Start Up: Google’s watches, Uber’s SF trouble, China v the US, India’s smartphone hassle, and more


Inbox Zero! What difference does it make – if any? Photo by ZhangYining on Flickr.

Hi there! Thanks for reading The Overspill in 2016. This is the last Start Up until 16 January 2017.

Some readers have asked whether The Overspill is going to become a subscription-based or advert-supported service, or whether there’s some way they could contribute financially.

There aren’t any plans for change – it will remain free, and ad-free – but I’d be delighted if you’d like to make a contribution to any or all of the following charities. It’s entirely your decision (how would I find out?).


The National Deaf Childrens’ Society – a UK charity supporting families and deaf children.

You can make a one-off donation by credit card.

Shelter – a UK charity which helps the homeless.
You can make a one-off donation.


Wikipedia – an encyclopedia for everyone. I’ve been occasionally critical of its workings, and leadership, but I think it’s important, especially now, to support a platform which is dedicated to both a neutral point of view and accuracy. (I suspect Wikipedia will be a target for the alt-right and similar in 2017.)
Make a one-off donation.


The Internet Archive – the archive of (nearly) everything from the internet. If you don’t know the past, you can’t know the future.
Make a one-off donation – and presently “a generous supporter will match your donation 1-for-1. So you can double your impact!”


On with the show!

A selection of 15 links for you. Read them slowly, but not aloud. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why time management is ruining our lives • The Guardian

Oliver Burkeman:

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Most of us have experienced this creeping sense of being overwhelmed: the feeling not merely that our lives are full of activity – that can be exhilarating – but that time is slipping out of our control. And today, the personal productivity movement that [Inbox Zero inventor Merlin] Mann helped launch – which promises to ease the pain with time-management advice tailored to the era of smartphones and the internet – is flourishing as never before. There are now thousands of apps in the “productivity” category of the Apple app store, including software to simulate the ambient noise of working in a coffee shop (this has been shown, in psychology experiments, to help people focus on work), and a text editor that deletes the words you have written if you don’t keep typing fast enough.

The quest for increased personal productivity – for making the best possible use of your limited time – is a dominant motif of our age. Two books on the topic by the New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg have spent more than 60 weeks on the US bestseller lists between them, and the improbable titular promise of another book, The Four Hour Work Week, has seduced a reported 1.35m readers worldwide. There are blogs offering tips on productive dating, and on the potential result of productive dating, productive parenting; signs have been spotted in American hotels wishing visitors a “productive stay”. The archetypal Silicon Valley startup, in the last few years, has been one that promises to free up time and mental capacity by eliminating some irritating “friction” of daily life – shopping or laundry, or even eating, in the case of the sludgy, beige meal replacement Soylent – almost always for the purpose of doing more work.

And yet the truth is that more often than not, techniques designed to enhance one’s personal productivity seem to exacerbate the very anxieties they were meant to allay.

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A good one to read over the Christmas break.
link to this extract


Google will launch two flagship smartwatches early next year • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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Google will be launching two new flagship smartwatches in the first quarter of next year, according to Jeff Chang, product manager of Android Wear at Google. In an exclusive interview with The Verge, Chang said that the new watches will be the flagship Android Wear 2.0 devices and will be the first ones to launch with the new platform.

The new smartwatches had been rumored before, but Google confirmed the upcoming launch today as part of a larger effort to convince consumers that wearables — smartwatches specifically — are still in demand.

The new models will not have Google or Pixel branding, but will be branded by the company that is manufacturing them. Chang says that Google collaborated with the manufacturer — which he wouldn’t name, but said has produced Android Wear devices in the past — on the hardware design and software integration for the watches. He likened the partnership to Google’s Nexus smartphone program in terms of collaboration and goals.

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So they’re Google but they’re not Google? Then again, given that Android Wear OEMs get no benefit from making them – even less than on Android phones – the difference between “Google-designed” and “Google-branded” barely exists.

Also, they’ve missed the Christmas season. This will be a very hard sell.
link to this extract


EC fines rechargeable battery producers €166m in cartel settlement • European Commission


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The Commission’s investigation found that Samsung SDI, Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo took part in bilateral, and sometimes multilateral, contacts in order to avoid aggressive competition in the market for lithium-ion batteries. In particular, the four companies:
 
agreed on temporary price increases in 2004 and 2007 triggered by a temporary increase in the price of cobalt, a raw material used in the production of lithium-ion batteries; and
exchanged commercially sensitive information such as supply and demand forecasts, price forecasts or intentions concerning particular competitive bids organised by specific manufactures of products such as phones, laptops or power tools.
 
The cartel contacts took place mainly in Asia and occasionally in Europe. The cartel started in February 2004 and lasted until November 2007.

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Samsung revealed the existence of the cartel, and so wasn’t fined.
link to this extract


AirPods kick off Apple’s battle for our ears • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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One of the main takeaways from using AirPods for the past week is that they represent a window into a wearables world. When the Apple Watch was unveiled, Apple talked about a scenario in which one can leave the iPhone by the door and just use an Apple Watch around the house. This hasn’t happened. As it turns out, AirPods end up having a much better chance of achieving what the Apple Watch was originally tasked to achieve. AirPods help break the chains that have held me so close to the iPhone. Combine AirPods with an Apple Watch, and an even greater number of chains are broken. While we aren’t at the point of being able to move beyond the iPhone, AirPods provide glimpses as to how this process is going to occur. 

I think Apple is going to sell a lot of AirPods. While the device is not an impulse purchase with a $159 price, AirPods have a few things going for them that should result in significant sales…

…The most accurate measurement of AirPods demand will likely be measured in tens of millions of units over the next two years. For context, Apple sold 20M Apple Watches in 20 months while Amazon has reportedly sold 5M Echoes in two years. The ingredients are in place for AirPods to be a multi-billion dollar business within the next few months. It doesn’t hurt that sales expectations facing AirPods are much more contained than the lofty goals set for Apple Watch at launch.

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I’ve seen a couple of suggestions that Apple could get more revenue from AirPods ($159) than Apple Watch ($350 upwards). That seems quite possible: the total addressable market for AirPods is gigantic.
link to this extract


Uber stops San Francisco self-driving pilot as DMV revoked registrations • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

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Uber has confirmed that it will stop its self-driving pilot in San Francisco, following a meeting today with the California DMV and Attorney General’s office. The DMV revoked the registration on 16 self-driving test vehicles Uber was using in its pilot.

The DMV tells TechCrunch that it invited Uber to complete its permitting process at the same time it revoked it the vehicle registrations. Uber told TechCrunch that it will instead be looking to deploy the vehicles elsewhere for the time being. Here’s Uber’s statement on the matter in full:

»

We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars. We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100% committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.

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Amazing arrogance from Uber: it’s saying it’s the laws that are wrong, rather than its lawbreaking cars. So it has moved them to Arizona. Good luck, folks!
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Facebook charged with misleading EU over $19bn WhatsApp deal • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

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Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s Competition Commissioner, said Facebook had claimed it was technically impossible to automatically match accounts in 2014. She said the EU’s “statement of objections” centred on its belief that this was not the case, and that Facebook did know how to combine accounts. According to Facebook, it has only gained this ability recently.

“Companies are obliged to give the Commission accurate information during merger investigations. They must take this obligation seriously,” Ms Vestager said.

“Our timely and effective review of mergers depends on the accuracy of the information provided by the companies involved. In this specific case, the Commission’s preliminary view is that Facebook gave us incorrect or misleading information during the investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook now has the opportunity to respond.”

The charge does not threaten to revoke the Commission’s approval of Facebook buying WhatsApp, but the company must now respond.

«

Not being able to unwind the takeover seems reasonable; how about a continuing fine for being untruthful?
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Nokia sues Apple for infringing technology patents • Reuters


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Nokia Corp said on Wednesday it had filed a number of lawsuits against Apple Inc for violating 32 technology patents.

The lawsuits, filed in courts in Dusseldorf, Mannheim and Munich, Germany and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, cover patents for displays, user interfaces, software, antennas, chipsets and video coding.

“Since agreeing a license covering some patents from the Nokia Technologies portfolio in 2011, Apple has declined subsequent offers made by Nokia to license other of its patented inventions which are used by many of Apple’s products,” Nokia said in a statement.

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This story brought to you by the year 2011.
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Discrimination by algorithm: scientists devise test to detect AI bias • The Guardian

Hannah Devlin:

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scientists have devised a way to test whether an algorithm is introducing gender or racial biases into decision-making.

Mortiz Hardt, a senior research scientist at Google and a co-author of the paper, said: “Decisions based on machine learning can be both incredibly useful and have a profound impact on our lives … Despite the need, a vetted methodology in machine learning for preventing this kind of discrimination based on sensitive attributes has been lacking.”

The paper was one of several on detecting discrimination by algorithms to be presented at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference in Barcelona this month, indicating a growing recognition of the problem.

Nathan Srebro, a computer scientist at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago and co-author, said: “We are trying to enforce that you will not have inappropriate bias in the statistical prediction.”

The test is aimed at machine learning programs, which learn to make predictions about the future by crunching through vast quantities of existing data. Since the decision-making criteria are essentially learnt by the computer, rather than being pre-programmed by humans, the exact logic behind decisions is often opaque, even to the scientists who wrote the software.

“Even if we do have access to the innards of the algorithm, they are getting so complicated it’s almost futile to get inside them,” said Srebro. “The whole point of machine learning is to build magical black boxes.”

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Not black magic black boxes, though. Also, what if the method of detecting discrimination relies on algorithms…?
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Google is threatening to throw me off Google+, but won’t tell me why • Ars Technica UK

Glyn Moody:

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“Dull,” “link-litter,” “no meaningful information in the posts”: well, perhaps—YMMV. But I’m not forcing anyone to read them: I simply post stuff that anyone can subscribe to if they find it interesting for whatever reason. If they don’t, they can stop following me on Google+ and they are spared the flood of dull and repetitive link-litter forever.

Although John Skeats’ comments were interesting, they didn’t clarify exactly why I had been threatened with being thrown off Google+. For most people that would be the end of the story, but as a journalist, I am in the privileged position of being able to ask Google through its PR people. Since I didn’t want to make this about me, I posed my questions in more general terms:

»

How many users does the service have now—and how is that measured? How does the “violations of User Content and Conduct Policy” work? How can people find out the grounds for warnings? How can they appeal against decisions?

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Google’s PR company responded swiftly, not once, but twice, in order to find out exactly what I was looking for. Finally, I was sent the following: “Hopefully this should provide some steer on the conduct policy.” As the link shows, “this” was simply Google’s terms and conditions as far as “User Content and Conduct Policy” were concerned. In other words, it provided zero answers to my questions.

Since Google and its PR company had proved utterly useless, I turned to Ars Technica’s in-house Google guru, Ron Amadeo, who confirmed my fears: “Google is notorious for a lack of communication and a lack of any kind of appeal process for things like this. YouTubers complain about it all the time.”

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link to this extract


The great A.I. awakening • The New York Times

Gideon Lewis-Kraus:

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[Google] Translate made its debut in 2006 and since then has become one of Google’s most reliable and popular assets; it serves more than 500 million monthly users in need of 140 billion words per day in a different language. It exists not only as its own stand-alone app but also as an integrated feature within Gmail, Chrome and many other Google offerings, where we take it as a push-button given — a frictionless, natural part of our digital commerce. It was only with the refugee crisis, [Google CEO Sundar] Pichai explained from the lectern, that the company came to reckon with Translate’s geopolitical importance. On the screen behind him appeared a graph whose steep curve indicated a recent fivefold increase in translations between Arabic and German. (It was also close to Pichai’s own heart. He grew up in India, a land divided by dozens of languages.) The team had been steadily adding new languages and features, but gains in quality over the last four years had slowed considerably.

Until today. As of the previous weekend, Translate had been converted to an A.I.-based system for much of its traffic, not just in the United States but in Europe and Asia as well: The rollout included translations between English and Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. The rest of Translate’s hundred-odd languages were to come, with the aim of eight per month, by the end of next year. The new incarnation, to the pleasant surprise of Google’s own engineers, had been completed in only nine months. The A.I. system had demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime.

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link to this extract


Apple’s search for better iPhone screens leads to Japan’s rice fields • Bloomberg

Pavel Alpeyev and Takashi Amano:

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Canon Tokki Corp., surrounded by rice fields in the city of Mitsuke in Niigata prefecture, has a near monopoly on the machines capable of making screens with organic light-emitting diodes, which enable sharp, vibrant displays that use less energy. A unit of Canon Inc., the company of 343 employees has spent more than two decades perfecting the manufacturing equipment used by OLED screen makers.

But there’s a problem: Canon Tokki has a growing backlog even after doubling output in 2016. The potential production bottleneck is raising questions over Apple’s ability to feature OLED displays in next year’s iPhones, and whether the Cupertino, California-based company will be able to line up additional suppliers. The current wait for a machine, which can cost more than 10 billion yen ($85 million) each, is about two years.

“We are doing all we can to increase output and make that wait shorter,” said Chief Executive Officer Teruhisa Tsugami, adding that demand from display makers, including Samsung Display Co., LG Display Co. and Sharp Corp., will remain strong for the next three years.

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Lots of questions from those who look closely at this stuff about how good OLED looks compared to LCD. Question: Apple has various sizes of LCD screens. Why would it need OLED ones on its phones?
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David Lowery talks digital scepticism and music-streaming • Musically

Lowery is a musician who writes The Trichordist music blog and tours with two bands, and is leading a class-action lawsuit against Spotify over mechanical licensing. He suggests that the utopianism of the past few years is wearing thin as people ask to be shown concrete benefits:

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“Silicon Valley used to be more immune to that sort of criticism, and they no longer are. Some of that’s coming from us, but it’s a general trend that’s out there. More journalists are sceptical of the claims made by these companies. There’s a lot more coverage of the fact that there is very real, old-school back-room lobbying by the technology firms like Google and Facebook.”

Lowery has been keenly following and participating in the debate around safe harbour and the “value gap” [the lower per-stream payments on YouTube versus those on Spotify/Apple Music/etc]. He thinks that the arguments for removing safe-harbour protection from services like YouTube have been better articulated in Europe than in the US so far.

“In the United States, it’s an unfair competition argument that would need to be made, because of the way our courts work. Spotify, as much as I criticise them, are licensed on the recording side. They are good players in the ecosystem: if something shouldn’t be up there, it’s gone or it never gets up there in the first place,” he says.

“But they’re competing with YouTube which is a bad actor, right? The safe harbours, in my mind, weren’t intended to be used as a backdoor sort of licensing model, but that hasn’t been as clearly defined and discussed in the United States.”

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The “value gap” row is only going to intensify. I’ve written an article touching on it for The Guardian for publication in the next fortnight or so.
link to this extract


China weighs response to new U.S. trade foe • WSJ

Mark Magnier:

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To retaliate [against any trade action taken by anti-China Trump appointee Peter Navarro], China also could make use of informal trade barriers—making health claims against American food products, for example—that are highly technical and difficult to counter in the WTO but hurt U.S. exporters, some experts said. The U.S., Japan and Europe use similar non-trade barriers.

Trade battles between the world’s two largest economies would hurt both sides, economists said. When the U.S. slapped tariffs on imports of Chinese tires in 2009, it saved up to 1,200 jobs, according to a Peterson Institute study. But it cost U.S. consumers around $1.1bn, or around $900,000 per job, in higher tires prices in 2011 and cut retail spending in other areas, leading to an overall loss of 2,500 jobs, the institute calculated. China, meanwhile, retaliated by blocking U.S. chicken exports, leading to $1bn in lost U.S. sales.

“Even if U.S. companies move back to the U.S., it doesn’t mean manufacturing jobs will come back since U.S. companies will use automation to save money,” said Ms. Cheng, who said she hopes Mr. Navarro can visit China to bolster his understanding. “This policy is against the world economic trend,” she added.

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China can do this almost surgically, as the piece notes: it might allow Apple to trade (since California isn’t a Trump or Republican stronghold) but block soybeans and other farming products (on those “health” grounds) which come from midwestern Republican states.
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Between Alexa and Google, publishers now have to develop on two voice platforms • Digiday

Max Willens:

»

All of a sudden, publishers have two voice platforms to worry about.

While publishers big and small – including Digiday! – are still figuring out where Amazon’s voice platform, Alexa, fits into their daily allocation of time and resources, it’s become clear that everybody will have to divide their time.

Google Assistant, the voice platform that animates Google Home, as well as its new phone, the Pixel, has had no trouble making a case that publishers should be building bots for the Assistant too. In just a matter of weeks, it’s attracted publishers ranging from Hearst to the Huffington Post; more than a few of them, including VentureBeat and Genius, decided to take their first steps into voice territory with Google, rather than Amazon.

And while Alexa and Assistant have superficial similarities, industry observers expect premium publishers and brands will treat them distinctly. “The tier-one developers are going to build native for each platform,” said Adam Marchick, the co-founder of VoiceLabs, an analytics firm that provides voice platform data. “Otherwise, you’re just having to be kind of more generic, and for no good reason.”

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There’s no good reason to develop your publication for these devices yet. There’s this invention called “the radio” which does voice reporting of news quite well, and you can access it via Alexa or whatever if you have it rigged up.

This strikes me as classic publisher anxiety about new platforms (remember when tablet apps were “OH MY GOD WE MUST DO THIS”) plus Silicon Valley “Alexa can read headlines, so everyone will want to” determinism. It’s nonsense.
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More entry-level smartphone players will quit Indian market in 2017: Counterpoint • NDTV


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With mounting losses amid too many players fighting to grab a pie, exits will surpass entrants in the Indian smartphone market in 2017, analysts said on Thursday.

There are nearly 250m unique smartphone users in the country and by the end of 2016, there will be 280m Indians with these devices.

“With declining margins amid cut-throat competition, we predict some smartphone players will call it quits in 2017. We estimate that number of exits in the smartphone market will exceed number of entrants in the next year,” Tarun Pathak, Senior Analyst, Mobile Devices and Ecosystems at New Delhi-based Counterpoint Research, told IANS.

“While some signs of this trend already started happening, we predict it will only intensify in 2017 and lead to consolidation in smartphone market,” Pathak added.

Most of the exits will be seen at the entry-level smartphone segment, involving regional players which were unable to generate volume and, at the same time, were unable to scale up their portfolio.

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India has moved pretty fast from “next great opportunity” to “no-hope consolidation” market.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start up: will Buzz bite Google?, CJEU rules on surveillance, Uber runs wild, Note 7 lives!, and more


Jobs brought back to the US from Shenzhen will probably be “empty” – done by robots, not people. Photo by ahhhhmen on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. What, still? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bring back jobs from China? In Shenzhen, they aren’t that worried • WSJ

John Lyons:

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Mr. Trump is using coercion and enticement to get firms to manufacture in the U.S. During the campaign, he vowed to get Apple to “build their damn computers and things” in America. This month, Apple supplier Foxconn said it may expand operations in the U.S.

But it remains unclear what operations or how many jobs such a move would generate. The other trend under way at Foxconn is a shift to more-automated factories using cost-saving robots. Foxconn declined to comment on its specific customers and plans.

“If these jobs come back to the U.S. they are going to be for people who manage 1,000 robots in an automated factory,” said Christopher Balding, a finance professor at Peking University in Shenzhen. “It will be jobs for computer nerds, not the people who voted for Trump.”

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link to this extract


Employee lawsuit accuses Google of ‘spying program’ • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

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The lawsuit alleges that Google warns employees to not put into writing concerns about potential illegal activity within Google, even to the company’s own attorneys, because the disclosures could fall into the hands of regulators and law enforcement. It also alleges that confidentiality provisions include a prohibition on employees writing “a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” without Google signing off on the final draft.

The suit follows a complaint filed earlier this year with the National Labor Relations Board that raised similar issues, which  The Information wrote about in June. A person familiar with the matter confirmed the complaint and lawsuit were filed by the same employee. Google has since amended its Data Classification Guidelines, which were the subject of the labor complaint, according to the Monday lawsuit. If the employee is successful in the lawsuit, it could have broad implications for Silicon Valley, forcing companies to relax their tight grip on confidential information.

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link to this extract


Google facing FTC scrutiny over privacy — yet again • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg:

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the consumer advocates [Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse] contend that Google did a poor job explaining the [privacy policy] changes [made in June] to its users, causing many to accept changes that undermined their personal privacy without understanding the consequences.

“Google indeed has been a serial privacy violator,” said John M. Simpson, privacy project director for Consumer Watchdog. “Something needs to be done that gets their attention.”

The issue is sensitive because of Google’s history of privacy controversies, one of which resulted in a consent decree with the FTC in 2011 requiring 20 years of audits and promises to not misrepresent privacy policy changes in the future. That decree resulted from Google’s handling of user data when it started its ill-fated “Google Buzz” social network.

The consumer advocates say the June changes violated that consent decree and that the company should be forced to relinquish the advertising revenue collected since then — an amount that Simpson said could reach into the billions of dollars.

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Interesting use of the Buzz decree as a leverage point.
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We got 1.6 million students’ Google search histories! Now read on • Eerke Boiten’s blog


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We got 1.6 million students’ Google search histories!
We have fantastic news. Google have given us 1.6 million UK university students’ five years’ Google search histories, so we can work on improving their learning. Knowing what students have looked for on Google in the last 5 years will allow us to model their metacognitive skills and learning styles very accurately, so we can make individualised interventions when their everyday Google searches show their potential misunderstanding of what we’re trying to teach them.

We’ve promised Google we won’t be using this information for anything else, honest. Our agreement with Google says so, though it also says that third parties (like the students themselves) can’t hold us to anything that’s agreed in there. It’s all very exciting. We have never received data from Google before, never done any learning analytics, heck, we haven’t even looked at the web tracking data of our university’s Moodle virtual learning environment. But we think improving university education is extremely important, and we are so smart and successful, that we decided we just needed to go ahead and do this.

Hmmm. Maybe that doesn’t work too well. Let’s try again.

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At this point you realise that Boiten is in fact making a point about DeepMind/Google getting access to five years’ medical histories for 1.6m people. And the point is made rather elegantly.
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CJEU judgment in Watson • Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

David Anderson is the UK’s IRoTL; here he looks at the Court of Justice for the EU (the highest European Court) in the case brought by David Davis (a Tory MP, now member of the UK government) and Tom Watson (Labour MP, still in Opposition) over Theresa May’s (was Home Secretary, now Prime Minister) use of data retention:

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The wider significance of the Grand Chamber’s judgment is in its ruling that the whole principle of  what it called “general and indiscriminate retention” (para 97) is contrary to EU law – specifically the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The proven utility of existing data retention powers is likely to mean that this bold judgment of the CJEU – based on its assessment  that these powers constitute a “particularly serious” interference with privacy rights, and are “likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance” (para 100) – will be of serious concern to law enforcement both in the UK and in other Member States.

The comments of the CJEU in relation to the seriousness of the interference with privacy are not mirrored in the three parliamentary and expert reports which led to the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Bill, nor in the regular reports of the Interception of  Communications Commissioner, the senior former Judge who conducts detailed oversight of this activity in the UK.  This may reflect what I have previously described as “marked and consistent differences of opinion between the European Courts and the British judges … which owe something at least to varying perceptions of police and security forces and to different (but equally legitimate) conclusions that are drawn from 20th century history in different parts of Europe” (A Question of Trust, 2.24).

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As you might imagine, there’s a lot more, but this is the meat and potatoes of it, and simply digestible.
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Witness says self-driving Uber ran red light on its own, disputing Uber’s claims • The Guardian

Sam Levin:

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An autonomous Uber malfunctioned while in “self-driving mode” and caused a near collision in San Francisco, according to a business owner whose account raises new safety concerns about the unregulated technology launch.

The self-driving car – which Uber introduced without permits, as part of a testing program that California has deemed illegal – accelerated into an intersection while the light was still red and while the automation technology was clearly controlling the car, said Christopher Koff, owner of local cafe AK Subs.

“It looked like the car ran the red light on its own,” Koff, 49, said of the self-driving Uber Volvo, which has a driver in the front seat who can take control when needed. Another car that had the green light had to “slam the brakes” to avoid a crash, he said.

Koff’s story, which advocacy group Consumer Watchdog shared with state officials on Tuesday, directly contradicts Uber’s public claims that red-light violations have been the result of “human error” and that the drivers, not the technology, have failed to follow traffic laws.

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Koff said it happened at about 5am. Early, but still almost caused a crash. I’m running out of synonyms for “foolhardy” in regard to Uber.

Also – like John Gruber – I think Uber is sliding around definitions here. Its suggestion of “human error” could actually mean “a human was meant to stop it, but didn’t” instead of “a human was driving this all the time”. But you can’t expect people to monitor a car like this; it’s both exhausting and numbing, like constantly overseeing a learner driver.
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The Uber advantage • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

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Uber will lose some $3bn this year, after losing $2.2bn last year. Even by the exuberant standards of the internet industry, the company is a remarkably effective cash-burning machine.* By comparison, the largest annual loss posted by Amazon.com, no slouch when it comes to losing money, totaled $1.4bn, back in 2000.

We’re often told that companies like Uber and Amazon are masters of business innovation and industry disruption. But an argument could be made that what they’re really masters of is getting investors, whether in public or private markets, to cover massive losses over long periods of time. The generosity of the capital markets is what allows Uber and its ilk to subsidize purchases by customers, again on a massive scale and over many years. It’s worth asking whether these subsidies are the real engine behind much of the tech industry’s vaunted wave of disruption. After all, the small businesses being disrupted — local taxi companies and book shops, for instance — don’t have sugar daddies underwriting their existence. They actually have to make money, day after day, to pay their employees and their bankers. They have to charge real prices, not make-believe ones.

Some will argue that the capital markets are acting rationally, investing for future returns. But if those future returns are predicated on the killing off of competitors through years of investor-subsidized predatory pricing and other economically dubious behavior, how rational are the capital market’s actions, really? At some point, it starts to smell like a market failure rather than a market success.

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7-Eleven beats Google and Amazon to the first regular commercial drone delivery service in the U.S. • Recode

April Glaser:

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7-Eleven, the world’s largest convenience store chain, shared new numbers from its drone delivery experiment today. Seventy-seven customers in Reno, Nev., have now received items ordered from 7-Eleven delivered to their doorsteps via drone.

All 77 flights were from one store to a dozen select customers who live within a mile of the shop. 7-Eleven has partnered with the drone maker Flirtey for its delivery pilot.

It marks the first regular commercial drone delivery service to operate in the United States, flying ahead of other, potentially bigger drone delivery projects that haven’t yet been able to take off in the U.S. — like Alphabet’s Project Wing and Amazon’s Prime Air, the latter of which only demonstrated its first delivery to a customer last week.

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“Select customers” == people handpicked by 7-11. I think we’re some way off “regular” all-comers deliveries. First doesn’t win anything except some headlines.
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Not dead yet: report says number of in-use Galaxy Note7s still vastly exceeds all LG V20s • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

Today, if a report from app research firm Apteligent is to be believed, that still means there are more Galaxy Note7s out there in use than there are LG V20s. A lot more. Apteligent’s report suggests that there remain well over twice as many Note7s out in the wild as there are LG V20s. The Moto Z just barely comes in above the Note7, too, and according to Apteligent is actually declining in popularity, which is a bit weird.

Apteligent’s reporting relies on devices “checking in” with the company’s analytics, so these remaining Note7 devices are very much in use. And such people are definitely out there – you need go no further than this subreddit, where people are actively discussing how to avoid Samsung’s bricking OTA. Lovely.

«

A couple of points. First, linguistic: “if a report.. is to be believed” – either go and find out if it is to be believed (not easy) or just write “a report… says”. The chatty style undermines the story unnecessarily.

Second, “the Moto Z… is actually declining in popularity, which is a bit weird.” It’s not declining in popularity. The scale is “percentage of global Android usage”, and if the number of Android devices with Apteligent reporting is growing globally, then it’s possible for the number of Moto Zs in use to grow, and yet to fall as a percentage of Android devices globally (because the number in use isn’t growing as fast as the number of Android devices in use is). So not weird at all. It’s just maths.

The V20 sure looks like a dog on this basis though. It’s hard to know whether Apteligent is biased towards US devices – though the rocketing figures for Sony suggest not. The V20 is probably doing best in South Korea.
link to this extract


Russian deep-sea fisher shares his monster discoveries on Twitter • Moscow Times


»

Roman Fedortsov works on a fishing trawler based in Murmansk, a port city in the extreme northwest part of Russia. Earlier this year, he started tweeting photographs of his most unusual catches. 

Most deep-sea fishers would likely smile or shrug at his pictures, given the variety of creatures regularly pulled up in nets, but the images are perfectly monstrous to your average land-lover.

«

Has gone viral already. Warning: not for those of a nervous disposition or eating breakfast.
link to this extract


Economist digital strategy chief: We expect display advertising to have disappeared by 2025 • Press Gazette

Tom Standage:

»

The majority of our revenue (65% and rising) comes from circulation.

We expect display advertising to have pretty much vanished by 2025. We are sorry to see it go – print advertising had very high margins in the past, and extra print pages were almost pure profit for publishers. But those days are never coming back.

Many publishers seem unwilling to accept this, though. They hope to find a way to replace declining print revenues with online advertising.

This is a fantasy, and incumbent print publishers who try to move to a digital-ad model are mostly doomed to failure.

Some digital-publishing startups have managed to sustain themselves from digital advertising revenue – Gawker managed it for a while, for example – but it’s difficult. When Verizon bought AOL it emerged that the Huffington Post was not profitable, for example, and it’s a pure-digital news operation that doesn’t even have to pay for a lot of its content.

So if it can’t support itself from digital advertising alone, that bodes ill for others trying to do the same thing.

«

That last point is killer. Digital ads support Google and Facebook, and pretty much no news operation.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up: the $3m ad fraud scheme, Vice kills comments, AirPods in place, 2FA for Amazon, and more


The Mac Pro is ancient in computing years – so is it about to be updated in 2017? Photo by wwward0 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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ad fraud scheme cost advertisers at least $3 million per day • AdAge

George Slefo:

»

A complex ad fraud scheme has been siphoning $3 million to $5 million per day since October from the largest U.S. brands and media companies, making it the most profitable and advanced operation seen by the industry to date, according to a new report from WhiteOps, an anti-ad fraud security firm.

By comparison, other large, well-known ad-fraud attacks garnered $200,000 to $900,000 a day, WhiteOps said.

A group of Russian hackers were behind the attack, creating more than half a million fake users and 250,000 fake websites to pull off the scheme, according to WhiteOps. Bots, which are used to mimic human behavior to dupe advertisers in paying for impressions never seen by humans, were used to view some 300 million video ads a day, according to the report.

Collectively dubbed “Methbot” by WhiteOps, the bots scammed publications like the Huffington Post, The Economist, Fortune, ESPN, Vogue, CBS Sports and Fox News, the company said.

Overall, about 6,000 publishers were hit, according to the report. Social media websites weren’t immune to the attack, either, as platforms like Facebook were also hit, it said.

WhiteOps said it would not release the names of the brands affected by the attack.

«

Bad idea. We should know which brands were affected, because they should know we know we’re being overcharged. Advertising costs are reflected in end-user prices. It would also make the brands more careful.

According to Jason Kint, the money spent is about the same as the video revenue for the 80 most trusted premium publishers. This was really bad.
link to this extract


We’re getting rid of comments on VICE.com – VICE

Jonathan Smith:

»

In theory, comments sections are great. Writers and editors, with their unquenchable thirst for validation, love to hear thoughtful responses from readers. At their best, comments can foster a productive community discussion around a particular story or topic, often providing insight or commentary that might have been missed otherwise. As our colleagues at Motherboard pointed out last year [in announcing they were getting rid of comments, in October 2015], comments sections are really just a continuation of that age-old tradition of letters to the editor, a cherished part of many publications and a valuable way of creating an open dialogue between magazines and the people to whom they are ultimately accountable.

Unfortunately, website comments sections are rarely at their best. Without moderators or fancy algorithms, they are prone to anarchy. Too often they devolve into racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top and the more reasoned responses drowned out in the noise. While we always welcomed your thoughts on how we are actually a right-wing mouthpiece for the CIA, or how much better we were before we sold our dickless souls to the gods of capitalism, or just how shitty we are in general, we had to ban countless commenters over the years for threatening our writers and subjects, doxxing private citizens, and engaging in hate speech against pretty much every group imaginable.

We don’t have the time or desire to continue monitoring that crap moving forward.

«

That last sentence is basically what it boils down to. As I’ve said many times, comments on anything but niche sites are haystacks obscuring the occasional needle. They’re broken, and yet they don’t need to be broken; the technology has existed for decades to make them workable – look at Slashdot or StackExchange. (Thanks Stef Pause for the link.)
link to this extract


Apple AirPods: more than just headphones • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

»

Perhaps my favorite feature is when you take one AirPod out, the music automatically pauses. Put it back in and it resumes flawlessly. This is useful when someone is talking to you and you need an ear free to listen and respond. I have some context with this experience, having used the Plantronics BackBeats Pro 2 which offer a similar smart sensor that pauses your music when you take off the headphones. For whatever reason, I found taking one AirPod out much more convenient than lifting the entire headset off my head. Perhaps just preference, perhaps not. In either case, the seamlessness of this experience is fantastic.

Whenever you need to know the battery level of the AirPods or the charging case, simply open the case next to your iPhone and this screen instantly pops up. Apple is using some sort of close proximity solution because, if you move the case even one foot away and open it, nothing happens on the phone.

I’ve been using Bluetooth headphones for years, so the awesomeness that is wireless headphones was not new to me. But, these were the first I’d used which are independently wireless — not connected to anything. With sports Bluetooth headphones you notice and feel the wire on the back of your neck as you move. Similarly, with over the hear wireless headphones like the Bose QuietComfort or Beats Wireless or similar ones, you feel the band that goes over the top of your head. The point is, they don’t disappear. I was surprised and delighted by how comfortable the AirPods are in my ears and how easily you forget they are there. Interestingly, I feel the same way about my Apple Watch. It seems the theme with both of Apple’s wearable computers (and yes I consider the AirPods to be wearable computers) is comfort to the degree of making them feel as though they disappear. This may be ear-shape dependent so my statement may not be true of everyone but it is with me.

Many others who have tried them have commented on how well they stay in your ears. I found this to be true.

«

I wonder if there’s some sort of NFC element to the proximity sensor? Either that, or it’s some version of the”time of flight” system used to decide whether someone is using man-in-the-middle when you unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch; but that uses Wi-Fi.
link to this extract


How Apple alienated Mac loyalists • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

Take the company’s attempt to create a longer-lasting battery for the MacBook Pro. Apple engineers wanted to use higher capacity battery packs shaped to the insides of the laptop versus the standard square cells found in most machines. The design would have boosted battery life. 

In the run-up to the MacBook Pro’s planned debut this year, the new battery failed a key test, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rather than delay the launch and risk missing the crucial holiday shopping season, Apple decided to revert to an older design. The change required roping in engineers from other teams to finish the job, meaning work on other Macs languished, the person said. The new laptop didn’t represent a game-changing leap in battery performance, and a software bug misrepresented hours of power remaining. Apple has since removed the meter from the top right-hand corner of the screen. 

In the Mac’s heyday, people working on new models could expect a lot of attention from Ive’s team. Once a week his people would meet with Mac engineers to discuss ongoing projects. Mac engineers brought prototypes to Ive’s studio for review, while his lieutenants would visit the Mac labs to look at early concepts. Those visits have become less frequent since the company began focusing more on more-valuable products like the iPhone and iPad, and the change became even more obvious after the design team’s leadership was shuffled last year, according to a person familiar with the situation.

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there’s no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power. 

«

Gurman also suggests that engineers are given competing specs – and this can lead to late shipping, for instance on the Macbook of 2015, which he says was meant to appear in 2014.

Notably, he doesn’t know whether the Mac Pro is dead, or just being revamped.
link to this extract


Apple’s Tim Cook assures employees that it is committed to the Mac and that ‘great desktops’ are coming • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino got a copy of an internal employee Q+A that Tim Cook held with Apple staff via bulletin board:

»

Q: We had a big MacBook Pro launch in October and a powerful upgrade to the MacBook back in the spring. Are Mac desktops strategic for us?

TC: The desktop is very strategic for us. It’s unique compared to the notebook because you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop — the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance. So there are many different reasons why desktops are really important, and in some cases critical, to people.

The current generation iMac is the best desktop we have ever made and its beautiful Retina 5K display is the best desktop display in the world. 

Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops. If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.

«

I wouldn’t be too worried that Cook doesn’t explicitly mention the Mac Pro. He’s smart enough to know that this stuff will always leak – remember how at Nokia the “burning platform” memo, which began as a speech, leaked out into the world – and so he isn’t going to pre-announce anything.

Cook also spoke about going to the Trump tech meeting, and his defence is that you have to be there to put your position; else your voice won’t be heard.
link to this extract


Inside Amazon’s clickworker platform: how half a million people are being paid pennies to train AI • TechRepublic

Hope Reese and Nick Heath on Amazon’s human-powered Mechanical Turk [AMT] offering, which pays people tiny amounts to do small computer-based tasks:

»

So what do Turkers make, on average? It’s hard to say. But Adrien Jabbour, in India, said “it’s an achievement to make $700 in 2 months of work, working 4-5 hours every day.” Milland reported that she recently made $25 for 8 hours of work, and called that “a good day.” Just over half of Turkers earn below the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, according to a Pew Research Center study.

LaPlante talked about the difficult choices she needs to make, juggling work and life. “I have to decide: Do I take that job, or do I go to my family dinner?”

“For people living paycheck-to-paycheck on this kind of thing, on the edge of being evicted,” she said, “those decisions are difficult.”

For those working on AMT, there’s a frustrating reality: Not all Turkers are created equal.

Amazon’s system designates certain workers “Master’s Level.” When a new requester posts a HIT, it’s automatically defaulted to find Turkers at this level—which costs more for the requester, and pays more for the worker.

If you don’t have that designation, you are eligible for far fewer jobs.

One weekday in March, Milland said, there were 4911 available tasks on Mechanical Turk. She was eligible for 393 of them—just 8%.

So how does one attain a “Master’s Level” designation? No one knows.

Milland has seen unqualified people—those with a low number of completed tasks, low approval ratings, false accounts, or suspensions—all earn a Master’s Level.

“There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason,” she said.

Amazon won’t reveal their criteria to attain this level. (TechRepublic reached out to Amazon for comment, but after initially agreeing, the company later declined to be interviewed for this story.)

«

Non-cooperation is so common by these companies; the struggle to earn a useful amount of money for those feeding AMT is shocking. And that’s before you get to the bit where they’re meant to be teaching machines perhaps to replace them.
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The travels of Mrs. Murray’s Toyota unveil terror-finance network • WSJ

Christopher Stewart, Rob Barry and Mark Maremont:

»

Annie Murray had no idea how her champagne-colored 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser made its way from her hometown of Columbus, Georgia., to a dirt parking lot in West Africa.

She drove that car to church every week until circumstance, bad luck and the repo man took it away last winter. Her Toyota landed in Benin—at a car lot U.S. officials have alleged was a front for a global money-laundering network benefiting Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group backed by Iran.

The Land Cruiser had traveled more than 5,700 miles along a well-worn U.S.-Benin trade route that federal agents thought they had cleaned up five years ago in a terror-finance case.

«

It’s really quite weird.
link to this extract


[Exclusive] First Intel Core i7-7700HQ laptop benchmarks!

“The team”:

»

We can’t name the brand and the model of the Kaby Lake notebook we have but for the purpose of fair comparison with 6700HQ we took the results of HP Pavilion 15 Gaming which has similar form factor.

 Cinebench 11 Cinebench 15 NovaBench 3
 Intel Core i7-6700HQ (HP Pavilion 15 Gaming) 7.39 664 826
 Intel Core i7-7700HQ 7.53 (+2%) 684 (+3%) 877 (+6%)

A difference from 2% to 6% can’t be a very good reason for postponing the purchase of a new notebook until January when Intel will announce the new processors. However, such improvement was somehow expected given the performance gaps between the last Intel Core generations.

«

Knowing that you’d only get a 2-6% performance improvement will certainly stop people complaining that the MacBook Pro doesn’t have Kaby Lake, right?
link to this extract


Nintendo Switch CPU and GPU clock speeds revealed • Eurogamer.net

Richard Leadbetter:

»

As many have speculated, the new Nintendo hardware does indeed feature two performance configurations – and the console is categorically not as capable in mobile form, compared to its prowess when docked and attached to an HDTV. And we can confirm that there is no second GPU or additional hardware in the dock itself regardless of the intriguing patents that Nintendo has filed suggesting that there might be. With battery life and power throughput no longer an issue, the docked Switch simply allows the GPU to run much faster. And to put it simply, there is a night and day difference here.

Where Switch remains consistent is in CPU power – the cores run at 1020MHz regardless of whether the machine is docked or undocked. This ensures that running game logic won’t be compromised while gaming on the go: the game simulation itself will remain entirely consistent. The machine’s embedded memory controller runs at 1600MHz while docked (on par with a standard Tegra X1), but the default power mode undocked sees this drop to 1331MHz. However, developers can opt to retain full memory bandwidth in their titles should they choose to do so.

As things stand, CPU clocks are halved compared to the standard Tegra X1, but it’s the GPU aspect of the equation that will prove more controversial. Even while docked, Switch doesn’t run at Tegra X1’s full potential. Clock-speeds are locked here at 768MHz, considerably lower than the 1GHz found in Shield Android TV, but the big surprise from our perspective was the extent to which Nintendo has down-clocked the GPU to hit its thermal and battery life targets. That’s not a typo: it really is 307.2MHz – meaning that in portable mode, Switch runs at exactly 40% of the clock-speed of the fully docked device.

«

Basically, it’s a two-year-old tablet.
link to this extract


How to enable two-factor authentication on Amazon • Electronic Frontier Foundation


»

Holiday shopping is in full swing this week as we enter the eighth day of the 12 Days of 2FA. Today we’ll look at how to enable two-factor authentication on Amazon to protect your financial information, shopping preferences, and purchases.

Amazon supports 2FA via both text messages and an authenticator app. Authenticator apps are generally more secure and avoid a lot of the downfalls of text messages. However, text messages are more practical if you do not use a smartphone. Consider your threat model and choose the best mode for you. Note, however, that Amazon requires a phone number to enable 2FA regardless of the method you choose.

«

Amazon UK doesn’t offer 2FA, but it does offer two-step authentication: you enter your password and then a code is sent to your phone which you have to enter. Useful for security nonetheless.
link to this extract


Politics and change: reflections of an American immigrant tech worker • SD Times

Al Hilwa:

»

The left-right political divide traces its roots to 18th-century France and is essentially about where people stand with respect to tolerance of social and economic change, giving us progressives and conservatives. While we are split in this country in this regard, those of us who work in technology have tended to have a deeper understanding of the modern mechanisms of change and thus a greater affinity for it. You could say we are heavily vested in it.

For those on the conservative side, they can enjoy the next four years of unrolling some change. For the progressives, the next four years will seem disheartening. I think it is helpful to take a longer view of history and take better stock of the modern era.

Compare our world with that of the 1950s, the turn of the century, or the 18th century. Consider social parameters such as voting rights for women or people of color, or even voting by non-property owners. Consider the shifts in attitude in interracial marriage, in racial segregation and slavery. Read through the Wikipedia page on the “Timeline of women’s legal rights” to see how just a couple of hundred years ago women were not able to own property.

Your exploration will lead you to one truth: In time, progressiveness has a good track record of prevailing.

«

link to this extract


Uber admits to self-driving car ‘problem’ in bike lanes as safety concerns mount • The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has released a warning about Uber’s cars based on staff members’ first-hand experiences in the vehicles. When the car was in “self-driving” mode, the coalition’s executive director, who tested the car two days before the launch, observed it twice making an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane”.

That means the car crossed the bike path at the last minute in a manner that posed a direct threat to cyclists. The maneuver also appears to violate state law, which mandates that a right-turning car merge into the bike lane before making the turn to avoid a crash with a cyclist who is continuing forward.

“It’s one of the biggest causes of collisions,” said coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy, noting that the group warned Uber of the problem. Company officials told the coalition that Uber was working on the issue but failed to mention that the self-driving program would begin two days later without permits, he said.

“The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch,” he said, “shows a reckless disregard for the safety of people in our streets.”

«

These things haven’t been on (illegal) test a week yet, and the risks are mounting. This doesn’t feel good. If Uber kills a cyclist, it is in very deep trouble.
link to this extract


Alphabet’s Google is searching for its next hit • The Economist


»

When Nest, the thermostats maker, was acquired for $3.2bn in 2014, its executives were promised they could invest and expand their business for years. But when the Alphabet structure was suddenly adopted, the message changed. Overnight, units were expected to pay for their share of overhead, which irked some executives who remembered how the parent company had itself doled out big salaries and other luxuries (like free food). Few at the firm are optimistic that Alphabet is closer to devising a business as lucrative and large as search continues to be. As one former executive says, “You’re unlikely to win the lottery twice.”

Meanwhile, the way that people navigate their way around the internet is also changing, which could eventually pose a threat to Google’s search-advertising business. There are two big impending shifts. One is the use of voice as a way to get information, and the other is the rise of virtual assistants. Already, around a fifth of searches on Android devices are done by voice (as opposed to text), and that share will grow as speech recognition improves. Voice will also become more important with the spread of stand-alone devices that answer questions, such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s own new product, Google Home, which do not support advertising…

…As well as the fact that Amazon delivers ad-free information via the Echo, the retail giant poses a direct threat to Google because more people are starting searches for electronics and other kit directly on its site, rather than through a general search engine. By one estimate, 55% of internet users now begin researching products on Amazon, depriving Google of the opportunity to deliver an ad.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Talkspace’s untherapy, Zuckerberg’s custom AI, working at Snapchat, AirPods hit shops, and more


Got Super Mario Run on Android? We have some bad news for you. Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Not available in Heptapod. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Breakdown: inside the messy world of anonymous therapy app Talkspace • The Verge

Cat Ferguson:

»

She had just begun working with a new patient when he told her a family member had been driving drunk with the patient’s baby in the car. Most states in the country, including the therapist’s, legally require licensed therapists to report child abuse, neglect, or endangerment to an appropriate agency, such as law enforcement, child protective services, or a state child welfare hotline. So the therapist, who has requested anonymity due to fear of legal repercussions, told her assigned mentor at the company about the dangerous situation.

Her mentor replied that whether or not to report was up to her, but recommended she instead advise her patient that, if caught, the family could lose the child to the state. The mentor warned the therapist that she might be at risk of legal retaliation from the patient if she abided by her duty, in license and law, to report child endangerment. The warning was unfounded; her state protects against that kind of retribution.

But thanks to Talkspace’s policy of patient anonymity, the therapist didn’t have access to her patient’s contact information, or even her name — factors that impeded her ability to warn the authorities. Unless patients tell them more, Talkspace therapists know patients only by their user name.

“So now I get to live knowing a [young] baby is being driven around by a drunk woman, I have no way to file on them, and Talkspace has put me in this position,” the therapist said in an interview in October, her voice breaking…

…When reached by email for comment on this story, Talkspace co-founder Oren Frank suggested (incorrectly) that The Verge was conspiring with psychologist and Forbes blogger Todd Essig, who has written blog posts critical of Talkspace. Frank declined to speak on the record.

After being sent detailed questions by The Verge. Frank sent several legally threatening emails to editorial staff at The Verge, as well as to the CEO of Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company, one of which answered two of The Verge’s questions; he never answered the others.

«

OK, The Verge is starting to annoy people it writes about. Good.
link to this extract


At home with Mark Zuckerberg and Jarvis, the AI assistant he built for his family • Fast Company

Daniel Terdiman on Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to build “Jarvis”, which he has also mentioned in a Facebook post:

»

Getting the right kind of music to play was one thing. Making sure Jarvis doesn’t piss off [wife] Priscilla is quite another.

Even asking the system to turn lights on or off or play music can introduce a surprising amount of ambiguity, if it’s unsure about where it’s supposed to do so. For example, Zuckerberg and his wife sometimes use different phrases for things—he says “living room,” while she calls it the “family room.” So Jarvis needed to understand synonyms. But Zuck didn’t want to just program in the different phrases; teaching Jarvis to learn them, and other contextual nuances, was a much more interesting problem.

“You’ll run into things like, I’ll just say ‘turn on the lights in this room,’ and then they’ll be on too bright, so Priscilla will [say] ‘make it dimmer,’” he says. “But she didn’t say what room to make it dimmer in, so it needs to know where we are, and…where we get the context wrong, and I’m like, ‘play some music,’ it’ll just start playing in Max’s room because…that’s where we were before.”

If Max happens to be napping when that happens? “That’s a huge bummer. That’s a good way to make your wife mad at you.”

Another example of the importance of location: As part of its regimen for creating an optimal TV-watching experience, Jarvis can turn the lights off. “One of the rooms that is adjacent to the [TV] room is…Priscilla’s office,” Zuckerberg says, “so we had this funny thing for a while where…we’re going to watch TV, and [Jarvis] would just turn off all the lights downstairs, and she’d be trying to work, and she’d be like, ‘MARK!’”

«

So basically like any couple with a nerdy man trying out too much new stuff.

Meanwhile, back at Facebook…
link to this extract


Life among Facebook’s reviewers: “this is crazy!” • Süddeutsche Zeitung

Till Krause und Hannes Grassegger:

»

The employees [from the 600 who review Facebook posts] who spoke to SZ-Magazin are not allowed to talk to reporters or the authorities. However, they wanted to make their working conditions known. These people are paid to delete offensive Facebook posts as quickly as possible – and they often feel inadequately prepared and left alone to deal with the psychological fallout of their work. Many complained that guidelines regarding what should or shouldn’t be deleted were unclear, and that they were stressed and overworked. A number of employees also reported major psychological issues as a result of frequent exposure to shocking contents that included images of torture, murder, or child abuse – and they were not provided access to professional help.

These were some of the things they said:

“I’ve seen things that made me seriously question my faith in humanity. Things like torture and bestiality.“

“Since I saw child pornography videos, I may as well have become a nun. I can’t even handle the idea of sex any more. I haven’t been intimate with my partner for over a year. I start shaking the moment he touches me.”

“I know that someone has to do this job. But it should be people who’ve received proper training, and who get help when they need it. They shouldn’t just be thrown into the deep end like we have.”

“The rules are almost impossible to understand. I’ve said to my team leader: this is crazy! The picture is full of blood and brutality, no one should have to see that. But he said: that’s just your opinion. You have to try and think about what Facebook wants. We’re expected to think like machines.”

«

link to this extract


Super Mario Run downloaded 37m times during launch week

Mike Guarino:

»

Last week saw the highly anticipated release of Super Mario Run on iOS, and the game was unsurprisingly a massive success right off the bat. The game was downloaded nearly 3 million times on its first day of release, though now we’re getting numbers regarding how the game has sold during its first official launch week. The game has been downloaded a staggering 37 million times so far, and it hasn’t even been available for a full week yet.

This information comes from App Annie, which marks the game’s download numbers as being over 37 million since the game launched last Thursday. Out of all the regions that the game launched in, the game was easily the most popular in the US with 11 million downloads. This is definitely thanks to the massive marketing push that the game received, which had constant adds on Apple’s App Store and allowed users to sign up to be notified as soon as the game went live.

«

However…
link to this extract


Did you download a Super Mario Run APK for Android? That’s malware • VentureBeat

Jeff Grubb:

»

Often before a new mobile game comes out, people who use an Android smartphone or tablet can get the game early by scouring the internet for Android install files known as APKs. These are like .exe files on Windows, and they enable you to install software on your device without having to go through the Google Play Store.

Naturally, with Nintendo launching Super Mario Run exclusively for iOS systems yesterday, Android owners are desperate to play the game. Since it’s not on Google Play, some folks are searching forums and APK databases for the Nintendo platformer. If you do this, what you will find instead are viruses and other malicious pieces of software attempting to look like Super Mario Run.

Super Mario Run, you see, doesn’t have an APK for Android yet.

Many shady websites, like KO Player, are already hosting files that they claim are an APK for Super Mario Run that will enable you to play the game on a Samsung Galaxy, an LG V20, or a Google Pixel. But the reality is that these are almost also viruses of some sort.

«

link to this extract


Andromeda, we hardly knew ye • Strategy Analytics

Eric Smith:

»

With an announcement by Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s Senior Vice President for Android, Chrome and Chromecast, that Android and Chrome OS will not merge, we have a few quick thoughts on how that affects the tablet market.

• We had lingering suspicions about the rumor of a unified “Andromeda OS,” as it was floating around for so long without any corroborating evidence. The closest we got was Android apps being able to run on Chrome OS a few months ago. The time to release Andromeda really would have been with the Pixel C in 2015 to show that Google is serious about providing a productive work environment on its tablets. Instead, it is betting on Chrome laptops on being the answer to affordable productivity computing devices. Not a bad bet, considering their reach in the US market, but it does fall short of expanding that success into its large Android tablet installed base of 65% in 2016.

• We expected a new Nexus/Pixel tablet by the end of 2016 and unless Santa has a trick up his sleeve, that window has all but closed. There has been speculation that 2017 would be the year when Huawei would release a new Nexus/Pixel tablet, possibly running the new Andromeda OS. The decision on where to take Google’s software no doubt had an impact on this delayed timing and puts a new Nexus/Pixel tablet in limbo.

• Our latest forecasts are skeptical of a serious push on productivity and security from Google to make Android tablets acceptable in enterprise environments where Windows and iOS dominate the market. This news confirms our assumptions. Google’s OEM partners (Samsung, Huawei, Alcatel OneTouch) have already moved over to Windows for their productivity tablet models and this will only hasten that trend.

«

There’s more, but this pretty much covers it. The non-merger of ChromeOS and Android suggests that it too has decided that while you can make a car that works underwater, it’s not a great idea; just build a submarine and a car, and use them as necessary.
link to this extract


What it’s like to work at secretive Snapchat • Business Insider

Biz Carson and Alex Heath:

»

Business Insider spoke to more than a dozen current and former Snap employees and people close to the company to get a picture of the inner workings of the organization as it prepares to lead one of the largest IPOs in years that’s expected to value the company at $25 billion.

Many describe a rocketship helmed by a confident and visionary CEO with an intuitive knack for creating products that click with younger users. But Snap is also an organization struggling to create a sense of cohesion within its swelling ranks and locked to a top-down and polarizing culture that leaves many employees frustrated.

“I definitely didn’t feel as if I was a valued part of the team,” says one departee, citing the secretive culture. “When you don’t know what’s going on and just read about it in the headlines, it makes you feel like an outsider. You feel like a fool.”

«

Evan Spiegel might want to work on the corporate culture a little. But other elements sound like a thrusting startup. What is Snap(chat)’s ethos, though?
link to this extract


Labour calls for closer scrutiny of tech firms and their algorithms • The Guardian

Juliette Garside:

»

Shadow minister Chi Onwurah wants to see greater scrutiny of the mathematical formulas that now control everything from the tailored news served to Facebook members to the speed at which workers are required to move around an Amazon warehouse.

“Algorithms aren’t above the law,” Onwurah warned this weekend. In a telephone interview on Sunday, she said: “The outcomes of algorithms are regulated – the companies which use them have to meet employment law and competition law. The question is, how do we make that regulation effective when we can’t see the algorithm?”

Labour’s industrial paper, due to be published after the Christmas break, will call for suggestions on how tech firms could be more closely supervised by government.

“We expect algorithms and data rights to be considered as part of that consultation,” said Onwurah, who was shadow digital economy minister before taking on the industrial brief. “Algorithms are part of our world, so they are subject to regulation, but because they are not transparent, it’s difficult to regulate them effectively.”

«

You can ask, but you won’t get. It does put the issue on the table, though, of what influence Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms have over what we experience and learn.
link to this extract


Can Uber ever deliver? Part four: understanding that unregulated monopoly was always Uber’s central objective • naked capitalism

Hubert Horan, who claims 40 years’ experience in management and regulation of transportation companies – mainly airlines – and is unconnected to Uber or rivals:

»

There is absolutely no evidence that Uber’s investors put $13bn into the company because they thought they could achieve Amazon type efficiency advantages over incumbent urban car service operators. There is no evidence that Uber’s managers or spending priorities were ever focused on creating welfare-enhancing efficiency improvements or consumer benefits. Unlike past startups, Uber made no effort to provide outsiders with evidence that its business model generated powerful efficiency advantages, or that it could actually produce urban car services at lower cost than incumbents.

From its earliest days, Uber’s investors and managers have always recognized that investor returns would require global industry dominance, and the elimination (or effective nullification) of longstanding laws and regulations designed to protect competition, and to protect consumers from the risks of anti-competitive market power. This presumes that urban car services can be turned into a “winner-take-all-game”, where the winner can earn sustainable rents once quasi-monopoly industry dominance has been achieved. Dominance would also allow Uber to leverage its platform in order to expand into other markets that it could not otherwise profitably enter.

As will be discussed below, the belief that monopoly power can be a major source of financial returns is widely held among the venture capitalists that funded Uber, and its spending priorities and marketplace behavior have been totally consistent with a company pursuing global industry dominance.

But most critically, the staggering $13bn in cash its investors provided is consistent with the magnitude of funding required to subsidize the many years of predatory competition required to drive out more efficient incumbents.

«

Kill off the rest of the market, then raise rents. It’s quite a monopoly play, but Uber’s behaviour in adjacent fields (such as self-driving vehicles) suggests that is its playbook.
link to this extract


AirPods deliveries arrive across Europe as retail store stock dwindles • Mac Rumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

Early orders of AirPods arrived across Europe this morning as people were seen waiting outside Apple retail stores eager to get hold of a pair of the new wireless earphones before initial stock ran out.

Queues were reported outside Apple’s Regent Street store in London and some other brick-and-mortar stores scattered around the U.K., but stock is reportedly limited and going fast. Regent Street was said to have only 150 units, while the Apple Store in Bath reportedly had only 10 in stock upon opening. Reddit user googang619 said that Newcastle’s Eldon Square store initially had 25 pairs in at 9 a.m. but “they had sold twenty of them in the first 10 minutes”.

«

Early reviews favourable, but you’d expect that.
link to this extract


Apple appeals EU order to collect $14bn in back taxes • The New York Times

Associated Press:

»

Ireland charges the Cupertino, California-based company only for sales within Ireland. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the arrangement let Apple use two shell companies incorporated in Ireland to report its Europe-wide profits at effective rates well under 1%.

In a statement Monday, Apple said the EU took “unilateral action and retroactively changed the rules, disregarding decades of Irish tax law, U.S. tax law as well as global consensus on tax policy.”

“If their opinion is allowed to stand, Apple would pay 40% of all the corporate income tax collected in Ireland, which is unprecedented and, far from leveling the playing field, selectively targets Apple,” Apple said. “This has no basis in fact or law and we’re confident the ruling will be overturned.”

Apple says it has a worldwide income tax rate of around 26 percent.

The Irish and Apple appeals set the stage for a titanic legal battle that has implications for more than 600 U.S. multinationals based in Ireland and thousands more using tax-avoidance vehicles globally.

«

link to this extract


Explaining the battery life problems with the new MacBook Pros • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham:

»

Sometimes the newer chips consume a tiny bit less power than the older ones, and sometimes they use a little bit more, but they’re broadly comparable. The power savings that enable those smaller batteries aren’t really coming from the processor.

Also, keep in mind how 2013’s Haswell CPUs managed to improve battery life so noticeably compared to 2012’s Ivy Bridge CPUs. Starting in Haswell, CPUs can jump between their active and idle states more quickly, allowing the processor to spend more time idling. If keeping track, that’s three significant factors impacting the situation:

• The new laptops have smaller batteries than the old ones.
• Intel’s CPUs are responsible for a higher percentage of total system power use, since they consume about as much power now as they did one or two or three years ago.
•The less idle processor time you have, the less Intel’s recent power optimizations can help you.

All of this means, in short, that what you’re doing with your computer has more to do with your real-world battery life than before. It’s why there’s such a huge difference between our Wi-Fi browsing tests and our heavier WebGL tests, and a smaller battery means you’re going to notice it more in the new Pros.

«

Including this key nugget:

»

Compared to last year’s models, the Touch Bar MacBook Pros lose quite a bit of battery capacity. The 13-inch model drops from 74.9 WHr to 49.2 WHr and the 15-inch model falls from 99.5 WHr to 76 WHr. That’s a 34% and 24% reduction in capacity, respectively.

«

Which probably goes quite some distance to explain this.
link to this extract


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Start Up: Twitter bot fight!, Uber’s self-certifying vehicles, Snap’s buying edge, Deep Bach, and more


The Holocaust memorial is a fact; so was the Holocaust. What’s Google’s problem with reflecting that? Photo by Alessio Maffeis 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 11 links for you. Try that for size. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

On Twitter, a battle among political bots • The New York Times

Amanda Hess: One of Twitter’s vilest subcultures is its collection of minstrel accounts, which impersonate Jews and people of color in order to mock and discredit them. These accounts steal avatars from real people, give themselves fake ethnic names and spew racism that’s then boosted by a network of tittering racist tweeters. @ImposterBuster, a bot unleashed on Twitter last month by the Tablet writer Yair Rosenberg and the developer Neal Chandra, is designed to hunt them down. Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Chandra have compiled a database of known minstrel accounts and haveput @ImposterBuster on their trail. The bot tracks their every move on Twitter and replies automatically to their tweets, exposing racists and alerting other users to their subterfuge.

Another bot with a predatory instinct, @EveryTrumpette, is a visual variation on the @EveryTrumpDonor theme. Every few hours, it pulls up a photo from a Trump rally, then uses a facial-recognition algorithm to scan the crowd and zoom in on one person’s face. The resulting videos are scored with quotations from Mr. Trump himself. The bot’s creator has contended that its purpose is empathic connection, the bot designed to examine Trump supporters, “one by one, to try and see the humanity.” But its effect is combative, even unnerving. It implies that whether online or at a rally, supporters will not be shielded by the anonymizing cloak of the crowd.

link to this extract


How to bump Holocaust deniers off Google’s top spot? Pay Google • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalldr, who has previously exposed how Google’s Autocomplete has been captured by right-wing sites spreading false propaganda:

»

[until Friday] anyone searching for information about the Holocaust – if it was real, if it happened, if it was a hoax, if it was fake – was being served up neo-Nazi propaganda as the top result.

Until Friday. When I gamed Google’s algorithm. I succeeded in doing what Google said was impossible. I, a journalist with almost zero computer knowhow, succeeded in changing the search order of Google’s results for “did the Holocaust happen” and “was the Holocaust a hoax”. I knocked Stormfront off the top of the list. I inserted Wikipedia’s entry on the Holocaust as the number one result. I displaced a lie with a fact.

How did I achieve this impossible feat? Not through writing articles. Or shaming the company into action. I did it with the only language that Google understands: money. Google has shown that it will not respond to outrage or public sentiment or any sense of morality or ethics. It does not accept that leading people with a genuine inquiry about whether the Holocaust happened to a neo-Nazi website is grossly irresponsible or that it demeans the memory of the six million Jews who died. But it was prepared to take my cold, hard cash. A Google spokesman said: “We never want to make money from searches for Holocaust denial, and we don’t allow regular advertising on those terms.”

And yet, it has already made £24.01 out of me. (This was the initial cost – it has since risen to £289.) Because this is what I did: I paid to place a Google advert at the top of its search results. “The Holocaust really happened,” I wrote as the headline to my advert. And below it: “6 million Jews really did die. These search results are propagating lies. Please take action.”

«

Cadwalladr is fighting a terrific fight, and this demonstration that Google will take your money to say what you like, and put it at the top of the results, is an excellent jab to the ribs. (That “Ad” icon really isn’t very noticeable, is it, in the same green as the text of the link? I actually missed it the first time.)

For Google, this opens the slippery slope where all results become paid. There’s also a parallel article by Olivia Solon and Sam Levin: “Google’s search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias“, which points out that

»

Google’s search algorithm appears to be systematically promoting information that is either false or slanted with an extreme rightwing bias on subjects as varied as climate change and homosexuality.

Following a recent investigation by the Observer, which found that Google’s search engine prominently suggests neo-Nazi websites and antisemitic writing, the Guardian has uncovered a dozen additional examples of biased search results.

«

It’s good that someone is still holding Google’s feet to, well, the blow heater (if not the fire) over this. My one quibble would be that the headline on the second story oversells it; we don’t really know (though there are strong suspicions). Google needs to explain itself, rather better than the boilerplate response it gives at the end of the story. (I’ll bet that there were lots of anxious requests for “background chats” and “our view” from Google to Solon and Levin.)

There need to be more stories like this from more publications: it’s important people understand that Google is not a neutral platform, and isn’t promoting truth, just rankings.

link to this extract


Uber might self-certify its own autonomous cars to carry the public • Car and Driver

Mark Harris:

»

in May, Otto carried out an unlicensed public demonstration of a driverless semi in Nevada, despite being warned by the DMV that it would contravene the state’s rules regarding autonomous testing. The truck drove on Interstate 80 near Reno for several miles with a human driver in the front seats. A DMV official called the stunt illegal and threatened to shut down the agency’s AV program, but under Nevada’s current regulations, there are currently no legal or financial penalties for breaking the rules.

Otto’s runaround of the regulations could have come back to haunt the company.

One of the DMV’s regulation documents says, “Evidence of the unfitness of an applicant to operate an ATCF includes . . . willfully failing to comply with any regulation adopted by the Department.” Another says, “The Department may . . . deny a license to an applicant, upon the grounds of willful failure of the applicant . . . to comply with the provisions of . . . any of the traffic laws [or regulations] of this State.”

Instead, the DMV granted Otto an ATCF license within days of receiving its application. The only company to have flouted Nevada’s autonomous vehicle rules is now the only company licensed to certify itself and other companies wishing to test autonomous technologies.

Jude Hurin, the DMV administrator who had termed Otto’s drive illegal, confirmed that Uber can now certify its own vehicles for public use.

«

So with California this is now two states where Uber has flouted rules to run self-driving vehicles. Amazing.
link to this extract


The media is a business and journalism is a job. Get it together. • Medium

Aram Zucker-Scharff is a developer at Salon.com:

»

Facebook has promised that the message will have “a link to the debunking post on News Feed stories and in the status composer if users are about to share a dubious link have links to the fact-checkers’ work.” Yet that message isn’t on display in the demo on Facebook’s announcement. It seems whatever footprint the links out will have, it won’t be much. Facebook doesn’t consider it even worth previewing in their demo.

More of an issue is the tendency of Facebook users to share and interact with articles without ever clicking through. If they’re not going to click on the article, why would users click on a link to something disproving the article (especially when that link seems to be two or more user actions deep)? They won’t.

There is no benefit to the news organizations that have volunteered for the endless, immense and ultimately futile job of fact-checking Facebook. Even if all the things Facebook has apparently promised were true, it doesn’t matter because the huff and puff over fake news on Facebook is flawed.

It seems likely that most fake news enters Facebook organically, so it gets posted by numerous people before it gets seen on the news feed. Even if that post is somehow blocked, that’s plenty of people who are taking in false news without ever entering Facebook.

«

link to this extract


Snapchat has had deal talks with Lily Robotics, Narrative • Business Insider

Biz Carson:

»

Over the past year or so, the company looked at a number of  startups building drones, wearable cameras, and augmented reality/virtual reality applications, according to multiple sources familiar with its M&A strategy.

For example, Snap Inc. has talked with Berkeley-based drone company, Lily Robotics, over the last few months. No deal is on the table, according to multiple people familiar with the matter, but that doesn’t mean it’s ruled out in the future either. 

Snapchat also talked with wearable camera company Narrative about an acquisition, according to other people familiar with the situation. The talks also fell through with the Sweden-based company, which briefly shut down its operations before recently starting up again. 

Both deal talks point to the newly-rebranded company’s investment in its new mission statement: “Snap Inc. is a camera company.”

«

Watch closely. Snap(chat) is growing while most people don’t notice.
link to this extract


DeepBach: a Steerable Model for Bach chorales generation • ArXiv

Gaëtan Hadjeres and François Pachet:

»

This paper introduces DeepBach, a statistical model aimed at modeling polyphonic music and specifically four parts, hymn-like pieces. We claim that, after being trained on the chorale harmonizations by Johann Sebastian Bach, our model is capable of generating highly convincing chorales in the style of Bach. We evaluate how indistinguishable our generated chorales are from existing Bach chorales with a listening test. The results corroborate our claim. A key strength of DeepBach is that it is agnostic and flexible. Users can constrain the generation by imposing some notes, rhythms or cadences in the generated score. This allows users to reharmonize user-defined melodies. DeepBach’s generation is fast, making it usable for interactive music composition applications. Several generation examples are provided and discussed from a musical point of view.

«

And enjoy the YouTube video:

Also: see if you can tell Bach from the machine-generated version.

Basically, in a year or two we’re going to have Muzak generated entirely by AI.
link to this extract


Super Mario Run earnings projections downgraded significantly by SuperData • GameSpot

Eddie Makuch:

»

SuperData updated its projections for Super Mario Run today, saying it now expects the game to bring in between $12m and $15m in its first month. That’s down significantly from the company previous first-month forecast of $60m.

SuperData said the game’s always-online requirement is “prohibitive” and added that it expects Nintendo to drop the price of the one-time payment after the holidays.

Based on the early numbers we see coming in and the response from consumers, we expect Super Mario Run to initially earn on the lower end of our forecast, around $12-15M in its first month,” it said. “Requiring to ‘always be online’ is prohibitive and the game is still a bit too heavy-handed for quick-play on a phone. Finally, we anticipate Nintendo to announce a discount after the holidays to keep momentum.”

«

Cut their forecast by 75%? Yeah, that’s an update. (None of this indicates any mistake by Nintendo – we don’t know what its internal forecasts were.)
link to this extract


AI snake oil (part 1): the golden lunar toilet • The Logorrhean Theorem

Dan Simonson:

»

What I do want to describe is how to tell if someone is trying to sell you AI snake oil—bullshit claims on what they can actually achieve in a realistic time and budget. Sure, with infinite resources, I could build you a gold toilet on the moon, but no one has that kind of cash lying around. Shit needs to get done, and the time and material for doing so is finite.

If you’re approached by someone trying to sell you artificial intelligence-related software, or you read a piece in the popular press about what profession AI will uncannily crush in the next year, these are the questions you should ask. Depending on the answers, you can determine whether they’re bluffing or that they’ve done their homework and are worth taking seriously.

I was originally going to make this one post, but it’s grown too large to fit into one. In this series, each post is centered around a question you should ask when someone wants to do something in the real world with natural language processing, machine learning, or other AI components.

«

Get on top of these.
link to this extract


Now you can fact-check Trump’s tweets — in the tweets themselves • The Washington Post

Philip Bump:

»

There was nothing illegal at play, and Donna Brazile wasn’t the head of the Democratic National Committee at the time that she leaked town hall questions to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Weigel wrote a whole post about the issue — but people who just click through to the link see only Trump’s claim, and none of the context.

Unless, of course, they’ve installed our extension for Google Chrome.

We made a tool that slips a bit more context into Trump’s tweets. It’s still in the early stages, but our goal is to provide additional context where needed for Trump’s tweets moving forward (and a few golden oldies). For example, here’s what it shows in relation to that Trump tweet.

Still not perfect — but at least readers will see more information without having to read Weigel’s full post (though they should, of course.)

«

Neat idea: news organisations both building loyalty (install our browser extension!) and consolidating their message. (Too much to ask for a Safari version?)
link to this extract


Technology: the cause of and solution to democracy’s problems • Alphr

Nicole Kobie:

»

Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, has long been one of the most active parliamentarians online, but says that in the three or four days following last year’s vote on what military action to take in Syria, she had 12,500 tweets and as many Facebook messages. “It’s absolutely impossible to engage with that level of volume – or the level of anger people were bringing to it,” she said, speaking at a Future Parliament event organised by the Hansard Society.

Sites such as 38 Degrees and Change.org that make it easier to hassle your MP via email aren’t helping. Creasy simply ignores them. “I had to stop responding to mass emails in 2011 because I could do literally nothing but [reply],” Creasy said. “The signals are no longer there, it’s just noise… I cannot deal with the volume of it.”

And that’s a problem: there’s no better way to snuff out political passion in a person than for them to attempt to get involved and see nothing come of their effort. That’s why Creasy points to the parliamentary petitions system as another “bad example of engagement”. Many people believe that if an e-petition gets 100,000 signatures, MPs are forced to have a debate on the topic. They’re not; the government need only post a text response if it doesn’t think it’s worth spending the time in parliament. “We need some honesty with people,” Creasy said.

The widely held belief that social media and digital tools let us have a real discussion is false…

…the problem isn’t only the volume of digital engagement, but the quality of it. If you want to sway an MP’s mind on a subject, online activist groups would do better to ditch the spam and instead crowdsource research reports on a topic, delivering a fact-checked package of data and suggestions to politicians and journalists to help sway policy decisions.

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link to this extract


Evernote CEO explains why he reversed its new privacy policy: “we screwed up” • Fast Company

Emily Price:

»

Evernote is reversing its decision to implement a controversial privacy policy change on January 23rd because it “screwed up” its explanation of the change, says CEO Chris O’Neill. Originally announced Wednesday, the policy appeared to imply that Evernote employees would have unfettered access to user’s private notes on the service, something the company claims was never actually the case.

“We screwed up, and I want to be really clear about that,” Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill told Fast Company seconds after getting on the phone for an interview late Thursday afternoon. “We let our users down, and we let our company down.”

O’Neill says that the company screwed up when it came to the way it communicated and explained the new policy, and that the headlines being written about the change were “just not true.”

“Human beings don’t read notes without people’s permission. Full stop. We just don’t do that,” says O’Neill, noting that there’s an exception for court-mandated requests. “Where we were ham-fisted in communicating is this notion of taking advantage of machine learning and other technologies, which frankly are commonplace anywhere in the valley or anywhere you look in any tech company today.”

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Facebook hits fake news, Japan’s holographic wives, malvertising v webmail, and more


Water damage is a problem for lots of smartphones – though waterproofing is changing that. Photo by londoncyclist on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Remember – the weekend is coming. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside the turmoil at Faraday Future, the startup that wants to beat Tesla • BuzzFeed News

Priya Anand:

»

Faraday’s main financier is Jia [Yueting], founder and chair of a holding company called LeEco, which has been dubbed the “Netflix of China.” Publicly, there’s a lack of clarity around the nature of LeEco’s relationship with Faraday. But according to several former Faraday employees, the electric car startup – incorporated in Gardena, California – operates in practice as a branch of Jia’s Chinese company LeEco, sharing resources.

There is some evidence to support that characterization. In December 2015, employees at Faraday’s headquarters in Gardena, California, received a mandate from Jia: Design a prototype LeEco car that could be shown off publicly at a spring event in Beijing. According to several former employees, some of Faraday’s designers were pulled off of their core projects to work on the vehicle. And in April 2016, LeEco unveiled a sleek, electric sedan called LeSee. On stage, Jia, who has been outspoken about his plans to usurp Tesla, touted LeSee as a LeEco creation as the white sedan glided across the stage to park in a mock garage. The audience couldn’t see that the seemingly self-driving car was in fact being piloted from backstage via remote control.

Back in California, some Faraday employees were unsettled, sources told BuzzFeed News. Though they’d designed the car for LeEco per Jia’s request, they were not given credit for doing so, and the company didn’t receive payment in exchange.

«

And now faces lawsuits for payment. This isn’t going well. (The remote control thing is the sort of stuff companies occasionally pull, but that it has leaked out shows that the people there really are not happy.)
link to this extract


News Feed FYI: addressing hoaxes and fake news • Facebook Newsroom

Adam Mosseri is VP of News Feed – what a poisoned chalice that must feel like now:

»

We believe providing more context can help people decide for themselves what to trust and what to share. We’ve started a program to work with third-party fact checking organizations that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. We’ll use the reports from our community, along with other signals, to send stories to these organizations. If the fact checking organizations identify a story as fake, it will get flagged as disputed and there will be a link to the corresponding article explaining why. Stories that have been disputed may also appear lower in News Feed.

It will still be possible to share these stories, but you will see a warning that the story has been disputed as you share.

Once a story is flagged, it can’t be made into an ad and promoted, either.

Informed Sharing
We’re always looking to improve News Feed by listening to what the community is telling us. We’ve found that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way. We’re going to test incorporating this signal into ranking, specifically for articles that are outliers, where people who read the article are significantly less likely to share it.

Disrupting Financial Incentives for Spammers
We’ve found that a lot of fake news is financially motivated. Spammers make money by masquerading as well-known news organizations, and posting hoaxes that get people to visit to their sites, which are often mostly ads. So we’re doing several things to reduce the financial incentives. On the buying side we’ve eliminated the ability to spoof domains, which will reduce the prevalence of sites that pretend to be real publications. On the publisher side, we are analyzing publisher sites to detect where policy enforcement actions might be necessary.

It’s important to us that the stories you see on Facebook are authentic and meaningful. We’re excited about this progress, but we know there’s more to be done. We’re going to keep working on this problem for as long as it takes to get it right.

«

No way of course that disputing stuff will be abused.
link to this extract


How Autonomy fooled Hewlett-Packard • Fortune

Jack Ciesielski:

»

In mid-November, the [US] SEC ordered the former CEO of Autonomy’s U.S. operations, Christopher Egan, to fork over $800,000 of compensation resulting from the takeover, in which HP relied on figures he had helped inflate. The facts of the case are now public. Although this case related to current IFRS revenue recognition rules, it can happen again, and to any company.

One fact really stands out: in each of the 10 quarters preceding the acquisition, Autonomy’s revenues were within 4% of analyst expectations. That’s a level of precision that should arouse suspicion. In hindsight, achieving revenue targets like clockwork looks awfully strange. Here’s how they did it.

Reseller transactions. Autonomy’s UK-based senior managers directed a program swelling revenues by almost $200 million. Autonomy sold its software through “value-added” resellers, legitimate businesses providing additional services and support to product end users while also selling Autonomy’s software. Just five resellers, in 30 transactions, provided services to Autonomy that couldn’t be called legitimate.

When Autonomy was negotiating a sale to an end user, but couldn’t close the sale by quarter’s end, Egan would approach the resellers on or near the last day of the quarter, saying the deal was nearly done. Egan coaxed the resellers to buy Autonomy software by paying them hefty commissions. The resellers could then sell the software to a specified end user – but Autonomy maintained control of the deals and handled negotiations with the end user without the resellers’ aid. There’s no way these transactions could be revenue.

Autonomy retained risks, rewards and ownership of the goods – not the resellers, and not the end users. Autonomy was still exercising continuing involvement to an abnormal degree for a real transfer of ownership to occur. And the benefits of the deals didn’t accrue to Autonomy until they were sold to an end user. These transactions “grew” Autonomy’s revenues by as much as 15% in some periods. They were critical: they enabled the firm to report financial results within the boundaries of analyst expectations.

«

Even so, one might have thought HP would have wondered about the ability to hit those targets that well again and again. Stuffing the last day of the quarter is pretty common; even someone who’s never been in sales (me) knows about that. So why not look for it?
link to this extract


This Japanese company wants to sell you a tiny holographic wife • Motherboard

Madison Margolin:

»

Hikari was created to be a “comforting character that is great for those living alone.” The purpose of this cutesy anime character, blue hair, mini skirt, knee high socks and all, is to “do all she can just for the owner”—also referred to as “master.” It seems designed specifically to appeal to lonely bachelors.

In this ad, Azuma wakes her master up in the morning, notifies him of the weather (“Take your umbrella”), and even coddles him with emotional support. During the day, while he’s at work she texts him things like “Come home early” or “I can’t wait to see you.” When he finally gets home at the end of the day, she’s already made sure all the lights are on and jumps up and down inside her little glass frame, exclaiming “Missed you, darling.”

Azuma’s character even comes with her own profile. She’s 20 years old, likes donuts, dislikes insects, and her dream is “to become a heroine to help people who are working hard.” She’s also shown as wearing a wedding ring—needless to say, Gatebox plays up the virtual stay-at-home wife role Azuma is meant to embody.

«

Creepy hardly begins to describe it.

link to this extract


One more sign the world is shrinking – eBay is for suckers • Matthew Sag

Matthew Sag:

»

If you live in an economy where officials are corrupt, contracts are hard to enforce, and trust is scarce, everyday transactions are burdensome and time-consuming. If you don’t want to get scammed, you either deal with people you know, people your relatives know, or you deal with repeat players who have an interest in their reputation. Lack of trust makes market small and transaction costs high.

The wonderful thing about eBay when it first arrived was that it freed so many people from the tyranny of small markets. eBay provided a marketplace where trust was built on reputation and feedback and the size of markets was only constrained by the cost of shipping.

Recently, however, eBay has reengineered its services so that buyer trust is based on a seemingly absolute guarantee that the seller will always lose in any dispute.

No one should be surprised that unscrupulous buyers use eBay to commit fraud on unsuspecting sellers. What surprised me was the extent to which eBay now facilitates this fraud through its “buyer protection program”. In October this year I listed a very slightly used iPhone 6S for sale on eBay and was quite satisfied when it eventually sold for $465. This satisfaction was short-lived, however, as I came to realize that I had been taken in by an eBay scammer.

«

And how. The item was particularly valuable, but the way Sag was bamboozled is a salutary lesson.
link to this extract


Adgholas malvertising: business as usual • Malwarebytes blog

Jérôme Segura:

»

In October, there was the first instance of AdGholas going through Yahoo’s ad network to deliver their malicious ad. This one was delivered within the Yahoo mail interface (users checking their mail would be shown the rogue advert).

It was not until much later (11/27) that we were finally able to reproduce the malvertising chain from a genuine residential IP address with a machine clean of any monitoring tools, only capturing traffic transparently. Up until then, we only had very strong suspicions that something was going on, but without a network capture, we simply did not possess the ‘smoking gun’ required to make an affirmative claim. As soon as we had evidence of malfeasance (November 27th), we informed Yahoo of our discovery.

It was quite revealing that only a few days (11/30) after our report to Yahoo, we saw AdGholas switch to another domain on the very same server (broxu[.]com) being used with the exact same tricks.

Large publishers such as the MSN network were once again serving malware.

«

I wonder how you could hack millions of email accounts belonging to a company that served adverts with its email. (Related question: how good are Google’s defences against same for its majority of users who don’t use two-factor authentication?)
link to this extract


The elephant in the smartwatch room • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»

There have been only three legitimate players in the smartwatch industry.

Apple; Garmin; and Samsung.

Combined, these three companies have represented 78% of smartwatch shipments over the past two years. Even more remarkable, no other company has come close to these three in terms of unit sales. Since the beginning of 2015, only seven companies have shipped more than 200,000 smartwatches in any given quarter. Out of those seven, one will soon be broken up in a fire sale (Pebble), another just announced it was getting out of smartwatches (Motorola), and two have shown little interest in releasing new smartwatches (Huawei and LG). This leaves Apple, Garmin, and Samsung. 

Even more astounding, the “Other” category, the usual industry catch basin for dozens of other companies, is on track to account for just 11% of smartwatch shipments in 2016. One group of companies found in the “Other” category are the original sellers of utility on the wrist – watchmakers. The Swiss watch industry continues to dabble with connected watches. However, one would be correct in questioning the motivation guiding some of these companies. TAG Heuer, apparently in an attempt to claim its position as one of the more successful Swiss watchmakers when it comes to smartwatches, announced it will sell just 75,000 connected watches in 2016. Those kinds of sales make the Swiss watch industry completely irrelevant in terms of the broader smartwatch market.

«

It is brutal. May come down – as these markets seem to – to just two principal players, one of them being Apple.
link to this extract


Over 100,000 smartphones are damaged by liquids every day in Western Europe • IDC


»

Smartphones offering resistance against water damage (and other liquids) grew 45.2% year on year in the first nine months of 2016 in Western Europe, while shipments of non-water–resistant smartphones declined 17% in the same period. Water resistant smartphones reached 22.5m units in the period to represent 23% of the total number of smartphones shipped in 2016 to date, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) European Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

The strong growth in this segment was supported by the success of Samsung and Huawei devices offering this feature and by the recently launched iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, both offering IP67 [submersion resistance].

Liquid damage is the second-largest cause of damaged smartphones in the world, representing 35% of all devices repaired. This results in significant costs to end users, phone manufacturers, carriers, retailers, and the environment in general. IDC estimates that over 100,000 smartphones get damaged by water or other liquids every day in Western Europe. The impact of liquids is estimated to be worth in excess of $10.7bn a year in the region.

«

I guess the biggest cause is simple dropping onto solid ground.
link to this extract


2016’s word of the year should be gaslighting • Daniel Miessler

:

»

Teen Vogue has the single best analysis of Trump’s methodology of deceit that you’ll ever read.

Anyway.

Since reading it I’ve been struck by how well this gaslighting metaphor works for many things going on right now.

Someone was arguing in Twitter earlier that there’s no evidence that Russia hacked the elections. So the dance begins.

Russia hacked the elections; it’s pretty obvious.
“Nuh-uh.”
Yep.
“Do you have evidence?”
Only these 20 things. And plus the government’s cyber groups looked at it and they all said the same things—keeping in mind that they’re not all pro-liberal or anything.
“The government lies about things.”
True, but when you combine it all together…
“Anyone can say anything about anything. You don’t know who to trust. So I reject that Russia hacked the election.”

Well, fuck. He has a point. If you see the world that way.

«

There’s one extra point to this gaslighting: the people who deny all other evidence will take on absolute trust anything said by their single true source. 2016 has shown how vulnerable we are to our own confirmation bias.
link to this extract


Uber blames humans for self-driving car traffic offences as California orders a halt • The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»

“It is essential that Uber takes appropriate measures to ensure safety of the public,” the California department of motor vehicles (DMV) wrote to Uber on Wednesday after it defied government officials and began piloting the cars in San Francisco without permits. “If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action.”

An Uber spokesperson said two red-light violations were due to mistakes by the people required to sit behind the steering wheel and said the company has suspended the drivers.

A video posted by Charles Rotter, an operations manager at Luxor, a traditional cab company, shows one of Uber’s computer-controlled cars plowing through a pedestrian crosswalk in downtown about four seconds after the light turned red. Elsewhere, a photo from a San Francisco writer showed one of the Uber vehicles entering an intersection against a red light.

“People could die,” Rotter said in an interview later. “This is obviously not ready for primetime.”

«

Rewind: “after it defied government officials and began..” So this is Uber being both foolhardy and headstrong, as well as wrong. Can we expect fines, both for breaking traffic laws and operating without a licence?

Oh yes, and these (dangerous) offences happened on day one of the illegal testing.
link to this extract


How well do you really know your country? • FT.com

David Blood and Andrew Rininsland:

»

Ipsos MORI has published the results of its annual Perils of Perception poll of 40 countries, revealing some startling disparities between people’s preconceptions about their country and the realities.

Take our quiz to see how your perceptions compare to those of the country overall, as well as to other quiz-takers.

«

Simple sliders, nine questions, have your preconceptions challenged. Available for multiple countries, including the UK and US.

I’m hopeful the FT will do more of these. I think it might help people understand their biases if they also said, at the start or end, which media outlets they use.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up: Trump snubs Twitter, Japan’s vanishing people, BeatsX delayed, Surface Hubs boom, and more


Yahoo’s security seems to look like this. Photo by barmala on Flickr.


Apologies for the non-arrival of The Overspill’s Start Up email yesterday. This was due to scheduling problems. Bonus: two sets of links today! (Too late to get Airpods, though.)


A selection of 14 links for you. Keep it to yourself. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Yahoo discloses new breach of 1 billion user accounts • WSJ

Anne Steele:

»

Yahoo revealed new security issues affecting more than a billion users’ data, a theft that is separate and twice as large as the hack it disclosed earlier this year.

On Wednesday, Yahoo said an unauthorized third party stole data associated with more than one billion user accounts in August 2013. In September, Yahoo blamed “state-sponsored” hackers for stealing data on 500 million user accounts, which at the time was the largest theft of personal user data ever disclosed.

Yahoo has agreed to sell its core business to Verizon Communications Inc. On Wednesday, Verizon said it would review the impact of the new breach.

Yahoo said it has taken steps to secure user accounts and is working closely with law enforcement.

In November, Yahoo disclosed law enforcement gave the company data files that a third party claimed was Yahoo user data. On Wednesday, the company confirmed it appears to be Yahoo user data.

«

I know: your first thought is “Yahoo has a billion accounts?” and your second thought is “so this is what happens to your security when all you’re interested in is selling ads, but you’re bad at doing that too.”
link to this extract


Source: Twitter cut out of Trump tech meeting over failed emoji deal • POLITICO

Nancy Scola:

»

Trump has had public beefs with other tech execs at the sit-down. He’s criticized Cook over Apple’s refusal to decrypt a cellphone whose owner was implicated in a terrorist incident, for example, and Bezos over his ownership of The Washington Post. But, it seems, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s role in what the Trump operation saw as the breaching of a deal was a step too far for those close to Trump.

The incident at issue was detailed in a Medium post last month by Gary Coby, director of digital advertising and fundraising for the Trump campaign. According to Coby, Dorsey personally intervened to block the Trump operation from deploying — as part of a $5m deal between the social media company and the campaign — an emoji showing, in various renderings, small bags of money being given away or stolen. That emoji would have been offered to users as a replacement for the hashtag #CrookedHillary, a preferred Trump insult for his Democratic opponent.

«

The Trump team told Reuters that Twitter was “too small” to be included. But it also includes the claim made above.

In the video linked below, Trump says: “I won’t tell you the hundreds of calls we’ve had asking to come to this meeting,” [laughter in the room], “and I will say Peter (Thiel) was sort of saying ‘no that company’s too small,’ and these [attending] are monster companies.” The smallest is Tesla, market cap $32bn; Twitter’s is just under $14bn.

Influence isn’t however the same as value, as Microsoft could tell you in mobile.

Also: what an excruciating meeting. Twitter is better out of it.
link to this extract


Photo: Who sat where during Trump’s meeting with tech leaders • Business Insider

Biz Carson has the lowdown, along with everyone else. The seating plan doesn’t seem to allow for an exchange of views; instead, they’re all mixed in with each other. Reuters video has Trump opening proceedings by saying: “I’m here to help you folks do well, and you’re doing well right now… right now everybody in this room has to like me at least a little bit…”

Bizarre.
link to this extract


The chilling stories behind Japan’s ‘evaporating people’ • New York Post

Maureen Callahan:

»

Since the mid-1990s, it’s estimated that at least 100,000 Japanese men and women vanish annually. They are the architects of their own disappearances, banishing themselves over indignities large and small: divorce, debt, job loss, failing an exam.

The Vanished: The Evaporated People of Japan in Stories and Photographs” (Skyhorse) is the first known, in-depth reportage of this phenomenon. French journalist Léna Mauger learned of it in 2008, and spent the next five years reporting a story she and collaborator Stéphane Remael couldn’t believe.

“It’s so taboo,” Mauger tells The Post. “It’s something you can’t really talk about. But people can disappear because there’s another society underneath Japan’s society. When people disappear, they know they can find a way to survive.”

These lost souls, it turns out, live in lost cities of their own making.

The city of Sanya, as Mauger writes, isn’t located on any map. Technically, it doesn’t even exist. It’s a slum within Tokyo, one whose name has been erased by authorities. What work can be found here is run by the yakuza — the Japanese mafia — or employers looking for cheap, off-the-books labor. The evaporated live in tiny, squalid hotel rooms, often without internet or private toilets. Talking in most hotels is forbidden after 6 p.m.

Here, Mauger met a man named Norihiro. Now 50, he disappeared himself 10 years ago. He’d been cheating on his wife, but his true disgrace was losing his job as an engineer.

«

This is an amazing tale. (Suggested tags other people have used about this story on Pinboard: “japan” – obviously enough – and “capitalism”. Hmm.)
link to this extract


Google to spin out self-driving car project in new company, Waymo • Business Insider

Biz Carson and Danielle Muoio:

»

the first version of Waymo’s self-driving technology to become available won’t be quite the revolution that Google once promised. While Google has been testing a fleet of pod-shaped autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, executives acknowledged on Tuesday that, for the time being at least, cars will continue to be piloted by humans, with Waymo’s self-driving technology included as a feature.

The spinout of the self-driving car unit, which is currently housed in X, another Alphabet company, has been expected for some time. But the move comes as Google has faced some setbacks in bringing its vision of a steering-wheel free car to market and as it faces increases competition from Uber, the ride-hailing company which is also developing self-driving cars, as well as other automakers.

“We are a self-driving technology company,” Krafcik said. “We’ve made it pretty clear we are not a car company…. We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers. We’re a self-driving technology company.”

«

As noted before, all that stuff with the cars was just to attract interest.
link to this extract


Google acquires smartwatch OS startup Cronologics, will work on Android Wear • VentureBeat

Ken Yeung:

»

The acquisition is a homecoming for Cronologics, which was founded in 2014 by Lan Rcohe, Leor Stern, and John Lagerling — all of whom have previously worked at Google in business development. In the past two years, they have sought to develop a way to build “compelling wearable hardware” and software-based experiences, using a common architecture.

Some of the company’s technology has already been integrated into the smartwatch CoWatch. Cronologics was able to place its Alexa-equipped operating system into the product so that you can control your smartwatch using your voice — perhaps like K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider? With this capability, Google may want the Cronologics team to flesh out the capabilities in Android Wear so that it’s more voice-enabled and could be used to facilitate more third-party voice-activated apps, and perhaps even pair with other connected devices, such as the Google Home.

«

Slightly more consolidation in the wearables market.
link to this extract


Microsoft’s surprise hardware hit: the Surface Hub • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»

The average Surface Hub customer is buying about 50 devices for each deployment, and the company will hit more than 2,000 customers by the end of the year. One (unnamed) car manufacturer bought 1,500 of the things. Though Microsoft didn’t reveal the exact mix between sizes, Surface Hub looks like it’s another billion-dollar-a-year business for the software giant—to boot, it’s a piece of hardware that it got right even in version one. In a Forrester report commissioned by Microsoft, it’s claimed that meetings start more promptly—less faffing about to get remote attendees dialed in or computers hooked up to the projector—saving 15 to 23 minutes per meeting. Less measurable, Microsoft claims that Surface Hub is also driving greater meeting engagement, with people standing up and engaging with each other and the screen rather than hiding behind their laptop screens around a conference table or quietly playing games on their phones.

«

2,000 customers buying 50 units is 100,000 units at between $9,000 and $22,000 each. Decent business, and probably a decent margin. Plus they’re all-in on Windows.
link to this extract


Google launches first developer preview of Android Things, its new IoT platform • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

Google has partnered with a number of hardware manufacturers to offer solutions based on Intel Edison, NXP Pico and the Raspberry Pi 3. One interesting twist here is that Google will also soon enable all the necessary infrastructure to push Google’s operating system updates and security fixes to these devices.

In addition, Google also today announced that a number of new smart device makers are putting their weight behind Weave. Belkin WeMo, LiFX, Honeywell, Wink, TP-Link and First Alert will adopt the protocol to allow their devices to connect to the Google Assistant and other devices, for example. The Weave platform is also getting an update and a new Device SDK with built-in support for light bulbs, smart plugs, switches and thermostats, with support for more device types coming soon. Weave is also getting a management console and easier access to the Google Assistant.

Google’s IoT platforms have long been a jumble of different ideas and protocols that didn’t always catch on (remember Android@Home from 2011?). It looks like the company is now ready to settle on a single, consolidated approach. Nest Weave, a format that was developed by Nest for Nest, is now being folded into the overall Weave platform, too.

«

Fingers crossed that the security updates really do get to the devices. As we’ve seen with the IoT, security is much more important than on smartphones because web servers will do anything you tell them to.
link to this extract


European cloud adoption grows thanks to Microsoft Office 365 push • Computer Weekly

Cliff Saran:

»

Microsoft appears to be increasing its share of the cloud-based office suite market compared with the Google rival, G Suite.

The study by data protection company Bitglass was based on analysis of 8,000 mail servers to determine the cloud apps being used in businesses.

Bitglass reported that, in the UK, Office 365 grew from 16.4% in 2015 to 35% in 2016, while G Suite’s adoption increased from 7.2% in 2015 to 18.7% in 2016.

In France, adoption of Office 365 grew from 22.4% in 2015 to 49.8% in 2016, while German adoption grew from 16.2% to 40%. French adoption of G Suite grew from 14.5% in 2015 to 32.3%, while in Germany the adoption of G Suite grew from 6.3% to 23.3%…

…The imbalance between Office 365 and G Suite illustrates the challenge Google faces. First, many European organisations put a high priority on data privacy, which tends to favour the Microsoft offering. Second, Microsoft’s publicly stated strategy has been to move existing customers onto its cloud products.

«

Basically becoming a two-player market.
link to this extract


Apple says BeatsX earphones delayed until February • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

Apple has updated its website to indicate its all-new BeatsX wireless earphones will be available in February in the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and several other countries, after originally saying they would launch in the Fall. Online pre-orders can still not be placed at this time.

BeatsX earphones feature Bluetooth and the same Apple W1 chip used by AirPods, which launched on Tuesday, enabling users to pair them by simply powering them on and holding them near an iPhone. Unlike the truly wireless AirPods, the BeatsX have a Flex-Form cable that keeps the earpieces tethered to each other.

«

This starts to point to the W1 chip as the source of the problems with the AirPods: if yields were too low, or testing didn’t pick up faults, that would explain a lot. You’d need to landfill all the chips from one run, and go around again; it might not need a new fab (since you know the chips can work) but would need new testing. And you’d have to destroy all the AirPods you had made, unless you could re-test every single one.

That’s sort of “sound quality problems”, as mentioned yesterday, but more subtle.
link to this extract


Cookie warnings could be removed from websites under EU plans • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

»

The notices are widely seen as irritating and ineffective, revealing little about how they are actually using people’s data and routinely ignored.  

“While such banners serve to empower users, at the same time, they may cause irritation because users are forced to read the notices and click on the boxes, thus impairing [the] internet browsing experience,” the Commission said in the draft document. 

It suggested that internet users could set their privacy options within the browsing software’s settings, with websites then detecting a visitor’s settings and automatically removing the cookie notice if the use has already been deliberately approved or blocked within the browser’s settings. 

Websites that only use cookies for basic functions that do not affect privacy, such as remembering language options, could also be exempt from the proposals.

«

2016 is saved, everyone!
link to this extract


How Google may be slowing down AMP by not using direct links to publishers • Search Engine Lane

Danny Sullivan:

»

It’s worth noting that if you’re using Google’s search app on iOS or through the built-in search feature on Android, a publisher’s URL is shown, not the Google cache URL. But in a regular browser, it’s not. This is something Google told me would be impossible for it to do, if the company wanted to continue to prerender AMP pages and to support features like swiping from one AMP story to the next.

I get why Google would want to make it easy for people to swipe through stories, but from what I can tell, this is something only supported for AMP stories that appear in Google’s “Top Stories” box for news-related content, not with regular search listings. There’s no reason I can see that it has to go with a Google cache URL for regular listings.

As for prerendering, as best I can tell, that just is another word for caching. That’s Google saying in another way that it can’t use a publisher’s URL if it wants to serve AMP pages from its supposedly faster cache. But given that the cache either isn’t that much faster, and potentially slower, this feels odd.

In the end, I think Google should leave the choice to publishers.

Those who don’t care about the URL that is shown can go with the Google cache and trust that Google says their pages will load more quickly.

For those who want their own URLs to show, Google should come up with mechanism within AMP allowing for this to be indicated, something similar to how meta tags exist to indicate if a publisher prefers their own page description over those from the Open Directory.

«

When Sullivan says “this feels odd” he’s essentially saying “wrong”, but couching it more gently, as his readers like Google. However AMP is not popular with people who like to share links, because it all goes back to Google, not the publisher.
link to this extract


Synaptics debuts new fingerprint sensors capable of scanning through display glass • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

Amid rumours suggesting Apple plans to debut a 2017 iPhone with an edge-to-edge display with built-in Touch ID, Synaptics has announced its own under-glass fingerprint detection solution, debuting a new line of Natural ID FS9100 optical fingerprint sensors.

The FS9100 sensors are capable of scanning a fingerprint through 1mm of full cover glass, allowing for button-free display designs that are still able to take advantage of fingerprint recognition functionality.

According to Synaptics, the sensors have been specifically designed for placement under cover glass, including 2.5D glass, located in the front, bottom bezel of smartphones and tablets.

The FS9100 sensors eliminate the need for cutouts on the display of a device, and because they’re under glass, they’re scratchproof, waterproof, and respond well to wet fingers. Wet finger performance is something that causes most fingerprint sensors, including Apple’s, to fail.

Synaptics says its sensors are also designed to be thin and consume a minimal amount of power, while also using AI to distinguish between fake and actual fingers.

«

All the pieces begin to line up…
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up: Airpods ahoy!, inside Pebble’s fall, Facebook’s (bad) Year in Review, cloud mistrust, and more


Google’s no-steering-wheel no-pedals self-driving car: it’s not around the corner. Photo by smoothgroover22 on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Calamitous! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple’s Airpods now available for pre-order after unusual delay • BuzzFeed News

John Paczkowski:

»

Apple introduced AirPods in September alongside the headphone jack-less iPhone 7, touting them as a technically superior alternative to wired earbuds. Packed with a custom-designed Apple chip, accelerometers, optical sensors, beam-forming microphones, and antennas, Airpods are diminutive in-ear computers and a big part of Apple’s vision for the future of audio.

“These are as advanced a project as Apple Pencil,” Apple SVP Phil Schiller told BuzzFeed News back in September. “We started this project when we started the Watch project. We knew we needed a great wireless solution for audio. We said, ‘What if you could design what the future of headphones should look like?’ That’s what we asked the team to do.”

When it announced Airpods in September, Apple said the $159 headphones would begin shipping in October. But on October 26, with the month nearly concluded, the company said it was delaying their retail availability. “We don’t believe in shipping a product before it’s ready,” an Apple spokesperson told BuzzFeed News…

…a person familiar with the product’s development said it required additional “fine-tuning” related to sound performance and battery life.

«

By Apple’s standards, these are amazingly late. They were available in prototype form at the iPhone 7 launch, so that’s three months back. But in trying to ramp up production – to, what, a million per week? Per day? – something went wrong. (This is a key topic in John Gruber’s The Talk Show podcast with Glenn Fleishman.)

I think Fleishman’s analysis – that in random sample testing after production they found errors that weren’t being found by automated testing – feels right. They knew how to build these. Production errors occur, but you screen those out. But if your screening isn’t reliable, you suddenly have a big, line-stopping problem, and you have to go back and redo it all – production and screening. The tale of how it was discovered and how it was fixed will make a great late-night bar story some day, if those involved are allowed to tell it. (Note to Apple engineers: my contact details easy to find.)

Meanwhile the Apple Store in the UK is showing December 19 delivery. You waited months, is a couple more days going to kill you?
link to this extract


The inside story behind Pebble’s demise • Medium

Steven Levy had met with Eric Migicovsky, CEO of Pebble, multiple times during the wearable company’s life, including in April:

»

what Migicovsky didn’t tell me when he spoke about the Core during our April conversation was that Pebble’s return to Kickstarter was forced by the company’s inability to raise funds. “It was difficult to raise money around the layoffs. That was kind of a non-starter,” he now says. “That’s why we did the Kickstarter. After the Kickstarter we tried to raise money and we were unable to.”

Throughout the spring and summer, Migicovsky tried everything to keep the company afloat, with his efforts coming to a frantic crescendo as summer waned and a poor holiday season loomed — the new products were late, with scheduled shipments not slated until 2017. “September was hectic,” he says. “I was flying around the world, flying to China, trying to do a deal with a licensee to license the operating system, talking to investors — a really different tier of investors than the ones that you talk to in other stages of your startup.” Instead of top VCs he was visiting private equity companies, family-based investing offices—companies outside of the normal tech circles.

He brainstormed wilder alternatives, at one point even mulling crowd-sourced equity funding. But because the company had already gotten criticism for going to the Kickstarter well too often, that option was discarded. As were other options, including Hail Mary schemes “like firing everyone and bringing the company down to 10 people and just seeing what would be next.”

He now compares the situation to the real-time gaming scenarios that election night commentators charted as states kept going red: what was the narrowing path for Hillary Clinton to eke out an electoral victory? As with the Democratic candidate, there proved to be no path.

«

Migicovsky won’t be going to Fitbit, and doesn’t leave Pebble with riches. Interested to see where he turns up next.
link to this extract


2016: the year Facebook became the bad guy • The Guardian

Olivia Solon gives Facebook its very own Year In Review:

»

“Mark Zuckerberg is now the front-page editor for every news reader in the world. It’s a responsibility he’s not choosing to accept,” [the author Antonio García] Martínez said.

Claire Wardle, from First Draft News, thinks that is changing. “They may not have said it yet, but 2016 is the year Facebook recognized they are a publisher.” The company is simply reluctant to admit it because “it’s a nightmare”.

“We’ve never had a global newspaper in 192 countries, with all these different legal and cultural contexts and languages,” she said.

She points out that Facebook has been very diligent at policing the platform for sexual content and bullying, but now has to do the same for misinformation with a combination of expert human judgment and software. It’s not going to be easy and marks a huge cultural shift for Facebook. “Algorithms aren’t yet smart enough to make these decisions. Facebook needs to be honest about that,” she said.

Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman added: “They need to grow up … There are duties that come with their size and revenue. Facebook spends more on beer and ping-pong tables than on professionals to vet the quality of the material they show to users.”

«

Solon’s work has been top-notch this year.
link to this extract


Imagining an attack that could wipe out trust in the cloud • Naofumi Kagami


»

Ransomware works because victims are willing to pay money to get back their files. However, now that we often have more valuable data on our smartphones or in the Cloud than on our PCs, it is reasonable to assume that hackers are right now thinking of new ways to hold your private photos, your location data, or messages that you might want to keep secret as hostages.

For example, a recent Apple Ransom scam asked for a $30-$50 ransom or otherwise they would do a factory reset. The author advises that you simply ignore this because you can easily recover with a backup. However, what if the scammer had threatened to publish all your photos, your emails, your location data, etc. on the web for all to see. Would you still ignore the scammer? Unlike the iCloud celebrity photo leak, this is something that could happen to any normal person, and this is what makes it so scary.

This is not about Apple vs. Google/Facebook or about any single company’s approach to privacy. If such attacks became widespread, it could cause people to be scared of storing anything in the cloud, despite whatever security measures each individual company took. Of course two-factor authentication will help, but not enough people use it yet.

«

Yes, it does sound like that episode of Black Mirror series 3.
link to this extract


Uber said it protects you from spying. Security sources say otherwise • Reveal

Will Evans:

»

For anyone who’s snagged a ride with Uber, Ward Spangenberg has a warning: Your personal information is not safe.

Internal Uber employees helped ex-boyfriends stalk their ex-girlfriends and searched for the trip information of celebrities such as Beyoncé, the company’s former forensic investigator said.

“Uber’s lack of security regarding its customer data was resulting in Uber employees being able to track high profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses,” Spangenberg wrote in a court declaration, signed in October under penalty of perjury.

After news broke two years ago that executives were using the company’s “God View” feature to track customers in real time without their permission, Uber insisted it had strict policies that prohibited employees from accessing users’ trip information with limited exceptions.

But five former Uber security professionals told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that the company continued to allow broad access even after those assurances.

«

And that could never be used maliciously by a government, could it? Plus some of the things that Uber is said to have done – remotely encrypting computers against government raids – strike one as quite remarkable.

Plus Uber’s latest update asks for your location all the time. For a taxi company? Uber says it’s for safety, among other things.
link to this extract


As Trumplethinskin lets down his hair for tech, shame on Silicon Valley for climbing the Tower in silence • Recode

Kara Swisher:

»

When I call these top leaders — of course, it has to be off the record — I get a running dialogue in dulcet tones about needing to cooperate and needing to engage and needing to be seen as willing to work together. Also that Trump means very little of what he says out loud — which I will now officially dub the Peter Thiel take-it-seriously-not-literally defense. And they assure me that they will say what they really think behind closed doors where no one can hear it but each other.

This, even though it will be a certainty that Trump will tweet the whole thing with his doubtlessly warped take of the proceedings. My only hope is that often-erupting Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk — who is also now attending — will also erupt when he realizes the farce he has agreed to be part of.

Or maybe I don’t get it because I am of the old school that when something smells fishy, there is probably a dead fish somewhere to be found. But to my ear, it’s a symphony of compromise, where only now and then a sour note sounds from someone who breaks from the platitudes they are spewing.

Like one tech leader who suddenly stopped mid-sentence about how to really make deals, Kara, because the truth just had to be out. “Trump is just awful, isn’t he? It makes me sick to my stomach,” the leader agonized, as a real thinking person would. “What are we going to do?”

«

There’s also an excellent (brief) tweetstorm by Mark Suster, pointing out that Trump’s bullying tweets against companies are “a classic authoritarian move that shouldn’t be tolerated”.

Trump isn’t president yet. When he is, let him call people in. Right now, he’s a businessman with a poor record and worse self-control.
link to this extract


Silicon Valley stumbles in world beyond software • WSJ

Jack Nicas on Google X’s somewhat quixotic attempt to build delivery drones:

»

Engineers shadowed deliverymen from Google Express, the delivery service. They saw the wide range of delivery locations, from homes with back entrances to apartment complexes with courtyards. Shippers often struggle with the “last-mile problem”; one former X employee called it “the last-inch problem.”

They struggled to devise a solution. “Do you land? Do you lower it on a string? If you land, are people going to steal the drone? Are they going to be afraid of it? How dangerous is it going to be?” the former employee said. “There was endless debate—I mean months—on landing versus not landing.”

The team eventually settled on lowering the package on a winch. But that required the tailsitter to hover upright, creating a sort of sail in the wind.

Similar questions bedeviled the drop-off location. Satellite data isn’t precise enough to ensure the drone is over the right house, particularly in cities. Even when the address is correct, camera sensors need to interpret the scene below, so the package doesn’t land on a roof or in a pool.

For deliveries, both Alphabet and Amazon now are considering asking customers for help. In a scenario depicted in an Amazon video and that former X employees said Alphabet also is considering, customers would place a specially marked mat as a landing pad that a drone could recognize from above.

One former X employee compared the notion to “having to go out and meet the mailman when he gets there.”

By early 2014, Google co-founder [Sergey] Brin, tiring of the delays, set a deadline: make a delivery to a non-Googler in five months. That led to the dog-treat drop in Australia [referred to earlier in the article. It worked, but not well.]

After that, “we threw everything out,” one former employee said. “Everything. I mean not just the form factor…[Everything] was deemed bullshit.”

«

The other, and more substantial, problem: doing it profitably. If it’s less convenient, you’ll have to charge less than the few dollars that courier companies do.
link to this extract


Google scaled back self-driving car ambitions • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»

The decision to pursue a less ambitious plan was made by Alphabet CEO Larry Page and CFO Ruth Porat, who determined that making a car without a steering wheel and foot pedals was impractical, say people familiar with the decision. Current U.S. regulatory guidelines call for a steering wheel and pedals.

Eliminating the steering wheel and pedals would allow designers to reimagine the experience of being in a car. For passengers who want to take a nap, for instance, there might be a reclining, bed-like seat option. The autonomous vehicle industry, including Mr. Page, by and large believes that cars without steering wheels will dominate some day.

The decision to be pragmatic and focus on building a real business with traditional cars wasn’t universally embraced by people at Chauffeur. It’s “a step back, a deviation,” said one person who has been involved with Chauffeur.

For many people at Chauffeur, focusing on a car without a steering wheel would differentiate the car from its rivals. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who’s had a hand in Chauffeur from nearly the beginning, had been hoping the unit would continue work on a system for vehicles without a wheel, these people say. The self-driving car unit’s former chief, Chris Urmson, had also wanted to pursue this approach. He left this summer, less than a year after Mr. Page hired Mr. Krafcik to lead Chauffeur and bring much-needed structure and urgency to the program.

«

Google is also now looking to work with partners rather than doing everything itself. Reality is biting hard at the Other Bets part of Alphabet.
link to this extract


Michigan lets self-driving cars on roads without human drivers • Associated Press


»

Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under new laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development.

The package of bills signed into law Friday comes with few specific state regulations and leaves many decisions up to automakers and companies like Google and Uber.

It also allows automakers and tech companies to run autonomous taxi services and permits test parades of self-driving tractor-trailers as long as humans are in each truck. And they allow the sale of self-driving vehicles to the public once they are tested and certified, according to the state.

The bills allow testing without burdensome regulations so the industry can move forward with potential life-saving technology, said Gov. Rick Snyder, who was to sign the bills. “It makes Michigan a place where particularly for the auto industry it’s a good place to do work,” he said.

The bills give Michigan the potential to be a leader by giving the companies more autonomy than say, California, which now requires human backup drivers in case something goes awry.

«

Let’s hope they’ve got the insurance details all figured out. Michigan is, of course, the home state of the vehicle manufacturing capital Detroit.
link to this extract


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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.

Start Up: Surface joy, Google gets driving, the VR headset market, restart your 787!, and more


Remember when 3D printers were going to revolutionise the home? Now, not so much. Photo by fumi 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – for Surface! • Microsoft Devices Blog

Brian Hall, CVP of Microsoft Devices Marketing:

»

November was our best month ever for consumer Surface sales. The Best Buy-exclusive Surface bundle sold out on the first day. The momentum was seen worldwide. In the UK, we had the best single week for Surface ever and in Germany the Surface Pen became the best seller in PC Accessories on Amazon.com for over 12 hours.

The excitement for Surface Studio is clear – evidenced by the 10+ million people that have viewed our launch video and the hundreds of thousands who watched the excitement of a fun unboxing of a Surface Studio. But what makes me excited is seeing how people are using, and loving their Surface Studios. Digital artists, to architects, to executives are using this beautiful PC to get things done and be their most creative.

More people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before. Our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever, and the combination of excitement for the innovation of Surface coupled with the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro – especially among professionals – is leading more and more people to make the switch to Surface, like this. It seems like a new review recommending Surface over MacBook comes out daily. This makes our team so proud, because it means we’re doing good work.

«

“More people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before” may well be true, but it’s a Bezos claim – no numbers to support it. Not even a chart without values on the axes. Are there dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Microsoft carefully avoids being specific. Apple meanwhile claims the MacBook Pro had more preorders than any other; which is fairly easy to do, since others were more easily available.

Without numbers – even an order of magnitude – Microsoft’s claim is in the “nice, but let’s wait for the financials” category.
link to this extract


The tipping point for voice activated services • Medium

Ben Holliday is Head of User Experience at the Department for Work & Pensions, UK Government (though writing in a personal capacity, with his own views):

»

I’m calling it now. The tipping point is here for voice activated services — with Christmas 2016 just around the corner and many devices like the echo filling stockings around the developed world.

It’s not a radical view. The media is acknowledging this.

My (not so bold) predictions:
• We’re going to be increasingly thinking about voice activated services.
• The screen is slowly going to become more of a secondary consideration for digital teams designing public services.
• ‘Telephony’ (that’s business speak for ‘telephone’) channels will be indistinguishable from digital. Like most channels they will become seamless rather than things that businesses treat as separately designed, managed or ‘owned’.
• To make all this happen, content design will have to become more of a recognised and important skill set in digital delivery.

In my mind, the smart home is only a small part of the picture for voice activated services. The potential to open up services through conversation rather than a graphical interface is much greater.

«

One can certainly imagine that voice recognition systems on public service systems would be a great benefit.
link to this extract


Mobile is eating the world • Benedict Evans


»

As we pass 2.5bn smartphones on earth and head towards 5bn, and mobile moves from creation to deployment, the questions change. What’s the state of the smartphone, machine learning and ‘GAFA’, and what can we build as we stand on the shoulders of giants?

«

A new version of Evans’s presentation, in slide form and also as a video (embedded below). Some of the points – about machine learning and retail (“the internet lets you buy, but not yet shop”) are subtle but, once you consider them, far-reaching.


link to this extract


The 3D printing revolution that wasn’t • Backchannel

Andrew Zaleski:

»

How did MakerBot, the darling of the 3D printing industry, fall so hard and seemingly so fast? [Founder and former CEO Bre] Pettis did not return multiple requests for comment, while Smith and Mayer declined to be interviewed for this story.

Backchannel pieced together the account from industry observers, current MakerBot leadership, and a dozen former MakerBot employees. Some gave their names, while others asked to be identified only as former employees.

In the span of a few years, MakerBot had to pull off two very different coups. It had to introduce millions of people to the wonders of 3D printing, and then convince them to shell out more than $1,000 for a machine. It also had to develop the technology fast enough to keep its customers happy. Those two tasks were too much for the fledgling company.

“MakerBot built itself up really big to try and satisfy a market demand that just didn’t show up,” says Ben Rockhold, who spent four years at MakerBot in various engineering roles. In pursuit of the Everyman Tycoon dream, MakerBot tried to release printers that were both affordable and appealing to ordinary consumers, yet it repeatedly failed to hit its mark.

At a TEDx event in New York in 2012, Pettis said, “When you have a MakerBot you have a superpower. You can make anything you need.”

It would be years before anyone was willing to say that just wasn’t true.

«

3D printing was never going to go beyond a niche of people who really need it. Nobody’s going to buy one to make a spare part for their washing machine. One notable element in the story is how rapidly Pettis pivoted away from open source when it imperilled the company’s ability to maintain a price moat.
link to this extract


Google’s self-driving car team is hiring executives as it prepares to spin out from Alphabet’s X – Recode

Johana Bhuiyan:

»

Google’s self-driving project, led by ex-Hyundai CEO and president John Krafcik, is expected to be graduating from Alphabet’s moonshot shop “soon.” That’s according to Krafcik, who spoke at the Nikkei Innovation Forum in Palo Alto in October.

While the timeline of the project’s impending spinout isn’t any clearer two months later, the self-driving project is evidently preparing to separate from the mothership by hiring several of its own executives to positions X, formerly known as Google X, already has.

The first was Kevin Vosen, who was hired to be the self-driving arm’s chief legal officer. Now, Alphabet’s self-driving shop is looking for a head of real estate — or someone to secure new space for the autonomous company when it “graduates” from X.

In other words, the project is moving away from having to depend on X for things like dealing with regulation and expansion.

«

Will it still be in “Other Bets” or might it be a separate company inside Alphabet?
link to this extract


Google vs. the EU explains the digital economy • Harvard Business Review

Bala Iyer and Srinivasa Rangan, of Babson College in Massachusetts:

»

Google’s argument [in its antitrust cases against the EU] relies heavily on the prevailing American perspective of competition policy. In the United States, legal precedents, as well as enforcement efforts, approach competition policy with consumer welfare as its lodestar. This approach argues that promoting efficiency with which firms operate leads to enhanced consumer welfare since improved efficiency leads to lower costs which in turn leads to lower prices. In that context, preserving competition in the marketplace is only a means to an end. As one observer puts it, “efficiencies are the goal; competition is the process.” By this logic, Google’s approach to the mobile stack is efficiency enhancing whereby consumers benefit.

Unfortunately for Google, the EU antitrust enforcers have a slightly different perspective. They, too, start off with consumer welfare as the long-run goal, but they insist that moves by rivals that could be efficiency enhancing in the short run could be detrimental in the long run, especially if those moves could thwart technological innovation and competition. In other words, EU authorities put more stress on what one might call dynamic efficiency in markets.

The differing US and EU antitrust perspectives can lead to different outcomes when confronted with the same set of facts. For example, in the case of the proposed merger between GE and Honeywell, US antitrust authorities gave it a go-ahead based on projected cost efficiencies whereas the EU authorities denied it since it has the potential to lower competition in the long run…

…Based on Microsoft’s experience with European Union in the context of its browser and more recent decisions that the European Union has made with respect to other firms in the context of mergers and acquisitions, it is unlikely that Google will prevail in the EU case if its persists with its present arguments. Google, however, could argue that one of the EU assumptions about competition is flawed.

«

It could try, but it’s unlikely to get far. It would be a bit like saying at your murder trial “but look at all the people I haven’t killed!”
link to this extract


Fancy that! Google was keen on ‘draining the swamp’ in 2013 • The Register

Andrew Orlowski on the hunt for “fake news” advertisers:

»

Around four years ago, independent musicians, songwriters and filmmakers tried to find out how big brand advertisements were funding criminal piracy operations. Here’s how David Lowery described it: “When things get complex, it’s typically to hide some institution from liability. In finance, there’s a saying: ‘Complexity is fraud'”.

The brands didn’t like it when their ads showed up on porn sites. It was bad for the brand. The industry body the IAB took an interest. And Google made a promise, which today reads better than ever.

Google’s Theo Bertram welcomed initiatives to “drain the swamp of dodgy networks, dodgy agencies and dodgy sites” and pointed to its own efforts with “in partnership” with IAB.

That was in 2013. How’s the draining operation doing? The swamp must be bone-dry by now.

“Many Google-placed ads, including those for big brands, continue to appear on the sites, even including ads for Google’s new Pixel smartphones,” the WSJ tells us [in a new story].

Oh.

The WSJ saw a tip of an iceberg: according to the World Federation of Advertisers, many ads are bought, paid for, the cheques cashed, but never seen by a human. The system is “fraudulent by design”, to ensure the parties involved continue to profit, undisturbed.

The ad body described the many flavours of fraud in a report this summer, concluding: “Until the industry can prove that it has the capability to effectively deal with ad fraud, advertisers should use caution in relation to increasing their digital media investment, to limit their exposure to fraud,” it warned.

An exodus by big brands from the ad networks is not impossible to imagine.

«

Third-party ad networks are increasingly malign influences; strangling them would stop a lot of malvertising dead. Plus, of course, killing off fake news sites.
link to this extract


Exclusive: Some Bangladesh Bank officials involved in heist – investigator • Reuters

Ruma Paul:

»

Some Bangladesh central bank officials deliberately exposed its computer systems and enabled hackers to steal $81m from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February, a top investigator in Dhaka told Reuters on Monday.

The comments by Mohammad Shah Alam of the Dhaka police are the first sign that investigators have got a firm lead in one of the world’s biggest cyber heists. Arrests are soon likely, he said.

On Thursday, the head of a Bangladesh government panel that investigated the heist said five bank officials were guilty of negligence but that they were only unwitting accomplices.

Alam told Reuters his investigations had discovered that some bank officials had knowingly created vulnerabilities in the bank’s connection to the SWIFT system, used for global transactions.

“Bangladesh Bank’s SWIFT network was made insecure by some bank employees in connivance with some foreign people,” he said. “They knew what they were doing.”

«

The plot, as they say, thickens.
link to this extract


FAA orders Boeing 787 safety fix: reboot power once in a while • The Seattle Times


»

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is issuing a rule requiring urgent attention by operators of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner to avoid the possibility all three computer modules that manage the jet’s flight-control surfaces could briefly stop working while in flight.

Operators must periodically shut and restart the electrical power on the planes, or the power to the three flight control modules. That will avoid the problem until Boeing has a permanent software fix.

In an airworthiness directive to be published Friday, the FAA said it is reacting to indications that “all three flight control modules on the 787 might simultaneously reset if continuously powered on for 22 days.”

It said such a simultaneous reset in flight “could result in flight control surfaces not moving in response to flight crew inputs for a short time and consequent temporary loss of controllability.”

«

The sharp-eyed will have spotted that 22 days is roughly 2^31 milliseconds, and figured that this means there’s a 32-bit counter in there somewhere measuring time; if it turns over from all 1s to all 0s, bad things happen.

Those with long memories will remember that Windows 95 used to have the same problem after 49.7 days. The saving grace was that, as with the airliners, they rarely stayed up that long. Phil Koopman has more examples (and a short analysis of this one).
link to this extract


Texas, Arkansas take opposite directions insuring their poor • Houston Chronicle

Jenny Deam looked at a location in the US where the line dividing two states also shows a literal divide in healthcare outcomes:

»

[Healthcare] insurance alone does not guarantee good health. But often, as Diane Rowland, executive vice president for the national Kaiser Family Foundation, explained, “it is the key to the door.”

Such a door opened in Arkansas.

Once home to some of the highest rates of stroke, heart disease and lung problems in the country, Arkansas appears to be getting healthier. The poor go to the doctor sooner. They go to the emergency room less. They manage chronic conditions better.

The exact opposite is happening in Texas, a recent Harvard University public health study reveals. For instance, three years ago, about 8% of poor Texans used the emergency room as their doctor. In 2014, it was 10%. Last year, it was 11.3%.

“The ER is the last place in the world you want to send someone who doesn’t have an emergency. It’s expensive; there is no continuity of care, no follow-up,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, director of the nonpartisan Arkansas Center for Health Improvements, a Little Rock-based health policy center.

The Arkansas turnaround grew out of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the ACA that said each state could decide whether to expand Medicaid. Texas said no; Arkansas said maybe.

«

No other developed nation uses the same system as the US for healthcare, with good reason: it generates the worst outcomes for the highest cost. Yet everyone seems powerless to change it. And the incoming Republicans are determined to make the US look more like Texas than Arkansas. Of course the election slogan wasn’t Make America Healthy Again. (Was it ever?) But why is it Make America Ill Again?
link to this extract


Over 2 million VR headsets to ship in 2016 • Canalys


»

VR headsets got off to a strong start in their first year of consumer shipments. Canalys predicts shipments will exceed 2 million units worldwide in 2016. This number is forecast to grow to 20 million by 2020. The lion’s share of 2016 shipments are basic VR headsets that rely on other devices, generally being tethered by cable to a desktop PC. Shipments of smart VR headsets, which can function independently, will reach over 100,000 units. These estimates only include VR headsets with integrated displays, so exclude simple viewers, such as Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View, which are also shipping in the millions.

As expected, Sony has quickly become the VR market leader, with its affordable PlayStation VR catering to the vast PlayStation 4 installed base. Canalys expects over 800,000 shipments in less than three months on the market. Shipments would have been greater if it were not for one key problem: PlayStation VR was delayed until October and is still seriously supply constrained due to problems making its OLED displays.

«

Canalys puts HTC Vive numbers at 500,000 and Oculus Rift at 400,000.
link to this extract


Scientific breakthrough reveals unprecedented alternative to battery power storage • University of Surrey


»

Ground-breaking research from the University of Surrey and Augmented Optics Ltd., in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has developed potentially transformational technology which could revolutionise the capabilities of appliances that have previously relied on battery power to work.

This development by Augmented Optics Ltd., could translate into very high energy density super-capacitors making it possible to recharge your mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.

The technology could have a seismic impact across a number of industries, including transport, aerospace, energy generation, and household applications such as mobile phones, flat screen electronic devices, and biosensors. It could also revolutionise electric cars, allowing the possibility for them to recharge as quickly as it takes for a regular non-electric car to refuel with petrol – a process that currently takes approximately 6-8 hours to recharge. Imagine, instead of an electric car being limited to a drive from London to Brighton, the new technology could allow the electric car to travel from London to Edinburgh without the need to recharge, but when it did recharge for this operation to take just a few minutes to perform.

Supercapacitor buses are already being used in China, but they have a very limited range whereas this technology could allow them to travel a lot further between recharges. Instead of recharging every 2-3 stops this technology could mean they only need to recharge every 20-30 stops and that will only take a few seconds.

«

This is the sort of dense and uninformative stuff that lands in journalists’ inboxes all the time. The idea of “transformational effect” is repeated multiple times; only once is the explanation given that they’re polymers, and “based on large organic molecules composed of many repeated sub-units and bonded together to form a 3-dimensional network.”

Basically, we’re no wiser on why this material is a supercapacitor. But there might be some hope.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google’s platform problem, what’s the Airpod delay?, Westworld deconstructed, and more


Republican email accounts were hacked – by more sophisticated attempts than this. Photo by vernieman 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google is not ‘just’ a platform. It frames, shapes and distorts how we see the world • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalldr, who last week pointed to research showing how Google’s search results are being poisoned by right-wing sites:

»

One week on, Google is still quietly pretending there’s nothing wrong, while surreptitiously going in and fixing the most egregious examples we published last week. It refused to comment on the search results I found – such as the autocomplete suggestion that “jews are evil”, with eight of its 10 top results confirming they are – and, instead, hand-tweaked a handful of the results. Or as, we call it in the media, it “edited” them. It did this without acknowledging there was any problem or explaining the basis on which it is altering its results, or why, or what its future editorial policy will be. Its search box is no longer suggesting that Jews are still evil but it’s still suggesting “Islam should be destroyed”. And, it is spreading and broadcasting the information as fact.

This is hate speech. It’s lies. It’s racist propaganda. And Google is disseminating it. It is what the data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls a “co-conspirator”. And so are we. Because what happens next is entirely down to us. This is our internet. And we need to make a decision: do we believe it’s acceptable to spread hate speech, to promulgate lies as the world becomes a darker, murkier place?

Because Google is only beyond the reach of the law if it we allow it to be.

«

What happens if Jewish groups begin protesting to Google? If minority groups begin protesting, if enough people – and newspapers – make noise about it? Google can’t keep pretending there’s nothing going on if it keeps changing results that people have specifically complained about. But it needs its feet held to the fire – and the full article points out how

»

This is how power works too: the last time I wrote a story that Google didn’t like, I got a call from Peter Barron, Google’s UK head of press, who was at pains to point out the positive and beneficial relationship that Google has with the Guardian Media Group, our owners.

«

Uh-huh.
link to this extract


AirPods delay attributed to Apple ensuring both earpieces receive audio at same time [Updated] • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

With just two weeks remaining in the holiday shopping season, some believe Apple should now wait until the new year to launch AirPods, in line with an early rumor about a January 2017 launch. The wireless earphones remain listed as both “coming soon” and “currently unavailable” on different sections of Apple’s website.

Update: Apple blogger John Gruber says he’s heard that manufacturing issues have delayed the AirPods, rather than a technical problem.

»

It makes more sense to me that Apple has run into a manufacturing problem, not that they discovered a design defect after they were announced.

“More difficult to manufacture at scale than expected” is also what I’ve heard through the grapevine, from a little birdie who knows someone on the AirPods engineering team. Things like what happens when you lose one or the battery dies – Apple solved those problems during development.

«

«

I’m totally with Gruber on this: it makes no sense that you’d demo something (I’ve tried them, very briefly) and give out some prototypes (Gruber has been trying them for some time) and yet not have figured out a software issue. The only question is what the manufacturing problem is.

As to when to sell them – of course you’d put them on sale before Christmas. I’d buy them like a shot.
link to this extract


Tracking the hackers who hit DNC, Clinton • The Smoking Gun

William Bastone points out that the Republicans were also targeted successfully by phishing campaigns around the election:

»

While the emails and documents stolen from Soros and Breedlove have gotten some press coverage for DC Leaks, the site houses a hodgepodge of stolen emails offering fresh evidence of the scope and targets of the recent political hacking campaign.

A “portfolio” titled “The United States Republican Party” contains about 300 emails that were sent during a five-month period ending in late-October 2015.

A review of that correspondence shows that a wide variety of GOP e-mail accounts have been breached. The victims range from staffers for Senator John McCain’s campaign committee to a candidate running for State Senate in Virginia. Officials with four state Republican party organizations – Wyoming, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Illinois – had correspondence stolen. Emails to the campaign committees of Senator Lindsey Graham, Rep. Robert Hurt, and former Rep. Michele Bachmann were also swiped. Emails from Campaign Solutions, a leading Republican consulting firm, and the Stop Hillary PAC were pilfered.

None of the victims contacted by TSG – including the McCain campaign and the Connecticut GOP, were aware of the email hacking.

«

Funny how none of those came out during the election, right?

link to this extract


One delightfully clever & slightly Shakespearean way to fight trolls • Flare

Alanna Evans:

»

Since she started speaking out more vocally against Trump, [Summer] Brennan has received intense attacks by trolls and troll botnets (a hijacked network of malware-infected, remote-controlled computers that send spam messages).

“There has been a significant increase in my Twitter traffic in general, but with that came what was for me an unprecedented troll onslaught,” Brennan told FLARE. “Much of it was just juvenile taunting, like calling me a ‘special snowflake’ or a ‘libtard,’ but there were also violent drawings of women being beaten or killed, and threats to my life, safety and privacy.” She was also told that she “belonged in an oven” and “should be euthanized,” and she was sent photos of Hitler alongside words like that.

Brennan began to notice a common thread to the insults she received: her online abuse was incredibly gendered. To see if she could avoid the attacks, Brennan decided to try a Twitter experiment: if the trolls could assume anonymous avatars, why couldn’t she play with her online persona? 

“I wondered if changing my picture to that of a man would lessen the flow of abuse,” says Brennan. “So I decided to change my photo to that of my brother, and picked a photo in which he was wearing a tie—a white collar white guy. I didn’t use a random photo because I figured, well, this is what I’d probably look like if I were born a man, so, I’ll use that.”

On December 1, Brennan uploaded her brother’s photo to her Twitter account (a bit of Twelfth Night, or What You Will) and reduced her first name to “S.C.”—but kept the same handle.

For 48 hours, the effect on her mentions was astounding.

“The stream of abuse stopped almost immediately,” says Brennan. “There was probably a 99-percent reduction in trolling.”

Brennan was open with her followers about what she doing, and didn’t change her Twitter banner (which proudly displays her latest book and identifies her as a female author). Apparently assuming a new profile photo was enough to silence the trolls. 

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How the Circle Line rogue train was caught with data • Singapore Government data blog

Daniel Sim:

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Singapore’s MRT Circle Line was hit by a spate of mysterious disruptions in recent months, causing much confusion and distress to thousands of commuters.

Like most of my colleagues, I take a train on the Circle Line to my office at one-north every morning. So on November 5, when my team was given the chance to investigate the cause, I volunteered without hesitation.

From prior investigations by train operator SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), we already knew that the incidents were caused by some form of signal interference, which led to loss of signals in some trains. The signal loss would trigger the emergency brake safety feature in those trains and cause them to stop randomly along the tracks.

But the incidents — which first happened in August — seemed to occur at random, making it difficult for the investigation team to pinpoint the exact cause.

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This is a great story; it reminds me of A Subway Called Moebius (read it in PDF form. Possibly a hooky copy.)
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“Vinyl revival” stories are the worst fake news stories of all • Martin Belam

Let us give you the ammunition for your next dinner party/coffee shop discussion:

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There’s another round this week of stories about “the vinyl revivial”, because apparently vinyl sales have out-stripped digital downloads in value for the first time.

Let’s be clear. Anybody writing about this topic needs to look at the official charts before they put a word to paper.

There is no vinyl sales revival for new music.

All that is happening here is that nobody buys new music on physical formats, and a load of old dads are picking up £45 reissue packages that they literally never play. The singles chart this week features Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull. The album chart features the Beatles, ELO, Nirvana and Guns’N’Roses.

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Bloody dads.
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Tim Cook, Larry Page, Sheryl Sandberg — and maybe even Jeff Bezos — are going to Trump’s tech summit next week • Recode

Kara Swisher:

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But – as Recode can now report, because we still do that quaint journalism thing — is a very heady group of less than a dozen, comprising most of the key players in the sector.

Those who will be attending (although most of the companies declined to comment to Recode) along with Page, Cook and Sandberg, include: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins; IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Intel CEO Brian Krzanich; and Oracle CEO Safra Catz.

“I plan to tell the President-elect that we are with him and will help in any way we can,” said Catz in a statement. “If he can reform the tax code, reduce regulation and negotiate better trade deals, the U.S. technology industry will be stronger and more competitive than ever.”

It’s not clear who the other attendees are, because many more invites went out late this week. Whether tech’s most high-profile exec, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, is going is unknown, although he is an obvious invite.

But Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was invited, said sources, and he is likely to attend.

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“We are with him and will help in any way we can” is an interesting choice of words. What if Trump asks Oracle to build a database of Muslims in the US? Will Catz be happy to help in any way he can then?

(One little point: Swisher’s boast about the quaint journalism thing is deserved, but they don’t seem to do the quaint sub-editing thing where someone checks your words make sense. The first sentence in the extract is as provided, and is missing “it” before “is a very heady group.)
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The reality behind Magic Leap • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

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Magic Leap, former employees say, pushed the boundaries of marketing, releasing videos that purported to be Magic Leap technology that were actually created by special effects companies. For instance, in March of last year, it released a video online titled “Just Another Day in the Office at Magic Leap.” Shot from the perspective of one of its employees working at his desk, all appears normal until robots start falling from the ceiling and converging on the worker, who picks up a toy gun and starts blasting his enemies into tangled lumps of virtual metal.

The video, viewed 3.4 million times on YouTube, was meant to demonstrate a game people were playing with Magic Leap’s headset. It had been used for more than a year to recruit employees to South Florida. “This is a game we’re playing around the office right now,” Magic Leap wrote in the description of the video.

But no such game existed at the time, according to two former employees with direct knowledge. The video was not actually filmed using any Magic Leap technology. It was made by New Zealand-based special effects company Weta Workshop, which has worked on movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Hobbit,” the employees said. One of them called it an “aspirational conceptual” video. The employees said some at the company felt the video misled the public. Magic Leap has since begun working on an actual game similar to the one in the video.

More recently, Magic Leap has released videos shot through its prototype devices.

In the interview, [founder and CEO] Rony Abovitz said he had planned to keep the company secret, but that public interest was so great that he had no choice but to begin marketing its product publicly.

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Magic Leap comes out of this sounding like it has tried to bite off far more than it can chew. Abovitz has suddenly taken up tweeting, a bit defensively; Albergotti did an AMA on Reddit. Magic Leap needs to ship something.
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How “Westworld” failed the western • The New Yorker

Aaron Bady:

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“Westworld” is filmed in Castle Valley, Utah, where Ford filmed his last four Westerns, and it is built upon the foundation of tropes, clichés, and cinematic shorthand that Ford’s work popularized. When Teddy and Ed Harris’s Man in Black character are hunting for Dolores, their quest resembles the plot of “The Searchers” (along with mirroring the movie’s iconic doorway shots); the character of Clementine recalls Ford’s 1946 “My Darling Clementine”; the Winchester rifle of Maeve’s strapping robot henchman, Hector, has the same “loop” handle as the rifle John Wayne was holding in his star-making entrance to “Stagecoach.” Most important, the Western’s core memory—the genocide and forced removal of the continent’s indigenous people—is projected onto the native people themselves: a tribe called “Ghost Nation” intermittently appears, killing and rampaging, exactly as the Comanche in “The Searchers” are shown to do. Even the park’s creator seems to be a personal fan of the Western director. Dr. Ford’s name is no coincidence: when explaining to Bernard why he has hidden the truth of the park’s original co-creator, Arnold, he explains that stories take precedence over reality by quoting the most famous line of what might be Ford’s last great Western, “The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance”: “When fact becomes legend, you print the legend.”

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This is a fascinating take on Westworld. Contains gigantic spoilers if you haven’t seen the last episode; if you have, then it offers a fascinating – and unusual – insight into what you watched.
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Google makes so much money, it never had to worry about financial discipline • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin and Mark Bergen:

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The side projects, known then as “autonomous business units,” often competed directly with Google’s advertising partners, and it seems hard to imagine that a conventionally organized company would have been able to, for instance, start services such as Google Fiber (home broadband) and Project Fi (a cell phone carrier) while also trying to persuade big telecom companies to embed Google software in their devices.

But the fragmentation created a lot of overlap. At one point in 2016 the company had two music subscription services, YouTube Red and Google Play Music; two venture capital groups, GV and CapitalG; two mobile operating systems, Chrome OS and Android; and two advanced research labs, X and ATAP, which Page created in 2014 when he hired the former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director, Regina Dugan. (Dugan left Google earlier this year for Facebook.)

All that duplication created tension in part because, former Google employees say, Page tends to ignore employees he’s unhappy with. “Larry’s version of canning someone is to make it as unpleasant as he can,” says a former executive. Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, and Bill Campbell, a board member and mentor to Page, helped smooth out these conflicts. But Schmidt, now executive chairman, started spending more time lobbying for Google in Washington, and Campbell fell gravely ill. (He died of cancer this year.)

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The piece gets only a little from the former Google execs, but it’s really missing a sense of whether Alphabet’s top management has any idea of whether these ideas will pay off – and what their timescale is for that to happen.
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PewDiePie is teaching his fans to mistrust the media, and we should listen • Venturebeat

Jeff Grubb:

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[Matters] came to a head on Tuesday when sites like The Independent and The Lad Bible suggested that PewDiePie is a white supremacist because of a bit where he joked that YouTube was conspiring against him because he is white. GamesBeat even mentioned that it was “most likely a poor joke” in our coverage of the star’s complaints about Google.

The Independent’s headline reads “PewDiePie: YouTube could be ‘killin’ my channel because I’m white, so I’ll delete it.” This is not “fake news” in the way that some stories online are knowingly false and designed to generate clicks, but misleading headlines like these might be helping to create an environment where fake news can flourish.

It was quite obvious that PewDiePie was joking about YouTube punishing him for his ethnicity if you watched the video, but for a lot of people, the headline was all the evidence they need. It was almost enough for me.

I was more prepared to believe the headlines that Kjellberg said something stupid and hurtful than I was prepared to sit through one of his videos to see for myself. After all, no one would publish that headline unless they were sure, right?

But some nagging doubt convinced me to check the video, and I’m glad I did. Those stories are unfair. They likely do not meet the requirements for a libel suit in the United States, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done damage. But they are doing damage to the media. They continue to weaken the public’s trust in journalism, and that is a criticism that PewDiePie touched on himself in a followup about the false stories about his racism.

“If anything, I’ve realized that whatever I’ve learned about other people through media is clearly being skewed while I was growing up,” said PewDiePie. “Because I can see how they represent me in the media.”

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There is a continuing problem in which subtle but very public points are made by people whose fans understand them, but where the reporting journalists don’t. The internet allows that to be magnified, to great – and destructive – effect.
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Belleville woman helped cook up Pizzagate • Toronto Star

“Washington Post and Star staff”:

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In the final days before the election, other shopkeepers on the block began to receive threatening phone calls and disturbing emails. Strangers from faraway places demanded to know about symbols on their shop windows or photos on their walls.

Across from Comet, at the French bistro Terasol, co-owner Sabrina Ousmaal noticed a disturbing Google review of her restaurant that alleged that Terasol, too, was involved in a plot to abuse children.

Then, more online comments appeared, focusing on a photo on Terasol’s website that showed Ousmaal and her daughter posing with Clinton, who had eaten there several years earlier. The Internet sleuths also fixated on a heart logo that appeared on the restaurant’s site as part of a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which Ousmaal, a cancer survivor, has supported for years.

“These maniacs thought that was a symbol of child pornography,” said her husband and business partner, Alan Moin. “It’s crazy.”

The family removed the symbol from their site, but the online comments adapted to the new reality: Terasol must be hiding something. The anonymous calls increased.

Alefantis and other merchants were mystified: Where was this all coming from? Can’t anyone make it stop?

The merchants approached Facebook and Twitter and asked that disparaging, fictitious comments about them be removed. The shopkeepers said the replies they got advised them to block individual users who were harassing them.

The owner of 4chan, Hiroyuki Nishimura, said in an email to The Post that “Pizzagate reminds me that a country indicated (there were) stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and many people and countries were deceived. It is same old story.”

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It really isn’t the same story. In the WMD story, a government lied to its people. In the Pizzagate nonsense, people are lying to other people. The WMD case is egregious; the problem with the latter one is that it shows how poor we now are at distinguishing truth.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified