Start Up: Google’s Waymo rows with Uber, the truth about Apple Watch owners, did big data win it?, and more

Pirates don’t look like this any more (if they ever did) – and catching them is changing too. Photo by steve on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Spread the news like butter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It took less than a minute of satellite time to catch these thieves red-handed • Ars Technica

Annalee Newitz:


Though normally we associate the term piracy with rogues who commandeer other people’s ships, it’s also used as shorthand to describe illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. The Pacific is crawling with fishing pirates. Often their ships are crewed by malnourished slaves who don’t see land for months at a time, a practice that has been documented by rights groups and exposed in a 2015 Associated Press investigation. They make their money by fishing illegally or in poorly regulated areas and then offloading their goods to the crews of large refrigerated cargo vessels called reefers in a process called transshipping. The reefer crews mix their legal catch with the pirate catch and then sell it all in port.

Damage from this kind of piracy doesn’t stop with the abused human crews. It decimates marine life and prevents fisheries managers from regulating the industry using accurate data. That’s why two data-obsessed environmental researchers with the nonprofit group SkyTruth decided to catch some of these pirate vessels in the act. Not only did they succeed, but SkyTruth’s John Amos and Bjorn Bergman did it entirely using satellite data.

Catching the anonymous pirate fishing vessels in uncharted international waters took less than a minute. More precisely, it took a minute of satellite time and three years of complicated signals analysis.


The detective trail that they followed involves knowing what people on the ground (well, sea) will do, and lots of analysis.
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Phonemakers pile in to exploit Samsung weakness • Reuters

Eric Auchard and Harro Ten Wolde:


Phonemakers are piling in to fill a gap in the market left by Samsung, still licking its wounds from a costly recall of its flagship Note 7 and with no key device of its own to launch at the telecom industry’s biggest annual fair.

China’s Huawe, the most likely contender to fill the hole in the premium end of the market, took the wraps off a new phone in its quest to displace Samsung as the world’s no. 2 smartphone maker after Apple, during a rush of new product releases on Sunday ahead of this week’s World Mobile Congress.

Chinese challengers Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Gionee are in hot pursuit, while BlackBerry and Nokia announced models exploiting their retro appeal.

Samsung itself presented two new tablets pending the launch of its next flagship device, the Galaxy S8, expected now at the end of March rather than at Mobile World Congress, its usual showcase.


Nokia and BlackBerry, eh. BlackBerry’s is a keyboard phone with midrange specs and flagship price; Nokia is reintroducing its 3310 featurephone, and some Android phones. It’s like choosing between brands of pasta.
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Google Assistant is coming to Nougat and Marshmallow phones this week • AndroidAuthority

Jimmy Westernberg:


Google Assistant – the beefed up voice assistant that makes Google Home, Android Wear watches and Pixel phones so smart – is coming to your phone this week.

If you happen to have a phone powered by Android 7.0 Nougat or Android 6.0 Marshmallow (and have Google Play Services installed), you’ll get the update sometime in the following week. And since the update is coming via Google Play Services, there’s no need to wait for a slow OTA rollout; Google will simply push it out to your device once it’s ready.

The Assistant is rolling out soon to English users in the United States, followed by English in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, and German speakers in Germany. Of course, Google will add more languages over the coming year.


That’s a third of Android phones – possibly more in the west – covered. But what about Samsung, Motorola, Huawei and others which are putting in Amazon’s Alexa or their own assistant?
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Wristly Research: one year in and only now are we getting to know Apple Watch owners • Medium

Bernard Desarnauts:


Probably the most surprising insight from this first question is that a significant 12% of the respondents do not consider themselves new tech early adopters. Conversely, and as expected, the Wristly panel includes a very large cohort of very early adopters with just over a third stating they are “the first to try a new tech product”. Let’s see if this applies across a wide set of new products and services.

First let’s look at the aggregate results from this question. We have indeed a broad range of early adopters across a wide range of new products. 26% own a smart thermostat like Nest and astonishingly more than half state owning the latest Apple TV (we are a bit puzzled by this % and as we hadn’t included an option for “older Apple TV” so we assume that our panel have combined Apple TV generations).

Not pictured in the chart above, over 7% report owning Echo from Amazon and even 4% state having ordered (or pre-ordered) a VR system such as Oculus.


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Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalldr:


A few weeks later, the Observer received a letter. Cambridge Analytica was not employed by the Leave campaign, it said. Cambridge Analytica “is a US company based in the US. It hasn’t worked in British politics.”

Which is how, earlier this week, I ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director, looking at snapshots of Donald Trump on his phone…

…Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EU’s launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”

“It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.”

They hadn’t “employed” Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. “They were happy to help.”


It’s a week for companies being evasive about what they’ve been up to through careful use of language, as you’ll see.

Cadwalldr’s piece is fascinating, though as Sophie Warnes observed on Twitter, the narrowness of the win for Brexit, and the non-win in total vote terms for Trump suggests that we’re more resilient against this stuff than folk worry about.

For a more detailed disagreement, see the next link.
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The myth that British data scientists won the election for Trump • Little Atoms

Martin Robbins:


For me this story is like candy floss – it looks nice and substantial, but when you stick it in your mouth there’s not much there and you’re still hungry. The reporting leaves a ton of questions unanswered, and when you try to look into them the results are less than satisfying.

Before we even get into methods, there’s Ted Cruz. The article posted by Vice doesn’t just gloss over him; it tries to present his campaign as some sort of victory for Cambridge Analytica’s approach. This would be the campaign where Ted Cruz was wiped out in a few short weeks by a reality TV demagogue with no data science operation, and subjected to months’ long national humiliation.

They mention the Iowa primary on 1 February 2016, where the data science outfit helped to identify target voters. Cruz did indeed win, but took just 27% of the vote in a four way race, only three points ahead of Trump. The authors don’t mention the next three states in February – New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada – where he was thrashed. Nor do they mention Super Tuesday, on 1 March, where Trump thrashed him by double-digit margins in six states…

…So the story of the Republican primaries is actually that Cambridge Analytica’s flashy data science team got beaten by a dude with a thousand-dollar website. To turn that into this breathtaking story of an unbeatable voodoo-science outfit, powering Trump inexorably to victory, is quite a stretch. Who else have they even worked for? Without a list of clients it’s very easy to cherry-pick the winners.


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Waymo: a note on our lawsuit against Otto and Uber • Medium

Waymo is Alphabet’s self-driving vehicle subsidiary:


Recently, we received an unexpected email. One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.

We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.

Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information.

We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to “replicate” Waymo’s technology at a competitor.


In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest conversation anyone ever had.
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A lawsuit against Uber highlights the rush to conquer driverless cars • The New York Times

Mike Isaac and Daisuke Wakabayashi:


In one case, an autonomous Volvo zoomed through a red light on a busy street in front of the city’s Museum of Modern Art.

Uber, a ride-hailing service, said the incident was because of human error. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers,” Chelsea Kohler, a company spokeswoman, said in December.

But even though Uber said it had suspended an employee riding in the Volvo, the self-driving car was, in fact, driving itself when it barreled through the red light, according to two Uber employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the company, and internal Uber documents viewed by The New York Times. All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. “In this case, the car went through a red light,” the documents said.


OK, so Uber is getting a reputation as being a bit of a liar. The “human error” was not stopping the car which was running autonomously from doing something wrong.

But quite separately, further down the story:


[Anthony] Levandowski [who has since left Google to join Uber to run its self-driving cars project] gained some notoriety within Google for selling start-ups, which he had done as side projects, to his employer. In his biography for a real estate firm, for which he is a board member, Mr. Levandowski said he sold three automation and robotics start-ups to Google, including 510 Systems and Anthony’s Robots, for nearly $500m. After this story was published, the real estate firm updated its website erasing Mr. Levandowski’s biography and said that it had “erroneously reported certain facts incorrectly without Mr. Levandowski’s knowledge.”


Feels a bit like Paul Nuttall of UKIP, the polar explorer and Martian astronaut, whose website was just wrong about him. Will Levandowski – who is part of Google’s lawsuit against Uber – fit in well at his new employer, do you think?
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Bad ad epidemic: 28% have at least one quality issue • AdExchanger


Bad ads have their run of the internet.

Twenty-eight% of ads fail at least one of five key quality issues that slow down web pages and detract from the user experience, according to Ad Lightning.

Ad Lightning, which helps publishers find and report bad ads, analyzed 605,000 pieces of ad creative across 60 websites over 11 million impressions from October 2016 to this past January.

The bad ads either exceeded IAB-recommended file size, made too many network requests, used too much processing power, weren’t secure or used an intrusive format like in-banner video.

“IAB standards are getting broadly ignored,” said Ad Lightning founder Scott Moore, a former publisher who founded the company last year. “These ads slow down publishers’ sites and cause audience dissatisfaction.”


Possibly not surprising, but it’s always going to be a race to the bottom with this stuff.
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Google is shutting down ‘Spaces’ on April 17th • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:


After nine months of existence, Google is throwing in the towel on group messaging app Spaces. It’s going read-only on March 3rd and will be completely offline on April 17th. So, that’s one Google messaging app down, like a dozen still to go.

Spaces was launched last May after a confusing early leak. We couldn’t figure out why Google would bother with such an app. The idea was that you’d create group chats around a certain topic, then add content via Chrome, YouTube, and Google search. Google pushed Spaces at I/O last year, but that’s also when it announced Allo. Yeah, Google went on kind of a messaging app bender in 2016. Spaces seemed doomed from the start, and indeed it was.


I used to keep a running list of what products Google had started, bought, ended and sold. In the end it became confusing to distinguish the things that had been renamed or folded into other things.

I seem to have predicted that Google Keep, launched in March 2013, would shut next month: the mean for the products it killed was 1459 days. Seems like Spaces lasted a lot less.

When it comes to messaging apps and Google, one has to ask: what the hell is your multi-year strategy, and when is it going to be made concrete?
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Delivering RCS messaging to Android users worldwide • Google blog

Amir Sarhangi, head of RCS at Google:


We want to make sure that Android users can access all the features that RCS messaging offers, like group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and more. So we’re working with mobile device manufacturers to make Android Messages the default messaging app for Android devices. Mobile device brands LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, HMD Global – Home of Nokia Phones, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony and Wiko, along with Pixel and Android One devices, will preload Android Messages as the default messaging app on their devices. With these partners, we’re upgrading the messaging experience for Android users worldwide and ensuring a consistent and familiar experience for users. We’ll continue to add more partners over time.


Do you notice a couple of names missing from that list? Sure you do – there’s no Samsung (world’s biggest Android OEM), nor Huawei (second largest) or OPPO or vivo, the third and fourth largest (owned by BBK Electronics, which also part-owns OnePlus).

The question of why the smaller players are happy to be in this but the larger ones aren’t hasn’t been answered in any writeup I’ve seen. But that would require having contacts inside the companies, or at the wireless carriers that are pushing RCS.

Meanwhile the messaging mess on Android will go on, and WhatsApp will continue to be favoured because it works on every Android (and iOS) phone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: Google’s Waymo rows with Uber, the truth about Apple Watch owners, did big data win it?, and more

  1. 2 things :
    1- Nokia’s Android’s are being favourably previewed. Nothing earth-shaking, but very nice build, and UPDATES !
    2- Android Messenger can be installed in any phone, the Samsung etc too. Google’s blurb is only about pre-indtalls not compatibility.

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