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.

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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:

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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.

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Subscriptions. Gotta be. Ads will always have the tragedy of the commons.
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Did fake news help elect Trump? Not likely, according to new research • Poynter

James Warren:

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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.

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

Sijia Jiang:

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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.

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Coolpad is a strong rival to Huawei in China. LeEco has called this “pure rumour”, which isn’t quite a denial.
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Voice Search Stats – how voice search affects SEO • Branded3

Mike Jeffs:

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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.

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Some surprising ones, such as 40% of adults using voice search at least once a day (according to ComScore).
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The sad state of microphones is holding back Siri and Alexa • Bloomberg

Matthew Braga:

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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.

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

Chris Welch:

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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.

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

The aforesaid Tobias Boelter:

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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.

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

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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.

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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.
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Google and the misinformed public • The Chronicle of Higher Education

Safiya Noble:

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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.

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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.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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