Start Up: the asymmetric media war, defending Uber, Best Buy retreats from VR, iPhone booms, and more


It’s a robot – for you! Photo by Images Of Money 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 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I am going to eradicate the inbound Windows Support scam • Jolly Roger Telephone

“Roger”:

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I’m getting ready for a major initiative to shut down Windows Support. It’s like wack-a-mole, but I’m getting close to going nuclear on them. As fast as you can report fake “you have a virus call this number now” messages to me, I will be able to hit them with thousands of calls from bots. It’s like when the pirate ship turns “broadside” on an enemy in order to attack with all cannons simultaneously. I’ll calling it a “Broadside” campaign against Windows Support and the fake IRS.

There are A LOT of moving pieces to getting this working. One of them is letting you hear the calls as they happen. This is a little post to test the html for the posted recordings. I really need to write a WordPress plugin to do it. For now, I have a script that generates this raw HTML for me to post here. Anyway, please enjoy these experimental calls and we can anticipate the day when these call centers are all gone because of one pirate attacking them safely from off-shore.

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He’s pretty determined. His about page is quite a read too.
link to this extract


Defending Uber • Tom Forth

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For decades people like me we have asked for the right to regulate bus services in places like Leeds and Birmingham. We think that our cities, if given the freedom to, could deliver innovations like the Oyster card and the excellent services and low fares enjoyed in London. But it remains illegal under a UK law from which the capital is exempt.

We have also argued constantly for a level of investment in public transport comparable to London, and never received it. Now in Leeds, 30 years after the first plans to build a tram network, the city has the money to build a trolleybus system and is barred from doing so by the UK government. Leeds is the largest city in Europe with no public transport system. The situation is farcical.

And so while I can imagine the logic — if not the practicality — behind fears that Uber might undercut public transport in a city like London, I cannot share those fears in Leeds and Birmingham. Since there is almost no public transport to displace, it cannot be displacing it.

But there’s another argument that clinches my support for Uber.

The best data we have on the demography of taxi use comes from the 2011 census, in the methods of travel to work section. This shows that in London taxis are a luxury used by the rich. But in Leeds they are a connection to employment for the poor. For many, taxis are the only real competition that exists to restrain private bus companies’ price rises. Most people in Leeds that for many trips, especially with more than one person, a taxi is just as cheap and much more convenient than the bus.

And so, while good public transport remains an option that is unavailable to England’s large cities, I will continue to support Uber. I’m not sure why a multinational chooses to lose money helping poor people in Leeds get to work, but I’m glad that it does.

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link to this extract


Facebook is closing 200 of its 500 Oculus VR pop-ups in Best Buys after some stores went days without a single demo • Business Insider

Alex Heath:

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Oculus first partnered with Best Buy to demo and sell its Rift headset in April 2016. Only 48 Best Buy stores carried the headset initially, but the retailer later expanded the demos to 500 stores in August.

“It’s going to be really cool and fun for our customers,” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly said at the time. “Virtual reality has the potential to contribute to our growth.”

Multiple “Oculus Ambassador” workers BI spoke with said that, at most, they would sell a few Oculus headsets per week during the holiday season, and that foot traffic to their pop-ups decreased drastically after Christmas.

“There’d be some days where I wouldn’t give a demo at all because people didn’t want to,” said one worker at a Best Buy in Texas who asked to remain anonymous. Another worker from California said that Oculus software bugs would often render his demo headsets unusable.

“They didn’t press on selling,” the worker from Texas said of Oculus. “Their main thing was to have us do demonstrations and get people talking about Oculus.”

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link to this extract


Fixing our broken housing market • Department for Communities and Local Government

From the DCLG white paper:

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Alongside the improved registration of land, the Government proposes to improve the availability of data about wider interests in land. There are numerous ways of exercising control over land, short of ownership, such as through an option to purchase land or as a beneficiary of a restrictive covenant. There is a risk that because these agreements are not recorded in a way that is transparent to the public, local communities are unable to know who stands to fully benefit from a planning permission. They could also inhibit competition because SMEs and other new entrants find it harder to acquire land. There is the additional risk that this land may sit in a ‘land bank’ once an option has been acquired without the prospect of development.

Therefore, the Government will consult on improving the transparency of contractual arrangements used to control land. Following consultation, any necessary legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity. We will also consult on how the Land Register can better reflect wider interests in land with the intention of providing a ‘clear line of sight’ across a piece of land setting out who owns, controls or has an interest in it.

In addition, HM Land Registry will make available, free of charge, its commercial and corporate ownership data set, and the overseas ownership data set. These data sets contain data on 3.5 million titles to land held under all ownership categories with the exception of private individuals, charities and trustees.

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“Free of charge” is the key word there. Terrific to see that the government has completely reversed its previous position where it seemed to be looking to sell off the Land Registry, or its function. This is a fitting win after the death of Hans Rosling, who campaigned hard for open government datasets.
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Who’s behind the Kodi crackdown? • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

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On its own, the open-source Kodi media software, formerly known as XBMC (and before that, Xbox Media Center), isn’t illegal. The team behind it said they’ll use their own trademark IP to disassociate themselves from copyright infringement operations. Kodi allows plugins, and a black economy of streaming networks and resellers has sprung up to allow users to dodge subscription fees. What’s changed in the last year, say industry sources, is that previously, configuring the USB sticks needed patience and advanced technical knowledge, with Tor and VPNs. Now it’s “plug and play,” and the unlicensed streaming services even have a slick EPG (TV guide).

Selling the hardware can land the seller in hot water. [Brian] Thompson [of Cut Price Tomo’s TV in Middlesborough] was selling Android TV boxes with the plugins configured – now he says he doesn’t. Geeky Kit, a neighbouring store to Thompson also selling Android boxes which boasted subscription-free access to Sky and BT Sports channels, was raided in 2015. According to TorrentFreak, Thompson acquired Geeky Kit’s business and its inventory.

Nick Matthew, operations manager at FACT, told us the Kodi crackdown had its roots in meetings between FACT, the Intellectual Property Office, Northumbria and City of London Police, and regional Trading Standards agencies in the North East of England. Teesside was highlighted, as it’s a “hotbed” of infringement.

“This is in criminal terms an epidemic worldwide now. It’s causing huge losses to rightsholders. That’s clearly recognised now. It’s affecting investment,” said Matthew.

“Three or four cases have gone to prosecution,” Matthew confirmed.

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OK, but there can’t be any money in the hardware. What’s in it for the streaming services which provide the sidestep around the subscription fees? (I’m assuming there’s money in it.)
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Alexa comes to your car with Logitech ZeroTouch, but this might not be the experience you’re looking for • Pocket-lint

Chris Hall:

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Looking to free drivers from the danger of fiddling with their phone while driving, you waken the phone with a wave or high five gesture in front of your mounted phone. You then speak your commands and the phone responds.

Generally, it’s a reasonable system. It’s simple in many regards in that it uses an app that’s free, but you need to be connected to one of the company’s docks to get it working. That’s a Bluetooth connection, meaning ZeroTouch only works when docked in the car.

We’ve used it, but the need to use a hand gesture to activate the phone sets it at a disadvantage compared to something like Android Auto’s app, which comes to life with a hotword – Ok Google. 

(There’s juncture for an admission here: we still use the ZeroTouch mount, but have been using it with the Android Auto app, because it’s a better overall experience.)

Android Auto app: Bringing connectivity to all cars
Alexa’s simplicity comes from the fact that your Amazon Echo is always listening. You are shuffling around the kitchen with your hands full and you can tell Alexa to turn off the heating, set a timer for 10 minutes, play some experimental jazz and add flax seeds to your shopping list. 

Transport this friendly AI to your car and you’ve got much of that Alexa experience in the car. You can ask your weight from Fitbit, you can turn your home lights off and you can ask all manner of questions, but you still have to use the wake gesture.

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Can’t play music and can’t navigate, which are the two things you generally really want to do in a car. This is the dumbest thing ever, especially given that it needs a difficult-to-discover easy-to-accidentally-trigger gesture to activate it.
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Journalism is losing the culture war, because it’s fighting last century’s battles • One Man & His Blog

Adam Tinworth:

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Too many saw the #GamerGate battle as a side issue, relevant only to techies and geeks. But it was the testing ground for the techniques that the alt-right are using on a much wider scale right now.

This is a classic piece of asymmetric warfare, with a small, but highly-distributed but well-ordinated group of people punching far above their weight because they are focusing on a central narrative, and are using more powerful digital techniques than their sluggish, divided mainstream competitors. The newspapers and broadcast media have very big guns, but they’re all firing them at the same place – and it’s not where the opposition really are.

Don’t believe me? Look at this analysis of Breitbart’s use of Facebook:

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[…] although Breitbart posted 12 times more links out of Facebook than images and videos combined, images and videos account for 79% of the total shares out of these top 100 posts. This disparity is even greater when you sum up the total shares of those 100 posts.

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And this is the most shared post:

Such a simple message. So central to the alt-right narrative. So easily spread. So easily assimilated into your thinking. This is the propaganda power of Facebook at its most might.

These are the digital tools of narrative warfare. Use of memes – and this is what this is – is a fundamental part of the new language of communication. But we’re still fighting with the tools of the last century – the 1000 word article, debunking the lies, but which reaches a tiny fraction of the people as that simple meme above.

Are we prepared to step up and use these tools? Or will be as the French at Agincourt, cut down by the new technology of the age? Then, it was longbows. In the culture wars, it’s memes.

Even when Spicer, Conway and the others use the traditional media, it’s to spread messages that will be picked up and repeated through digital – and especially social media – by their base. They are subverting the mainstream, and turning it into an additional and reinforcing distribution challenge even as they subvert trust in it.

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I don’t think I’ve seen what’s going on portrayed as asymmetric warfare before, but it’s absolutely correct. The traditional media is like the US army invading Iraq – it thinks it is making fantastic progress. And it is, on its terms. But that’s not the same as winning.
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Apple, top smartphone brand in GB and US in 2016 • Kantar Worldpanel

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In the US, iOS accounted for 44.4% of smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2016, up from 39.1% in the same period of 2015. Android took 54.4% of sales, down 4.7% points from 4Q 2015.

“iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were the top sellers for the holiday period, netting their highest share since their release in mid-September, and representing 28% of smartphones sold in the fourth quarter,” Guenveur added. “Despite the expected fallout from Samsung’s problems with the Galaxy Note 7, the company maintained a share of 28.5%, down only 0.9% from one year earlier. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 flagship device, announced at Mobile World Congress 2016, was the third best-selling phone in the fourth quarter. Samsung’s decision to not announce the Galaxy S8 at Mobile World Congress 2017 is not expected to have a large impact on sales, as rumors circulate that the launch will be close to the traditional April date that customers have come to anticipate.”

Android accounted for 50.6% of smartphone sales in Great Britain in the fourth quarter of 2016 vs. iOS at 47.6%. This marked a slight decline for Android from 51.9% in the same period the previous year, while iOS grew nine percentage points.

“Apple achieved its highest loyalty ever in Britain, with 96% of those Apple owners who replaced their phones buying another iPhone,” reported Dominic Sunnebo, Business Unit Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe.

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In 2014 I wrote about a survey which suggested that Android had “weak gravity” compared to the iPhone – that is, people stuck with the iPhone but could drift away from Android. Certainly the “strong gravity” of the iPhone is playing out. Any drift away from Android is less clear; but the market is saturated for sure.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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