Start Up: Tesla’s lock trouble, Sudan’s deadly fake news, Fitbit looks flabby, the emoji problem, and more

We might have to think about that “secure” line. Photo by Doug Kline on Flickr.

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

Note to Tesla owners: Don’t forget your car keys • Recode

Johana Bhuiyan:


Ryan Negri, an angel investor and Tesla owner based in Las Vegas, decided to go for a drive through Red Rock Canyon yesterday to take “some photos of the freshly-fallen snow,” according to a photo caption he posted on Instagram. He unlocked and also started his car using his phone — a handy, somewhat delightful and futuristic-seeming feature — and left the key behind.

As Negri discovered after getting out of the car, it turns out there is no cell reception in a canyon in the middle of the desert — and that the Tesla needs a network connection to use the smartphone-unlocking feature.


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Medium, and the reason you can’t stand the news anymore • Medium

Sean Blanda:


Companies from Medium to The Washington Post to Mashable to Buzzfeed all eventually run into the same unthinkable truth: The methods used to fund modern journalism simultaneously undermine trust in the news outlets.

Editors, writers, and executives at today’s news outlets are all in a no-win situation where they are forced to contribute to the causes of their own demise to survive. In any other business, companies would try, fail, and another would take its place. This is good and needed.

But for news, the failures are happening at a glacial pace and bad actors are profiting as the trustworthiness of our news outlets are breaking down in slow motion. The result is the worst kind of feedback loop, where well-meaning people try to “fix” the news. But instead, those methods erode trust in all news outlets leading to a total breakdown in discourse.

You can draw a straight line from the bad incentive structure forced upon news outlets to the unprecedented divisiveness in our country. And it’s time we realized what’s going on.


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How to use Facebook and fake news to get people to murder each other • BuzzFeed News

Jason Patinkin:


Although the vast majority of South Sudan’s population has no internet access — the adult literacy rate in the country is around 30% — social media incitement has had an outsized impact largely because it mainly comes from the South Sudanese diaspora, who are held in extremely high esteem back home.

In November, the UN warned that ethnic cleansing is underway and that the fighting could spill into genocide. Government and rebel leaders stand accused of orchestrating Facebook and Twitter campaigns inciting the violence.

“Social media has been used by partisans on all sides, including some senior government officials, to exaggerate incidents, spread falsehoods and veiled threats or post outright messages of incitement,” a separate report by a UN panel of experts released in November reads.

It’s a situation that has drawn comparisons to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, particularly that crisis’s use of Radio Mille Collines, a local radio station, to fan the flames. And South Sudan’s divide is only getting worse.


Goebbels would have loved Facebook and Twitter.
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Andy Rubin nears his comeback, complete with an ‘Essential’ phone • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen:


At least one prototype of Rubin’s phone boasts a screen larger than the iPhone 7 Plus’s (5.5-inches) but has a smaller overall footprint because of the lack of bezels, one of the people said. The startup is experimenting with enabling the phone’s screen to sense different levels of pressure, similar to an iPhone, the person said. Rubin’s team is testing an industrial design with metal edges and a back made of ceramic, which is more difficult to manufacture than typical smartphone materials, two of the people said. 

Essential’s engineers are developing a proprietary connector that serves double duty for charging the battery and expanding the phone’s functionality over time, one person familiar with the planning said. The magnetic connector would allow Essential or even third parties to create hardware accessories that add features to the smartphone. For instance, Rubin’s engineers are working on a sphere-shaped camera add-on that shoots high-resolution 360 degree photographs, the person said.


1) going to go nowhere. Rubin has a great track record, but this is niche stuff; and modular is a deathwish.
2) increasingly, on reading Gurman’s stories, I feel his sources are in the supply chain, not the actual companies. There’s hardware detail, but very little about how things will work or what their aims are.
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Microsoft acquires deep learning startup Maluuba; AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio to have advisory role • Official Microsoft Blog


Maluuba’s vision is to advance toward a more general artificial intelligence by creating literate machines that can think, reason and communicate like humans — a vision exactly in line with ours. Maluuba’s impressive team is addressing some of the fundamental problems in language understanding by modeling some of the innate capabilities of the human brain, from memory and common sense reasoning to curiosity and decision making. I’ve been in the AI research and development field for more than 20 years now, and I’m incredibly excited about the scenarios that this acquisition could make possible in conversational AI.

Imagine a future where, instead of frantically searching through your organization’s directory, documents or emails to find the top tax-law experts in your company, for example, you could communicate with an AI agent that would leverage Maluuba’s machine comprehension capabilities to immediately respond to your request. The agent would be able to answer your question in a company security-compliant manner by having a deeper understanding of the contents of your organization’s documents and emails, instead of simply retrieving a document by keyword matching, which happens today. This is just one of hundreds of scenarios we could imagine as Maluuba pushes the state-of-the-art technology of machine literacy.

Sam Pasupalak and his Maluuba co-founder, Kaheer Suleman, have created a very strong engineering and research team that will become part of our Artificial Intelligence and Research organization.


If they can imagine hundreds of scenarios, could they not imagine one that actually makes one think “wow”? Keyword matching is popular because one almost always uses a relevant word, which can then be retrieved. What would be impressive would be to ask for “that email by that person who I met with at X hotel”. Calendar, ID, email.
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Why would Apple release a 10.5″ iPad? • Studio Neat blog

Dan Provost:


When the original iPad Pro 12.9″ was introduced in September 2015, Phil Schiller demonstrated the reasoning for that sizing by illustrating that the width of the new iPad is the exact same dimension as the height of the 9.7″ iPad.

This has the advantage of essentially having two full height iPad apps, side by side.
Now, imagine Apple doing the exact same thing, but with the iPad mini.

The math works out perfectly. This new 10.5″ iPad would have the exact same resolution as the 12.9″ iPad Pro (2732 x 2048), but the same pixel density of the iPad mini (326 ppi instead of 264 ppi). Crunch the numbers, do a little Pythagorean Theorem, and you end up with a screen 10.5″ diagonal (10.47″ to be precise, but none of Apple’s stated screen sizes are exact). In terms of physcial dimensions, the width of this 10.5″ screen would be exactly the same as the height of the iPad mini screen.


OK, so that’s the case, but does anyone use an iPad mini in portrait? Also, would this mean the end of the iPad mini? If this is released, the SKUs are starting to get weird: 7.9in, 9.7in, 10.5in, 12.9in. Notable how Samsung tried multiple screen sizes for tablets, but it released them all at pretty much the same time. That doesn’t seem to have worked out particularly well for them.
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Fitbit off to slow start in 2017 as devices pile up, report says • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:


The maker of wearable fitness trackers halted production in mid-December because the devices were piling up at retailers and suppliers amid disappointing sales, according to a report by the firm published Tuesday. Demand so far this year is “characterized as weak,” Cleveland Research said, suggesting analysts’ estimates for 2016 fourth-quarter earnings may be too high.

“The start of the year has been bad with Fitbit,” research analyst Ben Bollin wrote in the note. “There are some concerns partners may not get paid for all of the product they have built because demand is so weak,” he wrote, citing comments from a supplier. “Partners had to completely stop production for Fitbit because they are swimming in product.”


Wow. Demand reckoned to have been low through the fourth quarter. And yet the Fitbit app was high on the list of free apps in the iOS store. One to keep an eye on this year. (Thanks @charlesknight for the link.)
link to this extract hacked the Samsung Smartcam yet again, this time with a root exploit • Android Police


After the first wave of exploits [in May 2014], the Smartcam’s local web interface was completely removed, only allowing users to connect to it via the Samsung SmartCloud website. The company hoped that this would remove all possible exploits, but they neglected to remove the actual web server itself (only deleting the interface that the server was running).

Because the web server is still available, another exploit was found – allowing commands to be run on the Smartcam as root. The full technical details can be found on the wiki, but essentially, this works by injecting a specific file into the device’s “iWatch” webcam monitoring service as a firmware update. This can then be used to execute commands remotely as the root user, because the web server runs as root.

Interestingly, the Smartcam was developed by Samsung Techwin, a former division of Samsung. Samsung sold its holding stake of Techwin in 2015 to South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Group. The company, now called Hanwha Techwin, is still responsible for the Samsung Smartcam – likely explaining the camera’s poor user experience and security.


The Exploiteers wiki is worth a browse; seems to be an IoT hacking/exploit wiki. Oddly, no Apple gear in there.
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Android’s emoji problem • Emojipedia blog

Jeremy Burge:


The Google design team were months ahead of Apple with new emoji in the past year. Support for the latest emojis came to Android in the major Nougat release in August of 2016.

Yet the vast majority of Android users still can’t see these new emojis. Instead, they see this:

Unicode 9 support was first added to Android 7.0 in August, followed by genders and professions which arrived with 7.1 in October 2016. This was some timely updating from Google, especially compared to previous years.


84% of iOS users visiting Emojipedia are using iOS 10.x; just 4% of Android visitors are using the latest, 7.x (though that’s 6x greater than the number in the wild, 0.7%). Quoth Burge:


With numbers like that, it’s no wonder so many apps are providing their own custom emoji support these days.

Snapchat, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram and Slack all use emoji-replacement images on Android; in a trend started by Twitter with Twemoji which was released when the most popular browser on Windows (Chrome) didn’t include emoji support.

WhatsApp and Telegram even use Apple’s own emoji images on Android, and makes a custom keyboard to display them…

…The answer for users is very clear: if you care about new emoji support, be careful which phone you purchase. Unless you like looking at empty boxes.


It does feel a bit “first world problem”, but the deeper point is that security elements in newer versions of Android never reach many users.

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Pandora’s eyes are bigger than its wallet • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:


Pandora said late Thursday that its business is going gangbusters — so wonderfully, in fact, that it needs to fire 7% of its main workforce in the U.S. 

The good news is the online radio service is doing better financially than it told investors to expect. Revenue is higher than predicted, at least in part because the company is willing to cram in more commercial breaks between songs. And there’s a good reason for Pandora’s eagerness for higher advertising sales at the risk of annoying its users with ads: It needs the money. 

Running Pandora Media Inc.’s business in the 12 months ended Sept. 30 burned through $301m in cash, counting what the company spent on computers and other resources to stream songs to its listeners. And the company at Sept. 30 held about $258m in cash and relatively liquid financial instruments. At its current rate of cash burn, then, the company will exhaust its reserves of ready cash in about 10 months. 


But but but! As Ovide points out, though it has been free cashflow-negative for five quarters in a row (and 8 of the past 11) it can get more cash by a rights issue, or issuing more stock, or a loan. But that’s only going to be a holding position – she reckons it’s in line for a sale. (Ironic, since Pandora is public, and Spotify is angling to go public this year, but isn’t profitable either, and has a giant loan sucking it dry.)
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Trolls decided I was taking pictures of Rex Tillerson’s notes. I wasn’t even there. • The Washington Post

Doris Truong was convicted in her absence on Twitter of having been the (also Asian, also female) person who seemed to be taking pictures of Tillerson’s notes during a break in his confirmation hearing:


Even more bizarrely, one Twitter user insisted that “facial software on the video” led to the “almost positive” conclusion that the woman was me.

But even if people believed that the person at the hearing wasn’t me, they wanted to know who she was. And that’s what’s particularly alarming about this time in our society: Why are people so quick to look for someone to condemn? And during the confusion about the woman’s identity, why is it presumed that she is a journalist? Or that taking pictures of notes in an open hearing is illegal? Or, for that matter, that she was even taking pictures of Tillerson’s notes?


The urge to accuse is extraordinarily strong online. If you renamed Facebook to “Pitchforks” and Twitter to “Flaming Torches” you’d pretty much have it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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