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.

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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.


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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.
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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?

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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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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.


“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:


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.


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:


“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.”


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:


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.)


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:


[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.”


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”:


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.”


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

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

  1. “But it needs its feet held to the fire – and the full article points out how”

    It wasn’t clear to me what was rhetorical flourish, and what was serious proposal. For example, in “This is hate speech. It’s lies. It’s racist propaganda. And Google is disseminating it.” and so on – is she seriously proposing “hate speech” laws be made very broad and then applied to Google’s algorithmic results? In the US, there’s basically no such thing as “hate speech” laws. I know European law is different and has gotten site removed from Google’s index. But is she saying such laws should be even more extensive and some sort of criminal liability be imposed for Google’s algorithm itself? It sure sounds like it (“And our failure – the failure of our politicians and the mainstream press – to reckon with it makes us an accessory to the crime. We are colluding with it in broadcasting hate speech and lies.”).

    That’s getting into some very disturbing political territory (and I fear the inevitable net-rebuttal, are you defending *Nazis*, you white supremacist Gamergater!).

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