Start Up: TalkTalk’s router duds, Samsung’s S8 plans, Trump’s tech table, Pebble’s vultures, and more

Donald Trump could be good for them, or their offspring. Joi Ito can explain. Photo by StreetFly JZ 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. Offer it to a friend as a present – it’s free!

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

TalkTalk’s wi-fi hack advice is ‘astonishing’ • BBC News

Leo Kelion:


TalkTalk’s handling of a wi-fi password breach is being criticised by several cyber-security experts.

The BBC has presented the company with evidence that many of its customers’ router credentials have been hacked, putting them at risk of data theft.

The UK broadband provider confirmed that the sample of stolen router IDs it had been shown was real.

But it is still advising users that there is “no need” to change their routers’ settings.

A cyber-security advisor to Europol said he was astounded by the decision. “If TalkTalk has evidence that significant numbers of passwords are out in the wild, then at the very least they should be advising their customers to change their passwords,” said the University of Surrey’s Prof Alan Woodward. “To say they see no need to do so is, frankly, astonishing.”

A spokeswoman for TalkTalk said that customers could change their settings “if they wish” but added that she believed there was “no risk to their personal information”.

She referred the BBC to another security expert. But when questioned, he also said the company should change its advice.


Read on for the amazing denial about the trouble it’s in: there’s a huge list of routers and passwords out there. TalkTalk’s response: “We see no huge list.”

TalkTalk really doesn’t have a grip on security topics.
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Samsung S8: new Galaxy phone to lose headphone jack and home button and be one big screen, just like iPhone 8 • The Independent

Andrew Griffin:


Samsung is about to launch a new phone that will include all of the iPhone 8’s biggest features.

The upcoming Galaxy S7 will drop the physical home button so that the entirety of the front of the phone can be one big screen, according to reports. That will allow it to have much the same design as the one rumoured for the upcoming iPhone 8 – which is also expected to be made entirely of glass and not have any bezel.

The new phone will also lose the headphone jack, according to reports. Apple dropped the headphone jack in its last iPhone, telling people to use wireless headphones instead, a decision that caused huge controversy.


Urr, but the iPhone 7 doesn’t have a physical home button. That is, not a moving one. It’s a Force Touch, or 3D Touch, or whatever we call it, “button”. So the big wraparound screen might be new, but the other two things aren’t.

Not sure Samsung will do well with the S8 without a headphone jack, though. Feel like that could see a lot of returns unless it includes a USB-C-to-3.5mm jack. Not even sure those exist.
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Trump invites tech leaders to roundtable next week • USA Today

Jessica Guynn and Jon Swartz:


President-elect Donald Trump has invited technology industry leaders to a roundtable next week in New York.

The invitation for the Dec. 14 summit was sent by Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and transition team adviser Peter Thiel. Among the CEOs who plan to attend the meeting are Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and Oracle Co-CEO Safra Catz.

The tech industry, which bet heavily on Hillary Clinton in the months leading up to the presidential election, is looking to build bridges to the incoming administration…

…Facebook declined to comment whether it would attend next week’s tech roundtable. [Peter] Thiel [who is advising the Trump transition team] sits on the board of the giant social network.

Leading Silicon Valley companies such as Alphabet’s Google declined to comment.

Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and self-described “proud Republican” who had supported Trump rival Hillary Clinton in the campaign, won’t attend, the company said.


Do we think Twitter will attend, and will upbraid Minority Donald for offensive tweeting aimed at individuals?

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Windows 10 on ARM: Microsoft’s key to the Chromebook market • Windows Central

Zac Bowden:


Microsoft has announced that the full version of Windows 10 is coming to ARM, with x86 support meaning your Win32 desktop applications won’t be missing like they were on Windows RT. This opens up a whole world of new opportunities for OEMs, and indeed Microsoft, to build low-cost and low-powered Windows 10 devices that can directly take on Chromebooks.

If you were to tell me a few years ago that Chromebooks would actually be a big deal and a possible threat to Windows, I’d have probably laughed in your face. I remember thinking “A laptop that’s just a browser? There’s no way that’ll catch on”. I know many don’t consider the rise of Chromebooks to be a threat to Microsoft or Windows 10, but they very much are. More and more schools and businesses are opting for Chromebooks over Windows 10 laptops, mainly because of price, but also because Chromebooks do what they need them to do, durably, and at a low cost.


There’s a lot of hope in the Windows enthusiast market that this latest version of Windows on ARM (WoA) will, unlike 2011’s version, be a really amazing implementation, rather than a milquetoast version which can’t run x86 apps.

The good news: they will be able to run x86 apps, through virtualisation. The bad news: they’ll be doing it on really underpowered CPUs. True, you don’t need a lot of power to compete with Chromebooks; but Chromebooks are already getting their market. It feels like another proof-of-concept.

For more, read Wes Miller’s 2012 thoughts on “architectural escape velocity“, which deals with the first attempt at WoA; then read his latest thoughts on this new announcement.
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Bluetooth 5: What you need to know about the new wireless technology • Daily Telegraph

Cara McGoogan:


Bluetooth 5 is twice as fast as its predecessor and can connect devices at quadruple the range, making it more reliable for use outside and around the whole of a house. 

The bandwidth on Bluetooth 5 is 2 Mbps up from 1 Mbps, which means devices with the new standard will be able to transfer twice as much data, as well as making it quicker to send and receive information.

This means devices will be able to download updates in less time, and export collected information, for example from a sensor, at fast speeds. 

A longer range, of up to four times that of Bluetooth 4.2LE (low energy), means smart home devices such as security cameras will be able to cover the entirety of a house. Improved ability to detect and prevent interference from other devices helps improve signal too.


Basically it’s approaching the point where it will be Wi-Fi.
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Who killed Pebble? Easy: The vulture capitalists • The Register

Andrew Orlowski wraps up Pebble’s history, with this coda:


In 2013 Charles River Ventures had handed Pebble $15m in funding. A venture capitalist at CRV, George Zachary, who owed his reputation to funding Twitter early, took a seat on the Pebble board.

Few smartstraps ever appeared. The colour Pebbles didn’t have such a great display after all, as we found. The non-Gorilla Glass model scratched easily. The software took the user experience backwards in a few ways: slower, and more cumbersome. After that, successive firmware updates were slow and often buggy. A “Round” model announced later that year was an attempt to make a more stylish and better looking timepiece, but the cost was a big fall in battery life, to about a day.

“Pebble has strayed further away from its hobbyist DIY roots,” we noted.

Pebble had benefited from the smartwatch hype but it was catching a cold from the backlash. Pressure from investors caused it to move further from its DIY roots and go for “health”. Why? Well, now we know. That’s where the VC community had decided a buyer would come from, allowing the funds to cash in their chips.

Pebble was being touted for a sale. Fitbit had made a successful flotation on the stock exchange, so had cash to spare, and won.


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Joi Ito explains why Donald Trump is like the Sex Pistols • Medium

Steven Levy interviewed Joi Ito, who is has written a book about his ideas as head of the MIT Media Lab:


Ito: We write about what’s going on in the world today in a upbeat way because we want people to lean into it, but it’s not like only the good guys can use it. It just is. It’s the way everything is changing. Unless you figure it out, you’re not going to be able to keep up. Having said that, I don’t think that a lot of the people who voted for Trump are necessarily going to be up to speed on synthetic biology and AI.

Steven Levy: You don’t think?

Ito: No. But I think AI can be just as destructive for investment bankers and lawyers as it is for doctors. It could be that it will be empowering pharmacists who go to one year of community college and become a doctor — screw the whole medical school. Disruption doesn’t necessarily advantage those with power.

Levy: One theme of your book is disobedience over compliance. That seems to define the transition so far.

Ito: Absolutely. People want a culture change, and this moment reminds me of the beginning of punk rock, or the beginning of the hippie movement. But I’d hate for Trump to be our millennial Sex Pistols or Timothy Leary or the Beatles. We need something like the Beatles that captures the hearts and minds of people. We’re ripe for a new cultural movement. Culture movements and art and punk rock thrive under bad presidents. The music was better under Reagan and Nixon than it was under Obama. I think that the doomsday scenarios tend to promote the arts. A lot of my energy now is in trying to provide tools to the young people to try to organize.


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Holy crap did I get the most annoying trojan attempt ever! • SuperGlobalMegaCorp



Sit down kids, it’s time for an old man rant.

So yeah, I have one of those clients who wants to use ‘one of those’ file sharing sites. UGH.  I swear I’m to the point of just paying for an Office 365 subscription for them so I don’t have to deal with this kind of shit.  So I hit the site on my phone, then it jumps to this site.  Fantastic.

Then I’m alerted that my phone is 28.1% DAMAGED, and somehow my phone’s SIM card will be damaged!  Yes, it’s one of these scam sites!

Oh no, my phone apparently may be already physically damaged?  I guess this is once someone is tricked by this official Google looking image you’ll want to throw your phone against the wall.  As any user of Android will tell you updates from Google are non existent, and anything that could infect your phone, well is pretty much your problem.  You can beg the vendor, but lol, good luck.

I like to live dangerously, so yeah let’s look at the app.

So with this scary and official looking thing it’s trying to railroad you into “Ace Cleaner”. I don’t know how on earth they haven’t either been reported, or knocked out of the app store. I guess Google is busy teaming up with Facebook trying to figure out how to censor the news appropriately instead of trying to squash actual scam artists.


But as the reviews imply, these scams work. People download this stuff and it sits on their machines, and they probably don’t realise it’s watching everything they do.

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We can fix it: saving the truth from the internet • Medium

Sunil Paul:


Terrorism and radicalism thrive because of our current media system. It is no coincidence that terrorism has grown and ISIS taken root at the same time that internet media has grown. It is easy to create a cultish cocoon of lies with today’s media system and terrorists exploit it to the hilt. As we are learning from the Comet Ping Pong situation, that cocoon extends to home grown conspiracy theories.

Powerful states have found tools of oppression in the internet we designed. The Russian government spread false information in the Ukraine and United States during elections. When there is no accountability for the truth, information is manipulated by the powerful for their own ends. The risk will grow as authoritarians exploit the weaknesses we built into the system.

The state of media today is similar to the spam crisis of the late 1990s. The integrity of email was at risk because of a flood of spam, most of which was fraudulent, malicious, or questionable. We solved the spam problem with a combination of technology, changes in social incentives, and laws. Today spam is only an annoyance because we have anti-spam technology like Brightmail**, informal rules that email senders like MailChimp use to limit abuse, and laws that allow legal action against the worst offenders. Like with spam, fixing the internet media problem will take a similar full assault of new technology, social incentives, and laws.


It is an important point how easily we accepted that religious radicalisation could happen online, yet have been surprised by it happening politically through the same medium.
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Help Wanted at Google • WSJ

The WSJ noticed that the search giant has advertised for a manager of “Conservative Outreach and Public Policy Partnerships.” The employee “will act as Google’s liaison to conservative, libertarian and free market groups” and will be “part organizer, part advocate and part policy wonk”:


Google no doubt planned to continue wielding influence in a Hillary Clinton Administration. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, advised John Podesta and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign on digital strategy and targeting voters, though perhaps not in the Upper Midwest. A report from the Campaign for Accountability turned up 57 people affiliated with both Mrs. Clinton (whether her campaign, foundation or State Department) and Google entities.

Now Google will have to scramble to preserve its enormous influence on everything from copyrights to privacy regulation. Whether Mr. Trump will indulge rent-seeking from Google and friends is anyone’s guess. But maybe Google’s Republican unicorn can host a staff seminar on the free-market philosophy that made the tech giant possible.


Nothing pleases a right-wing paper more than a right-wing administration bending liberal companies to its will.
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Millions exposed to malvertising that hid attack code in banner pixels • Ars Technica UK

Dan Goodin:


Researchers from antivirus provider Eset said “Stegano,” as they’ve dubbed the campaign, dates back to 2014. Beginning in early October, its unusually stealthy operators scored a major coup by getting the ads displayed on a variety of unnamed reputable news sites, each with millions of daily visitors. Borrowing from the word steganography—the practice of concealing secret messages inside a larger document that dates back to at least 440 BC—Stegano hides parts of its malicious code in parameters controlling the transparency of pixels used to display banner ads. While the attack code alters the tone or color of the images, the changes are almost invisible to the untrained eye.

The malicious script is concealed in the alpha channel that defines the transparency of pixels, making it extremely difficult for even sharp-eyed ad networks to detect. After verifying that the targeted browser isn’t running in a virtual machine or connected to other types of security software often used to detect attacks, the script redirects the browser to a site that hosts three exploits for now-patched Adobe Flash vulnerabilities.


Flash plus ad networks: it’s a recipe for disaster. (Thanks @papanic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

How many Apple Music users are on Android?

Apple Music: also on Android. Photo by tualamac on Flickr.

Apple announced on Wednesday that it now has 20 million subscribers to Apple Music after just 18 months – which feels like pretty good progress. Apple Music is also the only meaningful Apple service that’s also available on Android, as Apple tries to spread itself cross-platform.

Why is Music on Android as well as iOS? Because it’s not a distinguishing feature. Unlike Apple’s iMessage or its App Store, both of which are exclusive to Apple, and whose features are unique to it, you can already get lots of music services on both iOS and Android – Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Google Play Music, Amazon Music and so on. (Not many, if any, of them are making money, but leave that aside.)

For Apple, every additional subscriber to Music is a bonus; it’s all money. The ones on Android are potential converts to iOS, where there’s more money to be made selling them iPhones, iPads and Macs, but time spent on Music is time not spent on Spotify, its principal rival, so that’s a benefit to Apple. App development costs aside, which are comparatively small, Android is a benefit. Additionally, if someone with an iPhone gets a Family Plan (allowing five people to use the same account; a Family Plan only counts as one subscription in Apple’s total), those five could include Android users.

So how many of those 20m are on Android? I’ve been tracking the stats on Google’s Play store for Apple Music downloads since its launch, including the download range and the number of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-star reviews.

There are two things we need to work out: how many downloads there have been, and how many of those have resulted in subscriptions.

Download power

To estimate the number of downloads, I track the definite waypoints – when it passed 5,000, 50,000, 500,000, 1m, 5m – and the number of reviews against them.

Apple Music: how many downloads per comment?

The process is very standard across all apps: to begin with comments come quickly, so that almost every download prompts someone to review (about every 27 downloads, someone left a comment up to the 500,000 mark) which then tails off (only one in every 100 downloads prompted a comment by the 10m download mark). You can thus model how the number will change; and so even when you’re in the vague space between waypoints, you can estimate the number of downloads. (I’ve used this technique to calculate Android Wear downloads; it was accurate about when it would hit the 5m mark by a few weeks in a two-year timeframe.) The R-squared value is the correlation, which runs between 0 and 1: closer to 1 is nearer exact correlation.

Based on that, I calculate that this week Apple Music on Android hit 12.75m downloads. (It passed 10m around September 6.) It’s adding about 230,000 downloads per week, at a rate that seems to be holding pretty steady.

But downloads aren’t subscriptions. Apple Music offers a three-month trial period, after which you have to pony up. Clearly, some people will drop out. But what proportion of those who download it stay on and subscribe?

One subtlety here: the three-month trial means that strictly, we should ignore the downloads made in the past three months, since none of them will have qualified to become subscribers yet. (Downloads made to join a Family Plan don’t count as subscriptions.)

So the figure we’re looking at is from 6 September – which just happens to be when Apple Music hit the 10m download mark.

Star quality

Here’s an obvious way to estimate that: look at the high-quality reviews. It seems logical (Captain) that five-star reviews indicate people who are really happy with the service. Four-star reviews are people who are pretty happy, but find some hassles with it.

Apple Music reviews on Android

By the time you’re down to three-star and below, I think you’re talking about people who aren’t impressed and won’t be staying.

Although people don’t become subscribers until three months have elapsed, I think you can include recent ratings, since those could come from people who have become subscribers. (We don’t know what prompts people to review an app.)

So what do the ratings show? At present, five-star reviews are about 44% of all reviews; four-star ones, 11%. That ratio has been pretty consistent; five-star reviews have been at least 38% of all, and average 42% over the life of the app. Four-star reviews go down to 10%, and average 11%. (I don’t know what the average is across all apps on Google Play.) In fact, the data shows a gradual improvement in how the app is perceived, according to the reviews.

Apple Music on Android reviews

Based on this information, we can get some useful minima and maxima.

10m downloads, five-star users subscribe: 4.4m Apple Music subscribers on Android

10m downloads, four- and five-star users subscribe: 5.5m subscribers

12.75m downloads, five-star users subscribe: 5.61m subscribers

12.75m downloads, four- and five-star users subscribe: 7m subscribers.

I’d suggest the useful range is probably the 4.4m-5.5m one.

(One confounding caveat: we don’t know how many of the eager reviews come from people who downloaded it because they’re part of a Family Plan. I can’t think of a simple way to evaluate this unknown.)

Phoning home

If we accept those numbers, it suggests there are 14.5m-15.6m Apple Music subscribers on iOS.

What does that mean in the context of how many phones are out there?

There are about 550m iPhones in use, according to Neil Cybart. And there are around 1.2bn Android phones in use. (Apple Music is available in China, so it can run on phones there.)

This implies quite low penetration for Apple Music: about 2.5% on iPhones, and about 0.3%-0.4% on Android.

Then again, given that Spotify’s last published figure (in September) is 40m subscribers, and it is also available on both platforms, it’s clear that it’s just difficult to get people to sign up to these services. Given how many people Spotify has been available to in multiple countries, it has only been able to convert about 1% of the total available internet population during its life. It seems like getting people to sign up to music streaming really isn’t easy at all. So if you’re an Apple Music or Spotify subscriber, you’re very much in the minority.

Even though Apple’s progress in a short time looks strong compared to Spotify’s over the same period, it’s an open question how big the total addressable market is here. Are we just crossing over from the early adopters to the broader audience who will jump on streaming? Or is it going to struggle to break through? These are still open questions.

Start Up: join The Circle!, Macbook Pro woes, smartglasses for cyclists, tablet time squeeze, and more

Pebble has called time on its smartwatch business as it is sold to Fitbit. Photo by John Biehler 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. Luscious. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The gadget apocalypse is upon us • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:


Just before I went on a trip to Hawaii last year, I thought it would be fun to get a GoPro camera to record some pool stunts. But when I searched, I noticed a ton of generic “action cameras” that carried many of the same specs as the GoPros, at a steep discount on price. I ended up buying an SJCAM for $75, about half the price of the cheapest GoPro I could find. And you know what? It worked pretty well.

This is the mixed blessing of cheaper manufacturing. “In some ways it’s much easier to be a hardware start-up than it ever was before, because the Shenzhen ecosystem gives you all the components you need,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research, referring to the manufacturing hub Shenzhen, in southern China. “But that same ecosystem is available to everybody else, too, so setting yourself apart is really tough.”

You might point out that the SJCAM I purchased lacked some of the finer qualities of a GoPro. Its software wasn’t great, and it didn’t offer customer support. If I were an extreme sports enthusiast, I might have cared about those deficiencies.


But like most of us, he didn’t.
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The Circle • Wearethecircle

Notable for its click-through licence agreement, and the stuff that happens afterwards. Don’t worry, nothing bad is going to happen. We’re watching you. And you can always click that big “Cancel” button – see?
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Google Wifi and your privacy • Google Wifi Help


The information your Wifi points and the Google Wifi app collect helps us deliver the best Wi-Fi experience possible. Importantly, the Google Wifi app and your Wifi points do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network. However, your Wifi points does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types that are relevant to optimize your Wi-Fi performance. Google policies and terms of services apply as normal to any Google services you use (like Gmail or Google search), whether you’re using them on an Google Wifi network or not.

With simple controls in the Google Wifi app’s ‘Privacy’ settings, you can manage three types of data collected – Cloud services, Wifi point stats, and App stats. Examples of the kinds of data managed by these controls are given below.

Please note that some features may not function with certain privacy settings turned off, and some information (such as the association of your Google Account to your Google Wifi network) is stored by Google even if all privacy controls are turned off…

…Data is shared according to the Google Privacy Policy. For example, we may share anonymized data (e.g. diagnostics crash reports, aggregate metrics) to improve your Wifi point and the Google Wifi app. We do not share your personal information from your Wifi point or the Google Wifi app for the purposes of advertising without your consent.


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Pebble’s next step • Pebble blog

Chief executive Eric Micigovsky:


Dear Pebblers,

Thank you all for being such loyal supporters and champions of the Pebble community and brand. You helped start something fantastic when you backed our first Kickstarter project (and shout-out to the first inPulse users). Since then, we’ve shipped over 2 million Pebbles around the world!

However—due to various factors—Pebble is no longer able to operate as an independent entity. We have made the tough decision to shut down the company and no longer manufacture Pebble devices. This news has several major implications, and we hope to answer as many questions as possible here, in Kickstarter Update #17, and on our support site.


Two million isn’t bad. But the first act of wearables is over.
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New MacBook Pros plagued by complaints about battery life and graphics glitches • Macworld

Caitlin McGarry and Roman Loyola:


Macworld has a new 15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro, and we haven’t been successful in replicating the graphics problems being reported. We tried using Photoshop to edit images, watched videos in QuickTime, iTunes, and on YouTube, and also ran Unigine’s Heaven benchmark to stress the GPU. We’ve set the laptop to use automatic graphics switching, as well as to “always use high-performance graphics” (this setting is in System Preferences > Energy Saver > Automatic graphics switching). The only issue we’ve seen occurs while using Safari: sometimes the cursor disappears for what seems like a prolonged period when performing a task, like using the 1Password plug-in to load user names and passwords, or when loading a webpage heavy with elements. This could possibly be an issue with Safari, and not a graphics issue.

According to a MacRumors report, an email sent in response to a user regarding the graphics problem by Apple software engineering chief Craig Federighi says that the upcoming macOS Sierra 12.2.2 update includes a fix for the problem.


Perhaps not “plagued”. “Troubled”? “Some report…”?
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iOS share driven higher by iPhone 7/7 Plus sales • Kantar Worldpanel


“The lack of the headphone jack has proved to be a non-issue for US iPhone consumers, as iPhone 7 was the top selling device in the three months ending October 2016, achieving 10.6% of smartphone sales, despite not being available for the full three month period. iPhone 7 Plus was the 4th best-selling device at 5.3%, behind the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S7,” said Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “Google achieved 0.5% of smartphone sales, a strong showing given that the Pixel was only widely available from October 20th. In that short time, Google has reached market parity with more established brands like Huawei and Microsoft, who are also at 0.5%.”


In urban China, Apple outsold Xiaomi. Frustratingly as ever, Kantar doesn’t give market size figures – so we can’t tell if this is growth in volume or not.

Of Android’s 75% sales share, Guenveur says: “the apparent lopsided market share figures are not a reason for doubting the strength or future of the position held by Apple’s iOS. While Android dominates in terms of the raw number of devices it powers, Apple remains the most desirable smartphone brand in the world.”

In other words, there’s little point talking about loss or gain in share. It’s not going to change the relative positions of the two ecosystems substantially.
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Raptor AR smartglasses give cyclists essential stats while on the road • UploadVR

Jamie Feltham:


While VR is letting cyclists explore the world from the comfort of their homes, this new set of AR glasses could provide huge benefits for those that still venture outside.

Israel-based Everysight today announced Raptor, a new set of glasses designed specifically for cyclists. It reminds us a little of Google’s Glass project, or the upcoming CastAR. While out on a ride, users will have stats like turn-by-turn navigation, time, distance, speed, heart rate, cadence and power displayed in front of them. These are all stats that you could get with a smartphone app, but Raptor allows riders to keep their eyes on the road at all times.

The display, which appears a little like the information on a car dashboard, can be controlled either by a device mounted to a bike’s handlebar, through voice commands, or using an on-board touchpad. Footage of rides is also captured with a camera that can be watched back and shared with others. It wouldn’t be a fitness wearable without a companion app to upload stats to, and Everyglass will release one of these for iOS and Android.


Neat – cyclists (and motorcyclists) are probably the civilians who have the most use for head-up displays, since distraction can be so costly.
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The squeezing of tablet time • Strategy Analytics

Prabhat Agarwal:


With AppOptix we possess the data on the digital mobile consumer.

Aside from capturing smartphone user data, we also obtain data on tablet users – which is the topic of this blog.

Tablets have long since been a mainstay product in the mobile device family, capable of operating an array and abundance of applications (from gaming and productivity tools to health and fitness apps) with users integrating them into their daily workflow for accomplishing goals and/or tracking activities, or if they’re like me, for watching TV shows/movies. However, the insertion of “plus” size smartphones have taken a toll on tablet usage, with average daily usage steadily declined from 2014 compared to growth in smartphone minutes.


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Dear Mr. Trump, about those US-made iPhones • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan channels the spirit of Foxconn’s Terry Gou, who (as he points out) is considerably richer than Donald Trump:


I am a doer, Mr. Trump. I get things done. When Apple told me to start making iPhones in Brazil to get around import tariffs, I made it happen. It didn’t create much employment, mind you, because I just exported pre-fabricated iPhones for the locals to slot together – kind of like Lego – but it got the job done. And by job, I mean kept Apple’s and Brazil’s leaders happy. And who do you think paid for it? Not me.

If you want iPhones to be made in America, I can make that happen, too. Heck, I can set up a production line in Trump Towers if you like, but the costs will be yuuuge. I have to cover my expenses, which include factories, labor and transport. You see, I don’t manufacture in China just because it’s cheaper, but because thousands of suppliers are there, within spitting distance of my factories and the one million people I employ during peak season.

I can deploy more robots in the U.S., sure, but it can take months to train them whereas humans can be taught in a few hours. Besides, more robots means fewer jobs.

Bumping up your import tariffs won’t change the equation much, but give me tax breaks, subsidies to hire workers, cheap electricity and free land, and I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. Let me know what numbers you want to Tweet, and I’ve got your back.


One minor point: Culpan imagines Gou saying “I’m the man who makes your iPhone”. Trump uses a Samsung; it’s his staff who tweet from iPhones on his behalf. Whether or not Trump makes use of the headphone port is unknown at this time.
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Progressive think tank: Trump’s $1trn infrastructure plan ‘shovels money at wealthy investors’ • The Washington Post

Ashley Halsey:


The challenge is a simple one: investors want a return on their money, and very few transportation projects provide one. Tolls can be imposed on selected roads and bridges, but the vast majority of them offer no opportunity to recoup investment.

“That would be a very rude shock to a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump if they suddenly found that the rural roads in Nebraska or Indiana — the interstate highway, which they paid for and they’re still paying gas taxes — now they have to pay a toll on top of that?” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee. “They probably wouldn’t be happy.”

The Congressional Budget Office said last year that just 26 private-investment projects were completed or underway nationwide.

The Trump plan would give private investors an 82% tax credit to put money into projects. Trump said his plan would lead to up to $1 trillion worth of new projects, but simply lowering the cost of money with tax credits to investors is unlikely to unleash a new round of big-ticket projects, because states already have access to the municipal bond market.


The Center for American Progress is – by my reading – a left-leaning thinktank which basically advocates Keynesian ideas. The US, meanwhile, has a huge infrastructure deficit.
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Apple Music hits 20 million subscribers, execs want “more, faster — we’re hungry!” • Hollywood Reporter

Shirley Halperin:


Apple has released the latest numbers for the music subscription service Apple Music. In the 18 months since the service was launched, the tech giant reveals that it has just crossed the 20m paid subscribers mark. It last reported 17m subscribers in September, marking a 15% jump in three months.

In addition, the company announces that 60% of customers using Apple Music have not bought content from the iTunes Music Store in the last 12 months — a portion of which are dormant users but “the vast majority are new customers,” Apple’s senior vp of internet software and products Eddy Cue tells Billboard. Now available in more than 100 countries, over 50% of Apple Music subscribers live outside of the U.S. — in such markets as Canada, China, South Africa, Japan, Russia, Brazil and India — states the company.


Spotify is on 40m paid users (and will probably report a number in the next couple of days; it is anxious not to let Apple appear to catch up). Numbers need to rise significantly to make up for the lost paid downloads, though.
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Apple says iPhone 6 battery fires in China likely caused by external factors • Reuters

Cate Cadell:


Apple said external factors were the likely cause of iPhone 6 battery fires detailed in a Chinese consumer protection report that featured widely in state media earlier this week and created a buzz on social media.

The Shanghai Consumer Council released a report on Friday detailing battery fires in eight iPhone 6 handsets. It also detailed iPhone 6 handsets powering down before their batteries are depleted – handsets outside of a global iPhone 6 recall range that Apple announced on Nov. 20 to address the issue.

“The units we’ve analyzed so far have clearly shown that external physical damage happened to them which led to the thermal event,” an Apple spokeswoman said in an emailed statement to Reuters late on Tuesday. She also said Apple was widening its investigation into the power-down issue.


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: milking the iPhone, Android tablets’ death, Galaxy S8 may dump the headphone jack, and more

Toys that use the internet aren’t necessarily good. Photo by Open Arms 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. Not available on Air Force One. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Milking the iPhone • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:


Apple is placing a big bet that we are still firmly in the smartphone era. In Apple’s view, many of these competing products are distractions trying to get us to move prematurely beyond the smartphone. This stance has contributed to the view that Apple is missing a step and resting on its laurels. While Microsoft pushes Surface Book and Surface Studio and Snap unveils sunglasses with a camera, Apple is still betting on a smartphone, a product unveiled in 2007. 

This pursuit of milking the iPhone has contributed to cracks forming at Apple’s edges. The friction is found when looking at Apple’s efforts to build a wider ecosystem that extends beyond the iPhone. There is evidence that Apple management wants to follow a product strategy described in my “Apple Experience Era” article. Consumers can pick and choose a range of Apple products that best fit their lifestyles. This is why Apple is very vocal about continuing to invest in the Mac. In addition, Cook has reiterated his view that the iPad is the clearest expression of Apple’s vision of the future of personal computing.

However, Apple’s handling of the Mac line has been increasingly questionable. The same can be said of the iPad line. It will have taken Apple at least two years to unveil a line of “Pro” iPad models spanning from 7.9-inch screens to the 12.9-inch model. 

While some have been quick to throw Apple’s functional organizational structure under the bus for causing these cracks, the organizational structure is not to blame. The issue doesn’t relate to a lack of focus either. Apple still isn’t selling that many products. Instead, these cracks are a result of today’s changing tech environment. 

When looking at some of the key accomplishments during the Tim Cook era, the installed base growth figures for Apple’s top products stand out. For every 100 users by which the iPhone installed base increases, the iPad installed base will grow by 35 users, and the Mac will increase by 10 users.


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Government U-turn on health privacy • Light Blue Touchpaper


Now that everyone’s distracted with the supreme court case on Brexit, you can expect the government to sneak out something it’s ashamed of.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has decided to ignore the wishes of over a million people who opted out of having their hospital records given to third parties such as drug companies, and the ICO has decided to pretend that the anonymisation mechanisms he says he’ll use instead are sufficient. One gently smoking gun is the fifth bullet in a new webpage here, where the Department of Health claims that when it says the data are anonymous, your wishes will be ignored.

The news has been broken in an article in the Health Services Journal (it’s behind a paywall, as a splendid example of transparency) with the Wellcome Trust praising the ICO’s decision not to take action against the Department. We are assured that “the data is seen as crucial for vital research projects”.


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Apple Watch sales to consumers set record in holiday week, says Apple’s Cook • Reuters

Julia Love:


Sales of the Apple Watch to consumers set a record during the first week of holiday shopping, and the current quarter is on track to be the best ever for the product, Apple chief executive Tim Cook told Reuters.

Responding to an email from Reuters, Cook said the gadget’s sell-through – a measure of how many units are sold to consumers, rather than simply stocked on retailers’ shelves – reached a new high.

Cook’s comments followed a report on Monday from technology research firm IDC estimating that the tech giant sold 1.1 million units of the Apple Watch during the third quarter of 2016, down 71% from the year-ago quarter. The comments offer a glimpse of the gadget’s performance during the holiday quarter, which is typically Apple’s strongest.


IDC’s estimate (it has to be an estimate) looks low – based on revenue, Apple probably sold between 2m and 2.5m.
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Chapter 40. The fake news, the real links • Sadbottrue

Bear with the language here:


Can a major media with 17 years of history and a monthly audience of 40 million., quote fake news sites? As if it did not look weird, but yes.

Studying the history of the site (disabled), we found a backlink to it on

It was quoted by Wayne Allyn Root, in the story “Mr. President, You Disgust Me”, posted on June 13, 2016. The quotation was “Obama is the man who cut $2.6 billion in funding for U.S. veterans, while at the same time adding $4.5 billion to the budget to relocate Syrian refugees to America.” Here’s the archive copy. The article was shared more than 40,000 times.

If you can not identify this site [] among the other sites of fake news, we give a small clarification. This is the most popular of the Macedonian sites investigated by Buzzfeed in the article “How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News”.

The site was created on April 29, 2016. At the time of quotation, the site was only one and a half months [old].


“Sadbottrue” is edited by Vlad Shevtsov; it seems to be aiming to investigate the origin of many of the fake news sites, and some of the social media junk, around the US election. The point that is made here – that Breitbart was prominently requoting a fake news outlet that was just six weeks old – raises the questions: how did Breitbart’s writer find it, and why didn’t they check it? Well, the latter is obvious enough. (They don’t care about accuracy.)

But how did they find it? Six weeks isn’t much time for any site to rise up Google’s search rankings.
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Supreme Court: lower court should reconsider what Samsung owes Apple • WSJ

Brent Kendall:


Samsung has been challenging a $399m award to Apple after jurors in 2012 found that 11 smartphone models from the South Korean electronics giant infringed Apple’s design patents.

The high court agreed to hear the case to clarify how courts should compute monetary damages for design-patent infringement. Apple argued it was entitled to the total profits on Samsung’s infringing products. Samsung argued that it shouldn’t have to hand over all of its profits on the phones because the design was only one component of those complex devices.

The Supreme Court said an appeals court used the wrong analysis when it ruled for Apple.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous court, said the holder of a design patent isn’t always entitled to the total profits on an infringing product sold to consumers. In multicomponent products, sometimes a patent holder will only be entitled to the infringer’s total profits on the specific component that infringed the patent, she said.

The decision, however, didn’t resolve the dispute between the smartphone makers. The court declined to apply its legal rules to the specifics of the case, so it didn’t determine whether Samsung must pay its total profits on the 11 phones or just its profits attributable to the screen and case design of those products.

The justices said a lower court should sort out that issue.


This is pretty dramatic. Apple’s claim, which was supported by a number of designers, was that Samsung had profited because of its infringement of Apple’s design patents – basically, how Samsung’s phone looked – and that it should receive all the profits Samsung earned because that infringement was the essential act which caused the decision. There seemed to be precedent from patents on physical products in the 20th century.

This overturns that; it means that copying the appearance of another device carries far lower penalties, as long as you can show that there might be other elements to the product which customers find attractive. (Probably wouldn’t work for a simple chair, for example.)

Just as well for Apple that phone design isn’t a key differentiator any more – but what happens when someone such as Samsung chooses to copy the Apple Watch?
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Patent troll claims to own Bluetooth, scores $15.7M verdict against Samsung • Ars Technica

Joe Mullin, writing in February 2015:


Marshall [in Texas] is a small town that has been a hotspot for patent lawsuits for more than a decade now. US District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who presided over this trial, oversees far more patent lawsuits than any other federal judge.

The Eastern District of Texas has stayed popular with patent holders, even as the docket has clogged with cases. Some factors cited include relatively fast-moving litigation, judges reluctant to make early summary judgment rulings, and a perception that juries are more likely to grant large awards.

Samsung has been sued in East Texas dozens of times. That’s not unusual for a large technology company. More than its rivals, though, Samsung has taken some unusual steps in recent years to try to keep up its reputation in Marshall and nearby towns. There’s no mistaking who sponsors Marshall’s winter festival—Samsung has its corporate logo plastered all over the town’s ice-skating rink, which gets set up each year in the same downtown square as the federal courthouse.

The company also makes a habit of granting scholarships to high school students in Marshall and nearby Tyler, giving a total of $50,000 last year. Winners receive photograph-worthy giant checks with a Samsung logo on them, and those images are often published in the local newspaper. The same check was on display in the News-Messenger when Samsung made a donation to Habitat for Humanity.


Makes sense if you might find yourself in front of a group of jurors assembled from the area…
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Amazon Go •


How does Amazon Go work?
Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

What do I need to get started?
All you need is an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the free Amazon Go app.

Why did you build Amazon Go?
Four years ago we asked ourselves: what if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? Could we push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go? Our answer to those questions is Amazon Go and Just Walk Out Shopping.

So I can just shop normally?
Yes! Just browse and shop like you would at any other store. Then you’re on your way. No lines, no checkout.


Very, very interesting. Would it scale to something the size of a typical Tesco supermarket? Access is gained via the smartphone app; what if other people come in too? Obviously Amazon has asked itself this question, so the answer(s) will be interesting. Hackers are going to have field days, particularly in messing with the (presumably) facial recognition and RFID systems it uses. Typically, Amazon has said very little about how it works.
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Exclusive: Galaxy S8 is not going to feature a 3.5mm headphone jack • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:


If you were cross with Samsung for ditching removable batteries with the Galaxy S6 then you might not like what it’s going to do with the Galaxy S8. We can exclusively confirm that Samsung is going to remove the standard 3.5mm headphone jack from the Galaxy S8. This means that all of your existing headphones will not be compatible with the upcoming flagship unless you use a USB Type-C adapter as the Galaxy S8 will feature a USB Type-C port. This also means that you won’t be able to plug in the Galaxy S8 and use wired headphones at the same time.

We’ve seen Apple take this step with the iPhone 7 as well as a handful of Chinese OEMs. Apple took a lot of flak for this decision but the company says that it showed courage by making this decision to move beyond the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. We don’t know how Samsung is going to put a spin on its decision since fans are likely to lash out but there are some functional advantages to it.

Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack enables Samsung to make the Galaxy S8 thinner while also freeing up more space inside for a bigger battery.


Commenters at SamMobile are furious.
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The slow, uninteresting death of Android tablets is unfolding, and it is no one’s fault • Android Police

David Ruddock:


Demands for features, functions, and tablet-specific interfaces distract from the real problem with tablets – that fewer and fewer people need or even want them.…

…There remain legitimate niche markets for tablets, in both professional and consumer senses, but the writing is on the wall when it comes to the mass-market tablet: we’re only going down from here. Rumors that Google is working on a new 7″ tablet to showcase its next-generation Andromeda operating system gave hope to enthusiasts that Google isn’t quite ready to let the tablet off life support just yet. If and when that device arrives, great pains will be taken by some to assure us that people really do want tablets, it’s just that they didn’t want the tablets we had before. We just need that magic bullet; to finally crack the tablet code. “This time, developers will pay attention!”

This is a fantasy. Android tablets have had six years to mature and evolve, for developers to find the use cases and the markets for their wares, and at the end of it all we’re left with a tablet content ecosystem now utterly devoid of interest from consumers and developers alike. Nothing Google can do with its operating system will be able to shock the tablet market back to life, because the tablet is not dying for a lack of content. It is dying for a lack of compelling reasons to exist.


This may be the case for Android tablets, which have never quite managed to shift into a gear where they can rival PCs for usefulness. (I’d also take issue with Ruddock’s first point above: falling sales don’t mean fewer people want or need them, but that they’re slow to replace.) I think it’s different for the iPad, where the focus on apps, and especially paid apps, has made a difference. The existence of Workflow, which lets you automate workflows, and Pythonista, which lets you run Python programs, means you really can do a great deal on an iPad – and it’s a lot more portable than a laptop.
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Connected toys violate European consumer law • Norwegian consumer council


In their review of the toys, the Consumer Council has found several serious issues:

• Lack of security: With simple steps, anyone can take control of the toys through a mobile phone. This makes it possible to talk and listen through the toy without having physical access to the toy.This lack of security could easily have been prevented, for example by making physical access to the toy required, or by requiring the user to press a button when pairing their phone with the toy.
• Illegal user terms: Before using the toy, users must consent to the terms being changed without notice, that personal data can be used for targeted advertising, and that information may be shared with unnamed 3rd parties.This and other discoveries are, in the NCC’s opinion, in breach of the EU Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the EU Data Protection Directive, and possibly the Toy Safety Directive.
• Kids’ secrets are shared: Anything the child tells the doll is transferred to the U.S.-based company Nuance Communications, who specialize in speech recognition technologies. The company reserves the right to share this information with other third parties, and to use speech data for a wide variety of purposes.

• Kids are subject to hidden marketing: The toys are embedded with pre-programmed phrases, where they endorse different commercial products. For example, Cayla will happily talk about how much she loves different Disney movies. Meanwhile, the app-provider has a commercial relationship with Disney.


Did nobody in the process ever think about these topics, or did they hope it would just be ignored?
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Gender bias in hiring: interviewing as a trans woman in tech • Model View Culture

February Keeney is half-Puerto Rican, and now works at GitHub on its anti-harassment systems:


We know a lot about bias in hiring. Study after study confirms the very real phenomenon of bias against women, against people of color, against LGBT candidates. A fascinating phenomenon has shown up in some of the more recent studies: those who have very little explicit bias often have a lot of internalized implicit bias. That is to say, those who externally and consciously seem the least discriminatory, tend to be more likely to discriminate on a subconscious level.

My life has played out what many of these studies have simulated by replacing names on resumes, and other sleights of hand. The same exact candidate, in one instance presented as male and another as female, had not just slightly different results in the job search, but radically different results.

My career has become an A/B Test in gender. With the clear “winner” being male.

Being trans brings an entire new layer of bias and discrimination to play in every interview. In many circumstances I can avoid being read as trans. But almost never in a technical interview. Get me talking about tech and I will subconsciously drop voice. If the interviewer — almost always male — had suspicions about me prior to that, they have now been confirmed.

At this point a whole new set of factors come into play. Do they find me repulsive? Or worse, do they find me attractive? You can almost see the internalized homophobia in their eyes when this happens; that moment when they realize they are attracted to a trans woman. You see the fear in their eyes as they think “does this mean I am gay?”

I want to yell at them, “No! That is not how that works! It makes you straight! But even if it did make you gay: what’s wrong with that?”

Instead I sit there and hope they don’t sabotage me in their interview feedback. How often do these feelings translate into “not a good fit” or “she made me uncomfortable”?


Keeney is very interesting on this topic; equally good as the above is this interview with Techies Project. How galling would it be to be refused a job you know you’re qualified for because, basically, you wore lip gloss?

This is part of tech’s problem: it almost unconsciously enforces a strongly homogeneous culture.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: how GitHub killed trolls, Facebook’s news threat, wearables struggle, Moto mods, and more

Can you spot a fake charger? Your house might depend on it. Photo by kikuyumoja 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What GitHub did to kill its trolls • Fusion

Kristen Brown:


It was 2014 and the company was growing rapidly as a hub for programmers to collaborate on coding projects. But as its user base grew, so too did its problems. A GitHub developer, Julie Ann Horvath, left the company amid searing accusations of sexual and gender-based harassment, putting GitHub at the center of bad press for weeks and leading to the resignation of the company’s CEO.

To make matters worse, GitHub soon realized such problems weren’t limited to the office. Bullying and discrimination ran rampant on the site. There was systemic discrimination against women, with female coders often taken less seriously than their male peers. Petty disagreements devolved into flame wars in project comments. A bitter ex followed his former girlfriend from project to project, saying nasty things about her. And racist, sexist trolls sometimes co-opted features meant to enable collaboration to carry out vicious attacks, using, for example, a people-tagging feature to tag their targets on projects with racist names, transforming their portfolios into a slur of racist epithets.

Nicole Sanchez, the company’s VP of Social Impact, told that these are the “dangers and pitfalls of online life,” and not unique to GitHub, but GitHub wanted to try to prevent them.


What’s really notable about the way GitHub tackled this is that it had a diverse team (gender and colour) who knew just how these tools could be abused, and so were able to zero in on how to prevent it.
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Facebook’s walled wonderland is inherently incompatible with news • Monday Note

Frederic Filloux:


when he reiterated Facebook’s mission statement at the F8 conference last April, this is what Mark Zuckerberg had to say:


We stand for connecting every person. For a global community. For bringing people together. For giving all people a voice. For a free flow of ideas and culture across nations. (…) We’ve gone from a world of isolated communities to one global community, and we’re all better off for it.


Well. No. That is cool mental construct, but it simply is not true.

Facebook might have created a “global community” but its components are utterly segregated and fragmented.

Facebook is made up of dozens of millions of groups carefully designed to share the same views and opinions. Each group is protected against ideological infiltration from other cohorts.

Maintaining the integrity of these walls is the primary mission of Facebook’s algorithm.

We must face the fact that Facebook doesn’t care about news in the journalism sense. News represents about 10% of the average user newsfeed and news can be cut overnight if circumstances dictate with no significant impact for the platform. (Actually, someone with good inside knowledge of the social network told me that news will be removed from users’ feed should the European Union move against Facebook in the same way it attacks Google on editorial issues).

In that broad context, the fake news situation is just a part of Facebook’s system, a bad apple in a large basket.


The European angle is concerning; as is the last sentence in that extract, because Facebook can be confident it will be able to fill its ad inventory even – perhaps especially – if it gets rid of “news” sites, whether genuine or fake.

But what happens to the reach of news sites then?
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Mounds of Moto Mods: we’ll see at least 12 per year • CNET

Jessica Dolcourt:


Moto is investing big in Mods, those magnetic, snap-on accessories – such as a battery pack and external speaker – that enhance the Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play. In fact, Lenovo’s Moto execs told a small group of journalists this week, the company itself will commit to releasing at least 12 new Moto Mods a year.

Specifically, that works out to four Mods per quarter that Lenovo makes with partners like Mophie, Incipio and Kate Spade. Lenovo, which bought the Moto brand when it scooped up Motorola Mobility from Google, counts its year from April to April, so look for the number of Mods to ramp up starting next spring.

“Our goal is to get more Mods out this year than we did last year, no question,” said John Touvannas, Lenovo’s Moto Mods director.

In truth, we should see many more than 12 new mods for 2017 by the time next year is through. Lenovo will launch an Indiegogo campaign come January to drum up more developer involvement. Those who pitch the best ideas will get a Mods kit with the hardware and software needed to start making their own prototypes, plus help bringing those ideas to market…

…Here are a few more potential ideas, which may or may not become a reality:

E-reading concept and a mod that uses a front-facing speaker
LED lights to express your mood
Game controller
Measurement tool
Remote control
External storage
Alarm clock
Breathalyser mod
Baby care that measures humidity, temperature, etc.
Colour sensors for the blind.


Crowdfunded campaigns seem like the optimal way to make this successful, but I still don’t see a sizable public demand for modular phones. Battery packs and external speakers already exist, and you can connect them to the phone of your choice. Alarm clock? External storage? Game controller? All inbuilt. As for the breathalyser, that might have a bigger audience than the colour sensor for the blind – but it feels like Lenovo is just throwing out wild ideas in the hope something will work.

Modular can be more profitable, but it depends heavily on uptake. I remain sceptical.
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Fake Apple chargers fail safety tests • BBC News


Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test.

Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an “unknown entity”.

Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks.

It comes as Apple has complained of a “flood” of fakes being sold on Amazon. Apple revealed in October that it was suing a third-party vendor, which it said was putting customers “at risk” by selling power adapters masquerading as those sold by the Californian tech firm.

The Trading Standards tests were performed by safety specialists UL. They applied a high voltage to the chargers, which were bought online from eight different countries, including the US, China and Australia, to test for sufficient insulation.


What’s the betting, though, that all of the chargers were actually made in China?
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​Has voice control finally started speaking our language​? • The Guardian

Rhodri Marsden thinks that Alexa is the product that is making us comfortable with speech control, because it’s in the home, where we’re comfortable with talking aloud into the air:


Advances in speech recognition could be seen as the fulfilling of a science fiction dream that extends from Star Trek through 2001: A Space Odyssey to Knight Rider and beyond. Its history has been characterised by disappointment, but its key attributes are clear: it is hands-free and fast, devices don’t have to be unlocked and there are no menu structures to navigate. As more TVs and set-top boxes become speech savvy, the remote control will be consigned to history. As devices get smaller and lose their keyboards and screens, voice control will become crucial. And according to [associate director of Futuresource Consulting, Simon] Bryant, the knock-on effects are already being seen. “We’re expecting 6.1m units of Echo-like devices to be sold by the end of this year,” he says, “which takes a huge chunk out of the audio market. And it’s going to boost radio audiences, because people are going into rooms and just want something to be playing.”

Alexa’s ability to instantly switch on Heart FM falls well short of the kind of rich human-computer relationship that’s depicted in the Spike Jonze film Her, but while new apps like Hound are becoming more adept at having longer conversations and understanding context, there are limits to a computer’s ability to deal with conversational interaction, according to Mark Bishop, professor of cognitive computing at Goldsmiths University of London. “Action-focused commands like ‘tell me the weather in Seattle’ are much simpler things for a machine to parse and interact with than an open-ended narrative,” he says. “But there are fundamental problems in AI that, for me, mean that we’re some years away from having a machine that can have a meaningful, goal-directed conversation, if it’s ever possible at all.”


Marsden certainly has a good point with the idea of not needing a remote control. But then is it just about who can shout the loudest when different people want a channel?
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43,203 Indian patient pathology reports were left publicly exposed by Health Solutions • Troy Hunt


I’m used to seeing large amounts of personal data left inadvertently exposed to the web. Recently, the Red Cross Blood Service down here left a huge amount of data exposed (well, at least the company doing their tech things did). Shortly afterwards, the global recruitment company Michael Page also lost a heap (also due to a partner, Capgemini). Both cases were obviously extremely embarrassing for the companies involved and they did exactly what you’d expect them to do once they found out about it – they pulled the data offline as fast as humanly possible.

And this is how it generally goes with incidents like this; lots of embarrassment, lots of scrambling to fix then lots of apologising afterwards. Which makes the behaviour of Health Solutions in India all the more confounding. Here’s how it all unfolded.

On Wednesday, someone popped up on the Twitters and shared a link with me via DM which went to and returned this page:


See, it’s already bad. (That page has been removed. But this was amazing neglect.)
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Fitness trackers in the lead as wearables market grows 3.1% in the third quarter • IDC


While the smartwatch market took a tumble this quarter, the overall wearables market grew 3.1% year over year in the third quarter of 2016 (3Q16). Total wearables shipments reached 23m in the quarter, according to data from the International Data Corporation, (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker.

Basic wearables, primarily comprised of fitness bands, accounted for 85% of the market and experienced double-digit growth. Much of the increase was attributed to the launch of newer models, an expanding user base, and an enticing summer season that allowed people to step out of their homes. IDC expects the momentum for basic wearables to continue for the remainder of 2016 as the holiday season is now in full swing. However, smart wearables capable of running third party apps will likely continue to struggle in the near term.

“It’s still early days, but we’re already seeing a notable shift in the market,” said Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Where smartwatches were once expected to take the lead, basic wearables now reign supreme. Simplicity is a driving factor and this is well reflected in the top vendor list as four out of five offer a simple, dedicated fitness device. Meanwhile, from a design perspective, many devices are focusing on fashion first while allowing the technology to blend in with the background.”


Fitbit 5.3m units (up from 4.8m year ago); Xiaomi 3.8m (3.7m); Garmin 1.3m (1.2m); Apple 1.1m (3.9m); Samsung 1.0m (0.5m). “Others” rose from 8.3m to 10.4m, but IDC doesn’t distinguish whether those are smartwatches or trackers. I’m guessing the latter.

Samsung’s rise was helped by bundling with the Note 7, despite its recall. My guess is that only Fitbit, Apple and Garmin are making money in this game; Fitbit makes about $8.40 net income per device sold, which is respectable – it’s more than quite a few Android phone OEMs do on their phones (or, especially, their smartwatches).
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Multiple security vulnerabilities found in AirDroid, including ability to send malicious APKs to a user’s device • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:


Mobile security company Zimperium recently released details of several major security vulnerabilities in AirDroid, allowing attackers on the same network to access user information and even execute code on a user’s phone.

The security issues are mainly due to AirDroid [which has 50m-100m installs via Google Play] using the same HTTP request to authorize the device and send usage statistics. The request is encrypted, but uses a hardcoded key in the AirDroid application (so essentially, everyone using AirDroid has the same key). Attackers on the same network an intercept the authentication request (commonly known as a man-in-the-middle attack) using the key extracted from any AirDroid APK to retrieve private account information. This includes the email address and password associated with the AirDroid account.

But this gets even worse. Attackers using a transparent proxy can intercept the network request AirDroid sends to check for add-on updates, and inject any APK they want. AirDroid would then notify the user of an add-on update, then download the malicious APK and ask the user to accept the installation.

Zimperium notified AirDroid of these security flaws on May 24, and a few days later, AirDroid acknowledged the problem. Zimperium continued to follow up until AirDroid informed them of the upcoming 4.0 release, which was made available last month. Zimperium later discovered that version 4.0 still had all these same issues, and finally went public with the security vulnerabilities today.


AirDroid has responded with a post that seems to have been Google Translated from another language. It doesn’t really explain anything.
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Fake US embassy in Ghana shut down • Al Jazeera


Authorities in Ghana have busted a fake US embassy in the capital, Accra, run by a criminal network that for a decade issued illegally obtained authentic visas, the US State Department has said.

Until it was shut down this summer, the sham embassy was housed in a run-down, pink two-storey building with a corrugated iron roof and flew a US flag outside. Inside hung a portrait of President Barack Obama.

“It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law,” the State Department said in a statement released late on Friday.

Turkish citizens, who spoke English and Dutch, posed as consular officers and staffed the operation. Investigations also uncovered a fake Dutch embassy, the State Department said…

…The real US embassy in Ghana is a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, one of the capital’s most expensive neighbourhoods. Lines of people queue outside each day for visa appointments and other consular business.

The fake embassy was open three mornings a week and did not accept walk-in appointments. Instead, the criminals advertised on billboards in Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast and brought clients from across West Africa to Accra where they rented them rooms in nearby hotels.


Now that is chutzpah.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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. 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

Start Up: wearables crunch, Internet Archive moves, Nokia’s phoenix, Reddit’s internal war, and more

Google Home: future of computing, presence of computing, or dead end? Photo by

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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I got a Google Home and finally understand the future of computing • Medium

Owen Williams:


The beauty of the device is really in how it’s able to understand both context and the seemingly bizarre, however. If you say “OK Google, who’s that guy who plays God in lots of movies” it’ll say “Morgan Freeman.” From then, if you ask “what else is he known for” it’ll pick up that you’re still referring to Morgan Freeman, and tell you a bunch of stuff from his biography.

My favorite command is a simple one: “how’s my day looking?” Home spouts off the things in my calendar, the weather in Amsterdam, how long my cycle to the office will take and then jumps into a two-minute world news briefing. It’s simple, but actually really addictive.

Home really comes into its own if you buy a whole bunch of smart devices, too. I reluctantly picked up a set of Philips Hue smart light bulbs, and wired up my smart thermostat to the device with IFTTT. Now when it’s cold, I can just say “OK Google, turn up the heat” and it does adjusts up a few notches.

Even better, “OK Google, goodnight” turns off all the lights, stops the music, turns off the TV and lowers the heat automatically. If you have a few Chromecast devices it’s nifty too — then you can just say “Play Carly Rae Jepsen in the Living Room” and it works.


Here’s what I wonder about. These things Williams describes – they aren’t the *future* of computing. They’re computing that’s here right now, but very few people are actually interested in it. Got a thermostat and a seven-day timer? That’s your heating sorted right there. Got light switches? There you go.

A smartphone that connects to your thermostat? That makes sense – then you don’t even need to be at home to control it, but you can still let the seven-day timer do the heavy lifting.

And also – if I want to know who the guy is who has played God so much, I might find a person to discuss it with. not a computer. (And look later at the articles on wearables and see if this hype is like it.)
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Help us keep the Internet Archive free, accessible, and reader private • Internet Archive Blogs

Brewser Kahle:


this year, we have set a new goal: to create a copy of Internet Archive’s digital collections in another country. We are building the Internet Archive of Canada because, to quote our friends at LOCKSS, “lots of copies keep stuff safe.” This project will cost millions. So this is the one time of the year I will ask you: please make a tax-deductible donation to help make sure the Internet Archive lasts forever.

On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change.

For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions.

It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase.

Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy—where people have been rounded up simply for what they read. At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world.

We can do this because we are independent, thanks to broad support from many of you. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library built on trust. Our mission: to give everyone access to all knowledge, forever. For free. The Internet Archive has only 150 staff but runs one of the top-250 websites in the world. Reader privacy is very important to us, so we don’t accept ads that track your behavior. We don’t even collect your IP address. But we still need to pay for the increasing costs of servers, staff and rent.


Also connected: Kahle has twice fended off National Security Letters, the secret orders from the FBI. I’ve donated. If you like The Overspill, I’d be delighted if you made a donation too.
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What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’ • The Guardian

Matt Lees:


The young men converted via 2014’s Gamergate, are being more widely courted now. By leveraging distrust and resentment towards women, minorities and progressives, many of Gamergate’s most prominent voices – characters like Mike Cernovich, Adam Baldwin, and Milo Yiannopoulos – drew power and influence from its chaos. These figures gave Gamergate a new sense of direction – generalising the rhetoric: this was now a wider war between “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) and everyday, normal, decent people. Games were simply the tip of the iceberg – progressive values, went the argument, were destroying everything. The same voices moved into other geek communities, especially comics, where Marvel and DC were criticised for progressive storylines and decisions. They moved into science fiction with the controversy over the Hugo awards. They moved into cinema with the revolting kickback against the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. Despite colonising the world with pointless tech and plastering modern film and TV with fan-pleasing adaptations of niche comic books, nerds still had a taste for revenge. They saw the culture they considered theirs being ripped away from them. In their zero sum mindset, they read growing artistic equality as a threat.


This is a must-read article: Lees lived through it (as, to a far lesser extent, I did), and the points he makes are all valid. The wider concern is the one which keeps coming up: how do you get people to show more empathy? The suspicion – my suspicion – is that for some men, it simply isn’t possible. That’s concerning.
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Fitbit to buy Pebble • The Information

Reed Albergotti and Jessica Lessin:


Fitbit, the leader in the fitness band market, is near a deal to acquire smartwatch maker Pebble, according to three people briefed on the deal.

The price couldn’t be learned but it is thought to be for a small amount. Pebble had been looking to sell, one of the people said. There have been signs over the past year or so that Pebble was facing financial challenges. Earlier this year it reportedly laid off about a quarter of its workforce.

The expected sale of Pebble to Fitbit signals a consolidation in the wearables market.

The Pebble brand will be phased out after the deal. What Fitbit will get is Pebble’s intellectual property, such as  its operating system, one of the people said.


Related, by Dan Seifert at The Verge:


Lenovo Moto is not releasing another smartwatch for Android 2.0 next year: the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time,” though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. “Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year” [head of global product development Shakil] Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto’s annual device roadmap.


After GoPro laying off, it looks like the wearables market is consolidating fast. Android Wear is in trouble, I think.
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Nokia’s phone brand lives again • Counterpoint Technology

Neil Shah:


featurephones will sell more than 350m units this year globally, and close to 300m units next year – close to US$6bn in revenue opportunity.

Currently, Nokia-branded featurephone business [being sold by Microsoft] has close to 11% share of this market, from a peak of 34% before Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s devices business.

To get back to 25% level would be the mid-term goal for HMD which is in turn around a billion dollar in revenues.

The featurephone business will bring in cash flow to launch an “Android” based smartphone portfolio in 2017.

Close partnership with the number one mobile phone manufacturer in the world, Foxconn (FIH), brings greater scale, manufacturing advantage from start and will be pivotal to smartphone portfolio resurrection.


Just for context – more than a billion smartphones will be sold this year, at prices on average much higher than for featurephones ($20 average selling price). Would love to know the profit margin.
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Strange numbers found in particle collisions • Quanta Magazine

Kevin Hartnett:


Over the last decade physicists and mathematicians have been exploring a surprising correspondence that has the potential to breathe new life into the venerable Feynman diagram and generate far-reaching insights in both fields. It has to do with the strange fact that the values calculated from Feynman diagrams seem to exactly match some of the most important numbers that crop up in a branch of mathematics known as algebraic geometry. These values are called “periods of motives,” and there’s no obvious reason why the same numbers should appear in both settings. Indeed, it’s as strange as it would be if every time you measured a cup of rice, you observed that the number of grains was prime.

“There is a connection from nature to algebraic geometry and periods, and with hindsight, it’s not a coincidence,” said Dirk Kreimer, a physicist at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Now mathematicians and physicists are working together to unravel the coincidence. For mathematicians, physics has called to their attention a special class of numbers that they’d like to understand: Is there a hidden structure to these periods that occur in physics? What special properties might this class of numbers have? For physicists, the reward of that kind of mathematical understanding would be a new degree of foresight when it comes to anticipating how events will play out in the messy quantum world.


Long. You will be (a lot) wiser about Feynman diagrams and the rest by the end though.
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World chess has a big problem • Bloomberg

Carol Matlack:


Modern chess has much going for it: millions of fans and players around the world, charismatic young stars, and a game uniquely suited for the internet age. It also has a substantial problem. The World Chess Federation, the game’s official governing body and awarder of “grandmaster” status, keeps doing business with some of the world’s worst regimes. Known by its French acronym FIDE (“fee-day”), the organization is in the firm grip of its eccentric president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a 54-year-old Russian businessman and ex-politician. He has flaunted his relationships with Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi, having played chess under a tent with the Libyan leader a few weeks before Qaddafi’s death. His ties to Vladimir Putin have raised suspicion that he secretly works for the Kremlin—an idea he dismisses as ludicrous. Ilyumzhinov also claims to have been abducted by aliens in 1997 and says extraterrestrials introduced chess to humans more than 2,000 years ago.

The United States sanctioned Ilyumzhinov a year ago for allegedly doing business deals to aid the Assad regime in Syria. Ilyumzhinov denies this, but sanctions mean he can’t visit the U.S. or do business with American citizens or corporations. In an attempt to limit the damage to chess, Deputy President Georgios Makropolous took over routine operations. Organization of the world championship was left to Agon.

It didn’t help. The New York tournament, which hoped to attract luxury retailers and financial firms as sponsors, wound up with an odd quartet: a Russian fertilizer company, a Moscow-based asset-management firm, a Norwegian bottled-water company that sponsors Carlsen, and S.T. Dupont, whose stylish pens are being used by the two players to make notes. “People are afraid,” Makropoulos said.


Sort of related: the final deciding game in the World Chess Championship which ended this week, won by Magnus Carlsen with a queen sacrifice that could have come from the days of Petrosian. Here it is, as a GIF.
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Reddit is fighting the same kind of war that Twitter is • Fortune

Mathew Ingram:


Twitter has fiddled with the mute function to make it easier for those who have been harassed to ignore their abusers, but many argue that this is too little and too late. Reddit has tried to empower moderators, but some say those moves are also insufficient to solve the problem.

The company said it is stepping up its efforts by taking action against some of its “most toxic users,” ranging from warnings and time-out periods to permanent bans. Huffman said the site will also continue to “take privileges from communities whose users continually cross the line.”

The challenges facing both Twitter and Reddit have become even more acute as both companies have come under increased financial pressure. Twitter is trying hard to justify its $13bn market value, while Reddit is trying to justify the $50m in funding it raised in 2014, which gave the company a theoretical value of about $500m…

…The risk for both companies — Reddit and Twitter — is that by cracking down on abuse, they also squeeze the life out of their services, and thus wind up with fewer users and less engagement, making it even more difficult to reach their financial goals. And yet, not taking action isn’t really an option either.


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The US government is using a no-fly zone to suppress journalism at Standing Rock • Motherboard

Jason Koebler:


In recent weeks, videos shot by Native American drone pilots have shown percussion grenades launched from an armored vehicle deep into a crowd of people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. They have shown people being knocked backward with a constant barrage of water being shot from fire hoses. They’ve shown a line of body armor-clad cops aiming guns at unarmed water protectors holding their hands high above their heads. Another video, shot at night, shows that construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline continues under the cover of darkness.

In recent weeks, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters have been tear gassed, sprayed with water cannons in freezing temperatures, and shot with rubber bullets by a police force using military-style vehicles and violent riot suppression tactics. Every suppression apparatus the government has at its disposal has been used—even the National Guard has been called in.

These drone-shot videos have been invaluable in recording these abuses. And yet those, too, have been targeted by the government. The Federal Aviation Administration has set up a Temporary Flight Restriction over a four-mile radius surrounding the Standing Rock protests. The TFR applies only to civilians; law enforcement helicopters and aircraft buzz over protesters with impunity.


Are drones for filming protected by the US’s First Amendment? Experts contacted by Motherboard thought so. Might come to a lawsuit.
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The farce of the deal, Carrier edition • Bloomberg Gadfly

Brooke Sutherland on the excitement over Trump (with the help of Mike Pence, and more particularly the state of Indiana and some juicy tax breaks) getting Carrier to retain 1,000 jobs in Indiana:


what about the many other manufacturing companies that have moved or are planning to move jobs offshore? They don’t all share the same broad trigger points.

Consider Rexnord Corp., for example. The maker of industrial machinery parts and drainage equipment officially decided this month, after the election, to close an Indianapolis factory and move the work to Mexico, eliminating about 300 jobs. But Rexnord doesn’t have as significant of exposure to military contracts that Trump can exploit. It had about $175m of earnings stashed abroad as of March 31, roughly 36% of its total cash holdings at the time. That’s not insignificant, but perhaps not enough to persuade the company to give up on the initial $15.5m in savings it’s reportedly expected to reap.

United Technologies CEO Hayes wasn’t bluffing about the uphill battle industrial companies face on labor costs. After years of moves to cheaper places, manufacturers that decide against relocations and plant closings may find themselves at a disadvantage, tax breaks or not. Many shutdowns and job cuts also aren’t about greed and boosting the share price, but rather are in response to weak demand or the extra capacity created by mergers. That’s the free market at work, and those aren’t the kinds of trends you can stop with a few extra tax breaks.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: GoPro diverts, Samsung’s cash pile, SF Muni hacker hacked, 1m Androids infected, and more

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link. Stay alert.

A selection of 11 links for you. It’s not your fault. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s no Christmas No 1, but AI-generated song brings festive cheer to researchers • The Guardian

Ian Sample:


It will not, if there is any certainty left in the world, top the charts this Christmas. But what it lacks in party hit potential, it more than makes up for with its unique, if vaguely unsettling, brand of festive cheer.

To be fair, humans had very little hand in penning the song. Instead, scientists fed a Christmassy photograph into a computer and let it do its thing. A program analysed the image, whipped up some relevant lyrics, and then sang them to music it had composed along the way.

Known to its creators as “neural karaoke”, the project from the University of Toronto can take any digital photo and transform it into a computer-generated singalong. It is a whimsical demonstration of what artificial intelligence (AI) might do for us beyond the familiar: giving voice to chatbots, wiping billions off the stock market, and ultimately destroying the human race.

“We are used to thinking about AI for robotics and things like that. The question now is what can AI do for us?” said Raquel Urtasun, an associate professor in machine learning and computer vision at Toronto’s computer science lab. “You can imagine having an AI channel on Pandora or Spotify that generates music, or takes people’s pictures and sings about them,” adds her colleague, Sanja Fidler. “It’s about what can deep learning do these days to make life more fun?”


And there’s also the song penned by a system trained on the Beatles’ work (above). It’s way, way better. Scarily better. Not quite unemployed musician better, but background music composer better? Getting there.
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Solid holiday demand in the US for GoPro HERO5 • PR Newswire

Here’s GoPro’s announcement. See if you can spot the hidden actual news (I’ve cut off the first three paragraphs, which talk about how well the HERO5 has sold compared to last year):


“We have a lot of work to do to finish the quarter and our fiscal year, however our HERO5 cameras have been very well-received by critics and consumers alike,” said Nicholas Woodman, Founder & CEO of GoPro. “Both HERO5 cameras can now auto-offload new content to the cloud and our Quik mobile app makes accessing and editing your footage fun. Its clear consumers are excited about these new features.”

GoPro also announced a company-wide restructuring that will reduce full-year 2017 non-GAAP operating expenses to approximately $650m (GAAP: $735m) and achieve its goal of returning to non-GAAP profitability in 2017. The restructuring includes the closure of its entertainment division, facilities reductions, and the elimination of more than 200 full-time positions plus the cancelation of open positions for a reduction in force of approximately 15%.

Additionally, Tony Bates will depart his position as president of the Company at the end of the year. 


That’s a lot of jobs going. And closure of the “entertainment division”, with which it had wanted to get beyond simple device sales and into original shows. Reality bites, and GoPro is getting bitten by saturation in its initial market. (Every news organisation led on the staff cuts and closure.)
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Samsung, you don’t need $60bn • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan on Samsung’s reaction to activist shareholder Elliott Management:


In a statement Tuesday, the company said that its business objectives:”…require maintaining a net cash balance of 65 to 70 trillion Korean won, based on historical and expected capital expenditures, working capital requirements, M&As and other financing needs.”That’s $56 billion to $60 billion. Seriously, is the Lee family spiriting it away for a rainy day, when they suddenly need to crack open the piggy bank to buy umbrellas and tarpaulin? Exploding phones and self-destructing washing machines are about as close as the company will ever get to the urgent need for a large wad of Ben Franklins, and even those disasters won’t set them back that much.

In its response to Elliott Management Corp.’s call last month for widespread changes, Samsung made the bold claim that its cash haul allowed it “to seize compelling opportunities, withstand challenges and pursue strategic goals throughout all economic cycles.”…

…The company is under-leveraged, with 93.7% of its capital coming from equity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. What it has done with that cash is very little. Samsung has spent an average of just 24trn won a year over the past five years on fixed and intangible assets – mostly factories and equipment – well below the average 37trn won in cash it gets from operations. Its biggest acquisition to date is the $8bn it plans to fork out for Harman International Industries Inc., announced after Elliott’s pitch.

Instead, Samsung has allowed its cash pile to grow fourfold over the past five years, despite boosting capital expenditure to fight wars on multiple fronts, including against Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Apple Inc., Foxconn Technology Group and LG Display Co.It’s true that sales are slowing and operating cash flow will moderate accordingly. But on the flip side, the arms race in chips and displays is losing pace and the next battle will be around production quality rather than capacity.


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Interview: Steve Milunovich of UBS on the future of Apple • Business Insider

Jim Edwards interviewed the UBS analyst who often asks the sharpest questions in the earnings calls:


Steven Milunovich: I don’t believe that Apple thinks in a “jobs to be done” way. Tell them that and I think you’ll get a lot of blank looks. I don’t think they necessarily adhere to the theory per se. I think it is what they do internally. They ask themselves, “What is it I don’t like about my phone?”

I remember when Steve Jobs brought out the original iPhone. He talked a lot about the drawbacks of the current phone, and we’d like it to do this, that, and the other. Apple solved those problems, and it turned out to be an innovative job to be done.

I think Apple does indirectly think in this way. They come out with new products, and eventually come out with new jobs to be done. They often have to innovate the technology in order to finish the job.

Jim Edwards: Reading your note, you gave me the impression that you were worrying that Apple right now has not identified a new “job to be done”.

Steve: Yes, my concern is with what Alex Danco talks about with alignment on the supply-and-demand side. So my concern is actually a little less on the “job to be done” side. We don’t know if Apple has figured out what the next jobs to be done are. But my sense in talking to them is they’ve at least identified the places they want to innovate — home automation; healthcare; and they don’t talk about it but I guess automotive; AR and VR which they do talk about, particularly augmented reality.

So I think they’ve identified the places they can make a difference and disrupt. It’s also dependent on the technology.


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San Francisco rail system hacker is himself hacked • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs was contacted by someone who accessed the SF Muni hacker’s email by guessing his secret answer (impressive trick in its own right):


One hundred Bitcoins [the ransom demanded for the SF Muni ransomware attack] may seem like a lot, but it’s apparently not far from a usual payday for this attacker. On Nov. 20, hacked emails show that he successfully extorted 63 bitcoins (~$45,000) from a U.S.-based manufacturing firm.

A review of more than a dozen Bitcoin wallets this criminal has used since August indicates that he has successfully extorted at least $140,000 in Bitcoin from victim organizations.
The attacker appears to be in the habit of switching Bitcoin wallets randomly every few days or weeks. “For security reasons” he explained to some victims who took several days to decide whether to pay the ransom they’d been demanded. A review of more than a dozen Bitcoin wallets this criminal has used since August indicates that he has successfully extorted at least $140,000 in Bitcoin from victim organizations.

That is almost certainly a conservative estimate of his overall earnings these past few months: My source said he was unable to hack another Yandex inbox used by this attacker between August and October 2016, “,” and that this email address is tied to many search results for tech help forum postings from people victimized by a strain of ransomware known as Mamba and HDD Cryptor.

Copies of messages shared with this author answer many questions raised by news media coverage of this attack, such as whether the SFMTA was targeted. In short: No. Here’s why.

Messages sent to the attacker’s account show a financial relationship with at least two different hosting providers. The credentials needed to manage one of those servers were also included in the attacker’s inbox in plain text, and my source shared multiple files from that server.


Data points to the hacker being in Iran, despite a Russian phone number and email address.
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Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy • The Guardian

Moira Weigel:


In 1970, the African-American author and activist Toni Cade Bambara used the phrase in an essay about strains on gender relations within her community. No matter how “politically correct” her male friends thought they were being, she wrote, many of them were failing to recognise the plight of black women.

Until the late 1980s, “political correctness” was used exclusively within the left, and almost always ironically as a critique of excessive orthodoxy. In fact, some of the first people to organise against “political correctness” were a group of feminists who called themselves the Lesbian Sex Mafia. In 1982, they held a “Speakout on Politically Incorrect Sex” at a theatre in New York’s East Village – a rally against fellow feminists who had condemned pornography and BDSM. Over 400 women attended, many of them wearing leather and collars, brandishing nipple clamps and dildos. The writer and activist Mirtha Quintanales summed up the mood when she told the audience, “We need to have dialogues about S&M issues, not about what is ‘politically correct, politically incorrect’.”

By the end of the 1980s, Jeff Chang, the journalist and hip-hop critic, who has written extensively on race and social justice, recalls that the activists he knew then in the Bay Area used the phrase “in a jokey way – a way for one sectarian to dismiss another sectarian’s line”.

But soon enough, the term was rebranded by the right, who turned its meaning inside out. All of a sudden, instead of being a phrase that leftists used to check dogmatic tendencies within their movement, “political correctness” became a talking point for neoconservatives. They said that PC constituted a leftwing political programme that was seizing control of American universities and cultural institutions – and they were determined to stop it…

…By making fun of professors who spoke in language that most people considered incomprehensible (“The Lesbian Phallus”), wealthy Ivy League graduates could pose as anti-elite. By mocking courses on writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, they made a racial appeal to white people who felt as if they were losing their country. As the 1990s wore on, because multiculturalism was associated with globalisation – the force that was taking away so many jobs traditionally held by white working-class people – attacking it allowed conservatives to displace responsibility for the hardship that many of their constituents were facing. It was not the slashing of social services, lowered taxes, union busting or outsourcing that was the cause of their problems. It was those foreign “others”.


As Weigel points out, the hypocrisy of continually yelling for years that you’re being silenced goes unremarked.
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More than 1 million Google accounts breached by Gooligan malware • Check Point Technologies



The infection begins when a user downloads and installs a Gooligan-infected app on a vulnerable Android device. Our research team has found infected apps on third-party app stores, but they could also be downloaded by Android users directly by tapping malicious links in phishing attack messages.

After an infected app is installed, it sends data about the device to the campaign’s Command and Control (C&C) server.

Gooligan then downloads a rootkit from the C&C server that takes advantage of multiple Android 4 and 5 exploits including the well-known VROOT (CVE-2013-6282) and Towelroot (CVE-2014-3153). These exploits still plague many devices today because security patches that fix them may not be available for some versions of Android, or the patches were never installed by the user. If rooting is successful, the attacker has full control of the device and can execute privileged commands remotely.

After achieving root access, Gooligan downloads a new, malicious module from the C&C server and installs it on the infected device. This module injects code into running Google Play or GMS (Google Mobile Services) to mimic user behavior so Gooligan can avoid detection, a technique first seen with the mobile malware HummingBad. The module allows Gooligan to:

• Steal a user’s Google email account and authentication token information
• Install apps from Google Play and rate them to raise their reputation
• Install adware to generate revenue

Ad servers, which don’t know whether an app using its service is malicious or not, send Gooligan the names of the apps to download from Google Play. After an app is installed, the ad service pays the attacker. Then the malware leaves a positive review and a high rating on Google Play using content it receives from the C&C server.


Affects Android 4 and 5, which covers 74% of users. Most of those affected are in Asia, but about 190,000 in the US, where Google Play is easily available. Remember the thing I said the other day about Android vulnerabilities being theoretical, until they aren’t? This is that.
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Amazon plans premium Alexa speaker with large screen • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

» Inc. is developing a premium Echo-like speaker with a screen, a sign the world’s largest online retailer is trying to capitalize on the surprise success of its voice-controlled home gadgets and fend off competition from Google and Apple Inc.

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced.

The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said.


After Jan Dawson’s points yesterday about the lack of visual feedback for the Alexa, guess what! Interesting that it’s Gurman, who has been famed for his Apple scoops, getting this story. It feels like one which either comes from supply chain sources, or from Amazon itself. Some of the detail in the story (“Amazon is also testing a feature that allows users to pin items such as photos on their speaker’s screen”) leans just a little towards the latter.
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How the BBC England data unit scraped airport noise complaints • Online Journalism Blog

Daniel Wainwright:


I’d wondered for a while why no-one who had talked about scraping at conferences had actually demonstrated the procedure. It seemed to me to be one of the most sought-after skills for any investigative journalist.

Then I tried to do so myself in an impromptu session at the first Data Journalism Conference in Birmingham (#DJUK16) and found out why: it’s not as easy as it’s supposed to look.

To anyone new to data journalism, a scraper is as close to magic as you get with a spreadsheet and no wand.

Numbers and text on page after page after page after page just effortlessly start to appear neatly in a spreadsheet you can sort, filter and interrogate.

You can even leave the scraper running while you ring a contact or just make a cup of tea.

Scraping Heathrow noise complaints

I used a fairly rudimentary scraper to gather three years’ worth of noise complaint data from the Heathrow Airport website. With the third runway very much on the news agenda that week I wanted to quickly get an idea of how much of an issue noise already was.

The result was this story, which was widely picked up by other outlets.

But how did I do it?


With Google sheets. To anyone who codes, his method will look really shonky, but it worked well enough. This is how data journalism needs to work: if you can really code, you’d sort it quickly, but journalists need to be able to roll their own rather than having to hassle coders to do it for them.
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The colossal African solar farm that could power Europe • BBC Europe

Sandrine Ceurstemont:


Hundreds of curved mirrors, each as big as a bus, are ranked in rows covering 1,400,000 sq m (15m sq ft) of desert, an area the size of 200 football fields. The massive complex sits on a sun-blasted site at the foot of the High Atlas mountains, 10km (6 miles) from Ouarzazate – a city nicknamed the door to the desert. With around 330 days of sunshine a year, it’s an ideal location.

As well as meeting domestic needs, Morocco hopes one day to export solar energy to Europe. This is a plant that could help define Africa’s – and the world’s – energy future.

Of course, on the day I visit the sky is covered in clouds. “No electricity will be produced today,“ says Rachid Bayed at the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), which is responsible for implementing the flagship project.

An occasional off day is not a concern, however. After many years of false starts, solar power is coming of age as countries in the sun finally embrace their most abundant source of clean energy. The Moroccan site is one of several across Africa and similar plants are being built in the Middle East – in Jordan, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The falling cost of solar power has made it a viable alternative to oil even in the most oil-rich parts of the world.

As well as meeting domestic needs, Morocco hopes one day to export solar energy to Europe.

Noor 1, the first phase of the Moroccan plant, has already surpassed expectations in terms of the amount of energy it has produced. It is an encouraging result in line with Morocco’s goal to reduce its fossil fuel bill by focusing on renewables while still meeting growing energy needs that are increasing by about 7% per year. Morocco’s stable government and economy has helped it secure funding: the European Union contributed 60% of the cost for the Ouarzazate project, for example.


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Peak Google, revisited • Naofumi Kagami

Kagami takes a stab at predicting when we might see Google’s revenue stop its dramatic growth, based on (1) ad spend is a pretty constant percentage of US GDP (2) Google’s revenues principally come from and grow with US GDP, not developing nations (3) the assumption that Google won’t find anything to add substantially to its ad-driven top line:


1. Since the size of total media ad spending is constant as a percentage of GDP, this is the hard ceiling of advertising growth in the US.

2. Digital ad spending is rapidly approaching this ceiling. With already close to 40% of total ad spending, there is less and less room left for digital to grow.

3. Google has close to half of total digital ad spending. Of the remainder, it is likely that Facebook is taking half of this. Google has little space to grow by increasing its share within the total digital ad market. In fact, it is more likely that Facebook will eat into Google’s ad market share. Note that one estimate suggests that Google & Facebook own 85% of the US the digital ad market.

4. Since Google’s ad revenue growth has largely been independent of developing countries, it is reasonable to assume that this will continue for the mid-term.

In simple terms, there is no longer room in the advertising industry for both Google and Facebook. Since Facebook has more momentum, it is likely that we will see Google being increasingly squeezed. Although the total digital ad spending will likely still see mid double digit growth, Facebook will take the majority of this growth and Google will probably drop to single digit growth before 2020.


Which would be in the next three years.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified