Start Up: tech survivalists, predicting product success, Facebook v China, forecasting Apple, and more


Got a Fitbit for Christmas? You’re one of a smaller number than the company expected. Photo by janitors 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.

The Bad Product Fallacy: Don’t confuse “I don’t like it” with “That’s a bad product and it’ll fail” • andrewchen

The aforementioned Chen:

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In the end, we all love to use our own personal judgement to quickly say yes or no to products. But the Bad Product Fallacy says our own opinions are terrible predictors of success, because tech is changing so quickly.

So instead, I leave you with a couple questions to ask when you are looking at a new product:

• If it looks like a toy, what happens if it’s successful with its initial audience and then starts to add a lot more features?
• If it looks like a luxury, what happens if it becomes much cheaper? Or much better, at the same price?
• If it’s a marketplace that doesn’t sell anything you’d buy, what happens when it starts stocking products and services you find valauble?
• If none of your friends use a social product, what happens when they win a niche and ultimately all your friends are using it too?

It’s hard to ask these questions, since they mostly imply nonlinear trajectories in product innovation. However, technology rarely progresses in a straight line – they grow exponentially, whether in utility, price/performance, or in network effect.

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link to this extract


Doomsday prep for the super-rich • The New Yorker

Evan Osnos on the rich techies who are getting ready for the apocalypse, just, y’know, in case:

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How did a preoccupation with the apocalypse come to flourish in Silicon Valley, a place known, to the point of cliché, for unstinting confidence in its ability to change the world for the better?

Those impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures, Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm, told me. “When you do that, it’s pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias,” he said. It can inspire radical optimism—such as the cryonics movement, which calls for freezing bodies at death in the hope that science will one day revive them—or bleak scenarios. Tim Chang, the venture capitalist who keeps his bags packed, told me, “My current state of mind is oscillating between optimism and sheer terror.”

In recent years, survivalism has been edging deeper into mainstream culture. In 2012, National Geographic Channel launched “Doomsday Preppers,” a reality show featuring a series of Americans bracing for what they called S.H.T.F. (when the “shit hits the fan”). The première drew more than four million viewers, and, by the end of the first season, it was the most popular show in the channel’s history. A survey commissioned by National Geographic found that forty% of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”).

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Apparently New Zealand is the place to be.
link to this extract


Facebook is trying everything to re-enter China—and it’s not working • WSJ

Alyssa Abkowitz, Deepa Seetharaman and Eva Dou:

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Facebook’s chances of getting back into China appeared to take a rare turn for the better when an employee noticed an official posting online: Beijing authorities had granted it a license to open a representative office in two office-tower suites in the capital.

Such permits typically give Western firms an initial China beachhead. This one, which Facebook won in late 2015, could have been a sign Beijing was ready to give the company another chance to connect with China’s roughly 700 million internet users, reopening the market as the social-media giant’s U.S.-growth prospects dimmed.

There was a catch. Facebook’s license was for three months, unusually short. Facebook executives found the limitation unexpected and frustrating, people familiar with the episode said.

Facebook never opened the office. The official posting disappeared and now exists as a ghost in cached versions of the government website. “We did, at one point in time, plan to have an office,” said Facebook spokeswoman Charlene Chian, “but we don’t today.”…

…After Google’s departure and declarations about human rights, government officials publicly called Google “unfriendly” and “irresponsible.” Within Facebook, said people familiar with the company, the view is Chinese leaders remain wary that, were they to grant Facebook access, the company might leave after deciding it can’t tolerate censorship after all—that Facebook, said one, might “pull a Google.”

While Facebook can’t be a social network in China just now, its top executives continue to urge Chinese companies to use it as an advertising platform.

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Still can’t crack it.

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The data that turned the world upside down • Motherboard

Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus:

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Remarkably reliable deductions could be drawn from simple online actions. For example, men who “liked” the cosmetics brand MAC were slightly more likely to be gay; one of the best indicators for heterosexuality was “liking” Wu-Tang Clan. Followers of Lady Gaga were most probably extroverts, while those who “liked” philosophy tended to be introverts. While each piece of such information is too weak to produce a reliable prediction, when tens, hundreds, or thousands of individual data points are combined, the resulting predictions become really accurate.

Kosinski and his team tirelessly refined their models. In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95% accuracy), their sexual orientation (88% accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced.

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From there, it goes on to a company called Cambridge Analytica which did work for Ted Cruz, and Vote Leave, and Donald Trump. Long; involved; scary, in part because the US is so loose with data that anything can be known about anyone.
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Trump wants to downplay global warming. Louisiana won’t let him • Bloomberg

Christopher Flavelle:

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On a recent morning in Baton Rouge, a thousand miles from where Senate Democrats were jousting with Donald Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about whether humans are warming the planet, the future of U.S. climate policy was being crafted in a small room in the east wing of the Louisiana Capitol. The state’s 7,700-mile shoreline is disappearing at the fastest rate in the country. Officials had gathered to consider a method of deciding which communities to save—and which to abandon to the Gulf of Mexico.

Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), was presenting his team’s updated Coastal Master Plan. Five years in the making and comprising 6,000 pages of text and appendices, the document details $50 billion in investments over five decades in ridges, barrier islands, and marsh creation. Tucked into the plan was a number whose significance surpasses all others: 14 feet, the height beyond which Haase’s agency has concluded homes couldn’t feasibly be elevated.

In areas where a so-called 100-year flood is expected to produce between 3 feet and 14 feet of water, the plan recommends paying for homes to be raised and communities preserved. In places where flood depths are expected to exceed that height, residents would be offered money to leave.

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Physics is so relentlessly indifferent to your petty dogma.
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There are too many ways to Google on Android • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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After agitating to get Google to bring its best apps from iOS to Android, I was gratified to see last month that Gboard, Google’s excellent iPhone keyboard, made the jump. Then I used it on my Pixel and discovered that it’s inferior to the iOS version. Google, on its own phone, built a bad Google experience.

Which got me to thinking and made me realize something: the Google experience on Google’s phone is confusing and often bad. Back when I reviewed the Pixel, I noted that there are four different ways to do a basic Google search on it — all of which have slightly different behaviors. But I undercounted! Now, with Gboard, there are at least seven different ways to do a broad Google search on the Pixel. And that doesn’t count other searches — like Maps or Email or YouTube — that are also technically using Google’s search engine.

So I documented all these different ways of searching Google on Android, to point out their various foibles. The TL;DR is this: there are a lot of ways to search Google on Android but they all give you slightly different results, which means the whole thing can make you feel a little lost.

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It’s a neat observation, and possibly indicative of a problem within Google – what Benedict Evans calls “shipping the org chart”, i.e. including stuff because manager in a position to insist their stuff is included say it should be, and nobody ever overrules them.
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Apple 1Q17 Expectations • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart on Apple’s first financial quarter (which runs from October to the end of December):

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There will be a few numbers holding extra importance when Apple reports 1Q17 results on Tuesday.

iPhone ASP. There has been a notable amount of evidence from the past three months pointing to the iPhone 7 Plus selling well. This has major implications for Apple’s iPhone strategy going forward as a strong-performing iPhone 7 Plus suggests there is demand for higher-priced iPhones driven by feature differentiation. In addition, Apple’s new iPhone storage configurations likely boosted iPhone ASP. Given that the $399 iPhone SE was not on sale during 1Q16, an iPhone ASP close to or exceeding the $691 reported in 1Q16 would confirm iPhone 7 Plus popularity. 

Other Products revenue. Apple will likely report record Apple Watch sales. Similar to previous quarters, Watch results are expected to be lumped in with “Other Products” revenue. The major difference with 1Q17 results is that AirPods revenue will now be included in “Other Products” given the December 2016 launch. This will make it a bit trickier to back out Apple Watch revenue. Accordingly, one should expect a wider variation in Apple Watch sales estimates. In addition, the “Other Products” line item contains revenue from Beats headphones, a good seller during the holiday quarter. Taking into account AirPods and Beats revenue, “Other Products” revenue exceeding $4.5B will bode extremely well for strong Apple Watch sales (5M+ units). 

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There’s more, but those are the top two lines. He also thinks iPads have turned the corner – the worst is over in terms of sales dips, and that revenue could return to growth as pricier models become popular.

Wonder how much bigger it could have been if AirPods had come through in sufficient numbers before Christmas.
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Fitbit to cut jobs after weak Q4 • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

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Fitbit is to cut between 5% and 10% of its employees, the company will announce on Monday, while disclosing that its fourth-quarter results were below expectations. The disclosures are the latest sign of a slowdown in the wearables market, according to two people briefed on the news.

About 1,600 people work at Fitbit so the job cuts affect between 80 and 160 people, across multiple departments. Fitbit is also undertaking a reorganization which, along with the job cuts, will reduce costs by about $200m. The company’s board voted on the job cuts on Wednesday, one of these people said.

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Fitbit confirmed the numbers after the story was published: expected revenue for Q4 at $572m-$580m, well below its previous forecast of $725m-$750m. (That’s about 25% down.) Cutting 110 staff. Sales particularly poor in Asia – where it probably has more competition from cheap Chinese products. Fitbit shares fell to leave it valued at $1.2bn – below GoPro (which has often looked troubled) at $1.5bn. So people see some future value in it, but how much?

Separately, The Information also reported that Jawbone was a week late paying staff. That’s a sign of a company under severe financial stress. (It couldn’t make a $1m payment last August.) Expect a firesale or closure by the middle of the year.
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Ransomware infects electronic door locking system at Austrian hotel • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:

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Fire code regulations all over the globe mandate that electronic key locks to open manually from the inside, which means no guest was locked inside their rooms.

Additionally, electronic key systems are also created to handle power failures, so there was a way to open the doors from the outside, meaning no one was locked out either.

According to Austrian news site ORF, the hotel was fully-booked with 180 guests. According to hospitality news site Allgemeine Hotel- und Gastronomie-Zeitung, at the time the ransomware took root, all the hotel’s guests were on the local ski slopes.

The hotel’s management, opted to pay the ransom, which was 2 Bitcoin, around €1,500 ($1,600) at the time, both sources reported.

Hotel manager plans to replace “smart locks” with “classic locks”

“We were hacked, but nobody was locked in or out,” said the hotel’s Managing Director Christopher Brandstaetter. “For one day we were not able to make new keycards.”

“Since the locking system must work even in the event of power failure, the guests in the hotel almost did not notice the incident,” the manager also added. “We simply could not issue new keycards because the computers were encrypted.”

Brandstaetter said the hotel plans to replace the electronic key system with classic keys in the upcoming future.

According to Brandstaetter, shortly after the ransomware incident, someone tried to infect the hotel once more, but they took their systems offline.

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Does this story look familiar? That’s because there was a (slightly wrong) version here yesterday. Key point: rooms weren’t locked. Notable point: attempted reinfection. (Via Graham Cluley, via Steve.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: well, that ransomware-in-hotel link from yesterday, now corrected in that link above.

Start Up: tech reacts to Trump, the voices in noise, VPN Android risks, the app misers, and more


A view of the Turracher Hoehe Pass: can you hear the hotel guests locked out of their rooms by ransomware? Photo by Christiane Jodl 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

VPN on Android means ‘voyeuristic peeper network’ in many cases • The Register


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A worrying number of VPN apps for Android mobile devices are rife with malware, spying, and code injection, say researchers.

A study [PDF] from the University of New South Wales in Australia and the University of California at Berkeley found that Android apps advertising themselves as VPN clients often contain poor security protections, and in some cases engage in outright malicious activities.

“Many apps may legitimately use the VPN permission to offer (some form of) online anonymity or to enable access to censored content,” the researchers write. “However, malicious app developers may abuse it to harvest users’ personal information.”

That sort of malicious activity is shockingly common, the researchers found. They studied the activity of 283 VPN apps on the Google Play store and catalogued the various risky and malicious activities they found:

82% of the VPN apps requested permission to access sensitive data on the device, such as SMS history
• 38% of the apps contained some form of malware
16% routed traffic through other devices, rather than a host server
16% use in-path proxies to modify HTML traffic in transit
Three of the 283 analysed apps specifically intercept bank, messaging, and social network traffic.

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That’s not good. (It’s because it can break app sandboxing on Android; not sure whether this applies to iOS.)
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Why we hear voices in random noise • Nautilus

Philip Jake:

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Neil Bauman is an audiologist who runs a center in Pennsylvania called The Hearing Loss Help Center. He’s created a discussion forum for those experiencing a wide range of anomalous auditory perceptions including auditory pareidolia. Commenters detail their experiences, often believing they are symptomatic of mental illness. For example, one commenter writes: “I thought I was going crazy. When my air conditioner is on, I wake up and hear light conversations. I would go to the window to see if anyone was outside, or I would turn the air conditioner off [and] it would stop. Sometimes it sounds like a radio.”

Another, more at-ease commenter, writes about her similar experience of hearing voices from the sound of central air control: “I would hear faint voices—whispering, conversing, singing, or chanting! It sounded like a crowded room, full of people at a party in a distant room somewhere in the building. After a while I came to enjoy the sound, as they seemed to be enjoying themselves at the ‘party,’ and it helped lull me to sleep at night.”

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This is the converse to the one the other day where you hear something like “blargh blargh” and your phone hears “open that malicious URL!”
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Hotel ransomed by hackers as guests locked in rooms • The Local

NOTE: elements of this story have been shown to be wrong. (Update tomorrow.) Koen Berghuis:

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One of Europe’s top hotels has admitted they had to pay thousands in Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals who managed to hack their electronic key system, locking hundreds of guests in or out of their rooms until the money was paid.

Furious hotel managers at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a luxurious 4-star hotel with a beautiful lakeside setting on the Alpine Turracher Hoehe Pass in Austria, said they decided to go public with what happened to warn others of the dangers of cybercrime.

And they said they wanted to see more done to tackle cybercriminals as this sort of activity is set to get worse. The hotel has a modern IT system which includes key cards for hotel doors, like many other hotels in the industry.

Hotel management said that they have now been hit three times by cybercriminals who this time managed to take down the entire key system. The guests could no longer get in or out of the hotel rooms and new key cards could not be programmed.

The attack, which coincided with the opening weekend of the winter season, was allegedly so massive that it even shut down all hotel computers, including the reservation system and the cash desk system.

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Apple strategy in ‘smart home’ race threatened by Amazon • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:

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Developers can ask Apple to certify an unlisted factory they want to use. But the limited selection means that device makers can’t always get the best prices or work with their preferred factories. The founder of one startup that considered pursuing HomeKit approval for a device that helps control home temperatures said the company picked a factory with 40,000 employees that was making well known “Star Wars” toys, but it couldn’t use that factory for HomeKit products.

“They’re a huge company, a legitimate manufacturer that makes tech household brands. And yet they’re not [Apple] certified,” said the founder, who declined to speak on the record because of non-disclosure agreements with Apple.

Manufacturers also have to send product samples to Cupertino, where Apple tests them extensively for compatibility. The whole process can take three to five months. During that time, device makers aren’t allowed to say publicly that they’re pursuing HomeKit certification.

Some developers say it’s worth it. “They found issues with our product before we released it that we didn’t find in our testing,” said Gimmy Chu, CEO of Nanoleaf, a smart lighting system. “We know that after we have the certification that it’s rock solid.”

Alexa, by contrast, only requires smart home companies to write software code and submit it to Amazon for review. There are no special chips. To earn the “Works with Alexa” label -which isn’t required to function with Alexa but does help promote products on Amazon’s website – startups must have their products physically tested. Amazon does allow that to happen in a third-party lab, however.

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Which makes one wonder if a real problem with Amazon’s approach will be found rather later.
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Automating power: Social bot interference in global politics • First Monday

Samuel Woolley:

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Until roughly six years ago, technologically adept marketers used social bots to send blatant spam in the form of automatically proliferated social media advertising content (Chu, et al., 2010). A growing collection of recent research reveals, however, that political actors worldwide are beginning to make use of these automated software programs in subtle attempts to manipulate relationships and opinion online (Boshmaf, et al., 2011; Ratkiewicz, et al., 2011a; 2011b; Metaxas and Mustafuraaj, 2012; Alexander, 2015; Abokhodair, et al., 2015). Politicians now emulate the popular twitter tactic of purchasing massive amounts of bots to significantly boost follower numbers (Chu, et al., 2012). Militaries, state contracted firms, and elected officials use political bots to spread propaganda and flood newsfeeds with political spam (Cook, et al., 2014; Forelle, et al., 2015).

Political bots are among the latest, and most unique, technological advances situated at intersection of politics and digital strategy…

…Many computer scientists and policy makers treat bot-generated traffic as a nuisance to be detected and managed. System administrators at companies like Twitter work to simply shut down accounts that appear to be running via automatic scripts. These approaches are too simplistic and avoid focusing on the larger, and systemic, problems presented by political bot software. Political bots suppress free expression and civic innovation through the demobilization of activist groups and the suffocation of democratic free speech. They subtly work to manipulate public opinion by giving false impressions of candidate popularity, regime strength and international relations. The disruption to public life caused by political bots is enhanced by innovations in parallel computation and innovations to algorithm construction.

Political bots must, therefore, be better understood for the sake of free speech and the future of digitally mediated civic engagement.

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To say the least.
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Most smartphone users spend nothing on apps • Gartner


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Over half of smartphone users spend no money on smartphone apps (paid-for downloads and in-app transactions), according to a new survey by Gartner, Inc. (see Figure 1)*. However, end-user spending on in-app transactions continues to rise.

“Where users are prepared to pay for apps, spending on in-app transactions is on the rise — up 26% from 2015 — while spending on paid-for downloads only increased 4% in 2016,” said Stéphanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner. In this year’s survey, mean spending on in-app transactions was $11.59, while mean spending on paid-for downloads reached $7.67.

Paid-for downloads are more likely to be associated with smaller amounts of spending. Respondents who spent $15 or more over a three-month period were more likely to have done so through in-app transactions. “This is largely because the vast majority of paid-for mobile apps have a price tag of $1.99 or less, while the activation of in-app transactions usually means that the user has found value in an app and will be happy to spend more on it,” Ms, Baghdassarian added.

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Not surprising; I think the same applies for many things, including searches and app downloads. But it does show how reliant app developers are on the “whales” who spend big: those people on the right-hand side may not be a big percentage, but they’re worth far more (obviously) than those on the left.
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Apple, Google, Uber, Tesla, and others react to Trump’s refugee ban • BuzzFeed News

Charlie Warzel and Sheera Frankel:

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Apple, Google, Uber, Tesla, and others react to Trump’s refugee ban; Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Oracle CEO Safra Catz serves on a Trump administration advisory committee.

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You can guess most of it. They’re against it – though Uber seems to have a problem, because its CEO spoke out in favour of Trump (early in the administration, i.e. more than a week ago) while its CTO came out strongly against.

Oracle’s position is… let’s say compromised.
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Google recalls staff to US after Trump immigration order • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:

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Alphabet Inc.’s Google delivered a sharp message to staff traveling overseas who may be impacted by a new executive order on immigration from President Donald Trump: get back to the US now.

Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai slammed Trump’s move in a note to employees Friday, telling them that more than 100 company staff are affected by the order.

“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”

The comments underscore a growing rift between the Trump administration and several large U.S. technology companies, which include many immigrants in their ranks and have lobbied for fewer immigration restrictions. Pichai’s note echoed similar statements from tech peers voicing concerns about the harm such policies could have on their businesses.

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So Larry Page (and all the others) going along to that tech summit had a big impact, eh? Learn the lesson: you can’t reason with this sort of person.
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Fake news is about to get even scarier than you ever dreamed • Vanity Fair

Nick Bilton:

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At corporations and universities across the country, incipient technologies appear likely to soon obliterate the line between real and fake. Or, in the simplest of terms, advancements in audio and video technology are becoming so sophisticated that they will be able to replicate real news—real TV broadcasts, for instance, or radio interviews—in unprecedented, and truly indecipherable, ways. One research paper published last year by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg demonstrated how technologists can record video of someone talking and then change their facial expressions in real time. The professors’ technology could take a news clip of, say, Vladimir Putin, and alter his facial expressions in real time in hard-to-detect ways. In fact, in this video demonstrating the technology, the researchers show how they did manipulate Putin’s facial expressions and responses, among those of other people, too.

This is eerie, to say the least. But it’s only one part of the future fake-news menace. Other similar technologies have been in the works in universities and research labs for years, but they have never really pulled off what computers can do today.

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This is worrying. An even bigger worry: this would probably be in the hands of governments first.
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China turns to blockchain to make markets clearer and cleaner • Reuters

Engen Tham:

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Chinese banks are hiring blockchain experts as the government pushes use of the technology behind bitcoin to increase transparency and combat fraud in its financial sector.

Lenders have struggled for years with outdated and disparate technology. While four Chinese banks rank among the world’s five largest by capital, many still use paper, faxes and traditional chop stamps to verify documents.

Now, spurred by regulators, they are looking to use blockchain to leapfrog a generation of technology and clean up the system, bankers and blockchain experts say.

Demand from Chinese banks for experience in blockchain more than doubled last year and will grow further this year, headhunters and blockchain professionals say, as lenders scramble to catch up with Western counterparts that have already invested $1.5 billion in the technology.

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Trump sold America a miracle cure. It will fail. He’ll get off for free • Slate

Alan Levinotivz has studied snake oil salesmen and medical confidence tricksters:

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The kinship between Trump and peddlers of scientifically questionable medical advice couldn’t be clearer. Our president actively seeks out their company—from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., noted vaccine alarmist, to Dr. Oz, on whose show Trump pretended to be transparent about his health. It was a perfect match: Trump embodies the dubious therapies that Oz has endorsed—“miracle” diet beans, energy healing—and resembles Oz himself, a showman slinging half-truths and magical thinking to a hope-starved audience.

For those who reject such men, the appeal never fails to astonish. A doctor named Oz who wants you to believe in miracles? Come on. That’s like a pastor named Dollar who wants congregants to pay for his jet, or an unhinged narcissist who lives in a gold-plated apartment running as a populist president. Who, after weighing all the evidence, could actually take them seriously? Only credulous fools, right?

I used to think so, until about a decade ago, when my father called to ask if I knew anything about “zapping.” He told me that a close family friend, plagued by chronic health issues, had turned to a therapeutic machine named, incredibly, the Zapper. The contraption was designed by Hulda Clark, a naturopathic doctor who authored books with titles such as The Cure for All Diseases and The Cure for All Cancers, only to die in 2009 of blood and bone cancer.

This family friend was a trained nurse and the widow of a physician. Sharp, articulate, educated, nobody’s fool—and there she was, zapping herself with a machine invented by someone who died of what it supposedly prevented. I remember feeling the same punch-in-the-gut disbelief about her decision that I do today about people who voted for Trump. How could you fall for it?

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I hope he’s wrong, but fear he’s right. Who’s going to pay for the wall? If it gets built, American consumers. What’s going to happen to healthcare? It won’t be available to all. The signs aren’t good.
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What ad tests on Messenger tell us about Facebook’s plan to monetize messaging • MIDiA Research

Karol Severin:

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There are 50 million business pages and approximately 3 million advertisers on Facebook. Its advertising revenue in 2015 was $17bn (across all platforms). Messenger now has a billion active users, which is a comparable audience size to Facebook’s audience. Through opening the advertising floodgates the messaging platform presents a multi-billion dollar opportunity- however, Facebook must be careful not to alienate its users in doing so. Pushing ads into private conversations could be the threshold.

Facebook knows this. It says that ads in Messenger will only be featured on home screens and not within conversations. Indeed, it makes all the sense for Facebook not to let traditional banner ads flood private conversations anytime soon – if ever.

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But it will happen. Ad inventory must be filled.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Is Atlantic privacy dead?, Google v hardware, Trump and Twitter, what bots don’t know, and more


Snap’s Spectacles: you can get them if you want them (and have a ticket to New York). Photo by izqrdo 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. However, it’s Friday. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Trump signs ‘no privacy for non-Americans’ order – what does that mean for rest of us? • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:

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US President Donald Trump may have undermined a critical data sharing agreement between the United States and Europe that internet giants rely on to do business overseas.

In an executive order focused on illegal immigrants that was signed by the president this week, one section specifically noted that privacy protections would not be extended past US citizens or permanent residents in America.

Section 14 of the Enhancing Public Safety order reads:

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Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.

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That language appears to directly contradict a critical component of the new Privacy Shield agreement between the US and Europe that provides essential legal protections for US businesses sending and receiving data across the Atlantic. In short, the agreement is supposed to ensure non-Americans are not treated as second-class citizens by US organizations, with weaker privacy safeguards than Americans are afforded.

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This looks like it torpedoes Privacy Shield, but there’s more to it.
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A volunteer effort to mirror US federal climate data • Climate Mirror


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Our goal is to store climate change data redundantly in many locations around the world. To see our current mirrors, visit climate.daknob.net. We also have several torrents that you can use to both retrieve data and assist in maintaining them.

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Resistance takes many forms.
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Google bringing AI to Raspberry Pi • BBC News

Jane Wakefield:

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Google is planning to bring artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to the Raspberry Pi.

The low-cost credit-card sized computer is widely used by schools and the maker community for programming devices.

Google has asked makers to complete a survey about what smart tools would be “most helpful”.
And it suggests tools to aid face and emotion recognition, speech-to-text translation, natural language processing and sentiment analysis.

Google has previously developed a range of tools for machine learning, internet of things devices, wearables, robotics and home automation.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation said the new tools could enable makers “to build even more powerful projects”.

“Google is going to arrive in style in 2017. The tech titan has exciting plans for the maker community,” said the foundation in its blog.

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This is going to be fascinating, as cheap hardware (processor and sensors) gets powerful software. Where can you deploy them? All over.
link to this extract


Google parent Alphabet earnings: What to watch • USA Today

Jessica Guynn:

»

Google is not new to hardware but in the fourth quarter it launched a major line-up of devices including the Pixel phone and Google Home, the home speaker. Evercore analyst Ken Sena expects $808m in Google-branded hardware revenue in the quarter, with Pixel and Home contributing roughly half of the revenue. Evercore estimates Google sold 552,000 Pixel phones and 500,000 Google Homes. Google likely won’t share sales figures for its hardware business, but may give some hints on how well they are doing.

«

Alphabet missed estimates – $26.1bn, $6.6bn operating income. As ever, Google search and ads is the biggest part of that. “Other” within Google rose by 62%, up by $1.3bn. So that figure is probably close.

“Other Bets” (you know – inflatable churches, hovercraft made of crispbread, that sort of thing) rose year-on-year from $150m to $262m – that is, from 0.7% of all revenues to 1.0%.

The answer to what decides when a Bet becomes a Thing or just Cashes In Its Chips And Goes Quietly Away still isn’t clear.

You can probably bump up the hardware estimates by 5-10% based on that beat of estimates.
link to this extract


Source: Google’s Pixel 2 to feature improved camera, CPU, higher price, but ‘budget’ Pixel also in works • 9to5Google

Stephen Hall:

»

I mentioned yesterday that we previously heard Google Pixel would bring ‘waterproofing,’ a feature we’re now told is “still on the table.”

We’re also now being told, however, that Google is once again focusing intensely on the camera with Pixel 2, that the device is currently being tested with improved chipsets from two different manufacturers, and that it will bring a higher price. Finally, the same source says Google has lately been testing lower-end Pixel devices which would bring lesser specs and a much lower price tag.

As for waterproofing, this is a slight change in tone today from this same source that before told us the feature would “definitely” be coming with the next Pixel. Now we’re told that the feature is “still on the table,” which would suggest a less firm position from Google on the feature.

«

Also have developed its own chipset. Perhaps more important. But raising the price? They can’t assume that Samsung will screw up the Note 8; 2016’s demand was unusual.
link to this extract


HTC’s top Vive designer is leaving to work on Google Daydream • The Verge

Vlad SAvov:

»

It seems like Silicon Valley hiring season right now, as swiftly on the heels of Hugo Barra announcing his move to direct Facebook VR, it’s emerged that Google has recruited a senior new designer for its Daydream VR mobile platform. Claude Zellweger, who most recently led HTC’s Vive design team and played a major role in developing HTC’s smartphone design language, made the news public in a tweet:

»

@vladsavov I am joining Google Daydream, so you can redirect your criticism:).

«

«

HTC. How does it continue?
link to this extract


Snapchat NYC Spectacles store is mostly empty • CNBC

Michelle Castillo:

»

Despite long lines to get a pair of Snap’s Spectacles near the end of 2016, enthusiasm for the product appears to have cooled, at least at the company’s New York store.

In November, people waited outside the store for up to 18 hours to be the first to purchase the combination glasses and video recorder. However, a midday visit to Snap’s physical store on Thursday revealed there was no one in line to get the product.

Spectacles are Snap’s hyped video recording smartglasses, which were released on Nov. 10, 2016. The glasses retail for $129 + tax. The only way to buy a pair is from a Spectacles vending machine at the New York retail location, find the roving Spectacles vending machine around the world using clues on its website, or buy it used from a third-party.

«

I’ll wait for a secondhand pair, if I ever figure out Snapchat.
link to this extract


Donald Trump is using a private Gmail account to secure the most powerful twitter account in the world • The Intercept

Sam Biddle:

»

According to hacker and Twitter user @WauchulaGhost, Trump’s account is  set to email password reset requests to a personal Gmail account (it appears to be that of Dan Scavino, his social media chief), and it reveals the first two letters of the account (enough to surmise it’s probably Scavino’s). This signals to hackers that all they need to do to illicitly broadcast to the president’s 14 million online followers is get into said Gmail account, which may or may not be secured with some form of two-factor authentication. Even with such an extra layer of authentication, knowing the private email address of a senior White House employee would make them a target for spearphishing attacks like those that befell the DNC and John Podesta last summer.

«

Even with two-factor authentication, which can be spoofed too (if you know it’s in place).
link to this extract


Disable your antivirus software (except Microsoft’s) • Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O’Callahan:

»

(Perhaps it should go without saying – but you also need to your OS to be up-to-date. If you’re on Windows 7 or, God forbid, Windows XP, third party AV software might make you slightly less doomed.)

At best, there is negligible evidence that major non-MS AV products give a net improvement in security. More likely, they hurt security significantly; for example, see bugs in AV products listed in Google’s Project Zero. These bugs indicate that not only do these products open many attack vectors, but in general their developers do not follow standard security practices. (Microsoft, on the other hand, is generally competent.)

Furthermore, as Justin Schuh pointed out in that Twitter thread, AV products poison the software ecosystem because their invasive and poorly-implemented code makes it difficult for browser vendors and other developers to improve their own security. For example, back when we first made sure ASLR was working for Firefox on Windows, many AV vendors broke it by injecting their own ASLR-disabled DLLs into our processes. Several times AV software blocked Firefox updates, making it impossible for users to receive important security fixes. Major amounts of developer time are soaked up dealing with AV-induced breakage, time that could be spent making actual improvements in security (recent-ish example)…

…What’s really insidious is that it’s hard for software vendors to speak out about these problems because they need cooperation from the AV vendors (except for Google, lately, maybe). Users have been fooled into associating AV vendors with security and you don’t want AV vendors bad-mouthing your product. AV software is broadly installed and when it breaks your product, you need the cooperation of AV vendors to fix it.

«

link to this extract


The risky business of Trump the twittering president • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas looks into the various risks associated with someone who is president who tweets without constraint:

»

The attorney predicts Trump’s unvarnished and unvetted tweet style will lead to him being sued for defamation.

“The best example of [his personal attacks via Twitter] is when women were coming forward during the presidential campaign and claiming that he had sexually assaulted them,” he continues. “Trump got triggered and made the types of comments that he’s prone to making, and called them liars and all of these things. And just recently… one of the [women] filed a defamation suit against him for that.”

“That’s a big problem if you’ve got a sitting president who is acting in a way that they’re exposing themselves to lawsuits. Because being the president’s an important job. And that’s what you should be focused on. Having to defend against lawsuits is an incredible distraction.”

“We all saw what happened with former President Clinton. In the end it became such a sideshow and ended up derailing years of his presidency,” he adds.

«

Here’s hoping.
link to this extract


Luckily, bots’ conquest of knowledge is not yet complete • FT

Diane Coyle:

»

robo-pricing bots can monitor each other’s decisions far faster than humans can know and react. Online sellers are increasingly able to overcome Hayek’s objection that it is not possible to know the details of supply and demand conditions. “Big data” is in this sense the opposite of “statistics”; it retains all the detail. Individuals know about their own preferences; the bots know about millions of people’s preferences.

If one, or a few, bots used this wealth of information to achieve the most efficient use of resources in society, it would mark an improvement in economic welfare. The catch comes with the distribution of those efficiency gains; the superior information held by the algorithms enables them to capture the additional social surplus.

In the early days of online shopping, the expectation was that greater competition would increase transparency — through easy comparison — and therefore reduce consumer prices. However, pricing bots’ speed gives them the advantage. Economists have looked for evidence of increasing online price discrimination — getting the maximum possible out of each consumer — and not found it; but it is not obvious that the data to test this are readily available. With such targeting standard in some markets (such as airline tickets), it would be surprising if the practice were not spreading.

This is more than a headache for competition regulators. It is a Hayekian challenge to the economic system.

«

The relief – so far, she points out – is that bots don’t quite understand everything, and knowledge has to be constantly acquired, renewed and discarded once outdated.
link to this extract


Hugo Barra to join Facebook after leaving Xiaomi • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:

»

Technology veteran Hugo Barra is joining Facebook Inc. to oversee the social network’s virtual-reality efforts, including the work of the Oculus VR team, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said late Wednesday.

Mr. Barra, a former executive at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, left Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. this week. His title at Facebook will be vice president of virtual reality, Oculus said in a post on Twitter.

“Hugo shares my belief that virtual and augmented reality will be the next major computing platform,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. “They’ll enable us to experience completely new things and be more creative than ever before.”

«

I think it’s so telling that Zuckerberg doesn’t spend his own time on Facebook, which was itself meant to let us “experience completely new things” and “be more creative than ever before”. I’m not sure I feel that optimistic about Oculus.

Still, at least Barra’s health should improve in the over-regulated clean air of Menlo Park.

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: rogue emails!, LG’s dying phone business, open data v Trump, wearables sneak in, and more


Your flight will be ready to depart soon. Photo by HerrBerta 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. Who knows how they got in? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Trump White House senior staff have private RNC email accounts • Newsweek

Nina Burleigh:

»

Senior Trump administration staffers including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon have active accounts on a Republican National Committee email system, Newsweek has learned.

The system (rnchq.org) is the same one the George W. Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have “lost” 22 million emails.

«

Fancy that.
link to this extract


LG posts $224m loss as ‘weak’ selling G5 smartphone drags it down once again • TechCrunch

Jon Russell:

»

The company went with a bold modular approach for its flagship smartphone in 2016, the G5, and it bombed.

“Profitability was hampered by weak sales of the G5 smartphone and higher marketing investments,” LG said in a statement.

LG sold 55m smartphones in 2016 — it didn’t explicitly state that in its press release but the figures for sales in Q4 where in its full financial report. That figure is down on 59.7m in 2015 and 59.1m in 2014.

LG did add that it had seen “strong sales” of its V20 device, which was launched in October and features dual cameras.

«

Nobody seems to have been able to find the presentation document which has the details about the mobile division: revenues $2.5bn, operating profit –$540m, handsets sold 14.1m. All down year-on-year.

It’s the mobile division which lost all the money. Now the question is, after seven (soon to be eight) quarters of losses: why does LG do mobile phones?
link to this extract


A woman flew through a tornado in a bathtub and survived • The Washington Post

Jason Samenow:

»

Jason Hansford, a senior meteorologist who conducted the storm survey, said he spoke to the woman after the incident.

“She heard the tornado warning come out and she took cover in the tub in her bathroom,” he said. “The only thing she remembers is that the tornado came in from the southwest across her home. At that point the whole backside of her house was sheared off. Her bath tub was ripped out of her bathroom and she ended up still in her tub in some woods near her home.”

Hansford said he didn’t know exactly how far the women, who he estimated to be in her 60s, was thrown. Except for some cuts and bruises, “she was uninjured but emotionally shaken,” he said, adding that her house was totaled

«

Come on, this is a story that gives us all hope that we can survive in bathtubs.
link to this extract


Samsung and Chinese brands utterly dominated India’s smartphone market in Q4 2016 • TechCrunch

Jon Russell:

»

India is in the midst of a revolution: the Chinese smartphone revolution. For the first time on record, there were no Indian companies ranked among the top five smartphone sellers in the country during the most recent quarter of business.

Samsung and a glut of ambitious, young companies from China have been busy pushing their devices in India, one of the few global markets that has untapped growth potential for smartphone sales, and now there is tangible evidence of their progress.

Samsung led the pile with 22% of the market, ahead of Xiaomi (11 percent), Oppo, Lenovo (both nine percent), and Vivo (seven percent), according to new data from analyst firm Canalys. Indian brands, once dominant, saw their collective share shrink by more than half over the past year.

«

Indian makers nowhere. But there are now 300m users – second only to China, and well ahead of the US. About 75% of them have mobile data plans.
link to this extract


Will open data survive Trump? • InfoWorld

Eric Knorr:

»

I’ve always seen open data as the telemetry we need to drive democracy. Sure, open U.S. federal government data tends to be widely dispersed, difficult for ordinary people to digest, and often ignored by the news media. But for years vast quantities of open data about everything from agriculture to mining to education to energy have been available for anyone to peruse or download from government websites.

What sort of data are we talking about? For starters, check out the Open Data 500, an NYU project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which lists hundreds of federal government data sources — and 500 private companies that depend on them. 

Open data has always faced challenges: institutional inertia, attempts to conceal incompetence, and so on. The Obama administration gave open data a major boost with Data.gov (a catalog of open federal government data) and other initiatives, including The Opportunity Project (a project to jumpstart open data apps) announced last March. But now, as we enter the Trump era, open data may face its ultimate test.

«

This is, indeed, the concern. Data collected by federal agencies belongs, legally, to US citizens, as I understand it, and that has been the situation for ages. If Trump and his henchmen try to shut that down, it will probably lead to lawsuits.
link to this extract


Nearly 16% of US consumers now own wearables • Kantar Worldpanel


»

“Fitness bands continue to outsell more advanced smartwatches,” reported Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “In the fourth quarter of 2016, just 35% of wearables purchased in the US were smartwatches, a decline from 40% in the third quarter of 2016. Apple was the top smartwatch brand in the US, capturing a 50% share vs. 24% in the third quarter pf 2016. The next nearest competitor was Samsung at 17.4%, while the remainder of the market was fragmented among smaller suppliers.”

The Apple Watch Series 2, released in September 2016, boosted Apple’s share of smartwatch sales. Series 2 offers a waterproof design and GPS, while the lower cost of the Series 1 lowered the barrier to entry to attract some additional buyers. The Series 2 was Apple’s top-selling smartwatch for the period at 33%, although there were no holiday discounts on that device.

In the fitness band category, Fitbit continued to dominate sales at 75%, up from 43% in the third quarter of 2016, Guenveur added. Garmin, its nearest competitor, captured a 12.5% share.

«

Two brands in fitness bands: Fitbit and Garmin. Two brands in smartwatches: Apple and Samsung. Numbers in EU are pretty similar, but from a lower base.

And that explains why we have the next entry..
link to this extract


“We’re not going to have an Android watch” says HTC’s President of smartphones • Tbreak

Abbas Jaffar Ali got the interview with Chialin Chang:

»

Q: Do you see your relationship with Google and Pixel [HTC made the Pixel for Google, though neither side has confirmed it] continuing over the next couple of years? 

A: It’s not something that I can talk about but the relationship between both the sides is good. The Pixel is just one aspect with the relationship to Google. We’re working on multiple things- Google is so big. There’s always a different product.

Q: What are your thoughts on wearables? 

A: I can tell you that we’re not going to have an Android watch. I don’t thing we’ve nailed it with [the experience of] watches. Android watch is one thing but even Apple as a big brand is declining [in watches.] We are not going to have a watch in the short term.

«

HTC later confirmed this to others. (Thanks @papanic for the link to an Android newsblog which was, of course, recycling this.)
link to this extract


London Office of Data Analytics pilot: now for the hard part • Nesta

Eddie Copeland:

»

For the past few months, Nesta has been working with the GLA, more than a dozen London boroughs, and data science specialists the ASI to develop an algorithm that predicts which of London’s many thousands of properties are unlicensed HMOs – “Houses in Multiple Occupation”.

The motivation for addressing the specific issue of HMOs is twofold.

First, the fact that only 10 to 20% of London’s HMOs are currently licenced is a missed revenue opportunity for local authorities at a time when public sector budgets are tight. Second, unlicensed HMOs are the likely locations of some of the capital’s worst and most exploitative housing conditions. Identifying more of them could raise money and help protect vulnerable tenants.

«

Open data used for good. But it isn’t as easy as it might sound.
link to this extract


Why Xiaomi may never become a global smartphone giant • IB Times

David Gilbert:

»

The main reason rolled out by most analysts and media outlets (including this one) has been Xiaomi’s lack of intellectual property. In short, if Xiaomi was going to enter the US or western European markets, it was going to quickly get slapped with multiple patent lawsuits from the likes of Samsung, Apple and others.

We had seen this in microcosm in India where Xiaomi had initially seen sales of its smartphones halted as a result of infringing an Ericsson patent. But that got sorted and India accounted for over $1bn of revenue for Xiaomi in 2016.

Does the patent excuse really wash?

“Everyone points to IP as the challenge at Xiaomi for going and selling more units internationally, but there are many very successful Chinese smartphone vendors that are selling handsets around the world in significant volumes,” Fogg says.

Companies like Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, TCL (selling phones under the Alcatel brand) as well as up-and-coming brands like Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus have all managed to enter Western markets and continue selling phones there.

«

link to this extract


APFS is coming soon: iOS 10.3 will automatically upgrade your filesystem • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham:

»

Apple’s stated end goal is to perform an in-place file system conversion [from the 20-year-old HFS+ to Apple File System] for all its currently supported devices, including all Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPods, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches. iOS 10.3 will provide some early information on how reliable that conversion will be.

It’s an approach that makes sense; there are way more iDevices than Macs out there, which would increase the number of affected users if anything goes wrong. But iOS doesn’t give users direct control of the file system or of their devices’ partition maps, so it’s a reasonably safe, controlled environment. Macs can have a wider variety of partition and file system setups, increasing the likelihood that some edge case will throw things off. There’s no suggestion in the macOS 10.12.4 release notes that any drives will be converted to APFS, and we may need to wait for the next major release of the operating system before that starts happening.

«

Not mentioned: how it would do it, and what the benefits are. It does it by creating the metadata collection for APFS on the drive, and then pointing the boot to that collection rather than the HFS+ metadata. Advantages: works better with SSDs. Once it’s on Macs, it should make Time Machine work a ton faster. Notable that it’s coming to iOS – which has many, many more devices using it – first.
link to this extract


10 billion private searches & counting! • DuckDuckGo

DDG’s chief executive and founder Gabriel Weinberg:

»

At DuckDuckGo, our vision is to raise the standard of trust online, and in service of that vision, our mission is to be the world’s most trusted search engine.

We are proud to say that at the end of last year, we surpassed a cumulative count of 10 billion anonymous searches served, with over 4 billion in 2016! We are growing faster than ever with our first 14M day on Jan 10, 2017.

People are actively seeking out ways to reduce their digital footprint online. For example, a Pew Research study reported “40% think that their search engine provider shouldn’t retain information about their activity.”

In addition to crossing the 10 billion milestone, last year we also donated $225,000 to nine organizations that also raise the standard of trust online, and we encourage you to check them out…

«

It’s tiny compared to Google, but personally I find its results comparable; and you can copy the links directly – they’re not obfuscated with tracking data like Google’s.

And Weinberg has said it’s profitable; it shows ads based on your intent, just as Google started out doing.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Zuck not for prez, self-driving cars v you, Samsung’s corners Snapdragon, and more


Come on, that’s not really “lost”. Photo by méline.ch 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.

Mark Zuckerberg says he’s not running for president • BuzzFeed News

Alex Kantrowitz and Nitasha Tiku:

»

Mark Zuckerberg has no plans to run for president, the Facebook founder and CEO told BuzzFeed News Tuesday.

“No,” Zuckerberg wrote in response to a question asking if he had any plans to run for president. “I’m focused on building our community at Facebook and working on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” referring to the limited-liability corporation he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, founded in 2015 to advance human potential and promote equality through major bets in education and science research.

Zuckerberg did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about whether he’d explicitly ruled out a run.

«

Give it a decade or two.
link to this extract


A trial and a twitterstorm: on live-tweeting from a federal courthouse • The New York Times

Mike Isaac went along to livetweet Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony (from the trial where Facebook is accused of taking VR technology in a $2bn lawsuit):

»

What I did not know, as a tech reporter, is how tricky it is to actually live a connected life inside a federal courtroom.

Federal courts have rather strict rules around electronics and recording devices inside courtrooms, the laws of which go back much further than some of the software and services we use to broadcast news today. In 1994, for instance, a Judicial Conference Report declined a recommendation for expanding the use of cameras in federal civil cases, citing concern for the intimidation of witnesses and jury members.

Even as far back as 1960, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas argued against broadcasting of trials. “It is not dangerous because it is new,” he wrote in a paper published in a law journal at the time. “It is dangerous because of the insidious influences which it puts to work in the administration of justice.” It is often policy for district court judges to determine their own policies around electronics and broadcasting — even with tweets.

«

Even more difficult in UK courts. Bail hearings, for example, aren’t public – there are only very limited things you can say from them.
link to this extract


iOS 10.3 beta includes new ‘Find My AirPods’ mode for locating lost AirPods • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

Apple’s AirPods are wire-free, which makes them convenient to use, but it’s also caused some concern from users who are afraid to lose their $159 earphones. In its latest beta, Apple has introduced a new feature to assuage customer fears – Find My AirPods.

Available in iOS 10.3, Find My AirPods adds your AirPods to the “Find My iPhone” app, listing them alongside all other Apple products. In the app, you can tap on the AirPods to cause them to play a little chirping sound that gradually gets louder for location purposes.

After activating the sound, you can choose to have it play solely through the left AirPod or through the right AirPod so you don’t need to listen to chirping if only one of the AirPods is missing.

«

Clever. Though I haven’t managed to lose mine yet. (The “find iPhone” function on the Apple Watch is great.) Not sure about their being located on a map. I mean, really?
link to this extract


Unexpected consequences of self driving cars • Rodney Brooks


»

There are big AI perception challenges, just in my neighborhood, to get driverless cars to interact with people as well us driverful cars do. What if level 4 and level 5 autonomy self driving cars are not able to make that leap of fitting in as equals as current cars do?

Cars will clearly have to be able to perceive people walking along the street, even and especially on a snowy day, and not hit them. That is just not debatable. What is debatable is whether the cars will need to still pass them, or whether they will slowly follow people not risking passing them as a human driver would. That slows down the traffic for both the owner of the driverless car, and for any human drivers. The human drivers may get very annoyed with being stuck behind driverless cars. Driverless cars would then be a nuisance.

In the little side streets, when at a stop sign, cars will have to judge when someone is about to cross in front of them. But sometimes people are just chatting at the corner, or it is a parent and child waiting for the school bus that pulls up right there. How long should the driverless car wait? And might someone bully such cars by teasing them that they are about to step off the curb–people don’t try that with human drivers as there will soon be repercussions, but driverless cars doing any percussioning will just not be acceptable.

Since there are no current ways that driverless cars can give social signals to people, beyond inching forward to indicate that they want to go, how will they indicate to a person that they have seen them and it safe to cross in front of the car at a stop sign? Perhaps the cars will instead need to be 100% guaranteed to let people go. Otherwise without social interactions it would be like the case of the dark country road. In that case driverless cars would have a privileged position compared to cars with human drivers and pedestrians. That is not going to endear them to the residents.

«

I don’t think we’ve even begun to consider how pedestrians and self-driving vehicles are going to interact. All the focus has been on getting the vehicles to navigate themselves, which is a tiny part of driving a car.
link to this extract


Android permissions and hypocrisy • mjg59

Matthew Garrett:

»

I wrote a piece a few days ago about how the Meitu app asked for a bunch of permissions in ways that might concern people, but which were not actually any worse than many other apps. The fact that Android makes it so easy for apps to obtain data that’s personally identifiable is of concern, but in the absence of another stable device identifier this is the sort of thing that capitalism is inherently going to end up making use of. Fundamentally, this is Google’s problem to fix.

Around the same time, Kaspersky, the Russian anti-virus company, wrote a blog post that warned people about this specific app. It was framed somewhat misleadingly – “reading, deleting and modifying the data in your phone’s memory” would probably be interpreted by most people as something other than “the ability to modify data on your phone’s external storage”, although it ends with some reasonable advice that users should ask why an app requires some permissions.

So, to that end, here are the permissions that Kaspersky requests on Android…

«

Turns out Kaspersky requests exactly as many permissions on Android as Meitu, and then some. But Garrett reckons the moral is:

»

talking about application permissions is difficult and we don’t have the language to explain to users what our apps are doing and why they’re doing it, and Google are still falling far short of where they should be in terms of making this transparent to users.

«

(And also don’t complain about app permissions when you request a ton.)
link to this extract


Trump and Wyoming fight energy’s winds of change • Bloomberg Gadfly

Liam Denning:

»

Amid the pomp, red baseball caps and star-studded roster of entertainers at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, it’s been all too easy to overlook the unpredictable interplay of politics and energy markets.

Luckily, Wyoming is here to remind us.

Two Republican state senators are sponsoring a bill that would penalize Wyoming’s utilities if they sell power generated from utility-scale wind or solar installations within the state. If passed, any utility doing so after 2019 would incur a penalty of $10 per megawatt hour, which equates to about 12% of Wyoming’s average retail electricity price.

Apart from its stunning vistas, Wyoming is known as a coal state (one of the bill’s sponsors represents a place called Carbon County, among others). Some 40% of U.S. coal is mined in Wyoming, which sits atop the Powder River Basin, and almost 90% of the state’s electricity derives from burning the stuff.

So the local economy has suffered as prices of coal and natural gas – Wyoming also produces a lot of that – have collapsed: GDP fell more than 8% between 2014 and mid-2016, with more than two-thirds of that decline related to the mining sector (which includes gas production). 

«

Utter madness. Wyoming generates about 8% of its electricity from wind, and those senators want to penalise it for doing so?
link to this extract


DCN report shows publisher revenue from Google, Facebook, Snapchat – Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»

The report, from premium publisher trade body Digital Content Next (DCN), claims that the (mean) average premium publisher generated $7.7 million in revenue from distributing their content on third-party platforms in the first half of 2016 — equivalent to around 14% of their overall revenues in the period.

On average, premium publishing companies generated $773,567 in the first half of 2016 by distributing their content on YouTube. Content published to Facebook earned an average of $560,144 in the period, Twitter generated an average of $482,788, and Snapchat generated $192,819 for each publisher in the sample.

DCN commissioned Powers Media & Entertainment Consulting to collect data and survey 19 of its members — including The Financial Times, ESPN, Bloomberg, NBC, and The New York Times — about the way they use and generate revenue from third-party distribution platforms. It then conducted in-depth interviews with eight of those members. The report did not offer financial details for each publisher, but instead provided the average amount a typical premium publisher receives.

«

It’s not a great deal, and there’s equivocation around many of them.
link to this extract


China announces mass shutdown of VPNs that bypass Great Firewall • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology yesterday announced a major crackdown on VPN (virtual private network) services that encrypt Internet traffic and let residents access websites blocked by the country’s so-called Great Firewall. The ministry “said that all special cable and VPN services on the mainland needed to obtain prior government approval—a move making most VPN service providers in the country of 730 million Internet users illegal,” reported the South China Morning Post, a major newspaper in Hong Kong.

China’s announcement said the country’s Internet service market “has signs of disordered development that requires urgent regulation and governance” and that the crackdown is needed to “strengthen cyberspace information security management,” according to the Post. The government said its crackdown would begin immediately and run until March 31, 2018.

«

link to this extract


Inside the private chatrooms Trump supporters are using to manipulate French voters • BuzzFeed News

Ryan Broderick:

»

The chatroom’s admins have instructed users to make fake Facebook accounts that are “ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN].” Users are then instructed to lock down these dummy accounts so no one can tell they’re fake. Once they have their fake Facebook profiles, they’re told to infiltrate the comment sections of large French Facebook pages and post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon, France’s current frontrunner for the presidency.

And they’re doing something similar on Twitter, creating dozens of French-appearing sock puppet accounts. They then collect all of them on lists and organize campaigns to make things trend in French.

«

Though they might only be Trump supporters in passing – what if they just love destabilising stuff?
link to this extract


The Qualcomm ‘tax’ rebellion • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»

Qualcomm’s licensing model was simple. It charged a percentage of the total cost of all components in the phone. This approach had advantages for everyone involved. It meant licensees and Qualcomm didn’t have to scrap over which parts of the phone did or didn’t use Qualcomm technology, so they could just go ahead and focus on the more important task of developing and selling these hip new gadgets.

Qualcomm’s argument was that no matter what went in the phones, they wouldn’t work at all without its technology.Twenty years later, the industry has moved on. Qualcomm hasn’t.

Displays, cameras, memory and even metal casings have become increasingly more expensive components of a phone, yet Qualcomm still expects to collect a “tax” on all of it no matter how much it contributes.

According to iSuppli, Apple’s iPhone 7 has total component costs of $219.80 for the model with 32 gigabytes of storage. Assuming a licensing fee of 5 percent, Qualcomm receives $11 for every model Apple sells regardless of the fact that three of the most expensive items are the display (which Qualcomm doesn’t make), the Apple-designed processor and the radio chips whose suppliers include Intel Corp., Broadcom Corp. and Skyworks Solutions Inc. If Apple were to increase the storage to 128 gigabytes, Qualcomm’s revenue would increase accordingly despite the fact that it doesn’t even make storage chips. Increase the display size (and thus the cost), Qualcomm collects. A better camera: You guessed it, more money to Qualcomm.

«

The odd thing is that Apple went to war with Motorola over the same thing. I guess the difference is that Motorola didn’t make any components – it just owned the patents.

(Of course I’ll argue that Qualcomm went astray when it got rid of Eudora.)
link to this extract


Why the LG G6 won’t have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 • Forbes

Ben Sin:

»

A couple days ago I wrote a piece about the HTC U Ultra, wondering why HTC would release a Snapdragon 821 phone in 2017 when the rumor has LG and Samsung dropping Snapdragon 835 flagships in as little as a month.

Well, I’ve spoken to some industry insiders in Asia today and I must apologize to HTC, because it would appear that the 835 is out of their reach until after April, so they couldn’t have used the 835 without drastically delaying the phone. In fact, that’s the case with almost all phones, including LG’s flagship. Yup, I have confirmed with an industry insider that the LG G6 will run on Snapdragon 821 instead of the 835 that everyone’s expecting.

The reason? Samsung has first dibs.

“The Snapdragon 835 won’t be available in large quantities until after the Galaxy S8 launches,” the source told me.

I guess this shouldn’t really be this big of a surprise, since Samsung is helping Qualcomm build the chip. Apparently, the 835 won’t be widely available until after the release of the Galaxy S8, which I’ve been told by the same source will be April 14 in South Korea.

«

Reminiscent of Apple cornering the market first in tiny hard drives for the iPod, and then for flash memory for the iPod nano.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: WhatsApp’s fake news in India, AI beats the poker pros, voice app abandonment, and more


A graphene sheet: not actual size. Render by UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences 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 7 links for you. Others were coming, got delayed by magnetometers. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Viral WhatsApp hoaxes are India’s own fake news crisis • BuzzFeed News

Pranav Dixit:

»

At 8 p.m. on Nov. 8, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi unexpectedly banned 86% of the country’s legal tender from circulation. The goal was to wipe out “black money” — a term used in India for cash that’s stashed outside the banking system to evade taxes. Old notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 would no longer be legal. Instead, the government would issue new, redesigned Rs. 2,000 notes.

Hours after the prime ministerial bombshell, the rumors started flying fast and thick over WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app used by more than 160 million Indians: The new notes would include an embedded GPS chip that would allow the government to track down hoarders.

Soon a video purporting to show one of these GPS notes being tracked on Google Maps went viral on WhatsApp, and then Facebook. And  less than 24 hours after the rumor started ,  Zee News, a leading Hindi television news channel, ran a 90-second report about the high-tech note, leading the country’s reserve bank to finally debunk it.

«

WhatsApp is gigantic in India – and provides a terrific channel for rumours to spread. Terrific piece.
link to this extract


Graphene’s superconductive power has finally been unlocked, and it’s crazier than we expected – ScienceAlert

Fiona Macdonald:

»

It’s official: graphene has been made into a superconductor in its natural state – which means electrical current can flow through it with zero resistance.

Last year, physicists managed to do this by doping graphene with calcium atoms, but this is the first time researchers have achieved superconductivity in the material without having to alter it. And the results so far show that the material achieves an incredibly rare type of superconductivity that’s even crazier and more powerful than scientists expected.

The new research is a big deal even for a material as innately impressive as graphene, seeing as superconductivity is the key to more efficient electronics, better power grids, and new medical technology.

«

This is promising, especially because graphene is quite easy to make as superconductors go. But it happens a long way from room temperature (at about 4.2K) and has to be doped with another specific superconductor.
link to this extract


Apple Inc: a pre-mortem • Medium

“Dan”:

»

Last year marked the fifth year of Tim Cook’s reign, and year three of “Tim Cook’s Apple”. With recent technological shifts, Apple is at a crossroads of sorts; therefore, I believe a pre-mortem is expedient:

»

A pre-mortem is a managerial strategy in which a manager imagines that a project or organization has failed, and then works backward to determine what potentially could lead to the failure of the project or organization. The technique breaks possible groupthinking by facilitating a positive discussion on threats, increasing the likelihood the main threats are identified.

«

«

The pre-mortem is a clever idea which I hadn’t come across before. Dan’s analysis is useful, focussing on the Apple Watch, TV, services and iOS – and also Apple the company.
link to this extract


Artificial intelligence wrecks poker pros to stack up a profit of $800,000

Mix:

»

In yet another episode of man versus machine, an artificial intelligence developed by Carnegie Melon University has been absolutely dismantling a team of professional poker players, accumulating a staggering lead of almost $800,000.

The showdown takes place as part of the “Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence” competition which pits a group of four poker pros against the crafty supercomputer Libratus in a heads-up game of No-Limit Texas Hold’em slated to continue for 120,000 hands.

Since January 11, when the contest kicked off, the players have now passed the midway point of the the race, having completed almost 65,000 hands in total.

What is more intriguing is that so far Libratus has managed to keep an impressive lead over its human opponents, stacking up a profit of $794,392.

While the seasoned players originally underestimated the AI, Jimmy Chou, who is one of the pros, told CMU that they’ve all come to regard the machine as a tremendously tough rival, noting the computer’s ability to continuously improve its game.

“The bot gets better and better every day,” he said. “It’s like a tougher version of us.”

«

And also the computer doesn’t have any tells. It needs some blinking lights.
link to this extract


Alexa and Google Assistant have a problem: people aren’t sticking with voice apps they try • Recode

Jason del Rey on a new report from VoiceLabs:

»

For starters, 69% of the 7,000-plus Alexa “Skills” — voice apps, if you will — have zero or one customer review, signaling low usage.

What’s more, when developers for Alexa and its competitor, Google Assistant, do get someone to enable a voice app, there’s only a 3% chance, on average, that the person will be an active user by Week 2, according to the report. (There are outliers that have Week 2 retention rates of more than 20 percent.) For comparison’s sake, Android and iOS apps have average retention rates of 13% and 11 percent, respectively, one week after first use.

“There are lots of [voice] apps out there, but they are zombie apps,” VoiceLabs co-founder Adam Marchick said in an interview.

Amazon and Google spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

The statistics underscore the difficulty Amazon and Google are having in getting Echo and Home owners to discover and use new voice apps on their platforms. Instead, many consumers are sticking to off-the-shelf actions like streaming music, reading audio versions of books and controlling lights in their home.

Those are all good use cases for the voice platforms, but not sufficient to build an ecosystem that will keep software developers engaged and lead to new transformative revenue streams.

«

Not a surprise; these devices might be more like the Apple Watch, which is basically a self-contained ecosystem. (Via Philippe Winthrop.)
link to this extract


Hugo Barra, Xiaomi’s Google star, quits • Tech In Asia

Nivedita Bhattacharjee:

»

In what seemed like a nod to China’s catastrophic air pollution problem, he said at least part of the reason for his move was his health.

“[…] what I’ve realized is that the last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health. My friends, what I consider to be my home, and my life are back in Silicon Valley, which is also much closer to my family. Seeing how much I’ve left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return,” Barra said in a Facebook post announcing the departure.

A former vice president at Google, Barra left the tech giant in 2013 to join what was then a little known Chinese startup. He has been in charge of Xiaomi’s international expansion since. Earlier this month, Xiaomi said its India revenues had crossed US$1 billion in 2016, making it the Chinese startup’s biggest international market.

“As I thought about this late last year, I concluded that Xiaomi is in a very good place on its global expansion path, and if there was ever going to be a good time for me to come back home, that time is now — when I can confidently say our global business is no longer just an in-house startup,” Barra said in the Facebook post.

«

Bad for Xiaomi (this is going to crimp its international potential significantly) and good for wherever Barra ends up. As he left Google amid rumours of friction with Sergey Brin over a personal relationship, I’m not convinced he’ll be back at Mountain View.
link to this extract


Tidal facing claims of inflating subscriber numbers • RAIN News

Anna Washenko:

»

Tidal is facing allegations that it has inflated subscriber numbers. Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv claimed that it has obtained internal reports that show Tidal only had 350,000 subscribers in September 2015. That same month, owner Jay-Z had tweeted that Tidal was “1,000,000 people and counting.” The publication also said that in March 2016, Tidal had 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers, even though it announced publicly that it had 3 million subscribers. Tidal has not issued a comment yet about the claims.

The question of how many people are really using Tidal has been a frequent one over the years. After Jay-Z acquired the company from Aspiro, he talked about plans for a lawsuit on those same charges: that the owner had exaggerated the size of its audience prior to the takeover.

«

#alternativefacts
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Twitter bots for hire, Apple sues Qualcomm, Chromebooks ahoy?, Sonos dreams, and more


Got trouble connecting? There’s an algorithm for that. Photo by suttonhoo 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 13 links for you. Now the work starts. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

350,000 Twitter bot sleeper cell betrayed by love of Star Wars and Windows Phone • The Register

Thomas Claburn:

»

Computer boffins Juan Echeverria and Shi Zhou at University College London have chanced across a dormant Twitter botnet made up of more than 350,000 accounts with a fondness for quoting Star Wars novels.

Twitter bots have been accused of warping the tone of the 2016 election. They also can be used for entertainment, marketing, spamming, manipulating Twitter’s trending topics list and public opinion, trolling, fake followers, malware distribution, and data set pollution, among other things.

In a recently published research paper, the two computer scientists recount how a random sampling of 1 per cent of English-speaking Twitter accounts – about 6 million accounts – led to their discovery.

«

Amazing. It’s essentially the same thing as botnets on PCs, but – presumably – for propaganda.
link to this extract


Data mining solves the mystery of your slow Wi-Fi connection • Technology Review


»

The researchers say that Wi-Fi connections fail an astonishing 45% of the time. And the time they take is hugely variable, with 15% of connections taking more than five seconds.  

So what is going wrong? Changhau and co use a data-mining algorithm to crunch through the data to find out what kind of factors are associated with failed connections and long connection times.

It turns out that several factors significantly influence connection time and success. Perhaps the most important is whether the Wi-Fi network is public or private—private networks are significantly faster and have higher rates of connection success.

The mobile device’s operating system is another factor. The team says identical devices running different operating systems can have very significant differences in connection times and point the finger particularly at a heavily customized version of Android called FlyMe. The chipsets in both the mobile device and the access point can also impact connection times, with slower chips taking much longer.

Having found the factors that slow down connections, the team has created an algorithm that avoids the most obvious compromises and so speeds up connection times… The algorithm reduces connection failures to a rate of just 3.6% and reduces connection times by a factor of 10.

«

Nice idea. And now it’s out there. (In the ArXiv paper.)
link to this extract


Amazon and Google fight crucial battle over voice recognition • The Guardian

I wrote on the new frontier for a new battle:

»

at January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), also in Las Vegas, commentators were struck by how many devices incorporated Alexa. And Amazon is even stealing into Google’s territory: some phones sold in the US from China’s Huawei, which uses Android, will incorporate Alexa rather than Google’s Assistant programme.

Google’s natural reaction is to have its own voice-driven home system, in Home. But that poses a difficulty, illustrated by the problems it claims to solve. At the device’s launch, one presenter from the company explained how it could speak the answer to questions such as “how do you get wine stains out of a rug?” Most people would pose that question on a PC or mobile, and the results page would offer a series of paid-for ads. On Home, you just get the answer – without ads.

What analysts wonder is: how can Home bridge that revenue gap? So far, Google hasn’t explained. Even if it can fend off the Echo, it may not be able to defend its core business.

By contrast, the Echo’s benefit to Amazon is much clearer…

«

I considered getting an Echo the other day. But then I asked myself quite what I, and everyone else, would use it for. The feeling passed. However it still feels like a threat to Google.
link to this extract


Apple sues Qualcomm • Business Insider


»

Apple is accusing Qualcomm of withholding $1 billion in rebates under a deal they had struck to keep Qualcomm modems in Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.

Qualcomm held the rebates after Apple worked with Korean antitrust regulators looking into Qualcomm’s licensing businesses, Apple said.

Earlier this week, the FTC accused Qualcomm of monopolistic practices directly related to its intellectual property licensing business and cited its relationship with Apple.

“Apple has intentionally mischaracterized our agreements and negotiations, as well as the enormity and value of the technology we have invented, contributed and shared with all mobile device makers through our licensing program,” Qualcomm general counsel Don Rosenberg said in a statement. 

Apple said that Qualcomm charges Apple “at least five times more in” royalty payments than all of Apple’s other patent licensors combined in a statement provided to Business Insider.

«

I haven’t read Apple’s complaint in detail (it’s very long), but BI does have a link to a Scribd version of it. The odd thing is, if Qualcomm was really overcharging, why didn’t Apple take it to court? It did with Motorola over similar FRAND complaints. (One difference: Qualcomm paid Apple to make it a monopoly supplier – hence the $1bn at dispute.)
link to this extract


How Donald Trump can really make America great again • FT

Former Economist editor Bill Emmott:

»

The third advice is to take a harder and more sober look at America’s endemic problems. Mr Trump is right when he says there is a lot to be fixed, but wrong when he implies that it is all about wrenching back jobs from Mexico and China. It is about flaws in America’s own economy, society and public policy.

A new composite statistical index shows how western countries are shaping up in the face of the long-term trends of this century, including ageing populations, technological innovation, the knowledge society and globalisation. On the Wake Up 2050 Index, the US comes a shocking 23rd out of the 35 OECD members ranked.

Why? One big reason is seemingly non-economic: health. Despite a superficially favourable demography, with higher fertility rates and slower ageing than in Europe, and despite spending 18% of gross domestic product on healthcare, the US throws away its advantage through high levels of obesity and relatively poor health-adjusted life expectancy. A hasty move to abolish Obamacare, as many Republicans favour, would just make things worse.

That inefficient health system combined with poor health contributes to the country’s recently poor record in productivity growth.

«

I hadn’t considered it in that way, but the US’s huge health spending (for poor outcomes) is actually a drag on its economy. If it could improve that, other improvements would follow naturally.

The Wake Up 2050 index is worth looking at too. Meanwhile, there’s another small matter…
link to this extract


Trump promised to resign from his companies — but there’s no record he’s done so • ProPublica

Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw:

»

At a news conference last week, now-President Donald Trump said he and his daughter, Ivanka, had signed paperwork relinquishing control of all Trump-branded companies. Next to him were stacks of papers in manila envelopes — documents he said transferred “complete and total control” of his businesses to his two sons and another longtime employee.

Sheri Dillon, the Trump attorney who presented the plan, said that Trump “has relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization.” Everything would be placed in a family trust by Jan. 20, she said.

That hasn’t happened.

«

Smart: they looked at whether company registration details had been updated.

The question of “where’s the proof that Donald Trump has resigned from his companies?” seems like a worthwhile one for White House press to ask. (Need to ask for proof. Anyone can lie in an answer.)
link to this extract


How Chromebooks aim to (finally) crack the consumer market in 2017 • Fast Company

Jared Newman:

»

[Lenovo’s head of Chromebooks Jeffrey] Meredith admits that the other benefits of Chromebooks have been tough to communicate. “Everybody wants simple stuff but you don’t want to be told it’s simple,” he says. “Everybody wants security, but really talking about security in enough detail that people understand how secure it is isn’t that easy.”

The likely starting point, Meredith says, will be the hardware itself, along with the behavioral changes that might make people want a Google-centric, cloud-connected, touch-enabled laptop. Later on, it might make sense to talk more about the security of Chromebooks, the auto-updates, and the size of the app ecosystem.

“You know that you don’t hit the save button anymore. Many people use Google Docs everyday,” he says. “So I think tying up into, ‘this is who you are and how you do stuff, this is the device that actually fits best for that,’ is probably where we’ll start.”

«

I keep expecting Chromebooks to make inroads into the consumer and business PC market, but they keep on not. Odd, given that many tasks (especially in business) seem as though they could be browser-based – but legacy software is too deeply embedded. I suspect the same is true for consumers: “can run iTunes” matters to a surprisingly large number of people.
link to this extract


Meitu’s photo-effects app tracks users without disclosing enough • Macworld

Glenn Fleishman:

»

When researchers went poking in the iOS version, they quickly found a host of red flags: multiple analytics packages, which is software used to track usage and users; requests for data that Apple forbids, some of the code for which was taken directly from a popular iOS programming guide, which prominently notes it shouldn’t be used in production software; and attempts to extract a unique phone identity, which is sketchy based on Apple’s rules.

iOS forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski tweeted his examination of the code, and concluded that it was likely no worse than any other free app that relied on user tracking to aggregate information and sell the results. I attempted to find Meitu’s privacy disclosure online, but its English-language sites are incomplete, and some App Store links go to Chinese-language pages.

However, in a statement sent to Macworld, Meitu said that it doesn’t sell any user data. It says it uses everything it gathers to improve the app experience, and derives all its money from in-app advertising. A spokesperson said it is also developing virtual makeup preview filters with retailers and beauty makers, which it would charge for. In China, it’s also engaged in mobile commerce, which hasn’t yet come to most of its other markets.

«

The problem with these apps (particularly on Android, where it tends to be take it or leave it) is that they inure people to just saying yes, what the hell, go ahead. At some point – or already? – something subtly malicious will exploit this, and Bad Things will follow.
link to this extract


Sonos’ new CEO wants its speakers to work with Alexa, Google, and ‘all the services that matter’ • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

Sonos makes home speakers — precisely the space that’s getting upended by Amazon’s Echo and (to a lesser extent so far) Google Home. It’s perhaps not entirely fair to say Sonos was blindsided by the rise of digital assistants in the home; but it is entirely fair to say that the company hasn’t reacted quickly enough to their sudden importance.

We’ve obtained a slightly redacted copy of the memo that Spence sent to his company immediately after taking over, and it reveals some of what Sonos is going to do to face those new challenges. Namely: it’s going to try to get everybody to play nice with Sonos.

“We know that life at home requires the support of a variety of services,” Spence writes. And rather than partner with a single company, he says Sonos will work with everybody just like it did with music streaming apps: “We are going to do the same with voice services, bringing all the services that matter to every home.”

Sonos is already planning on some integration with Amazon Alexa, but it seems like other services are going to follow — assuming Sonos can somehow remain independent and somehow convince all of these potential partners to share space on its speakers. Spence references this new balance and says Sonos will enter “the big leagues – partnering and competing with global leaders like Amazon, Google and (likely) Apple.”

«

Sonos speakers (I own several) are miles better than the Echo; but the company has seemed to be spinning its wheels in the past few years. There hasn’t been anything dramatic since the Play:1 in October 2013.
link to this extract


Apple reportedly planning three new tablets for 2017 • Digitimes

Rebecca Kuo and Joseph Tsai:

»

Apple reportedly is planning three new tablets for 2017, a 9.7in iPad with a friendly price range, a 10.5in iPad, and an upgraded 12.9in iPad Pro. The products are still in planning, with the 9.7in model expected to enter mass production in the first quarter, and the other two in the second, according to sources from the related upstream supply chain.

However, these tablets may not be announced or even released in the market until the second half of 2017, the sources said.

The sources noted that Apple is considering having the 10.5in iPad replace the existing 9.7-inch product line and will let the new 9.7in iPad become an entry-level device, mainly targeting the education sector.

«

When I wondered here who would use the iPad mini in portrait mode, the response from iPad mini owners was overwhelming. They all do. So a 10.5in iPad that is effectively two of them stuck together in portrait might be popular.
link to this extract


You’ve got mail • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

You’ve got mail! That old AOL audio announcement always felt perfectly anodyne — so anodyne that it almost seemed fated to become the hook for a romcom starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Yet at the same time, and this has become clearer in retrospect, it was a threat. The computerized voice, chipper, friendly, always feigning surprise and excitement at the news it delivered, carried a demanding and judgmental undertone. It was a parental voice. You’ve got mail — and you need to go to your inbox and attend to this new mail quickly. Right now, in fact. Only a churlish, sad, unsociable creep would let a new message sit unread in an inbox. You don’t want to be a churlish, sad, unsociable creep, do you?

A threat, and a prophecy. Even as AOL faded away, you’ve got mail burrowed deeper into our consciousness. It became more than a voice in our heads. It became the voice in our heads. It was never a voice of our own — it comes out of the mouth of a stranger, a stranger with an agenda — and yet it now runs through our minds as if on a continuous tape loop.

«

Happy Monday!
link to this extract


Cars as featurephones • Benedict Evans

Evans says that current cars are still in the featurephone area, awaiting their smartphone moment:

»

a computer should never ask you a question that it should be able to work out for itself. These alerts and warnings, and all those buttons, are questions. And so, just as Windows doesn’t ask you what sound card you have and smartphones don’t ask you where to save a file or what your password is, what is a back-up warning but a question – do you want to stop now? Really, a car shouldn’t have a back-up warning – it should just rubber-band to a halt. And that, in turn, is a step to autonomy – to level 3 and 4, the car that will try not to let you crash, and will increasingly drive itself. 

That is, the end-point is to have no interface at all. In a fully-autonomous, ‘Level 5’ car, with no steering wheel or manual controls at all, the only human-computer interface is when you say “take me home now”. But most people in the autonomous driving field think that’s at least 5 years away and more probably 10, or more. In the mean time we have a transitional phase, as you go from lots of warnings to one and you ask what fundamentally that warning should be, and as you sit in a car where you need to be in the driving seat and steering, mostly, or ready to steer, but the car might stop you, or drive itself. Something that drives itself until it doesn’t can easily become dangerous. So, my struggle to turn off the HUD on my borrowed car might become something rather more urgent.   

This could, incidentally, be the best car opportunity for Apple. A car that you just tell to go home and forget about is Google’s sweet spot, without much scope for Apple to add any unique insight as to how the experience should work. Conversely, a car that you still need to drive, somehow, but in radically new ways, seems like a fruitful place for thinking about how interfaces work, and that’s Apple. 

«

I’d love a reversing system that stopped me reversing too far.
link to this extract


Bot check-in: a year of disappointment • The Information

Sam Lessin:

»

[Facebook’s] Messenger platform ended up being too locked down and the distribution avenues too weak to generate the hoped-for opportunities for developers. This failure can either be seen as a realistic and necessary casualty of scale, or a major misfire in Facebook’s quest to monetize the Messenger platform.

Amazon clearly leaned a lot further into the Echo and the bot platform it hoped to develop on top, to make it a more valuable and defensible ecosystem. You know Amazon is pushing something hard when every box you get from them is wrapped in ads for its bot platform on the tape. The product seems to be very well-liked and selling well. (I have five at home.) But having spent time developing some things on the platform, I can tell you that Amazon to date has made it very difficult for developers to distribute software on the platform and has failed to provide the discovery mechanisms that would allow new developers to flourish.

So the Echo, while continuing to be promising, in practice remains a very good alarm clock that can tell some jokes.

Google was relatively late to the consumer-facing bot party this year, but with the announcement of its Assistant product, its “Home” Echo competitor, and Allo, it has meaningfully tossed its hat into the ring. Google has not, however, been pushing the developer or ecosystem story as much as just creating great services—at least not directly. That might turn out to be the right strategy.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: (more) trouble with ads, Coolpad v Huawei, where’s the Pixel?, the WhatsApp conundrum, and more


Microphones: room for improvement. Photo by mag3737 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. Come on, it’s a Friday the like of which you’ll never see again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Lousy ads are ruining the online experience – The Verge

Walt Mossberg didn’t like the ad on a TV sports show; but he’s beginning to realise that the model is increasingly broken online:

»

Some combination of ads and subscriptions has long supported both news and entertainment, in print and on television. But, as a young journalist coming up at The Wall Street Journal, I was always led to understand that the price and volume of ads was based on a variety of factors — not just how big your audience was, but who it was (as best as could be measured back then) and how desirable your journalism was. I was also taught that our job as journalists was to just do great work and the readers, and advertisers would follow.

But the world has changed as journalism and entertainment have been disrupted by technology. Great power has shifted to the advertisers. I learned this almost immediately after I left the Journal in 2013 and co-founded Recode on January 2nd, 2014.

About a week after our launch, I was seated at a dinner next to a major advertising executive. He complimented me on our new site’s quality and on that of a predecessor site we had created and run, AllThingsD.com. I asked him if that meant he’d be placing ads on our fledgling site. He said yes, he’d do that for a little while. And then, after the cookies he placed on Recode helped him to track our desirable audience around the web, his agency would begin removing the ads and placing them on cheaper sites our readers also happened to visit. In other words, our quality journalism was, to him, nothing more than a lead generator for target-rich readers, and would ultimately benefit sites that might care less about quality.

«

Subscriptions. Gotta be. Ads will always have the tragedy of the commons.
link to this extract


Did fake news help elect Trump? Not likely, according to new research • Poynter

James Warren:

»

The study, which also downplays the political impact of social media in general, is co-authored by economists Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford University and Hunt Allcott of New York University. It will be released Wednesday afternoon on their websites and Monday as a working paper on the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research’s website.

Their paper, “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election,” melds new web browsing data, a 1,200-person post-election online survey they conduct and the assembling of a database of election stories categorized as fake by prominent fact-checking websites, including PolitFact, in the three months leading to the election.

In sum, they conclude that the role of social media was overstated, with television remaining by far the primary vehicle for consuming political news. Just 14% of Americans deemed social media the primary source of their campaign news, according to their research.

In addition, while fake news that favored Trump far exceeded that favoring Clinton, few Americans actually recalled the specifics of the stories and fewer believed them.

«

Problem with this is that sure, the overwhelming majority of the US population didn’t take any notice of this stuff. But Trump wasn’t elected by an overwhelming majority. Most Republicans vote Republican, most Democrats vote Democrat; there’s only a small group in between. Trump got some key votes in a few states. You only need a small number to be affected to tip things.
link to this extract


Six Coolpad workers detained in patent dispute with former employer Huawei • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:

»

Chinese smartphone maker Coolpad, part of the LeEco technology conglomerate, said six employees had been detained by authorities, accused of infringing the intellectual property rights of their former employer Huawei Technologies.

The official Securities Times reported on Wednesday that the former Huawei engineers and designers had been detained for leaking company secrets to LeEco and Coolpad.

The employees’ lawyers and families say none of them took technology documents or codes from Huawei, a Coolpad unit, Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific (Shenzhen) Co Ltd, said in a statement.

They also have not given any such documents to Coolpad and LeEco, the statement said. The unit declined to comment beyond its statement.

It added that the workers are under investigation by the Shenzhen public securities department concerning a patent application made before they joined Coolpad’s smartphone department.

«

Coolpad is a strong rival to Huawei in China. LeEco has called this “pure rumour”, which isn’t quite a denial.
link to this extract


Voice Search Stats – how voice search affects SEO • Branded3

Mike Jeffs:

»

I’m not going to pretend this post is anything more than a list of statistics. Statistics on voice search that you can read and refer to in order to understand how optimising sites for users will change in 2017 as usage of voice search increase.

2017 sees the launch of Home – Google’s voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant and also the integration of Google Assistant into our TVs.  December 2016 saw Amazon’s Echo products become their most popular product over the holiday period.

«

Some surprising ones, such as 40% of adults using voice search at least once a day (according to ComScore).
link to this extract


The sad state of microphones is holding back Siri and Alexa • Bloomberg

Matthew Braga:

»

Apple and its rivals have challenging, albeit straightforward, demands. They want a higher signal-to-noise ratio, meaning the mic can isolate voices more clearly and from farther away, and a higher acoustic overload point, the threshold at which the mic can no longer distinguish signal from noise. And the chips have to improve in both areas without getting bigger, becoming less reliable, or using more power than before.

Those factors are becoming more important as device makers add more mics. There’s one in the first iPhone, three in 2014’s iPhone 6, and four in last year’s 6S. Motorola’s Droid Turbo smartphone has five mics, and Amazon’s smart speaker, Echo, has seven. The extra mics boost clarity for voice controls or recording when some are muffled, overwhelmed, or pointed the wrong way. The trade-off: More mics cost more money and power and, in some cases, can add their own noise, making for diminishing returns. For now, Samsung’s Galaxy phones are sticking with two.

Market leader Knowles, which shipped about 1.4 billion MEMS mics last year, has turned to software. The company is building audio-processing algorithms into the mic chips themselves, which can recognize when to activate a device’s other audio processors.

«

link to this extract


Google is doing a terrible job at shipping its Pixel smartphones • The Verge

Chris Welch:

»

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL launched three months ago in October to a very enthusiastic response. They’re terrific smartphones. Our review headline called them a home run. But in the weeks since, it has become incredibly difficult for consumers to actually acquire either of them in a reasonable amount of time. Google has done a poor job of shipping adequate supply of both Pixels, as it’s now January and there’s still no easy way of obtaining the model you want without resorting to eBay or Swappa. That’s not so great for customers. And it’s hurting an incredible smartphone. The Pixel is the best Android phone you can buy — if you can actually manage to do the buying part.

«

Sounds as though Google was caught out by the demand for the Pixel, which was partly driven by the failure of Samsung’s Note 7. HTC’s revenues show a huge year-on-year jump in August, when one assumes it was making Pixels, but not much since. That would fit with the apparent shortages: orders for the 128GB Pixel are showing as shipping in the second week of March.
link to this extract


WhatsApp vulnerability explained, by the man who discovered it: Tobias Boelter • The Guardian

The aforesaid Tobias Boelter:

»

There was an outcry when the Guardian published my information regarding a vulnerability within WhatsApp’s implementation of end-to-end encryption, but much of the response misses the point.

Most of the arguments seem to revolve around what is and isn’t a backdoor. You can argue that we are looking at a vulnerability which would be something that is there by error, or a backdoor, which would be something that is there deliberately.

At the time I found the flaw, I didn’t think it was deliberate, but since Facebook was informed in April 2016 and it still hasn’t been fixed, now I’m not so sure. But this discussion is a smokescreen for the real problem.

«

No apologies for returning to this specific topic: I think it’s important. Boelter discovered a wrinkle in how WhatsApp implements an aspect of security in the situation that, say, you were conspiring with someone against the government. (Let’s assume you’re doing it for good reasons, say to release kittens.) He explains how the government might be able to headfake you into sending *one* message – well, maybe more, if WhatsApp’s servers are compromised – to your contact who has been picked up by the (nasty) authorities.

The weakness with this interpretation of this (real) wrinkle – because as he notes, WhatsApp has chosen to deal with it one way and Signal in another – is that it overlooks the shortcut the authorities would more probably use, which might involve pulling out fingernails and whacking you around the head with a phone directory (leaves no marks).

In other words, it’s a theoretical attack more than a practical one. It’s this which has Zeynep Tufecki up in arms because she sees articles like this as decreasing trust in something which is (a) actually really secure (b) simple to set up and use (c) targeted by governments. The danger is it leads to people using less secure stuff. And I’d agree with her. (It’s also dismaying that the headline has been changed, replacing the original “backdoor” with “vulnerability”, without acknowledging the fact in the correction panel.)

TL;DR: this XKCD cartoon.
link to this extract


China Oceanwide and IDG Capital announce agreement to acquire IDG • Business Wire


»

China Oceanwide is a privately held, multi-billion dollar international conglomerate founded by Chairman Zhiqiang Lu. Headquartered in Beijing, China Oceanwide’s well-established and diversified businesses include operations in financial services, real estate assets, media, technology and strategic investment, with more than 12,000 employees globally.

IDG Capital is an independently operated investment management partnership, with IDG as one of many limited partners. Formed in 1993 as China’s first technology venture investment firm, IDG Capital was ranked China’s top VC firm for 2016 by Zero2IPO Group.

IDG will continue to be headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts and managed by its current team. Kirk Campbell will continue as President and CEO of IDC, and Michael Friedenberg will continue as CEO of IDG Communications. A new board of directors will be appointed after the close of the transaction.

«

Noted here because IDG owns IDC, the analysis company. China’s interest in buying up useful stuff is quite noticeable – subtle, but noticeable. The purchase has been approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, in pretty much the last act by the Obama administration.
link to this extract


Google and the misinformed public • The Chronicle of Higher Education

Safiya Noble:

»

the convicted gunman, Dylann Roof, wrote that his radicalization on race began following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen, and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman. Roof typed “black on White crime” in a Google search; he says the results confirmed (a patently false notion) that black violence on white Americans is a crisis. His source? The Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “unrepentantly racist.” As Roof himself writes of his race education via Google, “I have never been the same since that day.”

Roof’s Google search results did not lead him to an authoritative source of violent-crime statistics. FBI statistics show that most violence against white Americans is committed by other white Americans, and that most violence against African-Americans is committed by other African-Americans. His search did not lead him to any experts on race from the fields of African-American studies or ethnic studies at universities, nor to libraries, books, or articles about the history of race in the United States and the invention of racist myths in the service of white supremacy. Instead it delivered him misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies that bolstered his already racist outlook and violent antiblack tendencies.

Online search can oversimplify complex phenomena.

«

Said a mouthful with that last sentence. My results (on DuckDuckGo, set to “UK” region) are: top result is a site called “New Nation” (which seems to be a white race site), second is a HuffPo article on misrepresentation, third is an FBI spreadsheet. In short, the problem extends across search engines; though I doubt Dylann Roof’s racism began with the results of a Google search.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Facebook’s video switch, cyberattack in Ukraine, the browser line of death, and more


Popular – and a big money-loser so far for Amazon, estimates say. Photo by Adam Bowie 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. Feel their sensuality. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook looks like it’s going to stop paying publishers to make live videos • Recode

Kurt Wagner:

»

Facebook spent more than $50 million last year paying publishers and celebrities to create live video on the social network.

Now numerous publishers tell Recode that Facebook is de-emphasizing live video when it talks to them. And none of the publishers we’ve spoken with expect Facebook to renew the paid livestreaming deals it signed last spring to get live video off the ground.

Instead, Facebook is pushing publishers to create longer, premium video content as part of a larger effort led by Facebook exec Ricky Van Veen. The hope is to get more high-quality video onto the platform and into your News Feed — the kind of stuff, presumably, you might find on Netflix.

Facebook may pay publishers for that stuff, instead of paying them to make live video, a format Mark Zuckerberg was “obsessed” with last year.

«

When are publishers going to realise they can’t win this game? The problem is, their audience is over on Facebook. And they need the money badly. So when Facebook says “jump”, they can only ask how high.
link to this extract


Google Contributor has been shut down • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

Back in 2015, Google launched a service called Google Contributor, which allowed users to pay a small amount of money per month to see fewer AdSense ads on their favorite websites. The service never expanded outside the United States, and last month, Google announced it would shut down “mid-January 2017.”

Well, it’s now mid-January, and Google Contributor has been laid to rest. The site now shows a 404 error, and users have received refunds for their remaining account balance.

«

Except Google’s Contributor page says it’s “launching a new and improved Contributor in early 2017!” Question is, why does it have to kill the old one and resart?
link to this extract


Ukraine’s power outage was a cyber attack: Ukrenergo • Reuters

Pavel Polityuk, Oleg Vukmanovic and Stephen Jewkes:

»

A power blackout in Ukraine’s capital Kiev last month was caused by a cyber attack and investigators are trying to trace other potentially infected computers and establish the source of the breach, utility Ukrenergo told Reuters on Wednesday.

When the lights went out in northern Kiev on Dec. 17-18, power supplier Ukrenergo suspected a cyber attack and hired investigators to help it determine the cause following a series of breaches across Ukraine.

Preliminary findings indicate that workstations and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, linked to the 330 kilowatt sub-station “North”, were influenced by external sources outside normal parameters, Ukrenergo said in comments emailed to Reuters.

“The analysis of the impact of symptoms on the initial data of these systems indicates a premeditated and multi-level invasion,” Ukrenergo said.

Law enforcement officials and cyber experts are still working to compile a chronology of events, draw up a list of compromised accounts, and determine the penetration point, while tracing computers potentially infected with malware in sleep mode, it said.

«

link to this extract


Tim Draper keeps defending Theranos • Axios

Draper is an old family friend of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, and put $1m into it early on. Dan Primack leads the questioning, such as:

»

The first Wall Street Journal story critical of Theranos was published in October 2015. What was your initial reaction?

“I dismissed it because there are always writers who want to take down big successes. Then after the next one I realized there was some strange vendetta. Maybe it had to do with money. The guy is getting $4 million to continue this charade.”

Don’t journalists sometimes dig into something that only looks like a big success, but actually is fraudulent in some way?

“Elizabeth started an amazing company that is so disruptive to various industries, so I think there were competitors fueling this fire. She was delivering 50 blood tests for $30. Her competitors are delivering the same thing for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. They were hugely threatened by this. Her product allowed consumers to have a baseline and then measure all of the changes in their blood over time. That technology is going to happen and I’m hoping it happens with Theranos.

It’s like other industries that get threatened by new technology. Like Bitcoin when all of the banks lined up against it. Or Uber being attacked by the taxi companies or Tesla by the car companies or Skype by the telecom companies. In this case, the competitors got a mouthpiece. I believe Elizabeth is the victim of a witch hunt.”

You said something similar to Bloomberg TV last summer, adding that the competitors in this case included pharma and health insurers. How so?

“My argument there is a little more abstract. If you’re big pharma, you like this relationship you have with doctors. You like that you can drive what people are prescribed. Theranos allows people to take more control over their own health, which would end up creating smaller markets for drug companies and health insurance companies.”

«

Would love smaller markets for health insurance companies, but that’s not really what Theranos was aiming at. And believe me, there’s no way that John Carreyrou was getting $4m for anything.
link to this extract


The Artificial Lawyer year in review: the new era of legal AI begins • artificial lawyer

Richard Tromans:

»

One can seriously doubt whether a website called Artificial Lawyer in, for example 2006, would have received the same level of interest, or had that much to write about.

In 2006, the site would have been almost entirely theoretical. It would have been sparsely populated with comments from a few talking heads, talking again and again about the same theoretical issues. In short, it would not have been of much interest. News is about actual events, not just theory. And there was no legal AI news back then.

Roll forward 10 years and everything has changed. Some might say changed too much. Others may say: ‘Yes, it’s changed, but a lot of it is hype.’

My view is that neither too much has changed (in fact, it’s only just started to change), nor is this hype. It is very real and having an impact, but it is still small for now. Hype is about the latest version of the flying car that will never go into production, or marketing spiel about smart watches changing the world, even though few people have really ever used them for more than fitness tracking.

Moreover, the many new legal tech companies that are now emerging, both those operating inside the AI spectrum and several in other areas, are transforming the way we think about the production of legal work. They are changing client relationships and the internal dynamics of law firms. And though I don’t see the end of lawyers, we will probably see a big reduction in the need for paralegals in the years to come.

This is happening because this wave of legal AI and automation companies really do provide something that works and really do make a difference to lawyers and clients.

«

link to this extract


Google’s new stab at boosting Android brand in US • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»

Google is expanding its “Android One” program for low-cost smartphones to the U.S in coming months, promising phone makers major new promotional dollars if they play by its rules, say three people briefed on the plan…

…Google recently expressed its displeasure with Huawei after the China-based smartphone giant said earlier this month it would offer Amazon’s Alexa “virtual assistant” on upcoming U.S. phones, according to a person briefed about the matter. (Google developed a rival virtual assistant that will be built into Android phones besides the Pixel later this year.) It’s likely that Huawei made the decision in order to be in Amazon’s good graces, given that Amazon is an important seller of Huawei phones to U.S. customers.

A Huawei spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google already has lined up at least one phone maker to be a U.S. launch partner for Android One, said one of the people briefed on the program. The identity couldn’t be learned. But one potential partner is LG, this person said. Google isn’t accepting submissions from additional phone makers at the moment, this person said. After the first launch, Google is expected to consider including other phones on a case-by-case basis.

«

You’d have to think this is going to cause even more friction with Android OEMs. The smartphone market is slowing down (in the US as much as anywhere) which could mean some wondering whether it’s worth competing if Google isn’t making the field level (as well as playing in it the game itself).

link to this extract


Google has slashed the price of Daydream View headset • VR-Zone

Thomas Oliver on the price cut (from $79 to $49):

»

This is not a permanent price slash, however, and it is only valid until 25 February. Even though Daydream is not readily available in Singapore, anyone interested should get on this deal while it lasts.

Why Google has cut the price

Google only launched the Daydream headset last November. Since then, sales figures have not been made available, but are unlikely to be really impressive. After all, it came out near the end of 2016 and was limited to Daydream-ready devices, meaning the Google Pixel phone.  Pessimists would likely see this as the driving reason behind the sale, trying to push up sales numbers to make up for a disappointing year.

However, another potential reason could be that Google has seen renewed potential in the headset. After all, Google announced a whole slew of Daydream-Ready headsets at CES this year, including the very interesting Zenfone AR from Asus. With this information, it’s very clear that Google still has plenty of interest in VR. If anything, the sale shows how much they believe in the technology.

«

So he doesn’t know why Google cut the price, and hasn’t tried to find out. Journamalism. Most likely reason: poor sales (this feels like an inventory dump), which is reinforced by this tweet from Amir Efrati: “Google told one partner that usage of #DayDream VR “disappointing,” hence G asking phone brands to give away VR head gear for free.”
link to this extract


Amazon pours resources into voice assistant Alexa • FT

Leslie Hook, Richard Waters and Tim Bradshaw:

»

The company has also been pouring resources into Alexa at an ever-faster pace. Evercore estimates that Amazon lost about $330m on Alexa in 2016, including net losses on the devices as well as personnel costs, and that this figure will nearly double to exceed $600m this year. Amazon is advertising openings for more than 500 jobs in its Alexa team as it seeks to expand. (The company has also promised to add 100,000 new jobs, mostly warehouse positions, in the US by mid-2018.)

The strategic imperative for Amazon is clear: Alexa is its chance to own the operating system in this new medium, voice.

“It’s kind of like trying to become the Google for voice or the Windows for voice,” said Mark Mahaney, analyst at RBC. “I think Amazon is just running away with this market.”

He points to two places where voice interactions are most convenient: the home and the car. In the home, Amazon can strengthen its ties to customers, and of course make it easier for them to shop on Amazon and listen to Amazon Music.

This presence in the home dovetails with Amazon’s recent effort to expand its grocery business, Amazon Fresh. “It is kind of Amazon’s Trojan horse into the refrigerator,” said Mr Mahaney. He estimates as many as 10m Alexa devices were sold in the recent holiday quarter.

These direct retail opportunities are only part of the picture, however. Owning the popular voice operating system puts Amazon in a powerful position, allowing it to act as the gatekeeper for third-party applications and customer data.

«

Amazon’s position in voice is definitely interesting; it’s great they can afford to lose money on it, because they’ll make it up in volume. (Haha, volume, geddit?) When and how does it start earning back enough?
link to this extract


The Line of Death • text/plain

Eric Lawrence:

»

When building applications that display untrusted content, security designers have a major problem— if an attacker has full control of a block of pixels, he can make those pixels look like anything he wants, including the UI of the application itself. He can then induce the user to undertake an unsafe action, and a user will be none the wiser.

In web browsers, the browser itself usually fully controls the top of the window, while pixels under the top are under control of the site. I’ve recently heard this called the line of death:

If a user trusts pixels above the line of death, the thinking goes, they’ll be safe, but if they can be convinced to trust the pixels below the line, they’re gonna die.

Unfortunately, this crucial demarcation isn’t explicitly pointed out to the user, and even more unfortunately, it’s not an absolute.

For instance, because the area above the LoD is so small, sometimes more space is needed to display trusted UI. Chrome attempts to resolve this by showing a little chevron that crosses the LoD:

…because untrusted markup cannot cross the LoD. Unfortunately, as you can see in the screenshot, the treatment is inconsistent; in the PageInfo flyout, the chevron points to the bottom of the lock and the PageInfo box overlaps the LoD, while in the Permission flyout the chevron points to the bottom of the omnibox and the Permission box only abuts the LoD. Sometimes, the chevron is omitted, as in the case of Authentication dialogs.

«

This is fascinating, and shows the problems that designers are up against in trying to deter hackers, phishers and spoofers.
link to this extract


Silence speaks louder than words when finding malware • Android Developers Blog

Megan Ruthven, software engineer:

»

One security solution included on all devices with Google Play is Verify apps. Verify apps checks if there are Potentially Harmful Apps (PHAs) on your device. If a PHA is found, Verify apps warns the user and enables them to uninstall the app.

But, sometimes devices stop checking up with Verify apps. This may happen for a non-security related reason, like buying a new phone, or, it could mean something more concerning is going on. When a device stops checking up with Verify apps, it is considered Dead or Insecure (DOI). An app with a high enough percentage of DOI devices downloading it is considered a DOI app. We use the DOI metric, along with the other security systems to help determine if an app is a PHA to protect Android users. Additionally, when we discover vulnerabilities, we patch Android devices with our security update system

…A device is considered retained if it continues to perform periodic Verify apps security check ups after an app download. If it doesn’t, it’s considered potentially dead or insecure (DOI). An app’s retention rate is the percentage of all retained devices that downloaded the app in one day. Because retention is a strong indicator of device health, we work to maximize the ecosystem’s retention rate.

Therefore, we use an app DOI scorer, which assumes that all apps should have a similar device retention rate. If an app’s retention rate is a couple of standard deviations lower than average, the DOI scorer flags it…

…the DOI score flagged many apps in three well known malware families — Hummingbad, Ghost Push, and Gooligan. Although they behave differently, the DOI scorer flagged over 25,000 apps in these three families of malware because they can degrade the Android experience to such an extent that a non-negligible amount of users factory reset or abandon their devices.

«

Nice. But tell me more about this thing where “we patch Android devices with our security update system.” I don’t think you actually do that. The OEMs do, if people are lucky.
link to this extract


Google has acquired most of Twitter’s developer products, including Fabric and Crashlytics • Recode

Kurt Wagner and Tess Townsend:

»

Google is acquiring Twitter’s suite of developer products, including its developer suite Fabric which includes the crash reporting service Crashlytics. Twitter acquired Crashlytics back in 2013.

The two companies are not sharing deal terms, but every member of Twitter’s Fabric team has been offered a job at Google. One source estimated the team at around 60 employees.

Fabric is the collection of products that Twitter rolled out 18 months ago to try and encourage mobile app developers to integrate more closely with Twitter’s core app.

But when the company announced another round of layoffs back in October, it also added that it would be refocusing the company around what employees call “Bluebird,” the main Twitter app. This was less than a month after Twitter decided to forgo its annual developer conference, Flight, a flag that Twitter was trying to figure out what to do with Fabric amid all the changes.

In the fall, Twitter started exploring options to offload its fringe businesses, like Fabric and Vine, the latter of which has since been shut down. At least one other company, Microsoft, showed some interest in acquiring Fabric, according to multiple sources.

«

Twitter has been spending far too much on development – that’s part of why it’s in the red – so offloading this chunk makes financial sense. It looks bad, but it’s necessary.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Qualcomm’s antitrust charge, what’s a backdoor?, MacBooks look up, Android Wear preps, and more


Yup, it’s finally dead. Photomontage by ClaraDon 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. They won’t participate in your customs union. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Qualcomm charged with monopolizing key semiconductor device used in cell phones • Federal Trade Commission


»

The FTC has charged Qualcomm with violating the FTC Act. The complaint alleges that Qualcomm:

• Maintains a “no license, no chips” policy under which it will supply its baseband processors only on the condition that cell phone manufacturers agree to Qualcomm’s preferred license terms. The FTC alleges that this tactic forces cell phone manufacturers to pay elevated royalties to Qualcomm on products that use a competitor’s baseband processors. According to the Commission’s complaint, this is an anticompetitive tax on the use of rivals’ processors. “No license, no chips” is a condition that other suppliers of semiconductor devices do not impose. The risk of losing access to Qualcomm baseband processors is too great for a cell phone manufacturer to bear because it would preclude the manufacturer from selling phones for use on important cellular networks.
 
• Refuses to license standard-essential patents to competitors. Despite its commitment to license standard-essential patents on FRAND terms, Qualcomm has consistently refused to license those patents to competing suppliers of baseband processors.
 
• Extracted exclusivity from Apple in exchange for reduced patent royalties. Qualcomm precluded Apple from sourcing baseband processors from Qualcomm’s competitors from 2011 to 2016. Qualcomm recognized that any competitor that won Apple’s business would become stronger, and used exclusivity to prevent Apple from working with and improving the effectiveness of Qualcomm’s competitors.

The FTC is seeking a court order to undo and prevent Qualcomm’s unfair methods of competition in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC has asked the court to order Qualcomm to cease its anticompetitive conduct and take actions to restore competitive conditions.

«

The payments to Apple constituted billions of dollars, the FTC says; but if Apple used any other baseband in any device, all payments would cease. Perhaps the FTC investigation is what let Intel get a foot in the door in some models of the iPhone 7.
link to this extract


First Android Wear 2.0 devices revealed: Google and LG’s Watch Sport and Watch Style • VentureBeat

Evan Blass:

»

Both timepieces feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and the Sport model throws in cellular connectivity (with both 3G and LTE data) as well as GPS and NFC radios. This latter component allows the watch to take advantage of Android Wear 2.0’s Android Pay capability.

Along with iOS compatibility, the two watches also share another commonality with the Apple Watch: a digital crown button that serves to facilitate navigation. The displays are touch sensitive as well, and boast handwriting recognition.

Other notable features include Google Assistant integration and water and dust resistance (IP68 and IP67 certifications for the Sport and Style, respectively). Furthermore, the Sport contains a heart rate sensor and, thanks to its cellular components, is capable of untethered telephony with the same phone number as a user’s primary handset.

«

Untethered telephony sounds neat but I’m unconvinced of its broad usefulness. Note how only one has NFC – which means the one without can’t do Android Pay. (It’s surprisingly useful on the Apple Watch, on every model; I’d rather have that than 3G.)

And digital crowns are a thing. How interesting.
link to this extract


Key rotation, user experience, and crypto reporting • Tony Arcieri

Arcieri on the Guardian’s story suggesting WhatsApp has a “backdoor” because of how it handles authentication if you get a new phone – or, if you’re very paranoid, the security services have tapped your messages:

»

Signal targets a different audience than WhatsApp: they assume out of the gate that you want a more secure, encrypted messenger. WhatsApp, on the other hand, shipped encryption-by-default that the end user doesn’t even have to be aware of. Where Signal targets an audience of millions, WhatsApp is targeting an audience of billions. The (adjustable) defaults in WhatsApp are designed so encryption can be on-by-default at no cost to the user experience, but still allow those who would like to receive security notifications to receive them by opting in.

Consider what web browsers would be like if they prompted a user to make a security decision whenever the key for a site changed:

I do not think asking users to make decisions like this would tangibly improve the security of the web. However, I do think it would scare people away from visiting sites in the first place.

Now I’d like to take a bit to talk about crypto reporting…

If there were a backdoor in a popular encrypted messaging app, that is big news, and it should be reported on.

This was not a backdoor. I think, had this story been run by a few security experts in advance, most would’ve told you that it is not a backdoor.

«

I haven’t linked to this topic before because I was waiting for it to shake out. One point for Arcieri: Samuel Gibbs (a Guardian staffer) didn’t write the original story; a freelance did. (Gibbs wrote a followup analysis, though without any visible quotes from security experts.)

But the original freelance *did* consult a number of security people about what she had found. On that basis, it seemed solid. The problem with writing infosec stories – I speak from experience – is that you consult three security experts and get four opinions, often conflicting. (Arcieri acknowledges that himself: “most would’ve told you”.) So you pick the most serious claims to write up, since those are the ones people should arguably take notice of. And of course they make good headlines.
link to this extract


Shambling corpse of 3D TV finally falls down dead • CNET

David Katzmaier:

»

CNET asked LG’s Tim Alessi, director of New Product Development, why his company’s TVs no longer have the feature. “3D capability was never really universally embraced in the industry for home use, and it’s just not a key buying factor when selecting a new TV,” he said. “Purchase process research showed it’s not a top buying consideration, and anecdotal information indicated that actual usage was not high. We decided to drop 3D support for 2017 in order to focus our efforts on new capabilities such as HDR, which has much more universal appeal.”

Sony’s reply was similar, if a bit less detailed. “Based on current market trends we decided not to support 3D for our 2017 models,” a representative told CNET.

Those market trends are clear: sales of 3D home video gear have declined every year since 2012. According to data from the NPD Group, 3D TV represents just 8% of total TV sales dollars for the full year of 2016, down from 16% in 2015 and 23% in 2012. Native 3D-capable Blu-ray players fell to just 11% of the market in 2016, compared to 25% in 2015 and 40% in 2012.

“I think [the fact that Sony and LG dropped 3D] says that consumers have moved on to other purchase motivators for TV,” says Ben Arnold, Executive Director at NPD. “Things like 4K/UHD, HDR, and even smart have become the key features along with screen size that consumers are buying on.”

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So there are quite a few 3D-capable TVs and Blu-ray players out there, but nobody is interested in the content – as Katzmaier also explains later.
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MacBook shipments to reach 15 million units in 2017, says paper • Digitimes

Joseph Tsai, quoting the Chinese Economic Daily News, suggesting a 10% rise in shipments for the coming year:

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Although the new MacBook Pros with OLED Touch Bar have a high ASP, demand is still rather strong. MacBook Pros using the Kaby Lake platform are expected to be released sometime later in 2017, and the platform’s low power consumption is expected to trigger a replacement trend among existing MacBook users, the market watchers noted.

Apple is likely to reduce the price for the 13in MacBook Pro without OLED Touch Bar to increase its overall shipments and will use the device to replace the 13in MacBook Air, the market watchers claimed.

Apple is expected to unveil a new 12in MacBook in early second quarter with an additional memory option of 16GB. The Kaby Lake-based 13in and 15in MacBook Pros are expected to begin production in early third quarter. A 15in MacBook Pro with 32GB memory will not start mass production until early in the fourth quarter, the paper added.

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The last of those might be welcomed by some pros. Notice that there’s no word on desktops.
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Samsung Electronics probe finds battery was main cause of Note 7 fires – source • Reuters

Se Young Lee:

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A Samsung Electronics Co Ltd investigation into what caused some Galaxy Note 7 smartphones to catch fire has concluded that the battery was the main reason, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

The world’s biggest smartphone maker is seeking to put behind it one of the biggest product safety failures in tech history as it prepares to launch the Galaxy S8, one of its flagship phones, sometime in the first half of this year…

…Samsung initially announced a recall of some 2.5 million Note 7 phones in September and identified the cause of the fire as a manufacturing process problem at one of its suppliers, later identified as affiliate Samsung SDI Co Ltd (006400.KS).

But new Note 7s with what Samsung said were safe batteries from a different supplier continued to catch fire, forcing the company to permanently halt sales of the device and dealing a 6.1 trillion won ($5.2 billion) blow to Samsung’s operating profit over three quarters…

…The source told Reuters on Monday that Samsung was able to replicate the fires during its investigation and that the cause for the fires could not be explained by hardware design or software-related matters.

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Full findings won’t be released until January 23. This seems to be saying that even though they said it wasn’t the batteries, it was the batteries.
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Fibre index • BT Openreach


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Our fibre index will be updated quarterly and forms part of Openreach’s commitment to publish the most up-to-date information about our network.

Britain’s broadband landscape has changed beyond recognition during the last five years, with average download speeds four times faster. The number of homes and businesses able to order a fibre broadband connection from Openreach – via the service provider of their choice – has also risen to over 26 million, compared with just 4 million at the end 2010.

We use the insights like those from the index to make sure we deliver a fibre network fit for the future.

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Average data usage per line in autumn 2016: 261GB. In winter 2015: 230GB. That’s a 13% rise in a year.
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Scalper losing money on tickets to Trump inauguration • NY Daily News

Adam Edelman:

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Rosenberg [who is a Democrat and occasional tout, aka scalper, aka reseller] bought the pair of tickets on Craigslist from a “Second Amendment activist” in Katonah, N.Y., last week and immediately listed them on his Facebook account, as well as back on Craigslist.

After striking out on Craigslist, Facebook and even some white supremacist message boards, Yossi Rosenberg pinned his tickets to Donald Trump’s inauguration to a community bulletin board at his office.
But after receiving no interest, he visited a handful of white supremacist websites, including the Daily Stormer, where he posted listings for the tickets on the site’s message boards.

Even then, nobody expressed interest.

It could be that Rosenberg is simply asking for too much. Other Craigslist listings for inauguration tickets appeared Monday, ranging in prices of $175 to $400 per ticket.

He nevertheless pinned them to a community bulletin board at his office, hoping a colleague might take them off his hands.

“Someone offered me $200 for the pair,” he said, well below what he was looking for. “I guess his approval ratings aren’t that high, right?”

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As stories go, this one is pretty thinly sourced. Rosenberg is the only person quoted. The tickets don’t cost money (though the allocation method is unclear). We don’t know if scalpers did well or badly at past inaugurations. We don’t know if all the tickets have gone.

Then again,
past tickets from Obama’s inaugurations are going for $500 or so. And there are some crazy prices on Trump inauguration tickets.)
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Visual programming with Bubble • Bubble


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Bubble introduces a new layer of abstraction on the top of programming technologies.
It lets you design your application by dragging and dropping elements and program it with workflows.

No Coding: Bubble is designed for people with no prior programming experience. Learn the basics in 15 minutes and master it in a couple of hours.

Mobile Development: Web apps built on Bubble are responsive and look great on mobile and tablets.
Building iOS apps is in early beta. Leverage our API to connect to your app.

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Interesting.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified