Start Up: router hacking, Reuters news bots, Facebook’s $1bn news swipe, 52 things to know, and more

Was Hitler… hey, let’s ask Google what it thinks we’re trying to ask. Photo by DappleRose on Flickr.

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

Google, democracy and the truth about internet search • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalladr:


Do you want to know about Hitler? Let’s Google it. “Was Hitler bad?” I type. And here’s Google’s top result: “10 Reasons Why Hitler Was One Of The Good Guys” I click on the link: “He never wanted to kill any Jews”; “he cared about conditions for Jews in the work camps”; “he implemented social and cultural reform.” Eight out of the other 10 search results agree: Hitler really wasn’t that bad.

A few days later, I talk to Danny Sullivan, the founding editor of He’s been recommended to me by several academics as one of the most knowledgeable experts on search. Am I just being naive, I ask him? Should I have known this was out there? “No, you’re not being naive,” he says. “This is awful. It’s horrible. It’s the equivalent of going into a library and asking a librarian about Judaism and being handed 10 books of hate. Google is doing a horrible, horrible job of delivering answers here. It can and should do better.”

He’s surprised too. “I thought they stopped offering autocomplete suggestions for religions in 2011.” And then he types “are women” into his own computer. “Good lord! That answer at the top. It’s a featured result. It’s called a “direct answer”. This is supposed to be indisputable. It’s Google’s highest endorsement.” That every women has some degree of prostitute in her? “Yes. This is Google’s algorithm going terribly wrong.”

I contacted Google about its seemingly malfunctioning autocomplete suggestions and received the following response: “Our search results are a reflection of the content across the web. This means that sometimes unpleasant portrayals of sensitive subject matter online can affect what search results appear for a given query. These results don’t reflect Google’s own opinions or beliefs – as a company, we strongly value a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures.”


A stunning article, which also highlights research by Jonathan Albright which found a constellation of fake news sites all trying to harness their very finest Googlejuice.

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Trumpgrets • Tumblr


schadenfreude therapy


Collections of people realising They Made A Big Mistake. And as a bonus, an interview with the person who set it up.
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TalkTalk and other ISPs need to replace customer routers urgently • Pen Test Partners

Andrew Tierney:


We run a TR-064 / Annie honeypot and saw requests last night, which alerted us to the issue. Here you can see someone trying to steal our Wi-Fi network key using the ‘GetSecurityKeys’ command:

TalkTalk published a fix to the TR-064 / Annie issue. What this does is disable the TR-064 interface and reset the router. It resets the passwords, back to the ones written on the back of the router:

Here’s why the fix doesn’t work: Nearly all customers never change their Wi-Fi key from that written on the router. Why would they? I’ll bet many don’t even realise they can.

So, the Annie worm and hackers have already stolen their wi-fi keys, and the TalkTalk fix simply resets the router, to the exact same keys that have already been stolen!!

There is one mitigating factor in all of this: the hacker has to be physically close to the router to compromise the Wi-Fi. However, if you know the SSID (also stolen using the Annie worm) you can use databases such as to find your victim’s house.


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Routers behaving badly • net.wars

Wendy Grossman:


Late on Saturday night, a small laptop started having trouble connecting. This particular laptop sometimes has these issues, which I put down to the peculiarities of running wired ethernet into it via a USB converter. But the next day I realized that the desktop was timing out on some connections, and one of the other laptops was refusing to connect to the internet at all. An unhappy switch somewhere in the middle? Or perhaps a damaged cable? The wireless part of the network, which I turned on as a test, worked much better, which lent credence to the cable idea.

By Monday morning, I had concluded the thing to do was to restart the main router. Things were fine after that. On Tuesday morning, some bounced emails from my server alerted me to the fact that my IP address had been placed on one of the three blacklists Spamhaus consults. It was only then that I realized my router was one of the ones affected by the 7547 bug. If my network had been spewing botnet messages, the router was infected.


She managed to fix it (pretty much) but as she points out, if even knowledgeable people are struggling with this, what hope for those who just buy a smart lightbulb or smart thermostat or smart whatever and assume that’s the end of the story? We’re building up trouble.
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The age of the cyborg • Columbia Journalism Review

Jonathan Stray:


Automated systems can report a figure, but they can’t yet say what it means; on their own, computer-generated stories contain no context, no analysis of trends, anomalies, and deeper forces at work. Reuters’s newest technology goes deeper, but with human help: It still writes words, but isn’t meant to publish stories on its own. Reuters’s “automation for insights” system, currently under development, summarizes interesting events in financial data and alerts journalists. Instead of supplying what [Reuters executive editor for data and innovation Reg] Chua calls “the headline numbers—the index was at this number, up/down from yesterday’s close,” the machine surfaces “more sophisticated analyses, the biggest rise since whenever, that sort of thing.”

The system could look for changes in analysts’ ratings, unusually good or bad performance compared to other companies in the same industry, or company insiders who have recently sold stock. Rather than being a sentence generator, it’s meant to “flag journalists to things that might be of interest to them,” says Chua, “helpfully done in the form of a sentence.”

But not all breaking news comes through financial data feeds, so Reuters’s most sophisticated piece of automation finds news by analyzing social media. Internal research showed that something like 10 or 20% of news breaks first on Twitter, so the company decided to monitor Twitter. All of it. 

At the end of 2014, Reuters started a project called News Tracer. The system analyzes every tweet in real time—all 500 million or so each day. First it filters out spam and advertising. Then it finds similar tweets on the same topic, groups them into “clusters,” and assigns each a topic such as business, politics, or sports. Finally it uses natural language processing techniques to generate a readable summary of each cluster.


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A look at Facebook’s billion-dollar 2016 hit on the US news ecosystem • Poynter

Rick Edmonds:


Of 4,600 local advertisers who use newspapers, [advertising analyst Gordon] Borrell found, 79% said they were cutting print advertising in newspapers to fund digital spend. Just over half said that they were cutting “a lot” rather than a little.

On many dimensions, the local advertisers indicated satisfaction with their Facebook buys — effective, easy to place, comparatively inexpensive.

A typical small business, Borrell wrote me, now spends between $1,000 and $2,000 a year on Facebook ads.

So what are the implications for the news business?

More of the same dynamic is expected, but I’m not yet ready to say the sky is falling in. Rather the scales now tilt more steeply toward a strategy for newspapers and other serious news players to develop alternate revenue streams to print ads and digital banners.

Those include proven winners like events and digital marketing services, together with specialized premium ad opportunities — exclusive sponsorships, native and valued local targeting.

Put another way, a clickbait-enhanced bet on growing raw traffic numbers looks more and more like doubling down on a losing hand. Except for the biggest news players, trying to take on Google and Facebook at a game they dominate seems futile.


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Facebook knows what you’re streaming • Bloomberg

Vauhini Vara:


Facebook is using streaming TV to quietly test an ad model that feels a lot more retro. For the past few weeks, the social network says, it’s been targeting ads to people streaming certain shows on their Roku or Apple TV set-top boxes. It customizes commercials based on the Facebook profiles tied to the IP addresses doing the streaming, according to a company spokesman. He says Facebook is trying out this approach with the A&E network (The Killing, Duck Dynasty) and streaming startup Tubi TV, selecting free test ads for nonprofits or its own products along with a handful of name brands.

This push is part of a broader effort by social media companies to build their revenue with ads on video. Twitter is placing much of its ad-sales hopes on streaming partnerships with sports leagues and other content providers. In October, CFO Anthony Noto told analysts on an earnings call that the ads played during Twitter’s NFL Thursday Night Football streaming exclusives had been especially successful, with many people watching them in their entirety with the sound turned on.


Is there anything that Facebook considers off limits in its desire to put ads in front of you? Asking for a friend – I won’t visit it without a very active adblocker.
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FAA reverses course, grants drone journalist permission to fly in no-fly zone over Standing Rock • Forbes

John Goglia:


In a dramatic reversal of its prior refusal to allow drone journalists in the no-fly zone over the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota, the FAA has granted drone photographer Robert Levine of Minneapolis, Minnesota a three-day waiver to fly in the so-called TFR or temporary flight restriction zone.  The waiver, issued on December 1 authorizes Mr. Levine to fly within a half mile radius of a specific point – defined by latitude and longitude – over Standing Rock during daylight hours from 7:00 am CST on December 4 to 5 pm CST on December 7.  The waiver requires him to operate below 400 feet above ground level and states ”nighttime flight operations, beyond visual line of sight flight operations and unsafe flight operations are strictly prohibited.”  Mr. Levine is required to contact the North Dakota Tactical Operation Center and Air Traffic Control before and after each flight.


After last week’s block on the same (which included police shooting at the journalists’ and protesters’ drones).
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Random iPhone 6s shutdowns due to faulty battery component, Apple says • Macworld

Michael Kan:


A problem with iPhone 6s products randomly shutting down comes from a battery flaw found in a small number of models, according to Apple.

After a Chinese consumer watchdog group reported the issue, Apple is offering a fix free of charge to any eligible iPhone 6s user through its customer support sites.

On Friday, Apple explained on its Chinese site that the problem was found in iPhone 6s devices containing a faulty battery component. This component was “exposed to controlled ambient air longer than it should have” before it was assembled into the battery packs, Apple said.

“As a result, these batteries degrade faster than a normal battery and cause unexpected shutdowns to occur,” the company said.

However, the faulty components were only found only in a “small number” of iPhone 6s devices made in September and October 2015.

“It’s important to note, this is not a safety issue,” Apple said.


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The man who made radio viral • Buzzfeed

Matthew Champion:


[44-year-old LBC radio host James] O’Brien is almost reluctant at first to try to explain why he thinks his videos are so successful, joking that he does not want to give away his secrets. He’s also conscious of the difficulty of discussing why 4 million people want to watch a clip of him talking about something, without sounding conceited.

But he does see himself as something of a lone voice in what he calls “speaking truth to power”.

“I think what’s possibly missing from the world of the polemic is people picking on the powerful rather than the vulnerable. All the polemics at the moment are about picking on the vulnerable, the less fortunate, the children who are drowning in the Mediterranean, or some bloke from Syria who might be 20 instead of 17, or Lily Allen, or Gary Lineker. Gary Lineker’s not vulnerable, but he is a very easy target.”

“There aren’t many voices slagging off what the rest of the media is doing, and what 80% of the media is doing is encouraging us to punch ourselves in the face on a daily basis. And we are.”

Is it any surprise that the success of O’Brien’s clips and monologues coincides with Brexit, Donald Trump, and the post-truth political era?
The tension between evidence and opinion is at “breaking point”, he says.

“I think the radio show as a whole makes this point quite frequently, and it’s where I get quite a lot of hate as well because people hate having it pointed out. Mark Twain said it: It’s a hell of a lot easier to fool people than it is to convince people that they have been fooled. The traditional talk radio listener is quite right-wing so I have historically been in the business of explaining to people why they are wrong, and they don’t often thank you for it. One of my favourites was a guy who said, ‘Well, my daughter’s school has got a prayer room,’ and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that but I didn’t believe him because he’d kind of come on with all these anti-immigration memes that were straight out of the comments section of the Daily Mail, and I just smelled a rat.

“So I said, ‘The school have just rung in,’ because I asked him to name the school, ‘We’ve got them on the other line; they say there isn’t a prayer room.’ It was a complete punt, that, [I] didn’t have them on the other line. I could just tell, and that was three years ago, so post-truth isn’t new to me. I think the people who want to tell you what they think but can’t tell you why, they’ve set the scene for post-truth politics.


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52 things I learned in 2016 • Medium

Tom Whitwell:


My first full year working at Fluxx on a series of fascinating projects and learning about…

1) Call Me Baby is a call centre for cybercriminals who need a human voice as part of a scam. They charge $10 for each call in English, and $12 for calls in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. [Brian Krebs]


And then there are 51 more, some more jawdropping than others, but all the sort of thing that makes you say “Really? Wow!”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: router hacking, Reuters news bots, Facebook’s $1bn news swipe, 52 things to know, and more

  1. Once upon a time, I had the notion that a thorough analysis of the various social implications of search algorithms would be enlightening. I have now come to the unfortunate conclusion that it would be a failed project, due some very deep “Two Cultures” types of problems which would make it untenable. Or maybe I was just not the person to do it.

    There’s something intriguing going on with the punditocracy these days, with the intense attention regarding Facebook’s power, and “fake news”, and bubbly filtering. An “algopanic” of sorts. I think there’s some disturbing subtexts roiling underneath, which are being expressed as technical issues, but only because that’s an acceptable way to phrase them politically.

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