Start up: the fake news uprising at Facebook, tales from the Trumpites, India’s imbalance, and more


Shazam: always listening on your Mac. Always. Photo by tualamac on Flickr.

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

Facebook and Google move to kick fake news sites off their ad networks • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Both Google and Facebook have announced plans to go after the revenue of fake news sites, kicking the hoaxers off their ad networks in an attempt to prevent misleading the public from being profitable.

Google moved first, announcing on Monday a policy update which restricts its adverts from being placed on fake news sites. “We will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, mis-state, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” a spokeswoman told Reuters.

It remains unclear whether Google has the ability to correctly identify such sites, though. For hours on Monday, the search engine’s top news link for “final election results” led to a fabricated story on “70 News” which claimed that Donald Trump had won the popular vote by 700,000 votes. In fact, Clinton is currently in the lead by the same margin, according to the AP.

Later that day, Facebook updated the language in the policies for the Audience Network, its own advertising platform. The platform already bans ads in sites that show “misleading or illegal” content, and the update makes clear that those terms apply to fake news sites as well.

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And also: Renegade Facebook employees form task force to battle fake news:

Facebook employees have formed an unofficial task force to question the role their company played in promoting fake news in the lead-up to Donald Trump’s victory in the US election last week, amid a larger, national debate over the rise of fake and misleading news articles in a platform used by more than 150 million Americans.

It’s like an uprising.


Students solve Facebook’s fake-news problem in 36 hours • Business Insider

Julie Bort:

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Just how hard of a problem is it for an algorithm to determine real news from lies?

Not that hard.

During a hackathon at Princeton University, four college students created one in the form of a Chrome browser extension in just 36 hours. They named their project “FiB: Stop living a lie.”

The students are Nabanita De, a second-year master’s student in computer science student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Anant Goel, a freshman at Purdue University; Mark Craft, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Qinglin Chen, a sophomore also at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Their News Feed authenticity checker works like this, De tells us:

“It classifies every post, be it pictures (Twitter snapshots), adult content pictures, fake links, malware links, fake news links as verified or non-verified using artificial intelligence.

“For links, we take into account the website’s reputation, also query it against malware and phishing websites database and also take the content, search it on Google/Bing, retrieve searches with high confidence and summarize that link and show to the user. For pictures like Twitter snapshots, we convert the image to text, use the usernames mentioned in the tweet, to get all tweets of the user and check if current tweet was ever posted by the user.”

The browser plug-in then adds a little tag in the corner that says whether the story is verified.

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Sunset over America: it’s time for the next superpower • Medium

I wrote something:

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The US used to be the envy of the world for its technology; who else could land people and a rover on the moon and bring them back safely? The 1960s were good, weren’t they? All that New Frontier stuff from Kennedy. Whoop!

But now the US is literally crumbling. An infrastructure renewal plan passed by Congress in December 2015, a five-year $305bn package, is only a drop in the bucket:

According to the 2013 report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. has serious infrastructure needs of more than $3.4trn through 2020, including $1.7trn for roads, bridges and transit; $736bn for electricity and power grids; $391bn for schools; $134bn for airports; and $131bn for waterways and related projects.

US infrastructure spending has (as the article points out) hit a 30-year-low. Simply: the US has ignored its public costs for years. More generally, the US is showing the limits of Ayn Rand-style devil-take-the-hindmost capitalism. Pensions are outsourced (as a relative pointed out) to the stock market, which is risky. Health care (as noted above) is relegated to a situation where you can only be as ill as you can afford; otherwise you’re bankrupt or more ill. (I wonder: do people who are against universal healthcare refuse to provide financial help to ill friends? If they do, isn’t that hypocritical?) Government spending on everything socially useful is chipped away in favour of tax cuts, because people know best what to do with their money — don’t they? They’ll definitely ration it out on buying a pension and health insurance rather than beer, won’t they?

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Google’s response to the European Commission’s antitrust allegations leaves a lot to be desired • Android Police

Michael Crider:

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the EC has a history of apparently targeting successful American tech firms ostensibly to open up space for European competitors. But Google’s refutation of the initial statement [from the EC accusing Google of antitrust in its control of Android] rings hollow in a lot of ways. Just off the top of my head, and corresponding to the points above:

• With nearly 90% of the smartphone market, Google can’t really claim that it’s not attempting a monopoly, or that its OS (if not its policies) aren’t slowly approaching near-total dominance.

• Android is open source, and any attempt by Google to retain control of it on a developer or user level is against the spirit of its foundation. Google might be the creator of Android, but that doesn’t necessarily make the company its guardian.

• Having Google’s Play Store pre-installed on more or less every Android phone and tablet is a clear market advantage. To make the discussion about individual apps is a dodge.

• The idea that the revenue gained from pre-installing Google Search helps keep Android and the Play Store free is only further evidence of Google’s vested interest in driving away competition for both search and mobile.

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Android news site says Google’s defence of Android accusations is trivial to counter. Perhaps not what one expects to hear.
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Why the vast majority of women in India will never own a smartphone • WSJ

Eric Bellman and Aditi Malhotra:

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In India, 114 million more men than women have cellphones. That represents more than half the total worldwide gap of around 200 million between men and women who possess phones, according to GSMA, an international cellphone-industry group.

Tech evangelists often tout cellular phones and internet access as great levelers—tools that promote equality and ease social disparities.

But in countries such as India, the new technology is exacerbating an already deep gender gap. The gulf is blocking women from increasingly crucial ways of communicating and learning, and making it harder for them to find work, upgrade their skills and assert political rights.

In India, millions use smartphones to find jobs, bank, study, order train tickets, interact with the government and more. Offline options require freedom of movement not available for many women, and extra time and cost in traveling, standing in lines and filling out forms.

“Mobile phones, especially smartphones, are going to be the biggest challenge to achieving gender equity,” said Osama Manzar, founder of the nonprofit Digital Empowerment Foundation, which helps marginalized groups get access to technology. “Denying them to women means lost opportunity for women and the economy.”

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It’s not just about affordability.
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Can we put the 16GB “Pro” myth to rest? • Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski deals with the complaints that the new MacBook Pros “only” have up to 16GB of RAM by pointing out how many apps you have to open even to touch the sides:

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The manuscripts for all of my books put together are only maybe 20 MB in size. More PowerPoint slide decks only consume a few MB a piece. I’d be hard pressed to burn another gig and a half unless I opened up every last one of my books and presentations. And if I’m that serious about writing several books at once, chances are I’m not interested in using half the other apps I had open.

A couple apps you won’t see on this list [of 29 apps] are Chrome and Slack. Both of these applications have widespread reports of being memory pigs, and in my opinion you should boycott them until the developers learn how to write them to play nicer with memory. You can’t fault Apple for poorly written applications, and if Apple did give you 32 GB of RAM just for them, it wouldn’t matter. Poorly written apps are going to continue sucking down as much memory as possible until you’re out. So it’s reasonable to say that if you’re running poorly written applications, your mileage will definitely vary. RAM is only one half the equation: programmers need to know how to use it respectfully.

Many users, though not all, who might see themselves sucking down 16GB+ of memory might consider they could have a lot of unnecessary crapware running at startup that they don’t need. Check your /Library/LaunchDaemons and /Library/LaunchAgents folders as well as your own LaunchAgents folder in ~/Library, and check your login items too. You might also check your system for malware, adware, and bloatware. Lastly, make sure you’ve updated your applications to the latest versions. Memory leaks are common bugs, and if you’re running an older, leakier version of an application, no amount of RAM upgrade is going to make things better.

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Chrome always, unequivocally, wallops both my CPU and battery. (16GB 2012 MacBook Pro.) Slack I’m less worried about.
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Bill Mitchell’s revenge • BuzzFeed News

Charlie Warzel on Bill Mitchell, an executive recruiter who had been predicting a Trump win for 15 months in the face of ridicule:

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“Even though I expected a win, I’ll admit when Pennsylvania dropped, it was a little surreal,” he told me over the phone Saturday morning. “I felt just so alive — I think it’s a bit like being around when World War II was declared over. I just felt very fortunate to be around to see it.” On the phone, Mitchell took pains not to gloat but was clearly reveling in the win — he’d just bought a 70-inch TV and planned to break it in over the weekend. When I asked what we’d all missed in his Twitter punditry, Mitchell suggested that his haters had made him into a caricature rather than divining the kernel of truth hidden behind his often-bombastic language. Exhibit A: yard signs and rally attendance.

Bill Mitchell on Twitter: “There is no enthusiasm for Hillary. No yard signs, no book sales, no merchandise sales. THAT will hurt her turnout.”

The media mocked him ruthlessly for putting undue weight behind rallies over polling — a fatal error, according to Mitchell. “Rallies equal newly engaged voters,” he said. In 2008 Obama had tens of thousands who stand in line for six hours because they want to experience and taste and feel all this.” Mitchell refers to them as the “monster vote” and suggests that it’s these perhaps previously disenfranchised voters who aren’t on pollster call lists. “And so the big question was, will the 20 million who didn’t vote in 2012 come out for Trump? I kept saying it’s going to happen, no question — it’ll be something like 2008 where the previously quiet black vote came out for Obama. And it did.”

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Compare with the previous profile Warzel did of Mitchell. I’ll admit: I also thought Mitchell was an idiot who couldn’t read polls. (I still think he can’t read polls.) But he read the real and virtual signs – enthusiasm matters – correctly.
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Revenge of the forgotten class • ProPublica

Alec MacGillis spent time in the “Rust Belt” of Ohio, the state whose choice has matched the country’s choice of president again and again, and met first-time voter Tracie St Martin, 54, who works driving bulldozers:

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she shared an anecdote that reflected how differently Trump’s comments had been received in some places than others. “I’m setting steel for this new gas plant…I’m operating a rough terrain forklift,” she wrote. “So today, I kept thinking about the debate and the audio was released … And I got underneath a load of steel and was moving it…I was laughing and laughing and one of the iron workers asked ‘what are u laughing at.’ I said ‘I grabbed that load right by the pussy’ and laughed some more…And said ‘when you’re an operator you can do that ya know’, laughed all fucking day.”

Just last week, I was back in Ohio, in the southeastern Appalachian corner. I was at a graduation ceremony for opiate addicts who had gone through a recovery program, and sitting with four women, all around 30, who were still in the program. Someone mentioned the election, and all four of them piped up that they were voting for the first time ever. For whom? I asked. They looked at me as if I had asked the dumbest question in the world. All four were for Trump.

The most of the loquacious of the group, Tiffany Chesser, said she was voting for him because her boyfriend worked at a General Electric light-bulb plant nearby that was seeing more of its production lines being moved to Mexico. She saw voting for Trump as a straightforward transaction to save his job. “If he loses that job we’re screwed — I’ll lose my house,” she said. “There used to be a full parking lot there — now you go by, there are just three trucks in the lot.”

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About as far from the milquetoast niceties of Silicon Valley as it’s possible to be.
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Android’s App Shortcuts are held back by Apple’s influence • Computerworld

JR Raphael:

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If Android’s new App Shortcuts seem familiar, they should: The feature, introduced on Google’s Pixel phone as part of this fall’s Android 7.1 Nougat release, is a pretty obvious response to the 3D Touch system ushered into Apple’s iPhones over the past year.

In both instances, you press and hold an icon on your home screen to get a pop-up list of additional options – generally quick shortcuts to actions within the app, like composing a new message in Gmail or starting a search in Twitter. (And sure, the pressure-sensitivity factor in Apple’s implementation makes its version a little more technologically complex, but in practical terms, we’re basically talking about the same thing.)

Maybe it should come as no surprise, then, that Google’s take on the concept shares the same usability flaws as Apple’s — because instead of thinking through what’d be the most sensible and user-friendly way for a feature like this to work, Google seemed to just emulate the way Apple did it.

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Problems he identifies: no visual clues that shortcuts exist, long press isn’t great for shortcuts. Solidly argued. 3D Touch is great because it also has taptic feedback, but you have to learn which apps have it.
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Shhh! Shazam is always listening – even when it’s been switched ‘off’ • The Register

John Leyden:

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A security researcher has discovered that when the Mac version of Shazam is switched off, it simply stops processing recorded data. The recording itself continues.

The music identification service admits the behaviour but says it only keeps recording purely for technical reasons.

Patrick Wardle, a former NSA staffer who heads up research at infosec biz Synack, confirmed Shazam’s “always listening” behaviour following a tip-off from a user of his webcam/mic monitoring tool, OverSight.

This person didn’t see a “Mic Off” alert when they turned off Shazam on their Mac, which prompted Wardle to do some digging.

“In short, turns out that when Shazam (macOS) is toggled ‘OFF’ it simply stops processing recorded data… However, recording continues,” Wardle told El Reg.

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What need for the government to build surveillance when it can simply piggyback on the tools that we build for ourselves?
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Amazon files lawsuits to keep counterfeit goods off website • Bloomberg

Spencer Soper:

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Amazon filed two lawsuits against vendors allegedly selling counterfeit goods through its internet marketplace, stepping up efforts to keep fakes off the site heading into the holiday shopping season.

One suit targets ToysNet of Hacienda Heights, California; Disk Vision of Brandon, Florida; and individuals who Amazon says sold counterfeit Forearm Forklifts, straps used to carry heavy and bulky items. Amazon said it removed the fake items in June, and said Disk Vision forged an invoice to trick Amazon into reinstating the product listing. Another lawsuit targets several individuals who allegedly sold bogus TRX Suspension Trainers, an exercise system. The lawsuits were filed Monday in state court in Seattle. Amazon provided copies of the complaints, which couldn’t immediately be verified in court records.

Last month, Apple sued an Amazon seller, claiming the business sold fake Apple products – some of them unsafe – on Amazon.com. As its marketplace grows, Amazon has been taking action to bolster its reliability and boost credibility with customers. Last year, it filed a suit against more than 1,000 people it said wrote fake product reviews on its website, threatening shopper confidence in its consumer reviews. The company last month clamped down on so-called incentivized reviews, in which customers write about products they receive free or at discounted prices.

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Fake news, fake goods. Everyone’s at it.
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Exclusive: IDG in advanced talks to sell itself to Chinese buyout group – sources • Reuters

Liana B. Baker:

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Founded in 1964, IDG has grown to be one of the largest global trade publishers, with hundreds of tech-focused websites and magazines. Its charismatic founder and longtime CEO, Pat McGovern, died two years ago.

IDG said in January that its board of directors hired investment bank Goldman Sachs to explore strategic options. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

McGovern was very early to see the importance of China, and IDG has been doing business there since 1980, when it launched ComputerWorld China.

IDG has traditionally pursued a licensing model in which overseas publishing partners have broad latitude in what type of content they produce. That, in addition to IDG’s focus on business rather than politics, helped the company get an early foothold in China and steer clear of press restrictions.

But the sale of the company could face regulatory troubles. The Chinese buyout group will likely need to seek approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS), the government panel that scrutinizes deals over national security concerns before finalizing any deal, according to the sources.

CFIUS has already caused a number of high-profile deals to fall apart, and President-elect Donald Trump’s tough commentary on China has made the future of that country’s investment in the United States even less certain.

One area regulators may dissect is the role of IDC, the market research division of the company that consults many U.S. technology companies on IT spending and business strategy and also keeps track of product shipments, the sources added.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Snap’s Spectacles cost $129, not $149. Though will probably still be £149 if they ever reach the UK.

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