Start Up: the risk of company health data, GoPro slumps, iMDb shutters its forums, and more

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has a lot of opponents – but economics might be the one that really kills it. Photo by Overpass Light Brigade 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.

Neuroscience explains why we get hacked so easily • MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:


Multitasking is partly to blame. [Associate professor at Brigham Young University Anthony] Vance’s collaboration with Google grew out of experiments that showed when people reacted to security warnings while also performing another task, brain activity in areas associated with fully engaging with a warning was significantly reduced. People were three times less likely to correctly interpret a message when they reacted to security warnings while also performing another task.

Vance’s lab teamed up with Google to test a version of [its browser] Chrome modified to deliver warnings about a person’s computer possibly being infected by malware or adware only when they weren’t deeply engaged in something. For example, it would wait until someone finished watching a video, or was waiting for a file to download or upload, to pop up the message.

Testing showed that people using the interruption-sensitive version of Chrome ignored the message only about a third of the time, compared to about 80% of the time without it.

Other studies in Vance’s lab have shown that people very rapidly become habituated to security warnings—he’s shown how the brain’s response to a message drops significantly even on just the second time someone sees it.

The researchers also did follow-up experiments in which people were asked to download mobile apps that asked for alarming permissions (for example, “Can delete your photos”). By breaking the usual rules of software design and having the security-related messages change in appearance slightly each time—for example, with different colors—it was possible to reduce the habituation effect.


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What The Verge can do to help save web advertising • Aloodo

Don Marti:


Publishers can’t enforce ad standards when an original content site is in direct competition with bottom-feeder and fraud sites that claim to reach the same audience. As Aram Zucker-Scharff mentions in an interview on the Poynter Institute site, the number of third-party trackers on a site grows as new advertising deals bring new trackers along with them. Those trackers leak audience data into the dark corners of the Lumascape until the same data re-emerges, attached to a low-value or fraudulent site that can claim to reach the same audience as the original publisher. Deceptive and extremist sites are part of a larger problems. They’re just especially good at playing the same adtech game that all low-value sites do.

So how to turn web advertising from a race to the bottom into a sustainable revenue source, like print or TV ads? How can the web work better for high-reputation brands that depend on costly signaling?

The good news for cash-crunched news sites is that the hard work of web-ad-saving software development must happen, and is happening, on the browser side. Every time a user turns on a protection tool such as Better by, EFF Privacy Badger, or the experimental Firefox Tracking Protection, a little bit of problematic ad inventory goes away.


The suggestions that follow make sense, but will publishers follow it?
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Thought your data was safe outside America after the Microsoft ruling? Think again • The Register

Iain Thomson:


Google has to hand over to the FBI suspects’ email regardless of where it is held. The ad giant had previously refused to comply with two court orders.

The timing of this ruling is rather interesting. Last month, Microsoft won a crucial privacy battle in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar case. Microsoft was ordered to hand over emails stored on cloud systems in Ireland to American investigators probing drugs trafficking. The Windows giant refused to comply, bagged a landmark appeal, and is able to take the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Specifically, Microsoft was served a Stored Communications Act (SCA) warrant by a court in New York. The corporation successfully argued that US investigators should have gone to the Irish authorities to request access to files on the Irish servers. The DoJ’s lawyers saw it another way: that Microsoft is an American corporation and thus must always yield to American courts.

On Friday, in a separate case, a district court in eastern Pennsylvania ruled that Google must obey two SCA search warrant and cough up emails stored overseas to the Feds. The judge’s decision [PDF] is seemingly at odds with the appeals court: it doesn’t matter that Google distributes its file systems across the world, it’s still an American corporation. And that means an American court can order it to give up customers’ private information.


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GoPro stock crashes more than 10% after failing to meet Wall Street’s expectations • TechCrunch

Matt Burns:


The company reported $540m in fourth-quarter revenue, with a net income loss of $.082 a share. That’s under what analysts expected. And the company didn’t fare much better in yearly reporting either, netting just $1,185m in 2016, down 26.8% from 2015.

The company notes the $0.82 per share loss includes charges of $102m for a full valuation allowance on U.S. deferred tax assets and nearly $37m for restructuring costs.

GoPro’s stock is currently trading down more than 10% on the day. The stock previously saw modest gains in the early days of 2017 and had climbed 23% in January alone.

There are some bright spots for GoPro. The company notes that the previous quarter generated the second-most revenue in the company’s history and the new Hero5 Black was the best-selling digital imaging device in units and dollars. And just yesterday, the company relaunched the Karma drone that was previously pulled from the market.


First Fitbit, now GoPro. (It isn’t much to say your revenue was “second-highest ever” when you’re meant to still be on the way up.)
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How Trump could kill his pipeline • Bloomberg

Peter Coy:


Donald Trump is convinced the Keystone XL oil pipeline [which would run from western Canada to US refineries] that he revived with an executive order on Jan. 24 will gush money. “I want it built, but I want a piece of the profits,” he said last year at a campaign stop in North Dakota. “That’s how we’re going to make our country rich again.”

He could be in for an unpleasant surprise. Market changes since the $8bn cross-border pipeline was proposed in 2008 have lowered its profit potential. US oil production has jumped by more than 60%, to around 9m barrels a day, undercutting the need for the kind of imported crude the Keystone XL would bring from Western Canada. At the same time, oil prices have fallen by about 40%, to about $50 a barrel, raising questions over the viability of Canada’s reserves of heavy oil sands, which are among the most expensive types of crude to produce relative to their market value.


Can’t repeal the laws of economic gravity. If he taxes it – as he has said he would – it makes it too expensive to import. This is where one expects he’ll be confounded by the way he can’t get what he wants to happen. This usually makes him angry.
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Dinosaur bones • net.wars

Wendy Grossman:


Fei has told her own story eloquently and at length; each of the others on her panel had a harrowing tales. For anyone who lives in a non-US industrialized country, their stories are less about medical privacy and more about the iniquity of tying health insurance to employment. One had lost her job when she was diagnosed with cancer for the third time and is living in her car because she can’t afford both rent and medical care. “We’re not worth much,” she said. All of the Europeans present shook their heads and agreed: you would never hear this story in Europe. Nationalized health insurance, living in Britain has taught me, is essential for keeping a reasonable balance of power between employers and employees: otherwise, you create a nation of frightened peasants.

Exacerbating this whole deal, as Fei pointed out, is the fact that many larger American companies now self-insure rather than buying insurance for their staff. Employees are often not fully aware of this because their companies will contract with a known insurer to handle administration. The result, however, is to give employers even more access to employees’ data. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a recent trend toward wellness programs, which sound benign but often require employees to answer extensive quesionnaires and download data-collecting apps. These programs are typically bought in, and if the vendor is not a medical company, the data so collected is not subject to HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which regulates the use and disclosure of patients’ medical information.

Ultimately, the harm in all this is the loss of recognition of the simple fact that being alive is a high-risk proposition. Individuals can certainly weight the odds (becoming a heavy drinker if you had liver failure as a child isn’t a great strategy, for example), but catastrophic illness is not just another lifestyle choice. All the talk of data as this era’s oil loses sight of the people the data connects to.


Being alive definitely is high-risk. I’ve heard it’s got a 100% fatality rate. Grossman’s ongoing net.wars column at is worth subscribing to.
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Message boards announcement • IMDb


As part of our ongoing effort to continually evaluate and enhance the customer experience on IMDb, we have decided to disable IMDb’s message boards on February 20, 2017. This includes the Private Message system. After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb’s message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide. The decision to retire a long-standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic.

Increasingly, IMDb customers have migrated to IMDb’s social media accounts as the primary place they choose to post comments and communicate with IMDb’s editors and one another. IMDb’s Facebook page ( and official Twitter account ( have an audience of more than 10 million engaged fans. IMDb also maintains official accounts on Snapchat (, Pinterest (, YouTube (, and Tumblr (

Because IMDb’s message boards continue to be utilized by a small but passionate community of IMDb users, we announced our decision to disable our message boards on February 3, 2017 but will leave them open for two additional weeks so that users will have ample time to archive any message board content they’d like to keep for personal use.


Aaaaand another one gone. Notice how closing the comment section (for that’s what it is) down is portrayed as “enhancing the customer experience”. Why? Obviously, because of trolls.

Maybe it would be educative to correlate the closure of comments sections with the rise of fake news. I wonder if the same people like both.
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The biggest host of Dark Web sites got hacked and shut down • Forbes

Lee Mathews:


Just how big is Freedom Hosting II? Anonymity and privacy researcher Sarah Jamie Lewis estimates that it was hosting somewhere between 15 and 20% of all sites on the Dark Web. The impact of this attack could be quite far-reaching, and while you might think that would mean that the ransom demand would be sky high that’s definitely not the case.

Whoever was behind the attack was asking for a paltry .1 Bitcoin. That’s about $100 at today’s exchange rate. That seems insanely cheap given that they were offering to safely return a whopping 75GB of files and another 2.6GB of databases.

Why would a hacker ask for such a small ransom for so much data? The answers might be that the attacker(s) planned to dump the data online from the moment they extracted it. At around noon Eastern, the Freedom Hosting II database was posted to a site on the Tor network. At the time of publishing this post, their site was still inaccessible.

Security researcher Chris Monteiro has been investigating the situation, and one discovery he posted to his Twitter feed is good news for all of us. Monteiro notes that the attack on Freedom Hosting II will likely have disrupted a number of botnets. Given the number of times the word “botnet” appears in the data, that seems like a strong possibility. A reduction in the number of active botnets or a reduction in their capabilities would be a very good thing.


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Mobile app helps China recover hundreds of missing children • Reuters

Ryan Woo:


A mobile app helped Chinese authorities recover hundreds of missing children last year, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday, in a country where child trafficking is rampant.

The Ministry of Public Security said 611 missing children were found last year, Xinhua said.

The “Tuanyuan”, or “reunion” in Chinese, app developed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd was launched in May and has allowed police officers to share information and work together.

Users near the location where a child has disappeared receive push notifications, including photos and descriptions. Notifications are sent to users farther and farther from the location of the disappearance if the child is still not found.


In case you were wondering if the internet and mobile has delivered any benefit at all lately.
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Why Apple hasn’t build an Apple 5K Cinema Display yet • Verschoren

Thomas Verschoren:


Imagine a new 2017 iMac doesn’t only has Night Shift mode via software, but also gets a True Tone display. That combined with Thunderbolt 3 and USB C would make it a great update that builds on technologies that exist in their current lineup. 

Now, if they release such an iMac it would immediately make any 5K display that doesn’t support True Tone look old and lower specced. 


• Apple’s Displays have a slow refresh rate.
• They don’t make an Apple 5K Cinema Display (yet).
• They don’t sell any True Tone desktop Macs (yet). 

If you were Apple and you could choose:

Release an Apple 5K Cinema Display in 2016 and sell it for a few years unchanged. 
Push an LG display in 2016, and release an Apple 5K True Tone display sometime in 2017.
Which one would be the most logical?


Ben Thompson has a theory that the Mac Pro was in some way a gigantic manufacturing screwup – that it couldn’t be updated or cost too much to make or something. (He describes it in the Talk Show with John Gruber, but has no info beyond that.) This might be the way forward for Apple.
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The FCC is stopping nine companies from providing federally subsidized internet to the poor • Washington Post

Brian Fung:


The program, known as Lifeline, provides registered households with a $9.25-a-month credit, which can then be used to buy home Internet service. As many as 13 million Americans may be eligible for Lifeline that do not have broadband service at home, the FCC has found. Roughly 900 service providers participate in the Lifeline program.

For Kajeet Inc., one of the companies that was initially granted permission to provide service through Lifeline, the news comes as a blow.

“I’m most concerned about the children we serve,” said Kajeet founder Daniel Neal. “We partner with school districts — 41 states and the District of Columbia — to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”

Since becoming chairman last month, Pai has made closing the digital divide a central axis of his policy agenda. Although the vast majority of Americans have access to Internet service, there remain distinct gaps in U.S. broadband penetration, particularly among seniors, minorities and the poor. In his first address to FCC staff, Pai singled out the digital divide as one of the signature issues he hoped to address.


Providing this access cost the government nothing; it came from a surcharge on every internet access bill. “Pure spite” is the way it was described by one observer.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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