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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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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link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


Not dead yet: report says number of in-use Galaxy Note7s still vastly exceeds all LG V20s • Android Police

David Ruddock:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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


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