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.
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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…
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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.”


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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.


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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.


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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.


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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.
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