thursday the 13th. Note 7 usage is now equal to the usage on the recall date.

«

Apteligent has some nifty tools if you want to see the spread of device use in different countries.
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Yahoo not to hold quarterly earnings call or webcast • Reuters

Anya George Tharakan:

»Yahoo Inc said on Friday that it would not hold a call or webcast when it reports third-quarter results on Tuesday, citing its pending $4.83bn deal with Verizon Communications Inc.

Last month, Yahoo disclosed a massive data breach in 2014 that affected at least 500 million of its email accounts.

Verizon’s general counsel said on Thursday that the company has a “reasonable basis” to believe the hack represents a material impact that could allow it to withdraw from the deal to buy the company.

«

I’ve never heard of a company putting off an earnings call just because a deal is pending.
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a single byte write opened a root execution exploit • daniel.haxx.se

Daniel Steinberg is the lead developer of curl (grabs content of a webpage through the terminal) and works at Mozilla. He gets bug reports:

»As one of the maintainers of the c-ares project I’m receiving mails for suspected security problems in c-ares and this was such a one. In this case, the email with said subject came from an individual who had reported a ChromeOS exploit to Google.

It turned out that this particular c-ares flaw was one important step in a sequence of necessary procedures that when followed could let the user execute code on ChromeOS from JavaScript – as the root user. I suspect that is pretty much the worst possible exploit of ChromeOS that can be done. I presume the reporter will get a fair amount of bug bounty reward for this.

The setup and explanation on how this was accomplished is very complicated and I am deeply impressed by how this was figured out, tracked down and eventually exploited in a repeatable fashion. But bear with me. Here comes a very simplified explanation on how a single byte buffer overwrite with a fixed value could end up aiding running exploit code as root.

«

A single byte. Ever more worried for the internet of things.
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What $50 buys you at Huaqiangbei, the world’s most fascinating electronics market • Keyboardio

The folks at Keyboardio decided to see how many items they could get for a cool US$50 at the wonderful electronics market in Shenzhen. One was a smartwatch with phone functionality:

»The economics of how to make a watch phone for $9.74 were completely bewildering to us. If we could get the price down to 65 CNY just by buying 30, how much could they possibly cost to make?
As it happens, a friend of ours in Shenzhen has a friend who is a salesperson at a smartwatch factory. We talked him into calling his friend and asking her what she knew about watches like the ones we bought.

She asked for photos….and then told us that her factory sells an identical model. She told us that next time, we should just deal with her directly, as we could have saved a lot of money. If we bought 30 watches directly from the factory, they would only cost us $7.49 each. So, the reseller made about $67 profit on us.

If the factory sold the watches for $7.49, how much could they possibly cost to make? That’s a question that can be awfully hard to get answered. Not really expecting an answer, we asked our friend to ask his friend. She was happy to tell us: $6.

Six dollars.

Six dollars for: a GSM chipset, a CPU, an LCD screen, a battery, a PCB, a metal housing, a molded silicone watch band, a microUSB cable, and a box. And the labor to assemble and test all of that.

«

It’s a fabulous piece. (I wrote about my own visit to Huaqiangbei – pronounced “Huang-sheow-bay”, as I understand it – a couple of years ago.)
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Flirting with the iPhone 7: why I just couldn’t do it • AndroidAuthority

Kris Carlon tried out an iPhone 7 for a few weeks (though he wasn’t forced to rely on it):

»As for the software, well, it’s iOS. I enjoyed finding my way around the interface over the first few days, but I have to admit iOS isn’t exactly rocket science to figure out. I suppose this is one of its strengths: that it doesn’t take a genius to figure out.

But unfortunately for me, as someone who likes a little complexity because it affords more control, I started to get bored with iOS after only a week.

I was amazed by just how little there was to contend with in the iPhone’s software. A lock screen you can’t do much with, endless home screens full of app icons, a two-tab notifications shade accessed with a swipe from the top of the screen and a command center for Quick Settings buttons at the bottom.

I understand now why iPhone fans like iOS. It’s simple, generic and always the same. For folks like me that’s the very antithesis of what I like in a phone’s software. I love the novelty factor of constantly switching between manufacturer skins, custom ROMs and stock Android. This is why I’m pumped for the new Pixel experience from Google and probably the same reason I enjoyed iOS as long as I did.

«

Perhaps he should have grabbed an Android user off the street to try it, since “novelty factor” users are a tiny percentage of the total – something that Cyanogen has learned to its cost. But it’s a reasonable review, once you get past that self-selection element.
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The real Republican adversary? Population density • Dave Troy

»Curious about the correlation between population density and voting behavior, I began with analyzing the election results from the least and most dense counties and county equivalents. 98% of the 50 most dense counties voted Obama. 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.

This could not be a coincidence. Furthermore, if the most dense places voted overwhelmingly for Obama, and the least dense places voted overwhelmingly for Romney, then there must be a crossover point: a population density above which Americans would switch from voting Republican to voting Democratic.

So I normalized and graphed the data, and there is a clear crossover point.

At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic. Put another way, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Democrat. A 66% preference is a clear, dominant majority.

So are progressive political attitudes a function of population density? And does the trend hold true in both red and blue states?

«

This turns out to be one of those “town v country” things. But the implications of that go deep too. Similar effects were seen in the UK over Brexit – except in Scotland, which voted to remain.
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Uber’s ad-toting drones are heckling drivers stuck in traffic • Technology Review

Michael Reilly:

»Drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico City lately have found themselves being buzzed by a fleet of sign-toting drones. “Driving by yourself?” some scolded in Spanish. “This is why you can never see the volcanoes” — a reference to the smog that often hovers over the mega-city and obscures two nearby peaks.

It wasn’t exactly a plea for environmentalism, though—it was an ad for UberPOOL, part of Uber’s big push into markets across Latin America. As Bloomberg points out, Uber already does more business in Mexico City than any other city it operates in, and Brazil is its third-largest market after the U.S. and India. Uber sees Latin American countries as generally easier targets for expansion than either of its top two markets.

«

“Hand me the crossbow, honey.”
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Password storage in sensitive apps • BBQ and 0days

Jon Sawyer:

»Last week I was contacted by a forensic specialist for a law enforcement agency. They had a phone that could make or break a very sensitive case, and their commercial mobile forensic tools were failing to do, well anything. They could not extract any data off the device. After verifying their identity and purpose, I agreed to help. Using a backdoor, very much like Pork Explosion, and some trickery we were able to fully extract all data off the device. This had me thinking, what next? What if this criminal was using another layer of security? What if they had a “secure storage” app, what if their photos, videos and what not were encrypted in an addition layer of security?

Off to the Google PlayStore, searched for “Secure Photo” and downloaded the first result, sure enough the files stored were encrypted…. but the PIN was stored in plaintext as a shared preference. Ok no fun, so I install the second result.

«

Long/short: you’re going to be hunting some time for an app that *really* stores your data securely, despite the promises. He looks at Android, though for iOS I guess the security is there in the passcode-encrypted file system.
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Election 2016: publishing hacked private emails is a slippery slope • Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

»Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci said on Twitter that she believes while media outlets seem incapable of resisting the lure of an email dump from a prominent figure, there are risks to publishing indiscriminately from such hacks that could have long-lasting impact.

One of the biggest risks, Tufekci says, is the destruction of personal privacy—for example, the Podesta dump included details of an ordinary staffer’s suicide attempt, which was subsequently tweeted out by Wikileaks and discussed on the air on CNN.

Theoretically, breaching someone’s privacy—even that of a quasi-government official—should be something that we do when there is a compelling argument for it, some broader social policy aspect, as there arguably is with the tape recordings of Donald Trump admitting to horrible behavior towards women.

«

What I’ve seen of the Podest emails seems to show absolutely what I’d expect: people trying to get access to Clinton, Podesta discussing ideas with people. It’s like West Wing, but the storyline is just real life, and not squashed into an hour with a dramatic arc. It might be impossible to secure email completely – in which case the answer might be to move to other communications channels such as Signal.

Tufecki is right, though. (I’ve never come across a point she’s made that I disagree with.)
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Google pushing Pixel pre-orders with popup on Google homepage • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»Google really, really wants you to pre-order a pixel, or at least to be aware that it exists. If you head to the Google homepage, you very well may see a popup encouraging you to pre-order the Pixel. Forget for a minute that most variants of the Pixel are sold out—Google is getting as much attention as possible for this phone.

The notification is popping up at the bottom of the screen on both mobile and desktop platforms (you can see the mobile version above). If you tap “Yes Please,” you’ll go right to the Made By Google site. From there, it’s just one click to the Google Store where, again, the Pixel is mostly sold out. The ad doesn’t appear all the time, but it’s fairly widespread.

«

Well, it has sunk north of half a billion dollars into it, so may as well use the world’s most prominent and (for Google) cheapest possible online advertising space to push it. It’s also doing this with Allo and previously with Duo, and before that of course with Chrome. How soon before we get ads for Google Chromebooks – and will the floodgates open some time after that, to anyone?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: hacking Clinton, more IoT vulns, Verizon cutting Yahoo?, Samsung’s creative destruction, and more


Your social media fingerprint gives away details about you – and it’s easy for websites to see it. Photo by sohacki.info on Flickr.


Next Tuesday, why not come to 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.


A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Clinton campaign chief’s iPhone was hacked and wiped, photos suggest • Ars Technica UK

Dan Goodin:

»

Unconfirmed evidence builds a strong case that an Apple iCloud account belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, was accessed and possibly erased by hackers less than 12 hours after his password was published on WikiLeaks.

So far, Clinton campaign officials have confirmed only the compromise of Podesta’s Twitter account after it was used to urge followers to vote for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Several screenshots circulating online, however, strongly suggest that the iCloud account tied to Podesta’s iPhone was also illegally accessed by people who tried—and possibly succeeded—to wipe the device of all its data. The images raise the specter that no one inside the Clinton campaign locked down the Podesta iCloud account in the hours following the WikiLeaks dump. iCloud accounts often provide a wealth of sensitive information, including real-time whereabouts, contacts, and confidential messages. Clinton officials didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment for this post.

The screenshots began appearing on Wednesday night, less than 12 hours after a new batch of Podesta e-mails published on WikiLeaks revealed that his iCloud password was “Runner4567.” Researchers can’t be certain how the iCloud and Twitter accounts were compromised, but several descriptions, such as this one of now-deleted threads on the 4chan discussion board, claim participants who saw the WikiLeaks post discovered that “Runner4567” remained a working password and used it to illegally access Podesta’s iCloud account.

«

The astonishing thing is that after the Democratic National Committee hack became public, the Clinton campaign didn’t make two-factor authentication mandatory across every sort of account. This is simply negligent by Podesta and his staff.
link to this extract


Your social media fingerprint: what are you logged in to? • Github

Robin Linus:

»

Without your consent most major web platforms leak whether you are logged in. This allows any website to detect on which platforms you’re signed up. Since there are lots of platforms with specific demographics an attacker could reason about your personality, too.

For most web platforms there’s a way to abuse the login mechanism to detect whether a user is logged in to that service.

Although this vulnerability has been well known (2012) for several years (2008) most companies won’t fix it.

«

Concerning. Seems I’m logged in to 11 services – three of them Google ones, even though I try to avoid Google services, and use UBlock.
link to this extract


HP Inc to cut 3000-4000 jobs over next three years • Reuters

Rishika Sadam in Bengaluru:

»

HP Inc, the hardware business of former Hewlett-Packard Co, said it expects to cut about 3,000 to 4,000 jobs over the next three years, sending its shares down 1.3% in extended trading.

The company said it expects adjusted profit for fiscal 2017 to be $1.55-$1.65 per share. Analysts on average had expected $1.61 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

«

That’s a lot of jobs. One also observes: Bengaluru is in India; the task of writing short takes on American conglomerates is easily transferable.
link to this extract


Decade-old SSH vuln exploited by IoT botnet armies to hose servers • The Register

John LEyden:

»

Hackers are exploiting a 12-year-old vulnerability in OpenSSH to funnel malicious network traffic through Internet of Things (IoT) gizmos, Akamai warns.

The SSHowDowN Proxy attack [PDF] exploits a lingering weakness in many default configurations of internet-connected embedded devices. Compromised gadgets are being abused to fire tidal waves of junk packets and traffic that exploits vulnerabilities against Akamai customers and others.

Crucially, the commandeered gear masks the source of the malicious traffic as the packets appear to originate from the weak devices. This is good for miscreants to hide behind, especially if they can use this tunneling to attack internal networks from external gear.

IoT gear infected with the Mirai botnet malware was used to thoroughly smash the website of security researcher Brian Krebs offline.

Ryan Barnett, principal security researcher at Akamai, explained that the SSHowDowN Proxy attack threat is distinct from the Mirai IoT botnet. Mirai exploited weak default passwords in CCTV cameras and other gear to gain control of systems, whereas malware exploiting SSHowDowN attacks builtin SSH servers to route bad traffic.

“This research is not related to Mirai,” Barnett told El Reg. “This is about new abuse of a known weakness/vulnerability in SSH.”

«

Needs admin password. But there’s a ton of devices out there on default admin passwords.
link to this extract


Android grows in major markets; iOS set for rise in China • Kantar Worldpanel

»

“The US, British and German markets have a couple of things in common. First, the Google Pixel, announced October 4, will be available through select retail partners in these markets beginning in mid-October. Second, the combined sales shares of Samsung and Apple represent more than 60% of all smartphones sold in these regions, with the rest scattered among brands in decline, such as Motorola and Sony, and those in growth, like Huawei and Alcatel,” Guenveur added. “The US and Britain have always been considered premium markets, but we are starting to see a shift to lower-cost devices as the prices of flagship products reach upwards of $800. For Google, this represents a unique challenge, as consumers weigh the features of the Pixel against those of other similarly priced products like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7, and against ‘good value for money’ Android-based brands that many consumers have started to view as alternatives.”

«

The best-selling phone in Britain, according to Kantar? The iPhone SE. Android, though, still dominates – 80% of sales in Germany. But why would you buy an expensive Google phone when you could get a cheaper phone from almost anywhere else?
link to this extract


Verizon just raised a big warning flag for Yahoo • Washington Post

Ellen Nakashima and Brian Fung:

»

Verizon on Thursday said that it was moving toward the conclusion that the massive data breach disclosed three weeks ago by Yahoo was a “material” event, a determination that likely would halt the telecom giant’s purchase of the tech firm’s core business.

“I think we have a reasonable basis to believe right now that impact is material,” Verizon General Counsel Craig Silliman told a small group of reporters. “And we’re looking to Yahoo to demonstrate to us the full impact if they believe it’s not. They’ll need to show us that, but the process is in the works.”

«

Uh-oh.
link to this extract


Steam is reportedly adding ‘1000 new VR users every day’ • UploadVR

Joe Durbin:

»

Today marked the start of Steam Dev Days — a developer-only conference in Seattle — and although press is not allowed on the show floor, some major news has leaked via Twitter updates. Of these limited updates, one stands out as being particularly significant:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

According to the above tweet, issued by a developer attending the conference, Steam is adding 1,000 new VR users each and every day on its Steam software distribution platform. This is major news for the immersive industry as actual numbers concerning the growth of its market are being played very close to the chest by the major headset manufacturers.

«

Something’s happening, for sure.
link to this extract


Blackberry: meditation at the grave • Medium

Jean-Louis Gassée:

»

I realize that this is easy, after-the-fact theorizing, but technology didn’t kill Nokia. Human error did. This wasn’t “seeing but not seeing”, as in BlackBerry’s case; Stephen Elop’s memo shows he clearly understood the war of ecosystems and the need to jump to another platform. But he made an incomprehensible mistake: He Osborned Nokia.

Turning to Redmond, we don’t have to look far for the cause of the failure of the Windows Phone platform. Initially, Android’s aim was to prevent a Microsoft monopoly in the smartphone space by creating an OS that wasn’t just more competent than Windows Mobile (an aging Windows CE derivative), it was free. This killed any hope for Microsoft to build a smartphone licensing business. The company improved its mobile operating system (now called Windows Phone), but was never able to get a licensee of any size.

Today, Microsoft’s handset business is effectively nonexistent. For the future, company execs loftily say they’re going to focus on phones for enterprise, a ‘paradigm shift’ that they are betting will make Windows 10 Mobile competitive.

Neither technology nor humans are to blame here. Failure came from an insurmountable business model obstacle.

«

History now shows that the table stakes for developing a competitive mobile OS are about a billion dollars. (You can extract those numbers from HP’s acquisition of webOS from Palm, from BlackBerry’s BB10 efforts, and probably somewhere in Microsoft’s accounts.) But that’s only the beginning; then you need handsets that will run it, and a broader strategy to build an ecosystem that will act as a virtuous circle. Get it wrong, and the writedowns are multiple billions. The downside is far greater than the initial cost (though the upside is, hey, an ecosystem).

Question now is which other platforms will demonstrate this. Wearables? IoT? AI assistants?
link to this extract


Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provided data access for a surveillance product marketed to target activists of color • ACLU of Northern California

Matt Cagle of the American Civil Liberties Union:

»

The ACLU of California has obtained records showing that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram provided user data access to Geofeedia, a developer of a social media monitoring product that we have seen marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protesters.

We are pleased that after we reported our findings to the companies, Instagram cut off Geofeedia’s access to public user posts, and Facebook has cut its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts. Twitter has also taken some recent steps to rein in Geofeedia though it has not ended the data relationship.

Further steps are required if these companies are to live up to their principles and policies by protecting users of all backgrounds engaging in political and social discourse. So today the ACLU of California, the Center for Media Justice, and Color of Change are calling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to commit to concrete changes to better protect users going forward. Read our letters here and here

We first learned about these agreements with Geofeedia from responses to public records requests to 63 California law enforcement agencies. These records revealed the fast expansion of social media surveillance with little-to-no debate or oversight.

«

This is a natural, logical spinoff of the surveillance implicitly embedded in targeted advertising-based products. Problem for Twitter et al: how do you know whether a third party which buys access to your API isn’t using it like this?
link to this extract


From crisis to creative destruction at Samsung • WSJ

Geoffrey Cain, a Seoul-based journalist, in an op-ed:

»

Samsung, having reached the top of the global industry, can no longer rely on the culture of crisis that once kept it moving. The Galaxy Note 7 blunders far outstrip what happened in 1995—and are unthinkable for a world-class corporation. Samsung now needs to prevent crises so it can stay on top, not use them to catch up.

Today the company is staffed by some of the world’s finest engineers and designers whose careers don’t depend on an emperor. The workforce is more professionalized but less enthusiastic. Employees say the company is beset by bureaucracy, complacency and petty internal politics—similar to the problems that undid erstwhile rival Sony.
Under Vice Chairman Lee, Samsung has made some progress at reform, selling off noncore assets and affiliates to trim down this sprawling empire. But the pace of change has been modest.

Now an unusual trifecta of problems is suddenly converging, offering Vice Chairman Lee an opportunity to prove himself. In the short term, he will have to reboot the Galaxy phone brand. In the long term, he’ll need to define a clearer direction into new growth areas and against Chinese handset makers.

Finally, and the most sensitive of all, he’ll need to simplify Samsung’s complicated ownership structure and smooth relations with shareholders such as Elliott Management.

«

Being compared to Sony’s gotta hurt.
link to this extract


Two key metrics show the perception of Samsung’s entire brand has tumbled over its exploding phones • Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»

Samsung’s “recommend score” — a measure from 100 to -100 of whether people are likely to recommend the brand to a friend or tell them to avoid it — has dropped in the US from 46 back in June to a score of 29 when the most recent survey was taken. Samsung suspended shipments of the device on August 31, less than two weeks after its release.

The brand’s purchase consideration — where survey participants are asked to pick the brands they would consider when they were next in the market to buy a specific product — has fallen from 42% to 31% in the same period.

YouGov Brand Index

Both are statistically significant declines.

Meanwhile, Samsung’s “Buzz” score —a measure of sentiment, where participants are asked whether they have heard anything positive or negative about the brand in the past two weeks — has also plummeted. Samsung had a score of 27 at the end of June, but that has since dropped to -6.9.

«

The key question will be how rapidly these recover.
link to this extract


Mixmsg is a Spotify-powered mixtape creator for Apple iMessage • Musically

Stuart Dredge:

»

The app is called Mixmsg – Make Mixtapes with Friends, and it was released as a free iOS download this week. “Mixmsg helps you create and share two-sided mixtapes as easily as texting,” explains its App Store blurb.

“Easily share life news, all the feels or favourite tunes & bands with a custom mixmsg tape or mixmsg Flyer. Rewind to a time when music said it all.”

Where does its music come from? We’ve given that away in the headline: the “provided by Spotify” text within the app shows the source. Two people can add songs and then play songs in full if they’re Spotify users.

There’s no obvious business model here, and we suspect this kind of thing will ultimately be an iMessage extension for services like Spotify. Even so, it’s an inventive spin on messaging and playlist creation.

«

Smart by Spotify: use the platform of your rival (in music) against it.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: from yesterday: IDC’s figures for “PC shipments” do include Chromebooks but not 2-in-1s; Gartner’s include 2-in-1s but not Chromebooks. I’ve fired my research assistant. (Thanks Max Rogowsky for pointing out the error.)

Start up: no ceramic iPhone, trading nonexistent bitcoin, the drone arms race, 40 years of Pigs, and more


It’s time to understand why people will do this, because they’re not “idiots” – they’re rational. Photo by Tony Webster on Flickr.


Why not come to 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.

A few tickets left; £10 secures your place.


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.

Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors • The Washington Post

Caitlin Dewey:

»

in the six weeks since Facebook revamped its Trending system — and a hoax about the Fox News Channel star subsequently trended — the site has repeatedly promoted “news” stories that are actually works of fiction.

As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate. On top of that, we found that news releases, blog posts from sites such as Medium and links to online stores such as iTunes regularly trended. Facebook declined to comment about Trending on the record.

“I’m not at all surprised how many fake stories have trended,” one former member of the team that used to oversee Trending told the Post. “It was beyond predictable by anyone who spent time with the actual functionality of the product, not just the code.”

«

link to this extract


Why your next iPhone won’t be ceramic • Atomic Delights

Greg Koenig:

»

Your typical phone has a stamped metal frame that gets placed into a mold to have the plastic outside shell injected around it. Total cycle time per phone of perhaps 20 seconds, and it isn’t like this makes a chintzy part – the same process is used to make the frame of a Glock. To build a million phone enclosures a day [as Apple does for the iPhone], you would need a few hundred machines and could fit the entire operation into a healthy sized Shenzhen industrial building. You can, of course, add some glitz and finishing processes to gussie up your plastic phone a bit, but those additions don’t add very much time.

An iPhone however, starts as a block of aluminum and is faced, milled, drilled, tapped, and de-burred in a bevy of machining operations, getting passed (mostly by hand, but increasingly by robot arm) through a series of mills, each set-up with precision fixtures that hold one side of the phone to face the spindle. Just the interior cavity of an iPhone requires 3-4 minutes of takt time while micro end mills carve out the tiny details and features that the interior components will locate against and fasten to. Just that one operation requires 3000 CNC mills to meet the 1 million per day demand. Add more machines to do the other sides of the phone, plus the crazy high-tech multi-axis lathes that make the buttons, plus production for iPads,and iMacs, and MacBooks, and Watches, and many of the accessories.


A murder of Fanuc Robodrills

This high cycle time is why Apple is the world’s largest owner of CNC milling machines and swiss style lathes. Rumors are that the number is around 40,000 with about half dedicated to iPhone production. I’ve seen pictures of one shop with acres of Fanuc Robodrills making iPhones, and that was only one of about a dozen such facilities. Apple is such a huge buyer of a particular kind of mill (BT30 spindle drill-tap centers) that Fanuc, Brother and DMG Mori each have factories dedicated to building machines exclusively for Apple.

This is not a position that happened overnight; it is a capability and scale that could only come about through iterative, strategic, long-term evolution. This started well over a decade ago with the MacBook Air’s unibody and has been relentlessly improved, deep partnerships cultivated, and new CNC machining techniques created to achieve the position Apple is in today. In many ways, Apple is far more dedicated to aluminum machining than the company ever was to the PowerPC and switching away will be far more tricky.

«

Mindblowing.
link to this extract


Why Trump voters are not “complete idiots” • Medium

Chris Arnade is a photographer and writer; he wrote this on May 30, but its message is more important to understand than ever – and it applies too over “Brexit”:

»

When the Democrats under Clinton in the early ‘90s shifted towards a pro market agenda, they made a dramatic shift towards accepting the Republicans definition of value as being about the economic.

Now elites in both major parties see their broad political goal as increasing the GDP, regardless of how it is done.

This has failed most Americans, other than the elite, in two ways. It has failed to provide an economic boost (incomes are broadly flat), and it has forgotten that many people see value as being not just economic, but social. It has been a one-two punch that has completely left behind many people.
For many people value is about having meaning beyond money. It is about having institutions that work for you. Like Church. Family. Sports Leagues.

In addition, the social nature of jobs has been destroyed. Unions provided more than just economic power, they also provided social inclusion.

You can scrap this entire analysis as silly if you want, but please try and understand the core point missing from much of the current dialogue — large parts of the US have become completely isolated, socially and economically.

Kids are growing up in towns where by six, or seven, or eleven, they are doomed to be viewed as second class. They feel unvalued. They feel stuck. They are mocked. And there is nothing they feel they can do about it.

«

His explanation of the step change between the two levels, and why those on the lower level would welcome disruptive change, is salutary.
link to this extract


Bitfinex recovery right tokens • Bitfinex blog

»

It is possible that some or all of the bitcoins stolen from Bitfinex will be recovered, perhaps through the efforts of law enforcement or through our own outreach to the hackers. .

To further reward BFX token holders converting to equity, we have created a new token, the Recovery Right Token (the RRT) to compensate victims of the security breach and, thereafter, to offer a priority to early BFX token conversions.

If there is any recovery of the property stolen from Bitfinex on August 2nd, the first priority will be to use any recovery amounts to repay the then-outstanding (unconverted) BFX tokens.

«

This sounds like the sort of thing you could trade.. so there’s a market in missing, and possibly never-recoverable, bitcoins? This is meta.
link to this extract


English man spends 11 hours trying to make cup of tea with Wi-Fi kettle • The Guardian

Bonnie Malkin:

»

All Mark Rittman wanted was a cup of tea. Little did he know he would have to spend 11 hours waiting for his new hi-tech kettle to boil the water.

Rittman, a data specialist who lives in Hove, England, set about trying to make a cup of tea around 9am. But thanks to his Wi-Fi enabled kettle it wasn’t long before he ran into trouble, tweeting: “Still haven’t had a first cup of tea this morning, debugging the kettle and now iWifi base-station has reset. Boiling water in saucepan now.”

Three hours later the kettle was still having problems. The main issue seemed to be that the base station was not able to communicate with the kettle itself.

«

link to this extract


Pentagon confronts a new threat from ISIS: exploding drones • The New York Times

Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt:

»

Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq last week shot down a small drone the size of a model airplane. They believed it was like the dozens of drones the terrorist organization had been flying for reconnaissance in the area, and they transported it back to their outpost to examine it.

But as they were taking it apart, it blew up, killing two Kurdish fighters in what is believed to be one of the first times the Islamic State has successfully used a drone with explosives to kill troops on the battlefield.

In the last month, the Islamic State has tried to use small drones to launch attacks at least two other times, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device.

The Islamic State has used surveillance drones on the battlefield for some time, but the attacks — all targeting Iraqi troops — have highlighted its success in adapting readily accessible technology into a potentially effective new weapon. American advisers say drones could be deployed against coalition forces by the terrorist group in the battle in Mosul.

«

Flying IEDs. Technology is neither good nor bad, but neither is it neutral.
link to this extract


Worldwide PC shipments declined 5.7% in third quarter of 2016 • Gartner

»

“There are two fundamental issues that have impacted PC market results: the extension of the lifetime of the PC caused by the excess of consumer devices, and weak PC consumer demand in emerging markets,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. “According to our 2016 personal technology survey, the majority of consumers own, and use, at least three different types of devices in mature markets. Among these devices, the PC is not a high priority device for the majority of consumers, so they do not feel the need to upgrade their PCs as often as they used to. Some may never decide to upgrade to a PC again.

“In emerging markets, PC penetration is low, but consumers are not keen to own PCs. Consumers in emerging markets primarily use smartphones or phablets for their computing needs, and they don’t find the need to use a PC as much as consumers in mature markets.”

«

IDC’s results say much the same (with not quite such a big decline). That point about “consumers not being keen to own PCs” is pretty telling. PC sales for the third quarter were the lowest they’ve been since 2006; concentration of production (80% by the top six) was at its greatest ever, and is going to increase once Lenovo takes over Fujitsu. I do wonder how long Samsung will persist.

Neither set of numbers, however, includes Chromebooks or 2-in-1s. Chromebooks in particular are zooming ahead. It’s about time that one of these groups included them: they’re becoming important in education, from where they could break out. They’re a slow low-end disruption playing out over a decade, as children graduate from school.
link to this extract


Apples and oranges: Why a TV viewer does not equal an online video view • Digiday

Sahil Patel:

»

A year ago, Yahoo became the first company to live stream a regular-season NFL game all around the world. The broadcast netted 15.2m unique viewers worldwide. With most Sunday NFL games in the U.S. averaging 10m to 20m viewers, Yahoo seemed to have hit a TV-sized NFL audience.

Except it didn’t. If you were to measure Yahoo’s live stream the same way TV is measured, the viewership was far smaller: an average of nearly 2.4m viewers across the 195-minute live stream.

This, in a nutshell, is the biggest difference between how viewership is defined on TV versus the web: Whereas TV looks for the average number of viewers across the entire program, the web prioritizes the cumulative number of people who have watched a video.

«

There is a problem with journalists who don’t know how TV measures numbers and think that “views” equates to “viewers”, and so lap up numbers provided (without that important context) by Facebook or Google. It’s worth looking at how those are measured officially, so that you can understand future claims that “the Presidential debates were watched by far more people online!” TV remains an incredibly powerful medium for the broader population.
link to this extract


It’s time for science to abandon the term ‘statistically significant’ • Aeon Essays

David Colquhoun:

»

it’s high time that we abandoned the well-worn term ‘statistically significant’. The cut-off of P < 0.05 that’s almost universal in biomedical sciences is entirely arbitrary – and, as we’ve seen, it’s quite inadequate as evidence for a real effect. Although it’s common to blame Fisher for the magic value of 0.05, in fact Fisher said, in 1926, that P = 0.05 was a ‘low standard of significance’ and that a scientific fact should be regarded as experimentally established only if repeating the experiment ‘rarely fails to give this level of significance’.

The ‘rarely fails’ bit, emphasised by Fisher 90 years ago, has been forgotten. A single experiment that gives P = 0.045 will get a ‘discovery’ published in the most glamorous journals. So it’s not fair to blame Fisher, but nonetheless there’s an uncomfortable amount of truth in what the physicist Robert Matthews at Aston University in Birmingham had to say in 1998: ‘The plain fact is that 70 years ago Ronald Fisher gave scientists a mathematical machine for turning baloney into breakthroughs, and flukes into funding. It is time to pull the plug.’

The underlying problem is that universities around the world press their staff to write whether or not they have anything to say. This amounts to pressure to cut corners, to value quantity rather than quality, to exaggerate the consequences of their work and, occasionally, to cheat.

«

Colquhoun is a professor of pharmacology at University College London and a Fellow of the Royal Society, so this isn’t some bit of randomness. I read this with growing amazement, but it makes sense. 5% has always been arbitrary; the incentives to push things over that “significance” line, and the logical flaws inherent in using it, which Colquhoun points out, are now a problem.
link to this extract


Pigs (Three Different Ones) – Live – Desert Trip – Indio Ca – October 9, 2016 • YouTube

Roger Waters performing one of the songs from Pink Floyd’s 1977 album “Animals”. Watch the graphics, all the way through. The lyrics, it turns out, are still relevant.

(Also have to love how even during the guitar solo, the spotlight isn’t allowed to come off Waters.)
link to this extract


Samsung slashes profit forecast due to Galaxy Note 7 recall • WSJ

Jonathan Cheng and Eun-young Jeong:

»

In a reflection of the widening financial impact of its product safety crisis, the South Korean technology giant lowered its operating profit estimate for the three months ended Sept. 30 to 5.2trn Korean won ($4.6bn) from an original estimate of 7.8trn ($6.99bn) won.

It also lowered its expected revenue for the quarter to 47trn won ($4.21bn) from an original estimate of 49trn won ($4.39bn).

Samsung said last week that its preliminary third-quarter earnings guidance figures took into account the Galaxy Note 7 recall. But the new numbers now factor in the increased likelihood that customers will seek a refund for their Galaxy Note 7 rather than an exchange for a Samsung phone, leading to lower expected earnings for the quarter.

“The expected direct cost of the discontinuation of the Galaxy Note 7 has been reflected,” a company spokeswoman said.

«

The mobile division may make an operating loss. My records for Samsung only go back to 2009, and that’s never happened in that period. What’s shifted is that “refund rather than replacement” – an acknowledgement of the cost of the brand damage.
link to this extract


Samsung breached limits in its bid to trump Apple • Financial Times

Song Jung-a in Seoul and Louise Lucas in Hong Kong:

»

A similar bid to leap ahead saw Samsung adopt ultra-thin separators to keep anode and cathode elements apart in the battery cells and thus prevent short-circuiting. By making the separators thinner, the batteries are lighter, leaving more space to pack density into the positively and negatively charged parts of the cell. 

“Samsung was bold in adopting the very thin separators. And they may have stretched themselves in taking on this challenge in a short space of time before the iPhone 7 came out,” said Noboru Sato, a visiting professor at Nagoya University and a former executive of battery supplier Samsung SDI.

Super-thin separators are mostly supplied by Japanese companies, including Toray, Teijin and Asahi Kasei. Mr Sato said the separators are unlikely to be at fault. Instead, he questioned whether Samsung had the surrounding technologies to manage these latest-generation separators.

“You have to be extremely precise in handling these new separators, but it’s plausible the trouble occurred because testing was insufficient,” he said. 

Teijin said its separator was not used in the Galaxy Note 7, while Toray and Asahi Kasei did not comment.

An industry player in Europe suggested processor overloading could be the problem, saying rapidly changing consumer demands meant algorithms built into the processor to “shove more energy” into devices can easily overload the battery, triggering overheating. 

For Kim Young-woo, an analyst at SK Securities, Samsung’s obsession with waterproofing was to the detriment of heat control technology, which had not been a problem in the past. 

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Apple v Samsung supremely, the trouble with Age Verification, Anandtech on iPhone, and more


An Airbus A300 cockpit. Note: contains hidden assumptions. Photo by Jexweber.fotos on Flickr.


Why not come to 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.

A few tickets left; £10 secures your place.


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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google warns more than a dozen Russian journalists and activists about ‘government-backed attackers’ • Global Voices

Kevin Rothrock:

»

More than a dozen Russian journalists and activists received a strange warning from Google earlier today, notifying them that “government-backed attackers” may be “trying to steal” their passwords. According to the security alert, Google says it “can’t reveal what tipped [it] off because the attackers will take note and change their tactics.” The company says these attacks happen to “less than 0.1% of all Gmail users.”

According to opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky, at least 16 people—including Bellingcat researcher and RuNet-Echo contributor Aric Toler—have received warnings from Google. Kozlovsky says he’s been alerted, along with Transparency International Vice President Elena Panfilova, former Moscow city council member Maksim Kats, journalist Ilya Klishin, and others.

Alexey Shlyapuzhnikov, a security consultant for Transparency International, says the hackers were targeting, in part, three domains belonging to the NGO, as well as the email addresses of staff at regional and international offices.

«

Just another day in 2016.
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Apple-Samsung iPhone patent feud leaves U.S. top court struggling • Reuters

Andrew Chung:

»

The $399m penalty stemmed specifically from Samsung’s violation of three Apple patents on the design of the iPhone’s rounded-corner front face, bezel and colorful grid of icons that represent programs and applications.

While the justices signaled a willingness to reduce the potentially huge penalties imposed for ripping off someone else’s patented design, some expressed skepticism over how, in practice, juries could figure out the importance of a specific design trait in a product in order to calculate damages.

“If I were a juror, I wouldn’t know what to do,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

Several justices struggled with how they would devise a test for lower courts and juries to use to determine design patent damages.

Using as an example the Volkswagen Beetle’s unique automobile body contour, Justice Elena Kagan suggested it might be difficult for a jury to decide how much damages to award based on a theoretical patent infringement of its shape, when that trait might be the main factor driving consumers to buy it.

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Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster • The Guardian

Tim Harford:

»

It is possible to resist the siren call of the algorithms. Rebecca Pliske, a psychologist, found that veteran meteorologists would make weather forecasts first by looking at the data and forming an expert judgment; only then would they look at the computerised forecast to see if the computer had spotted anything that they had missed. (Typically, the answer was no.) By making their manual forecast first, these veterans kept their skills sharp, unlike the pilots on the Airbus 330. However, the younger generation of meteorologists are happier to trust the computers. Once the veterans retire, the human expertise to intuit when the computer has screwed up could be lost.

Many of us have experienced problems with GPS systems, and we have seen the trouble with autopilot. Put the two ideas together and you get the self-driving car. Chris Urmson, who runs Google’s self-driving car programme, hopes that the cars will soon be so widely available that his sons will never need to have a driving licence. There is a revealing implication in the target: that unlike a plane’s autopilot, a self-driving car will never need to cede control to a human being.

Raj Rajkumar, an autonomous driving expert at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks completely autonomous vehicles are 10 to 20 years away. Until then, we can look forward to a more gradual process of letting the car drive itself in easier conditions, while humans take over at more challenging moments.

«

But as Harford has illustrated with an earlier example from an Air France crash, only giving humans the challenging moments carries dangerous presumptions in itself.
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The danger of smart communication technology • Arc

Evan Selinger:

»

Although outsourcing is inevitable, not all outsourcing is good for us. In What Money Can’t Buy, Harvard ethicist Michael Sandel gives a great example of what many of us would consider an improper instance.

Sandel asks us to imagine someone delivering a moving best man speech who hides the fact that he outsourced its writing — purchasing the text online from a service that excels in generating poignant prose. Even if the toast was born of good intentions, a genuine desire to deliver a memorable and moving presentation that makes everyone happy, a problem remains: the groom’s best friend, a highly trusted confidant, passed off a commodity as something else. Deceptively, he presented another’s work as heartfelt sentiment that came to mind after deep soul-searching. The lack of authenticity strikes most of us as appalling, which is why the best man wouldn’t open his speech honestly by revealing its origins.

While Sandel’s example retains its force even if it’s a machine, not a human-based online service, that has created the enchanting speech, the problem doesn’t go away when we consider outsourcing communication in more mundane, everyday uses. To get a better sense of the main problems with using Allo and related smart communications products, it helps to consider their features in light of the six basic existential characteristics that apply to all forms of outsourcing.

«

From there, one goes to…
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Terms of endearment, computer-generated • ROUGH TYPE

Nicholas Carr:

»

there’s something deeper going on here. Allo’s message-generation algorithm reveals, in its own small way, the strange view of personal relations that seems to hold sway in Silicon Valley. To the entrepreneurs and coders who run today’s massive social networks, our conversations are data streams. They can be tracked, parsed, and ultimately automated to enhance efficiency and remove kinks from the system.

We already use computers to converse, so the next logical step, in this view, is to use software to conduct the conversations themselves. By relying on an AI to compose our messages, we can optimize our productivity in managing our relationships. Call it the industrialization of affiliation.

Last year, in an online question-and-answer session, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he thinks “there is a fundamental mathematical law underlying human social relationships that governs the balance of who and what we all care about.” Stripped to our essence, we humans are just aggregations of data, and it’s only a matter of time before information scientists discern the statistical pattern that defines our beings. At that point, we’ll all be perfectly programmable.

«

Carr has a talent for finding the weirdness underlying all the assumptions of Silicon Valley.
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A sequence of spankingly bad ideas • Medium

Alec Muffett is a specialist in security and privacy, and isn’t impressed with the UK government’s plans to introduce mandatory age verification (AV) for access to online porn:

»

If our goal is to implement AV then any or all of the solutions may be implemented; however:

• all of the mechanisms are circumventable
• multiplying or combining them will leave them still circumventable, whilst reducing usability and practicality still further.
• at least one of these mechanisms may have significant collateral impact upon mechanisms which defend us against fraud
• at least one of these mechanisms operates in direct contravention of the policies of major source of information that it utilises
• at least two of these mechanisms involve the creation of — presumably huge — databases which may be repurposed in future for monetisation, e.g.: advertising web-tracking, data mining, etc.
• one of these mechanisms seeks to leverage any or all of the other mechanisms; if they are unfit for purpose, so is it

«

Still, at least it will satisfy the Conservative backbenches.
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Battery life and charge time – the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus review: iterating on a flagship • Anandtech

Joshua Ho and Brandon Chester:

»

Looking at our WiFi web browsing test, it’s genuinely ridiculous how well the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus perform in this test. The iPhone 7 Plus is definitely down on battery life compared to the Galaxy S7 Edge, but it’s within 5% despite using a battery that’s almost 20% smaller. The iPhone 7 is actually comparable in battery life to the iPhone 7 Plus, and is significantly above the Galaxy S7 with Exynos 8890. Of course, the iPhone 7 has a significantly lower resolution display and a smaller battery, but the nature of smartphone design is that larger devices will generally have better battery life because the board area needed remains mostly constant while the amount of area for battery increases. The iPhone 7 has significantly improved in battery life here, likely due to a combination of A10 Fusion’s power optimizations – particularly the small CPU cores – and the removal of the headphone jack, which teardown photos show to have been partially replaced with the battery. However if you do the math efficiency sees a relatively minor uplift.

One other interesting point is that Brandon accidentally ran the battery test on his iPhone 7 with a Safari Content Blocker enabled, which blocked all the ads on the sites that the test visits. In doing so, battery life rose from the normal result of 9.22 hours to 10.03 hours, demonstrating how the increased workload and long-running network requests from ads and trackers really impacts a smartphone’s battery life.

«

Some fascinating stuff in this (long, as ever) review. Including this thing at the start:

»

It’s interesting to write a review like this, because for better or worse, I didn’t have serious exposure to the iPhone from the beginning. When the first iPhone launched in 2007, I was in school and still used a flip phone that spent most of its time functioning as an alarm and a timer and not much else.

«

Tempus fugit.
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No bots please, we’re European! • Creative Strategies

Carolina Milanesi:

»

At Creative Strategies we set out to ask 1250 consumers across the top 5 European markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK) how they felt about digital assistants and interacting with bots.

Eighteen% of our European panel said to be using a voice assistant every day. Another 22% use a voice assistant four to six times a week and 39% use it between one and three times a week. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google are slowly but steadily creeping into our lives and we seem pretty happy about it. Thirty-three present of the panel said that it is more convenient to speak than to type and another 25% think it is actually fun to use. While not everybody is quite a believer yet trying it out does not seem to be a big problem as 28% did just that. Only 15% of the panel said they are more comfortable typing than speaking reflecting the fact that the panel did not include Gen Z consumers who will be more likely to embrace voice and touch first UIs.

Despite our familiarity with, and interest in voice assistants, we seem to be happier to interact with them in a more casual fun way than rely on them for life-critical operations. When it comes to interacting with bots in a more business environment consumers would prefer to interact with bots in the car (27%) and in the home (26%). When it comes to banking, something that many consumer still do not trust doing on a mobile phone, consumers preference to have a bot interaction drops to a mere 12%.

«

I think I’m in the 22%, but mostly only to do stuff like set timers. It’s very dependent on your context: if you’re mostly in a shared workspace, you probably won’t use it that much.
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How Julian Assange turned WikiLeaks into Trump’s best friend • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin and Vernon Silver:

»

WikiLeaks has long sought expanded privacy rights and a diminished role for the U.S. abroad—strongly opposing secret wiretaps, drone strikes, and the Guantánamo Bay prison facility. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has suggested “closing up the internet,” expanding extrajudicial killings, and making Gitmo—a longtime WikiLeaks bête noir—a permanent and expanded institution. Assange started his hacktivism career in the late 1980s and has expressed admiration for the antinuclear activists of that era; Trump has often wondered, out loud, if we shouldn’t consider using nuclear weapons more often.

None of this has seemed particularly to trouble Assange, who has mined the leaked Democratic National Committee e-mails, as well as publicly available e-mails from Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, for any meme-worthy tidbit to reinforce the case against her candidacy. He has used these finding to give cover to thinly sourced theories about Clinton’s health—in late August, he dug up an e-mail that showed that Clinton once received information about a Parkinson’s disease drug—and inventing new anti-Clinton theories out of whole cloth…

…on Friday, WikiLeaks released about 2,000 private e-mails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, just minutes after the leak of Trump’s vulgar remarks caught on video in 2005. It seemed like an effort to blunt the damage to Trump while arming him ahead of the second debate.

Longtime allies have generally been horrified by these developments, with friends and supporters suggesting that Assange has been so intent on playing the media that he may be in danger of losing control. “I’m not sure what to make of this turn to the alt-right,” says John Kiriakou, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was imprisoned for telling ABC News that the government had tortured suspected terrorists. Among fellow whistleblowers and their friends, Kiriakou says, “There’s no consensus other than maybe Julian is just going nuts.” ([British journalist and Wikileaks editor Sarah] Harrison disputes this, but not entirely. “There are big psychological pressures,” she says. “It’s difficult for him.”)

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And the illustration accompanying the piece is priceless:



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Journalistic and economic values are, unfortunately, not correlated. For now • Monday Note

Frederic Filloux nails the problem news organisations have online, with a fictional example of a paper covering the crash of a plane in their area:

»

In every large newsroom of the country, reporters on the transportation beat will move heaven and earth to squeeze their sources in the airlines sector, especially at the National Transportation Safety Board in charge of the post-crash investigation. At this stage, the notion of exclusivity sets in: if a reporter gets her hands on a flight-recorder transcript, the story will score high in terms of economic value. In theory. In fact, due to the structure of a traditional website and the way ads are sold, this scoop is unlikely to carry a higher value than yet another third-hand Kim Kardashian robbed in Paris “report”.

This unfortunate trend has been reinforced over recent years because the share of sales done through automated market places is on the rise: according to e-marketer, the share of programmatic ad spending will reach 73% of the total US market with a year-to-year growth of 44%. And none of the machines that assign an economic value to journalistic work are able to see the difference between a conspiracy theory and an investigation!

You get the point: the market doesn’t reward exclusivity, nor traditional journalistic legwork (the painstaking but crucial craft of cultivating sources).

«

As he points out, TV has solved this (and print has too) but we’re a long way from it online. He’s going to be working on it at Stanford; it seems like the sort of project that Google’s Digital News Initiative in Europe should be doing too, with some urgency. (Filloux represented a French publisher in the DNI launch.)
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Actually, Ken Bone is bad • Gizmodo

Sophie Kleeman:

»

First, let’s rewind and look back at what, exactly, Ken Bone asked.

“What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”

Are you fucking kidding me, Ken?

This question is equivalent to asking, “So, what do you think about all that stuff going on in Syria?” or “Man, police brutality, huh?” It’s one of the broadest, softest questions imaginable, and it doesn’t even mention climate change by name. Ken Bone chose to devote his precious rhetorical capital to the business side of science, while leaving out the actual science almost entirely.

The candidates, of course, were delighted. “I think it’s such a great question,” cooed Donald Trump, who denied ever denying climate change during the [first] debate. He then went on to bloviate about “clean coal,” which, besides not actually existing, also allowed him to neatly side-step any tough statements about climate change, climate science, or any of the specific issues currently plaguing our planet that will almost certainly cause our downfall in about 100-odd years. Hillary Clinton went on about turning America into a “21st century clean energy superpower,” though she did acknowledge — extremely briefly — that climate change is a “serious problem.” You don’t say.

That climate change — and science in general — didn’t come up in any real way during the debate shouldn’t come as a surprise, because we are the country, after all, that continues to deny the problem exists in the first place.

«

I came prepared to disagree completely with Kleeman, but she persuaded me. Bone’s question was a missed chance to identify important political fault lines.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Adieu Note 7, advantage Huawei, maybe Apple, maybe not so much Google Pixel


The Note 7 is toast. Photo by strategeme on Flickr.

So the Galaxy Note 7 is no more. Samsung has, belatedly, said that it has halted manufacturing of the device, and that anyone who has one should power it down and return it for an exchange.

Huawei’s going to be an obvious winner; the Google Pixel not so much, because of its limited volumes (I’ve got an estimate below). It’s very hard to see whether Apple will really benefit.

This is fine

US carriers had over the weekend all decided to stop selling it after multiple replacement devices began overheating and catching fire. Having initially moved somewhat slowly to a recall when 2.5m of the devices had already gone out to carriers and end users, Samsung seemed bamboozled by the second stage; for a couple of days it was a deer in the headlights, when it seemed clear to everyone else (independent brand advisors, analysts, etc) that the simplest move was the Tylenol solution – get every damn one off the shelves.

The case study is enlightening:

By withdrawing all Tylenol, even though there was little chance of discovering more cyanide laced tablets, Johnson & Johnson showed that they were not willing to take a risk with the public’s safety, even if it cost the company millions of dollars. The end result was the public viewing Tylenol as the unfortunate victim of a malicious crime (Broom, 1994).

The difference here of course being that Samsung wasn’t the victim of a malicious crime; the fault seems to lie in the combination of the phone and the battery – perhaps there’s something about the fast charging via USB-C plus tiny variations in battery manufacture which makes some batteries prone to thermal runaway.

Ben Thompson points out in his Stratechery newsletter that the US consumer regulator suggested that the battery compartment is too small, which pinches some batteries. That’s probably enough to spark a runaway:

“The dimensions of the materials they put into the pouch were a little bigger than the pouch itself,” [Consumer Product Safety Council chairman Elliot] Kaye said. “By putting that all together and squeezing it into the compartment, it caused some pinching.”

(There’s a clue in the subtly different dimensions: Note 7 dimensions: 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm, v the
Note 5 (the 2015 precedessor): 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm. Very slightly narrower, yet with a 3,500mAh battery compared to the 3,000mAh of the Note 5. Bump it about a bit, perhaps a microscopic part of the battery begins thermal runaway, that spreads slowly to another part, pretty soon the whole thing is getting hot… and blam.

Bad karma

The Note 7 will go down in history as the phone which Samsung tried to rush out ahead of the similarly-numbered iPhone (and bizarrely abandoned its own numbering, following 2015’s Note 5 with 2016’s Note 7.). It was announced in August, part of Samsung’s effort in 2016 to get ahead of everyone else by announcing its flagship much earlier than rivals, rather like glossy magazines publishing their Christmas issue some time around October.

Even though no smartphone is truly designed in a hurry, the Note 7 seems to have been the victim of a rush to market. That tiny bit less QA (quality assurance) testing, that insistence on a form factor… while the engineers succeeded in making it waterproof, they failed to make it fireproof.

So now it’s gone, and Samsung’s reputation is effectively being trashed all over the world by the fact of news reports about the end of production, the details of the fires, and so on.

Estimates vary on the damage in terms of lost sales. There were 2.5m already out there, but some reports suggest analysts thought it could have sold up to 19m units over its lifetime. Reset that to zero now.

Lost sales?

Who wins? Or, to put it another way, where will those sales go?

I don’t think any of those initial buyers will go anywhere but Samsung. These are people who wanted the Note 7, and it offers them something (a stylus, split screen, the Samsung name) that they really wanted. It was exceedingly well received by reviewers, though of course that’s barely half the battle; getting it into peoples’ hands is a far more difficult task.

But for the rest? One of the “replacement in flames” people said he was getting an iPhone instead, but he seems like an outlier (he’s American, after all). Far more likely that someone who’s looking to buy a premium Samsung phone is embedded in the Android ecosystem, and so will be looking for something similar – big, perhaps a little flashy, premium.

Their first port of call is likely to be Samsung, but after this mishap it’s going to be tricky. These are people who have clearly chosen not to buy the S7 or S7 Edge, since those have been available for months.

In which case they could be looking for something quite different. Apple can tempt (the iPhone 7 Plus does have that New Phone look, sorta – especially if you get it in Unobtainable Black). But there’s a switching cost in moving from Android to iOS, in time spent finding equivalent apps if not in pure cost. (Though the latter may also apply.)

So who or what else might they choose?

Advantage Huawei

Huawei is the third biggest phone maker in the world, and it is very ambitious indeed. It is going to seek to take advantage of this everywhere outside the US – where it is weak – by pushing its budget. That’s certainly what I’d do if I were them, and they’re a deal more capable at this than me.

Huawei also has attractive hardware at the high end which will certainly appeal to Chinese and Asian customers, and it has been stepping up its efforts in Europe with some success too. It’s just possible that we’ll look back in a few years on this moment and realise that this was when Huawei took the chance to overtake Samsung at the top of the phone tree.

It could happen: if the reputational hit on Samsung is bad enough (and it is already sunk in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market) then it could be a long decline.

Hey, what about the Pixel?

But what about the Google Pixel? The search company launched two new phones recently. Couldn’t they take advantage of this new hole in the market, especially in the US where Huawei is weak (partly because of Google) and Google is strong?

Well, not on the numbers. The Pixel is built for Google by HTC. Thus HTC’s revenues are going to fluctuate partly through the number of Pixels that it has been asked to make. A number of those would have been made ahead of the launch.

Can we estimate how many? Sure we can.

In the first six months of 2016, from January to June, HTC’s revenue drifted downwards compared to 2015 by an average of 50% year-on-year.

Then in July, the drift reversed; it fell only 14%. In August, 4.5%. In September, it was actually up compared to 2015 by 31.3%.

Given that the HTC Vive VR headset hasn’t set the world aflame, I’m going to hypothesise that all the extra revenue (ie everything above a 50% decline y-o-y) in July-September comes from making Pixel handsets for Google.

HTC revenues changes year-on-year by month

(Yes, you could argue that the revenues seem to suggest a rebound after February – but the Vive went on sale in April, with preorders opening in February, which would explain that too.)

On that basis, HTC has received NT$11.5bn, or about $363m, from Google to make the HTC Pixel – sorry, the Google Pixel.

How many handsets does that translate to? It depends on how much you think it costs to make them. If you take the IHS estimate for the manufacturing cost of the iPhone 7, of $220, then HTC has made 363m/220 = 1.65m Pixels.

However, that seems like an absurdly high manufacturing cost. So let’s try $110 instead – given that Google is selling them for the same price as an iPhone, that would certainly help profits.

At $110, our $363m translates into 3.3m handsets already made and filtering into sales channels as you read this. I’d expect the true figure lies somewhere between these two – I could have overestimated the money put into this manufacturing effort, and if Google really is charging $600+ for a $110 handset, it’s bringing chutzpah to a whole new level.

So let’s say it might have around 2m to 3m handsets available over the next few months. Is that going to sate those seeking an alternative to the Note 7? Probably not – as a handset it’s OK, but it’s not YUGE like the Note 7, and it doesn’t have a cool stylus or all those other things.

Also, 2-3m handsets (built over three months) isn’t going to be enough to fulfil all those would-be Note 7 buyers, who are reckoned to number 19m over the next 12 months, remember. Google can keep the HTC factories working, churning out a million or so a month, but it would be very surprising if all of the 17m or so Note 7 buyers go for the Pixel instead.Google may well get a good slice of those buyers – more, in fact, than it was ever expecting, given the market it thought it was going to be launching into – but I don’t think it’ll capture all of them by any means.

(In passing, notice that that $363m only gets you to first base in this project: having some phones built. It doesn’t cover the R+D, sales, marketing or administration. You’re easily talking half a billion dollars here to do this thoroughly. And that’s for a phone which is only going to make a marginal impact on this quarter’s sales.)

And back to Samsung

In the end, most of those early Note 7 buyers are probably going to buy another Samsung. But that’s not what its management should worry about – nor the $2bn exceptional item that’s going to be sitting on the balance sheet for the next quarter.

It’s this: what happens when it announces the Galaxy S8 next January or February? People are going to ask whether it explodes, and Samsung will say of course not, and then inevitably there will be a case where it does, because manufacturing defects are inevitable. Hell, there’s even been a claimed instance with an iPhone 7, and Apple doesn’t use fast charging or USB-C and doesn’t squeeze high-capacity batteries into small spaces. It’s pretty much certain that a Galaxy S8 will go off. Then what?

And this is even before the media has gotten onto other flaming Samsung appliances, such as its washing machines in Australia. (Dedicated Overspill readers knew about this a while back.)

The reason why this is a particular problem now is that the smartphone market has pretty much peaked; in the premium market, replacement cycles are lengthening and sales are shrinking, so anyone that Samsung doesn’t capture now might be lost (as a potential sale) for another two or three years. That’s a substantial amount of foregone profit

The upside for Huawei looks big. The upside for Google (Pixel) looks like hitting sales targets. The upside for Apple looks like some more iPhone 7 sales, though I wouldn’t hang your hat on it.

The downside for Samsung, though, looks big. Events like this can make and break a company, and this is going to be its more serious test ever.

Start Up: Note 7 redux, HTC’s Android Wear why?, chocolate and Nobels, talking to robots, and more


Not welcome at British government Cabinet meetings. Photo by Bill Juoy on Flickr.

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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dozens of suspicious court cases, with missing defendants, aim at getting web pages taken down or deindexed • The Washington Post

Eugene Volokh and Paul Alan Levy:

»

There are about 25 court cases throughout the country that have a suspicious profile:

• All involve allegedly self-represented plaintiffs, yet they have similar snippets of legalese that suggest a common organization behind them. (A few others, having a slightly different profile, involve actual lawyers.)
• All the ostensible defendants ostensibly agreed to injunctions being issued against them, which often leads to a very quick court order (in some cases, less than a week).
• Of these 25-odd cases, 15 give the addresses of the defendants — but a private investigator (Giles Miller of Lynx Insights & Investigations) couldn’t find a single one of the ostensible defendants at the ostensible address.

Now, you might ask, what’s the point of suing a fake defendant (to the extent that some of these defendants are indeed fake)? How can anyone get any real money from a fake defendant? How can anyone order a fake defendant to obey a real injunction?

«

This turns out to be quite weird, and seems to be about the lack of a “right to be forgotten” in the US. But are the same tactics being used in the UK, or Europe?
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I’m angry at Facebook • The Arc

Ericka Andersen:

»

A year and a half ago, I took a new job at a legacy publisher — a well known brand name with a strong readership. They hadn’t put a lot of stock in social media strategy and even in 2015, had a mere 167,000 Facebook fans and got only a fraction of traffic from the platform to the website.

I was determined to change this. I took on the Facebook platform with gusto, getting ads into play, overhauling the posting strategy, doing A/B testing, getting our well-known writers fan pages, mixing up content, adding video to the list, aggressively targeting new fans and adding share buttons and social incentives to everything we did.

Literally within days, the Facebook traffic increased. Month after month, the platform engagement grew, our fan base exploded, our traffic increased significantly from Facebook.

And then, the algorithm. The stupid algorithm. The algorithm that every social media manager has come to loathe with the fire of thousand suns.

Don’t bother asking Facebook staff about it — they have merely vague, nonsensical answers that amount to: “It’s your own fault. Your content sucks.”

I can assure you, our content is not the problem.

Several months back, our traffic from Facebook plateaued. Then it tanked. Now, the traffic is as low as it was before I arrived. You know, back when they had 800,000 fewer fans? How, in god’s name, is this even possible?

*I understand that Facebook can do whatever they want. They can prioritize friends and family postings above publishers if they want to. That’s fine!

But, if publishers are investing large amounts of money in building their fan bases  —  getting people to like the page that are actually the kind of people who want this kind of content  —  isn’t there some kind of ethical obligation on their part to deliver the content provided?

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Apple Watches banned from Cabinet after ministers warned devices could be vulnerable to hacking • Daily Telegraph

Peter Dominiczak:

»

Ministers have been barred from wearing Apple Watches during Cabinet meetings amid concerns that they could be hacked by Russian spies, The Telegraph has learned.

Under David Cameron, several cabinet ministers wore the smart watches, including Michael Gove, the former Justice Secretary.

However, under Theresa May ministers have been barred from wearing them amid concerns that they could be used by hackers as listening devices.

Mobile phones have already been barred from the Cabinet because of similar concerns.

One source said: “The Russians are trying to hack everything.”

Mr Gove disrupted one Cabinet meeting when he was Chief Whip by inadvertently playing a Beyonce song.

«

Dominiczak is the political editor. I can imagine this came from a corridor conversation with a minister. Only need now to narrow it down to those in the Cabinet who wear Watches.

Can believe they’d be a hacking target, though. They have a microphone; why not?
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IAEA chief: Nuclear power plant was disrupted by cyber attack • Reuters

Andrea Shalal:

»

A nuclear power plant became the target of a disruptive cyber attack two to three years ago, and there is a serious threat of militant attacks on such plants, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Monday.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Yukiya Amano also cited a case in which an individual tried to smuggle a small amount of highly enriched uranium about four years ago that could have been used to build a so-called “dirty bomb”.

“This is not an imaginary risk,” Amano told Reuters and a German newspaper during a visit to Germany that included a meeting with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“This issue of cyber attacks on nuclear-related facilities or activities should be taken very seriously. We never know if we know everything or if it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Amano declined to give details of either incident, but said the cyber attack had caused “some disruption” at the plant, although it did not prove to be very serious since the plant did not have to shut down its operations. He said he had not previously discussed the cyber attack in public.

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Lionel Shriver’s book “The Mandibles” (highly recommended) has a passing mention in the plot setup of a time when the whole of the US’s internet is knocked offline for some time. Here’s hoping she’s not prophetic.
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HTC could finally be ready to release its first Android Wear smartwatch • Pocket-lint

Max Langridge:

»

Chinese site Weibo has picked up some leaked images of the alleged HTC watch, codenamed Halfbeak, a codename which has been associated with the watch before. The images have since been shared by TechTastic.nl.

The images show an almost customary circular watch face with a reported 360×360 pixel resolution but what isn’t clear is what the face is made from, but it’s likely to be metal. The strap, which on first impressions doesn’t look interchangeable, appears to be made from rubber silicone.

The watch will run on Android Wear and control will be via two round buttons and a longer oblong button on the right hand side of the face.

It’s likely HTC’s smartwatch will be aimed at fitness fanatics, as there’s a clear Under Armour logo on the back of the watch, confirming a partnership between the two companies. There also appears to be a heart rate monitor on the underside of the watch too.

«

Great way to lose money, but hey, let HTC decide for itself how it digs its grave.
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US top court to hear Apple-Samsung feud over iPhone designs • Reuters

Andrew Chung:

»

The justices’ ruling, due by the end of June, could have a long-term impact for designers and product manufacturers going forward because the Supreme Court, if it agrees with Samsung, could limit the penalties for swiping a patented design.

Samsung Electronic paid Apple $548.2m last December, fulfilling part of its liability stemming from a 2012 verdict for infringing Apple’s iPhone patents and copying its look.

But Samsung will argue before the Supreme Court that it should not have had to make as much as $399m of that payout for infringement of three patented designs on the iPhone’s rounded-corner front face, its bezel and the colorful grid of icons that represent programs and applications.

It will be the Supreme Court’s first case involving design patents in more than 120 years, when the products at issue were carpets and rugs.

Cupertino, California-based Apple sued its South Korean rival in 2011, claiming Samsung stole its technology and the iPhone’s trademarked appearance.

Samsung has said it should not have had to fork over all of its profits on phones that infringed the patents, which contributed only marginally to a complex product with thousands of patented features.

Apple has said Samsung was properly penalized for ripping off its work.

«

Guess a decision there would qualify for a “Finally” if ever one did.
link to this extract


Samsung says it’s ‘working diligently’ as fifth replacement Note 7 burns • The Verge

Jordan Golson:

»

If you own a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 you should immediately stop using it and return it for a refund — all the major US carriers will exchange the phone, regardless of purchase date. We don’t know why Samsung hasn’t been more forthcoming about what’s going on with these replacement devices, but it doesn’t really matter. Until we get more information, the simplest explanation is the best one: the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is a fundamentally defective product and it should be pulled from the market without delay.

«

Samsung halted production, but coyly wouldn’t say it had halted production, only that it was “making adjustments”. This will one day be in the management books about “how you don’t handle problems with your potentially explosive devices.” Especially because it is continuing to insist that the devices are safe to use:

»

Given these troubling reports about the Galaxy Note 7 replacement devices, Business Insider reached out to the company to ask if it still believes the phones are safe for customers to use and charge. The answer? Yes.

“Yes, the replacement Note7 devices are safe to use,” a UK-based spokesperson told Business Insider. “All new Note7 devices feature a green battery icon to give customers reassurance that their device is safe to charge.”

«

Not reassured. And sure enough, after this story appeared, Samsung announced that it was stopping all sales and exchanges while it investigates, and told everyone to turn off and exchange their Note 7s.
link to this extract


Your next friend could be a robot • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»

It isn’t a surprise that we will access technology by voice. More surprising will be how people work alongside, and develop affection for, these computers.

At Amazon, that has led to rethinking Alexa’s purpose. Sensing that many users want a companion, Amazon is giving Alexa a personality, by making its voice sound more natural, and writing clever or funny answers to common questions.

“A lot of work on the team goes into how to make Alexa the likable person people want to have in their homes,” says Mr. Gill.

Google, too, has been working to make its voice interface, and the artificial intelligence behind it, personable. Last week the company rolled out Google Home, an Echo-like device powered by Google Assistant, its version of Alexa. But people have been talking to phones, tablets and computers powered by Google software, which has among the best voice recognition in the industry, for years.

To infuse personality into Assistant, Google employs writers who have worked on movies at Pixar and crafted jokes for the Onion, says Gummi Hafsteinsson, product-management director of Google Home. Getting it right also requires paying attention to details such as latency — humans have no patience for it in conversation — and tone of voice, such as stressing the word “now,” when Assistant says, “Setting a timer for two minutes starting now.”

«

As his interviewees say, when there’s no interface except the voice – no pointers, no touch objects – you’d better do it like the humans do.
link to this extract


Chocolate consumption and Nobel Prizes: a bizarre juxtaposition if there ever was one • Scientific American

Ashutosh Jogalekar:

»

What makes a Nobel Prize winner? There’s several suggested factors: Perseverance? Good luck? Good mentors and students? Here’s one possible factor that I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams; chocolate consumption. Chocolate consumption tracks well with the number of Nobel Laureates produced by a country.

At least that’s what a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine – one of the world’s premier journals of medical research – claims. I have to say I found the study bizarre when I read it, and a few hours of strenuous, perplexed thought have done nothing to shake that feeling off.

«

Don’t worry, the writer points to the more obvious underlying factor after a bit.
link to this extract


iPhone 7? You’re fired! • BBC News

Ruhua Xianyu:

»

Nanyang Yongkang Medicine’s story [threatening to sack employees who got an iPhone 7] was soon picked up by a local news website. It reported that when it contacted the company to check the story a company spokesman called Mr Liu confirmed that the warning was issued on behalf of the firm’s chairman. He said it was intended to encourage staff to pay more attention to their family instead of luxury goods.

But there is no evidence that the company has yet followed through with its threat to sack staff found to have bought an iPhone 7. Mr Liu is reported to have added: “The company is discussing the notice further.”

Mr Liu’s boss is not the only employer who professes to be concerned that the iPhone 7 could lead their workers to developing an unhealthy obsession with pricey technology. This week Weibo users have shared photos of a notice issued by the Fuling Xinjiuzhou Gynecology Hospital in Chongqing warning its staff not acquire an Apple habit.

It reads: “iPhone 7 has recently come onto the market and the price is a record high among the similar mobiles. In order to promote thrift and avoid waste, the hospital administration office has made a decision: we ban our staff from buying iPhone 7s.” The notice goes on to warn that anybody who flouts the rule will be disqualified from receiving the top grade in their staff appraisal and will be urged to return their phone to the shop.

The hospital’s manager told BBC Trending he had been prompted to act when a member of staff had bought an iPhone 7 even though it cost three times their monthly wage.

«

Make China Great Again. Bring The Jobs Back. Something like that.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: the adtech vig, new Macs and Surfaces?, securing the IoT, the fingerprinted smart gun, and more


It’s like machine learning. Sorta. Photo by noodlepie on Flickr.


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.

Tickets are limited; book now. £10 secures your place.


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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Deep-fried data • Idle Words

The wonderful Maciej Ceglowski, who runs Pinboard (which I use to compile these links each day, as it happens), gave a speech to the Library of Congress in September:

»

Today I’m here to talk to you about machine learning. I’d rather you hear about it from me than from your friends at school, or out on the street.

Machine learning is like a deep-fat fryer. If you’ve never deep-fried something before, you think to yourself: “This is amazing! I bet this would work on anything!”

And it kind of does.

When I was in college, friends who worked the snack bar conducted extensive research along these lines. They would deep-fry cheese, candy, pens, their name tag. And all of it came out tasting great.

In our case, the deep-fryer is a toolbox of statistical techniques. The names keep changing—it used to be unsupervised learning, now it’s called big data or deep learning or AI. Next year it will be called something else. But the core ideas don’t change. You train a computer on lots of data, and it learns to recognize structure.

These techniques are effective, but the fact that the same generic approach works across a wide range of domains should make you suspicious about how much insight it’s adding.

And in any deep frying situation, a good question to ask is: what is this stuff being fried in?

«

link to this extract


Machine logic: our lives are ruled by big tech’s ‘decisions by data’ • The Guardian

Julia Powles:

»

With artificial intelligence and machine learning, technologies that are fast becoming very significant actors, “we are in another moment of irrational confidence”, says renowned technology and culture researcher Kate Crawford.

Aiming at population-level predictive gambles, these technologies filter who and what counts, including “who is released from jail, what kind of treatment you’ll get in hospital, the very news that you see”. How we respond is “the biggest challenge facing us for the next 50 years”.

Crawford and three other women at the leading edge of digital scholarship and activism are headlining the 17th annual Association of Internet Researchers conference in Berlin. Their resounding message is that we have an urgent problem with “the machine logics that bind human and non-human rulers together”.

Crawford points to the recent international outrage at Facebook’s censorship of a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph as the tip of the iceberg. This is a high-profile example on top of “a much larger mass of unseen hybrids of automated and semi-automated decision-making,” she says. “They are embedded in back-end systems, working at the seams of multiple data sets, with no consumer-facing interface. Their operations and rules are not apparent to us.”

«

link to this extract


Where did the money go? Guardian buys its own ad inventory • Mediatel

David Pidgeon:

»

In worst case scenarios, for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.

The revelation, announced by the Guardian’s new chief revenue officer, Hamish Nicklin, at the Automated Trading Debate on Tuesday (4 Oct), means a host of adtech businesses operating within the supply chain are extracting up to 70% of advertisers’ money without being able to quantify the value they provide to the brand.

“There’s leakage. The money that goes in is not the same as the money that goes out,” Nicklin said.
“There are so many different players taking a little cut here, a little cut there – and sometimes a very big cut. A lot of the money that [advertisers] think they are giving to premium publishers is not actually getting to us.”

Nicklin said the Guardian had purchased its own ad inventory to try and assess where the money was spent across the entire supply chain and saw, in some instances, that only 30 pence was making it back to the publisher.

«

And you wonder why publishers struggle online. That sort of skimming is unsustainable.
link to this extract


Inside Apple’s new audio adapter • iFixit

Jeff Suovanen:

»

The takeaway seems to be that in some areas, the sound quality does measure a bit worse from the adapter than we might be accustomed to. For instance, when playing an uncompressed 16-bit audio file on the iPhone 6s, the dynamic range dropped from 99.1 dB at the headphone jack to 97.3 dB at the adapter. Though keep in mind, this slightly lower measurement is still higher than the theoretical maximum you get from a compact disc (which is 96 dB). So, is it a difference you are likely to notice? If you sit in a quiet room with a really, really good pair of headphones … and you’re a canine, the answer is: maybe.

But it appears Apple’s engineers did their job, and this tiny adapter performs better than most people expected or even thought possible.

«

No. That is not the takeaway. You literally cannot hear the difference. You can barely measure it.
link to this extract


A 19-year-old just built the first fingerprint-reading smart gun • WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

[Investor Ron] Conway takes to the podium to announce he has found a solution: the 18-year-old sitting near him, smiling politely but confidently in his well-tailored suit. His name is Kai Kloepfer and he’s from Colorado, a state that’s had more than its share of mass shootings. “He is the Mark Zuckerberg of guns,” Conway tells the room.

Kloepfer has spent the past four years designing a handgun with a fingerprint reader built into the grip, and he deferred his acceptance to MIT after winning a grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation in 2014. His startup, Biofire, is just a few months from a live-firing prototype, which, assuming it works, will be the first gun to unlock like an iPhone.

“Congratulations,” Conway says to Kloepfer. “You are going to save America. You are going to save lives. The gun companies won’t tell you, but the tech industry will.”

«

Uses a fingerprint reader that’s a spinoff from the colossal smartphone business in Shenzhen. About 20,000 youth suicides, unintended injuries and deaths in the US each year come from “improperly secured guns”. 250,000 guns stolen each year; 62% of 33,000 gun deaths are suicides, committed with guns not belonging to the victim.
link to this extract


We need to save the internet from the Internet of Things • Motherboard

Bruce Schneier:

»

The security of our computers and phones also comes from the fact that we replace them regularly. We buy new laptops every few years. We get new phones even more frequently. This isn’t true for all of the embedded IoT systems. They last for years, even decades. We might buy a new DVR every five or ten years. We replace our refrigerator every 25 years. We replace our thermostat approximately never. Already the banking industry is dealing with the security problems of Windows 95 embedded in ATMs. This same problem is going to occur all over the Internet of Things.

The market can’t fix this because neither the buyer nor the seller cares. Think of all the CCTV cameras and DVRs used in the attack against Brian Krebs. The owners of those devices don’t care. Their devices were cheap to buy, they still work, and they don’t even know Brian. The sellers of those devices don’t care: they’re now selling newer and better models, and the original buyers only cared about price and features. There is no market solution because the insecurity is what economists call an externality: it’s an effect of the purchasing decision that affects other people. Think of it kind of like invisible pollution.

What this all means is that the IoT will remain insecure unless government steps in and fixes the problem.

«

DDOS attacks like the one on Brian Krebs’s site are indeed a sort of pollution; an externality, in economics lingo. And you need governments to regulate externalities like this, since a tort lawsuit against the maker of an insecure device will probably fail – seller goes bust, is in a different country, etc.
link to this extract


Microsoft schedules its autumn hardware event for October 26 • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

»

The theme of the event this year is news around “the next chapter in the Windows story”. I assume this means there will be news around Windows 10 Redstone 2. Sources also are saying to expect OEM devices, Microsoft Surface device news, and some gaming-related updates at the event.

A number of us Microsoft watchers are expecting the company to launch a Surface All-in-One type device – likely with a Surface keyboard and mouse – at the event. I’ve also heard Microsoft will be highlighting a bunch of its OEM partners’ Windows 10 devices there.

Will there be a new Microsoft Band or a Microsoft-branded phone launched on Oct. 26? No and no…my sources continue to say no new Microsoft phones of any kind are coming this year, either.

«

Microsoft is going after smaller and smaller markets. The market for all-in-ones is smaller even than that for premium laptops.
link to this extract


Apple’s rescheduled earnings call could suggest new Mac announcement around October 27 • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

»

When the largest company in the world changes the date of a quarterly earnings call, there has to be a good reason. It’s not the sort of thing you do on a whim.

Apple has done this once before, and there was indeed a very good reason, which it shared with us: to allow senior Apple execs to attend the memorial service of long-standing board member Bill Campbell.

This time, however, no explanation has been offered, and enquiries by reporters have received no response. I’m with Philip Elmer-DeWitt in thinking that there’s one very plausible explanation.

That explanation is that Apple has brought forward its quarterly earnings call to make way for a keynote two days later. And the event we’re all expecting this month is the launch of new Macs.

«

About time: that’s a month into the final quarter, with some machines which haven’t been significantly updates in years. The Mac Pro hasn’t ever been updated; it came out in the same year as iOS 7. Remember that?

Although I’d wager that all the new models will use USB-C charging. (Note Apple’s press release around the revamped MacBook in April, which it called “our vision for the future of the notebook”.) And that’s going to make obsolete millions of MagSafe chargers around the world. And they can’t be converted.
link to this extract


US government: Russia behind hacking campaign to disrupt US elections • Ars Technica UK

Sean Gallagher:

»

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security today jointly charged that the Russian government was responsible for directing a series of intrusions into the networks of US political organizations and state election boards. In a “joint security statement”, officials from the two agencies declared they were “confident” that the government of President Vladimir Putin was behind the hacks and the publication of data obtained from them—some of it doctored—specifically to impact the results of the upcoming US elections.

In a joint statement, agency officials asserted the following:

»

The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.

«

The officials also accused Russia of being behind attacks on some state election board systems.

«

link to this extract


Samsung knew a third replacement Note 7 caught fire on Tuesday and said nothing • The Verge

Jordan Golson:

»

Another replacement Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has caught fire, bringing the total to three this week alone. This one was owned by Michael Klering of Nicholasville, Kentucky. He told WKYT that he woke up at 4AM to find his bedroom filled with smoke and his phone on fire. Later in the day, he went to the hospital with acute bronchitis caused by smoke inhalation.

“The phone is supposed to be the replacement, so you would have thought it would be safe,” Klering told WKYT, saying that he had owned the replacement phone for a little more than a week. “It wasn’t plugged in. It wasn’t anything, it was just sitting there.”

The most disturbing part of this is that Klering’s phone caught fire on Tuesday and Samsung knew about it and didn’t say anything. And actually, it gets worse than that.

Samsung asked Klering if they could take possession of the phone and he said no, though the company did pay to have it x-rayed — but the damning evidence comes in the form of a text message that Klering inadvertently received from a Samsung representative:

“Just now got this. I can try and slow him down if we think it will matter, or we just let him do what he keeps threatening to do and see if he does it.”

«

Now, ok, this looks like a smoking gun. (Oops, sorry.) But: why wouldn’t Klering let Samsung take the phone to check it? That’s quite odd; you’d think, if he has chosen the same phone *twice*, he would want it checked over and, presumably, replaced.

Hence I do wonder if Klering was demanding some sort of extra payment from Samsung, saying that otherwise he would take it to the press, but that Samsung was insisting he just hand over the phone so it could decide what, if any, recompense was due. Perhaps that’s what the “threat” is. And Klering made good on it. What’s not crystal clear though is whether this truly was a replacement Note 7, or an original one, or what.

But it’s getting worse: AT+T suspended all sales of the Note 7 and so has T-Mobile; Ars Technica says the count of “safe” Note 7s catching fire is up to five.

Samsung may be overlooking that these things are slow to catch on with consumers – but then very hard to put out.
link to this extract


Uber’s self-driving cars are already getting into scrapes on the streets of Pittsburgh • Quartz

Alison Griswold:

»

While it would be easy to write off these incidents [a self-driving car seen going the wrong way up a one-way street; being hit from behind by the following car, which is always the following car’s fault] as minor mishaps, both suggest how much work Uber has left to do on its autonomous software, even as it’s begun putting real passengers in the cars. One reason Uber’s vehicles are currently traveling only a small area of Pittsburgh is because those are supposed to be the streets its engineers have carefully mapped and taught the cars about. If that’s really the case, no self-driving car should be turning the wrong way down a one-way street—nor should its safety driver, who is in theory the final check on the car’s autonomy.

Driverless vehicles also tend to operate in a cautious, hyper-logical manner and follow the rules of the road to a tee. Uber, again via its mapping efforts, has tried to prepare its cars to avoid certain tricky situations they might run into. On one street near the ATC in Pittsburgh, Uber engineers have instructed the self-driving cars to hang close to the curb because trucks making turns are more likely to swerve into the oncoming lane. By that same logic, the cars should also know certain intersections are hotspots for rear-ending accidents and be on the alert to avoid them, much as a savvy human driver would be. Uber’s approach differs from that of other companies such as Nvidia, which have focused on teaching computer systems to drive in a more adaptive, human-like way—by being introduced to situations a few times, and then applying what they learn to other encounters on the road.

«

link to this extract


Twitter sale process said almost dead as suitors bow out • Bloomberg

Alex Sherman, Sarah Frier, and Brian Womack:

»

Twitter Inc.’s sales process is almost dead, as top bidders lose interest amid pressure from their investors, according to people familiar with the matter.

Twitter once saw interest from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Salesforce.com Inc. and Walt Disney Co., all of which consulted with banks on whether to acquire the social-media company. Now all of those suitors are unlikely to make a bid, the people said. On Friday, Twitter had planned to have a board meeting with outside advisers on a sale but canceled, one of the people said.

At Salesforce’s investor conference this past week, several investors talked to Chief Financial Officer Mark Hawkins and other executives about how they weren’t pleased with the idea of a Twitter buyout, according to another person familiar with the matter. They made their feelings known during small huddles near the stage and other areas around the meeting room. High-profile investors also e-mailed Hawkins, who forwarded the messages to his CEO and the board.

«

What options are left? Stagger on as before? Private equity buyout? But with no obvious route to profitability in sight, it’s hard to see how it would be attractive to a private equity buyout.
link to this extract


Here come the Galaxy S8 rumors: no physical button, “full screen” display, and dual camera • AndroidAuthority

Bogdan Petrovan:

»

According to the report, Samsung is planning to use a so-called “full screen display.” In other words, the plan is to all but eliminate the top and bottom bezels (the side bezels are already very thin), which would supposedly create a very minimalist and immersive experience.

This one ties in with the elimination of the home button – if Samsung really drops the physical home button, it would make a lot of sense to reduce the bottom bezel as much as possible.  For a reason why, just look at the negative reaction to the empty top and bottom bezels of the Pixel and Pixel XL.

In late 2015, Samsung was rumored to make all sides of the Galaxy S7, including the top and bottom, curved. That didn’t pan out, but Samsung may use the idea on the Galaxy S8. Expanding the curve to the two other sides would keep the S8 ahead of competitors, including the next iPhone, which is rumored to feature an all-new design.

Rumor has it that Samsung has already made up its mind on using a dual camera on the back of the Galaxy S8. The question is whether Samsung will use a two-lens/one-module design or a two-lens/two-module arrangement. According to the report, Samsung could opt for a 16MP/8MP setup.

«

Basically, anything Apple is rumoured to do next September (or has done this September), Samsung will do next February/March. It’s probably galling as hell for Apple’s designers to find their ideas leaking like this.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Disney won’t Twitter, Oculus Touch prices, reviewing Alexa, Lenovo buying Fujitsu’s PCs?, and more


Contains no Samsung Note 7s, by order. Photo by cmsramsden on Flickr.


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

how social media is both polarising our opinion and weakening the ways in which we hear contrary views.

Think about the claims made around Brexit (“£350m per week to go back to the NHS!”), Donald Trump’s ability to make wild claims which are believed by his followers without question, and the difficulty of getting anyone to agree even on what seem like simple facts – the disappearance of MH370, 9/11, climate change; the list goes on.

And here’s the strange thing: being online is polarising us more, and social networks amplify that. Why? This talk will explore that – and its consequences.

Tickets are limited; book now. £10 secures your place.


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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Snapchat parent working on IPO valuing firm at $25bn or more • WSJ

Maureen Farrell, Juliet Chung and Rolfe Winkler:

»

Snap Inc. is working on an initial public offering that could value the popular virtual-messaging company at $25bn or more, in what would be one of the highest-profile debuts in years.

The company, formerly known as Snapchat, is preparing the paperwork for an IPO with a view toward selling the shares as early as late March, according to several people familiar with the matter. There is no guarantee the four-year-old Venice, Calif., company will proceed with a share sale on that time frame or what its valuation might be.

If Snap, best known for allowing users to send disappearing messages from their smartphones, moves forward as planned, it would be the biggest company to go public on a U.S. exchange since 2014.

«

Contrast that to our next company…
link to this extract


Disney isn’t going to bid for Twitter, either • Recode

Peter Kafka:

»

Cross another potential Twitter buyer off the list: Disney isn’t pursuing a bid for the social platform, either.

Sources familiar with Disney, which was mulling a possible Twitter purchase last week, say the media giant has decided not to move forward.

Earlier today Recode reported that Google, a logical buyer for Twitter who had also hired a banker to kick the company’s tires, was not going to bid; Apple is also unlikely. Twitter shares dropped 9% in after-hours trading.

For now, that leaves Salesforce as the only potential buyer for Twitter, though the company has never confirmed publicly that it wants to make a deal. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff appeared on CNBC today and refused to comment directly on any interest in Twitter.

«

Pfft. Someone must want it, surely?
link to this extract


Chromebooks in K12 • AVC

Fred Wilson:

»

Five years ago, most of the laptop carts I saw [in US schools] were filled with MacBooks. I was aghast when I saw that. I did the math and assumed that a laptop cart filled with Macs was costing these schools something on the order of $30k or more. And someone had to manage all of the downloaded software on these devices. It seemed like an expensive and painful solution.

It was around this time that Google launched its first Chromebook. I told everyone who would listen to me that putting inexpensive Chromebooks in these carts was going to be a better solution. An added benefit of using browser based software on these devices is that the student can grab any device in the cart, log in using their email address, and immediately be provisioned with their work and applications in the cloud. It seemed to me that this was going to be the way to go.

I read today that Chromebooks are now being used by 20mm students. I have no idea what% of those are in the US, but if we guess 50%, then that would be 10m students in the US. There are somewhere around 50mm K12 students in the US, so that suggests that Chromebooks may have penetrated 20% of classrooms in the US. That is encouraging to me.

«

This is what low-end disruption looks like.
link to this extract


Oculus Touch is $199, shipping December 6th, final design revealed • UploadVR

Jamie Feltham:

»

As you can see, Touch consists of two handheld controllers shaped for your left and right hands respectively. With them you can bring your hands into a VR experience, reaching out to interact with objects and items. Both devices also feature analog sticks along with triggers and face buttons as well as gesture recognition.

It’s essentially Oculus’ answer to the position tracked controls found in the HTC Vive, which come included with the headset for $799. Both the Oculus Rift and Touch together will cost $798, putting them at very similar prices. Oculus is set to integrate Room Scale tech too, with extra Oculus sensors going on sale soon for $79. Rift and Vive are now neck and neck.

«

link to this extract


UK’s Royal Mail won’t ship the Galaxy Note 7 for you • AndroidAuthority

“Nirave”:

»

we’ve been able to establish that there is a directive in place requiring the Post Office to ask about the contents of every package and to refuse any parcel containing a Galaxy Note 7. However, some Post Offices are taking this a step further and refusing to accept packages containing any Samsung phone, although this is not an official decision; earlier today, we managed to confirm with six Post Offices that they couldn’t carry the Galaxy Note 7 and of these, two said they wouldn’t accept any Samsung Galaxy phone.

For Samsung, this presents an interesting problem as the Galaxy Note 7 doesn’t stand a chance of successfully reclaiming its throne as the king of flagships if consumers continue to be reminded of the handset’s woes. Like the airlines, it remains to be seen how quickly companies remove these limitations on the Galaxy Note 7, if at all.

«

This thing is toast, reputation-wise.
link to this extract


Yelling at Amazon’s Alexa • The New Yorker

Sarah Larson:

»

This spring, I decided to experiment with Alexa myself, at my apartment, which has a beautiful soul but is not smart in the least. In theory, Alexa can adjust your lighting by having you yell into the air; she can open and close your garage door and turn up the heat. I live in a prewar walkup; my lights are rarely far from my hands; I certainly don’t have a garage. My heat is controlled by knob-turning, window-opening, and landlord-e-mailing, which are not compatible with Alexa. My apartment’s brain, sadly, would still have to be me.

I tend to grumpily resist new technology, thinking it frivolous. (My foray into the future with Alexa would occur in a room decorated with Puritan bookends and a whatnot shelf.) Inevitably, when I get the thing, I like it—and I have an active dialogue going with my iPhone Notes app, which I talk to all the time. But in this case I was also wary of Amazon. Amazon is a conundrum—a bully, a megalomaniac, a resource, a savior, a snoop. I’m unnerved by its dash buttons, its drones, its Sunday U.S.P.S. deliveries. (On Sundays in my apartment building, you can hear an eerie beeping by the mailboxes all day long: Amazon, Amazon, Amazon.) I decided that I would talk to Alexa—we could rap about music and the news, say—but that there would be no ordering things from the mothership. Then I went to the mothership’s Web site and ordered an Echo.

«

Imagine if all tech reviews were as readable and enjoyable as this. Set aside the time for it.
link to this extract


A declining trajectory • Matt Gemmell

Mrs Gemmell’s Watch and iPhone aren’t behaving:

»

She is not a happy customer.

My Watch is misbehaving too, regularly losing its ability to track heart-rate and thus update in-progress workout calories for ten or twenty minutes at a time. Its battery life is vastly reduced. My iPhone’s battery widget shifts itself around on the widgets screen, and regularly vanishes altogether. There’s an unfamiliar street-address hovering in the Spotlight screen that I don’t recognise, beneath the app suggestions. It’s hit-or-miss as to whether the emoji suggestions feature works in the new on-screen keyboard. I quickly disabled my Apple Music trial after it deleted several of my rare live versions of Dire Straits tracks. And Apple Support finally conceded that my immaculate, obsessively-cared-for 2015 MacBook was beyond repair after three warranty parts-replacements, and gave me the new upgraded 2016 model I’m now typing on. I don’t have high hopes for it.

I am not a happy customer either.

There’s something wrong here. A death-march upgrade cycle is producing substandard software at the very least, and it’s diluting a hardware brand that’s probably unmatched in the industry, if not the world in general. It’s with mixed humour and genuine fear that people assert they’ll never get into version 1.0 of an Apple-made self-driving car.

«

I don’t have any of the problems Gemmell (Mrs or Mr) has. But it’s an interesting question whether the new-version-each-year system is necessary. It enables new features on iOS, but is the complexity of maintaining that across four platforms now overwhelming?
link to this extract


Lenovo tipped to take over Fujitsu’s PC business • South China Morning Post

Bien Perez:

»

Bernstein Research senior analyst Alberto Moel said a deal with Fujitsu would enable Lenovo to “continue gaining share in the worldwide personal computer market”.

“Our view on whether this deal is positive or not will hinge on the terms,” he said. “It would not be without precedent for Fujitsu to give the business away to Lenovo, or even pay Lenovo to take it.”
He estimated that Fujitsu sold 1.7m personal computers in the first half of this year, mostly in Japan, which yielded US$1.9bn in revenue.

“That represents about 15% of Lenovo’s nearly US$14bn PC sales globally in the same period,” he added.

Lenovo recently expanded its operations in Japan when it paid US$195m in July to acquire a further 44% interest in Lenovo NEC Holdings, a joint venture with NEC Corp that has been the country’s biggest personal computer supplier.

«

PC consolidation continues, with the little fish being swept up. Fujitsu really is tiny, but its PCs command a premium price: Lenovo shipped 25.3m PCs in the first half of the year for $13.3bn.
link to this extract


How Howard Stern owned Donald Trump • POLITICO Magazine

Virginia Heffernan:

»

No interviewer has ever been as adroit with treacherous leading questions in the vein of “When did you stop beating your wife?” [Radio shock jock Howard] Stern, in other words, gets people to publicly embrace their worst selves—and say things they live to regret.

That’s exactly what happened with Trump. Today, as the Republican nominee, he may fashion himself as a boss and a master of the universe. But what comes across in old tapes of the show, resurfaced recently by BuzzFeed and other outlets, is that Trump, like many of Stern’s guests, was often the one being played. By nailing him as a buffoon and then—unkindest cut—forcing him to kiss the Howard Stern ring, Stern and his co-anchor, Robin Quivers, created a series of broadcasts that today showcase not just Trump’s misogyny but his ready submission to sharper minds.

Why would people subject themselves to Stern’s hazing? Generally, his guests in those days—if not strippers and professional opera buffa types—had to have been brought pretty low, so that a combination of psychological fragility and hunger for celebrity made them vulnerable to his mock camaraderie. That’s why it’s important to remember that Trump in the period of his appearances on the show was deeply in the red. By the time he was a regular, he had blown it all in Atlantic City, run out on his vendors, left his imperious first wife, Ivana, for the commoner Marla Maples, earned the yearlong silent treatment of his namesake son and reported a loss of nearly a billion dollars. (Even a businessman of cognitive impairment would have to sweat that one.)

«

This is terrific writing. You ask why people are delving into Trump’s past? Because he’s never been a politician, and now he’s running for president. Everything about his personality is fair game – including this, which shows how a Putin or Assad would play him: flatter him, confuse him, outwit him. As the article also notes, his “Apprentice” act, of the fierce tyrant, is just that – an act.
link to this extract


Samsung Buys Viv • Above Avalon Plus

Rather than directly linking to the WSJ’s story about Samsung buying the “voice-driven AI assistant Viv”, I thought Neil Cybart’s analysis (in his paid-for newsletter) was worth quoting. He points out that some people insist Apple made a mistake in not buying Viv, and in letting “all” of Siri’s founders go:

»

Turning to the idea that Apple in some way “messed up” by not keeping Siri’s co-founders around, there were three Siri co-founders:
• Dag Kittlaus left Apple days after Siri made its debut on the iPhone 4s.
• Adam Cheyer left a year later in 2012.
• Tom Gruber is still at Apple and is currently Siri’s head of advanced development. 

I think many people would be surprised to learn that one of Siri’s co-founders is actually still leading Siri. 

Circling back to the claim that Apple is making a mistake by not buying Viv, the startup was actually very public about its technology. It was clear that Viv would eventually be bought since they had a feature and not a product. Viv needed a home. Samsung ended up being the one to bite. I found Kittlaus’ explantation to the WSJ for why he went with Samsung interesting: 

»

“There isn’t another company in the world…with the scale and scope of what Samsung does.”

«

My first reaction to that comment: No one else, other than Samsung, was interested in buying Viv.

«

 

“A feature and not a product.” “My first reaction…” I always enjoy the astringency of Cybart’s analysis, which comes from his years working as a Wall Street analyst. I also enjoyed this:

»

I recall watching Viv’s demo earlier this year at TechCrunch’s conference. I had the same reaction when watching Google demo Google Assistant earlier this week. [Dag] Kittlaus was using his smartphone in ways that I hoped would never become the norm. As I mentioned yesterday, there will be a much better way to use the power of AI besides having a long-winded, two-way conversation with my smartphone.

«

No matter. Sure to be included in the S8, even though Samsung already offered a “voice assistant” thing called S Voice.
link to this extract


Theranos retreats from blood tests • WSJ

John Carreyrou and Christopher Weaver:

»

The moves mark a dramatic retreat by the Palo Alto, Calif., company and founder Elizabeth Holmes from their core strategy of offering a long menu of low-price blood tests directly to consumers. Those ambitions already were endangered by crippling regulatory sanctions that followed revelations by The Wall Street Journal of shortcomings in Theranos’s technology and operations.

The shutdowns and layoffs could help the closely held company accelerate its shift to developing products that could be sold to outside laboratories. Ms. Holmes announced in August a new blood-testing device called miniLab, which is about the size of a printer but hasn’t been approved by regulators.

In a statement posted on Theranos’s website late Wednesday, Ms. Holmes said: “We will return our undivided attention to our miniLab platform. Our ultimate goal is to commercialize miniaturized, automated laboratories capable of small-volume sample testing, with an emphasis on vulnerable patient populations, including oncology, pediatrics, and intensive care.”

«

Just to show the leopard’s spots don’t change, from further down the story:

»

The miniLab was unveiled at a conference of lab scientists, and Ms. Holmes said it could run accurate tests from a few drops of blood. Theranos sought emergency clearance of a Zika-virus blood test but then withdrew its request after federal regulators found that the company didn’t include proper patient safeguards in a study of the new test.

«

🙄
link to this extract


Spotify has been sending computer viruses to listeners • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

»

Spotify has been found to be serving malware to listeners who use the free version of its service, with its adverts directing PC users to virus-riddled websites.

Users of the music streaming software reported that the program would continually open their default web browser to load websites infested with malware.

The issue affected users of Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, leading to complaints on the Spotify Community website and Twitter. The malware websites, some of which attempt to install viruses automatically without the user clicking anything, appear to have nothing to do with the advert in question.

The problem appears to be associated with a single advert on Spotify, which the company said it had removed after discovering the problem.

«

Collateral damage of the advertising-funded method. If advertising is roughly 2% of US GDP, what percentage is malvertising?
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Source: Huawei passed on chance to produce Pixel phones, US division badly struggling • Android Police

As our story, told by the well-connected David Ruddock, begins, Huawei has been shortchanged in producing the 2015 Nexus range for Google, which promised it would be sold on all four US carriers – a country China’s Huawei desperately wants to break into:

»

Fast-forward shortly after the Nexus 5X and 6P launched, and Google began talks with Huawei to produce its 2016 smartphone portfolio – allegedly up to three phones, not just the two we ended up with. It’s unclear if they would have been branded Pixel, Nexus, or both (e.g., two Pixels and a cheaper Nexus). Google, though, set a hard rule for the partnership: Huawei would be relegated to a manufacturing role, producing phones with Google branding. The Huawei logo and name would be featured nowhere on the devices’ exteriors or in their marketing, much like the Pixel phones built by HTC that we’ll see unveiled tomorrow. According to our source, word spread inside Huawei quickly that global CEO Richard Yu himself ended negotiations with Google right then and there. Huawei was off the table for the new smartphones. Google’s “plan B” – HTC – ended up winning the contract.

But our source claims the great irony of this is that Huawei ended up passing on a chance to finally get one of its smartphones in a Verizon store (the Pixels will be sold by Verizon), even if it didn’t have the Huawei logo or mention of Huawei in its marketing. It could have, theoretically, set the stage for Huawei to work with Verizon in the future, however.

In the interim, Huawei’s US division hasn’t gained significant market traction. Despite achieving critical success [with Google] with the Nexus 6P last year, the company’s smartphone efforts in America have all basically fizzled.

«

Ruddock says Huawei then essentially fired all of its US team. I’m guessing his source is a senior manager who was canned. Google clearly misread Huawei’s willingness to be an ODM, though.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: replacement Note 7 aflame, end of software patents?, querying Yahoo, Pixel analysed, and more


Sometimes sexist language is subtly hidden. Photo by Mike Baehr on Flickr.


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

how social media is both polarising our opinion and weakening the ways in which we hear contrary views.

Think about the claims made around Brexit (“£350m per week to go back to the NHS!”), Donald Trump’s ability to make wild claims, believed by his followers without question, and the difficulty of getting anyone to agree even on what seem like simple facts – the disappearance of MH370, 9/11, climate change, the list goes on.

So how did we get here? And what will happen next?

Tickets are limited; book now. £10 secures your place.


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 14 links for you. Not flammable. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Replacement Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone catches fire on Southwest plane • The Verge

Jordan Golson:

»

Southwest Airlines flight 994 from Louisville to Baltimore was evacuated this morning while still at the gate because of a smoking Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. All passengers and crew exited the plane via the main cabin door and no injuries were reported, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson told The Verge.

More worryingly, the phone in question was a replacement Galaxy Note 7, one that was deemed to be safe by Samsung. The Verge spoke to Brian Green, owner of the Note 7, on the phone earlier today and he confirmed that he had picked up the new phone at an AT&T store on September 21st. A photograph of the box shows the black square symbol that indicates a replacement Note 7 and Green said it had a green battery icon.

Green said that he had powered down the phone as requested by the flight crew and put it in his pocket when it began smoking. He dropped it on the floor of the plane and a “thick grey-green angry smoke” was pouring out of the device. Green’s colleague went back onto the plane to retrieve some personal belongings and said that the phone had burned through the carpet and scorched the subfloor of the plane.

«

Credit to Golson, who actually got hold of the photo and checked it. Hurrah for real journalism. Meanwhile, Samsung suddenly has a much bigger problem than it had a few days ago, in its second-biggest market.
link to this extract


We bought a successful app, loaded it with extras and watched it fail • Recode

Peter Reinardt of Segment:

»

First, we needed a test subject. We planned to buy a small app with no active marketing activities, but significant and steady download numbers. Then we’d increase the app’s size, leaving everything else constant, and observe the impact on the app’s install rate. This would simulate the impact of app bloat on downloads.

So we bought the Mortgage Calculator Free iOS app. It was a minuscule 3MB, with a steady pattern of organic installs (about 50 installs per day for several years) and no active marketing activities. It was the perfect test case.

Over the course of the experiment, we increased the app size from 3MB to 99MB, 123MB and 150MB. We kept everything else constant to observe the isolated impact on install rate with each change in app size.

App sizes can increase substantially with the addition of seemingly simple things, like an explainer video, a bunch of fonts, an SDK or a background picture for your loading screen. For the purposes of our experiment, we bloated our app with a ton of hidden Taylor Swift album art.

To measure the impact of each successive bloating, we looked at data provided directly by Apple in iTunes Analytics. We specifically tracked conversion from “Product Page Views” to “App Units,” better known as “installs” to ”install rate.”

«

Hit 100MB and you doom your installs. (That’s a limit Apple sets for Wi-Fi only downloads.) But there’s more.
link to this extract


How vector space mathematics reveals the hidden sexism in language • MIT Technology Review

»

Back in 2013, a handful of researchers at Google set loose a neural network on a corpus of three million words taken from Google News texts. The neural net’s goal was to look for patterns in the way words appear next to each other.

What it found was complex but the Google team discovered it could represent these patterns using vectors in a vector space with some 300 dimensions.

It turned out that words with similar meanings occupied similar parts of this vector space. And the relationships between words could be captured by simple vector algebra. For example, “man is to king as woman is to queen” or, using the common notation, “man : king :: woman : queen.” Other relationships quickly emerged too such as  “sister : woman :: brother : man,” and so on. These relationships are known as word embeddings.

This data set is called Word2vec and is hugely powerful. Numerous researchers have begun to use it to better understand everything from machine translation to intelligent web searching.

But today Tolga Bolukbasi at Boston University and a few pals from Microsoft Research say there is a problem with this database: it is blatantly sexist.

«

This is a remarkable study (and the de-sexisation of the corpus is even more impressive); it does make one wonder the extent to which news headlines continue ages-old tropes. (Here’s the original paper.)
link to this extract


UBS: ‘Ambient Paradigm’ is a huge growth opportunity for Apple • Business Insider

Kif Leswing:

»

UBS analysts think this means there’s a lot of upside to Apple stock that investors aren’t factoring in. Sure, the iPhone is a huge hit and a commercial success, but they see Apple laying the groundwork for “the next era of personal technology — the Ambient Paradigm.”

“We consider the Apple Watch and AirPods similar transition products today on the way to an integrated user experience based on multiple products seamlessly connected. We call it the Ambient (present on all sides) Paradigm. It is Tim Cook’s ‘iOS everywhere,'” Milunovich wrote.

He sees Apple’s “other products” like the Apple Watch and AirPods evolving in coming years, with Siri acting as the glue, and potentially affecting industries like healthcare and education.

If you’re constantly surrounded by Apple products and services, that presents a huge revenue opportunity for the computer maker, and also increases the possibility that users will feel locked into Apple’s ecosystem.

«

link to this extract


Intellectual Ventures case: why software patents will take a big hit • Fortune

Jeff John Roberts:

»

The ruling, issued on Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, found that three patents asserted against anti-virus companies Symantec SYMC 0.63% and Trend Micro were invalid because they did not describe a patentable invention. The patents were owned by Intellectual Ventures, which has a notorious reputation in the tech world as a so-called “patent troll,” a phrase that describes firms that buy up old patents and wage lawsuits in order to demand payments from productive companies.

The most important part of the decision, which has created a stir among the patent bar, is a concurrence by Circuit Judge Haldane Mayer. In striking down a key claim from U.S. Patent 5987610, which claims a monopoly on using anti-virus tools within a phone network, Mayer says it is time to acknowledge that a famous Supreme Court 2014 decision known as “Alice” basically ended software patents altogether.

«

link to this extract


The Yahoo-email-search story is garbage • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

»

There are many other ways to interpret this story. For example, the government may simply be demanding that when Yahoo satisfies demands for emails (based on email addresses), that it does so from the raw incoming stream, before it hits spam/malware filters. Or, they may be demanding that Yahoo satisfies their demands with more secrecy, so that the entire company doesn’t learn of the email addresses that a FISA order demands. Or, the government may be demanding that the normal collection happen in real time, in the seconds that emails arrive, instead of minutes later.

Or maybe this isn’t an NSA/FISA story at all. Maybe the DHS has a cybersecurity information sharing program that distributes IoCs (indicators of compromise) to companies under NDA. Because it’s a separate program under NDA, Yahoo would need to setup a email malware scanning system separate from their existing malware system in order to use those IoCs. (@declanm’s stream has further variations on this scenario).

My point is this: the story is full of mangled details that really tell us nothing. I can come up with multiple, unrelated scenarios that are consistent with the content in the story. The story certainly doesn’t say that Yahoo did anything wrong, or that the government is doing anything wrong (at least, wronger than we already know).

«

Declan McCullagh offers a scenario where the Department of Homeland Security wanted to pick out emails which had particular malware attachments (foreign spearphishing attacks?), and Yahoo’s legal team threw together an engineering team but couldn’t clear it with the Yahoo security team. And now Yahoo can’t correct the reporting because it’s all classified.
link to this extract


A keystroke away… • Medium

John Naughton:

»

In 1939 there were about 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands, including about 25,000 German Jews who had fled from Germany. By 1945, only about 35,000 of these people were alive. The Nazi extermination of Dutch Jews was remarkably efficient, mainly because Holland had been a well-administered state which kept very good records of its citizens, their addresses and their religions. So when the Nazis arrived, their genocidal task was easier than it was in some other occupied countries.

This horrific story neatly encapsulates the dilemma of the data-driven state. On the one hand, good governance requires that a state knows a lot about its citizens — where they live, what they do for a living, what taxes they pay, which schools their children can attend, and so on. Since 9/11, Western democracies have determined that the ‘war’ on terror (or the need to keep us safe, depending on your point of view) requires that the state needs to know an awful lot more about its citizens, and so comprehensive surveillance of their online and mobile communications, movements and financial transactions has been added to the government’s shopping list.

As we know from Edward Snowden and other sources, the scale and intrusiveness of this surveillance is now staggering. And — as the UK Investigatory Powers Bill shows, the state’s appetite for fine-grained personal data seems insatiable and is destined to grow.

«

Imagine if Yahoo had operated in Nazi Germany. Or if a fascist was elected to run the US. One would require time travel. The other..
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Behind the crash of 3D Robotics, North America’s most promising drone company • Forbes

Ryan Mac and Aaron Tilley on the VC-backed company which burned through $100m:

»

The gimbal, or camera-stabilizing device, faced production delays and the first Solos hit the market [in June 2015] without this add-on, making it unsuitable for photos and video, the chief use of most consumer drones. “Making the gimbal was harder than making the drone,” said Guinn, who noted that the devices didn’t get to customers until August, a full two months after Solo’s launch.

Still, 3D Robotics executives remained bullish on Solo’s potential, forecasting huge sales for the holiday season. According to one employee, CFO John Rex and Anderson, who had already committed to make 60,000 of the quadcopters with contract manufacturer PCH International, decided in mid-June with less than a month of sales data that an additional 40,000 devices should be built. That represented a significant commitment, said another person who helped engineer Solo, because each drone and its gimbal cost more than $750 to manufacture and ship to retailers. Though the company was able to raise $64m in 2015, most of that was sunk into manufacturing costs, sources told Torbes.

Multiple people blamed the 3D Robotics’ bold projection for Solo’s failure, including one former employee who said that the fatal mistake was in basing predictions off of “sell in” versus “sell through” figures. The company forecasted Solo sales erroneously based on the inventory it was distributing to retail channels like Best Buy–a poor indicator of consumer demand because retailers can send back unsold inventory–and not on the number of devices actually purchased by customers from those stores.

A person, who worked for 3D Robotics’ marketing team, also questioned the company’s practices when displaying the drone to the press. The demo with The Verge in the spring of 2015, for example, featured a drone that was “worked over and souped up” and did not feature the typical parts you’d find in an off-the-shelf Solo. “We knew the drone would work,” he said, noting that there was an improved GPS component that wasn’t shipped in regulars Solos.

«

Showing hyped-up designs to visiting journalists (and others) is a common ploy. Shop-bought ones, now, that’s a different thing. (Casey Newton, who was the person it was demonstrated to, is now mad as hell – but also wiser in the ways of the world.)
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First impressions: Google’s Daydream headset proves mobile VR isn’t ready yet • Business Insider

Rob Price was impressed by Google’s Cardboard in December 2015, so he expected great things from its new VR headset:

»

I gave Daydream a go at a special launch event in London on Tuesday — but it failed to blow me away.

The best virtual reality experiences have an element of transcendence to them. It’s the moment when the fact that you’re sitting there with a screen awkwardly strapped to your head just melts away, and you really feel there. It doesn’t matter if the graphics are cartoony, or if the screen is a bit pixellated — all of a sudden, you’re transported into an entirely new world. Done right, it can be magical.

At no point using Daydream did I feel this. I got the chance to try out two demos — an “experience” based around the forthcoming “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” JK Rowling movie, and a stylised game that has you roll a ball around a race track by tilting the remote.

Both times, it felt like I was using Cardboard. Sure, it was clearly more polished than the DIY headset, with less lag and a great new input device — but the underlying experience was similar. Head movements felt unnatural, the images didn’t feel “real”: There was no transcendence. I came away with a headache.

I was, inescapably, sitting in a chair with a smartphone stuck to my face.

Daydream, is evolutionary, not revolutionary — and that’s a problem

Mobile-only virtual reality simply isn’t ready for prime time. Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Daydream is an evolutionary upgrade to Cardboard, rather than anything revolutionary. And I came away feeling like the technology behind mobile-powered virtual reality just isn’t there yet.

«

link to this extract


Google has its own phones. Now it must fix its retail strategy • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:

»

On Tuesday, as a Google event began in San Francisco, new hardware chief Rick Osterloh [who used to be the hardware chief when Google owned Motorola] reassured the audience that the company was serious about the move. “We’re in it for the long run,” he said.

About nine months after initial talks with carriers, Google rolled out its flavor of technical support: Pixels have built-in chat support where customer-service reps can take over smartphone screens to identify problems.

Google will be responsible for returns and recycling and is building a supply chain that can re-absorb faulty and rejected devices, Osterloh said in a recent interview.

Osterloh will be partly judged by how many devices Google sells, a contrast to the Nexus program which showcased Android features for other handset makers to adopt. But the executive was still cagey about the company’s sales aspirations.

“In markets where we do business, we’re definitely going to want meaningful share,” he said. “But it’s highly unlikely that the primary driver will be to be in every market with as high as possible volume.”

«

That seems to imply the US and some bits of Europe as “markets where [Google does] business”. Those markets are stagnant. Quite how Google expects to get “meaningful” share (whatever that means), I don’t know. But Osterloh has a long history of blinding journalists with vague words. When Motorola was losing money hand over fist, he’d insist that “we make money on every phone we sell”. He meant gross margin – the sale price compared to raw cost of goods – and handily omitted everything else, such as marketing, administration, R D, and so on.
link to this extract


Snapchat Spectacles and the future of wearables • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:

»

perhaps the most fascinating implication of Spectacles is what it says about the potential of a long-term rivalry between Snapchat and Apple. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has said that Snap née Snapchat is a camera company, not a social network. Or, perhaps more accurately, the company is both: it is a fully contained ecosystem that is more perfectly optimized for the continual creation and circulation of content than even Facebook. What matters from Apple’s perspective is that Snapchat, like Facebook or WeChat or other apps that users live in, is one layer closer to their customers. For now that is not a threat — you still need an actual device to run those apps — but then again most people used Google on Windows, which made Microsoft a lot of money even as it froze them out of the future.

This is exactly why Apple is right to push forward into the wearable space even though it is an area, thanks to the important role of services like Siri, in which they have less of an advantage. Modern moats are not about controlling distribution but about owning consumer touch points — in the case of wearables, quite literally.

«

I’ve linked to this a little after its publication, but the general point Thompson is making – that groundbreaking products need to be able to slot into ecosystems around them – is crucial.
link to this extract


Google’s Pixel smartphones target the most profitable segment, hurting Google’s partners • IHS Technology

Ian Fogg:

»

Google is pursuing a similar integrated hardware-software strategy to Apple with Pixel smartphones, Daydream View, and the other new hardware Google has announced. This is the final defeat for the operating system licensing model which Microsoft pioneered, and everyone tried to copy before Apple’s iPhone success.

But Google’s culture and deep learning, intelligence, organizational, and software competitive strengths are very different to Apple. Yet, with Pixel smartphones Google is aiming at the same competitive areas which Samsung and Apple are: camera quality, cloud storage, and the ease of experience. Google needs to differentiate based on its competitive strengths around AI, but Google Assistant needs to be on as many smartphones as possible to support Google strategy and so cannot be a long term differentiator for Pixel smartphones.

Google still has many smartphone hardware partners, unlike Apple, and it continues to need them. Because if not, Samsung may ramp its fall-back TIzen OS strategy, and more significantly Google’s many China headquartered smartphone maker partners may fork Android and take their more proprietary Chinese Android variants into international markets.

Android may be dominant now, but it’s not invincible if Google makes the wrong strategic moves and undermines its ecosystem partners.

«

link to this extract


Not OK, Google • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»

“It’s still early days, but when all of that works together, the Google Assistant allows you to get things done, bringing you the information you need, when you need it, wherever you are,” writes Pichai, in a caveated phrase that scores extremely high on the underwhelming / vague promises index.

He adds that he has “confidence” of being able to “do some amazing things for users over the next 10 years”.

So, in other words, trust us with all your data!

Uhhhh…

This week the EFF also excoriated Google for how AI is impinging on user privacy, focusing on another of its recent products: the Allo messaging app. That app also bakes in Google Assistant, and because Allo does AI by default the app does not offer end-to-end encryption by default — only as an ‘optional extra’ — because of course Google’s AI can’t function when Google’s AI can’t read your messages…

Criticizing the way Allo silos end-to-end encryption within an ‘incognito’ mode, which the EFF argues risks confusing users and risks sensitive data leaking out, it accuses Google of “training users to use encryption as an occasional measure” — going on on to conclude that: “A more responsible messaging app would make security and privacy — not machine learning and AI — the default.”

So whether it’s Google Home or Google Allo, Google is promising consumers a magical, AI-powered experience of unrivaled convenience. But it pays to ask tougher questions.

The adtech giant is trying to control the narrative, just as it controls the product experience. So while Google’s CEO talks only about the “amazing things” coming down the pipe in a world where everyone trusts Google with all their data — failing entirely to concede the Big Brother aspect of surveillance-powered AIs — Google’s products are similarly disingenuous; in that they are designed to nudge users to share more and think less.

«

link to this extract


Search and browse UK broadband statistics • Think Broadband

Very nifty: postcode-based search if you want it (and if your broadband speed is less than you wanted, you’ll want to); and some dramatic graphs of how 4G and broadband speeds are moving.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified