Start Up: the examined life (on video), startup tips, facial recognition’s racial bias, tracing hoaxes, and more


How long would it take Google to find you if you didn’t tell it you were there? Photo by dullhunk on Flickr.


This Friday all day at Cambridge University: The Power Switch conference looks at the new digital monoliths:

In what ways is the power that they wield different from older kinds of corporate power? How should the power flowing from mastery of the technology be conceptualised? What kinds of regulatory approaches are viable in this new environment? Where does corporate responsibility begin and end in applications of Artificial Intelligence? And can the nation-state effectively regulate these new global entities?

Some tickets still available.


A selection of 10 links for you. A Br*x*t-free zone. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

He turned his home into a reality television show • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo is “that guy”:

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Q: What new tech product are you currently obsessed with using at home? What do you and your family do with it?

FM: This is going to sound weird, but I’m a strange person. I have two kids, ages six and three, and for the last few years I’ve been mourning their loss of childhood. Every day they get a little bit older, and even though my wife and I take lots of photos and videos of them, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re losing most of the moments of their lives.

So last summer, after some intense lobbying of my wife, I did something radical: I installed several cameras in my living room and dining room to record everything we did at home for posterity. In other words, I created a reality show in my house.

In practice, it works like this: The cameras are motion-activated and connected to servers in the cloud. Like security cameras in a convenience store, they are set to record on a constant loop — every video clip is saved for a few days, after which it’s automatically deleted, unless I flag it for long-term keeping.

Yes, this system sets up a minefield of potential problems: We turn off the cameras when we have guests (it’s unethical to record people without their consent) and we don’t spy on each other. There are also security concerns. I’m not going to disclose the brand of the cameras I used because I don’t want to get hacked. The safety of internet-of-things devices are generally not airtight.

And yet I’ve found these cameras to be just wonderful at capturing the odd, beautiful, surprising, charming moments of life that we would never have been able to capture otherwise. Every time the kids say something hilarious or sweet, or do something for the first time, I make a note of the time and date. Later on, I can go and download that exact clip, to keep forever. I’ve already got amazing videos of weeknight dinners, of my wife and I watching the news on election night, of my son learning to play Super Mario Brothers, and my kids having a dance party to their favorite music.

When I’m 80 and the robots have taken over, I’ll look back on these and remember that life was good, once.

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Not sure how I feel about this. (Our kids are all well into double figures, and our memories have recovered from the sleep deprivation.)
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It will take Google 22 days to find you • Motherboard

Adrianne Jeffries:

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Only 346 people got to glimpse Unindexed, a communal website built by Matthew Rothenberg, before it exploded.

Unindexed did two things: allow users to submit comments to the site, and constantly search for itself in Google. The latter was a suicide mission. Once it was discovered by the search engine, Unindexed self-destructed.

Users were encouraged to share the site, but warned that its discovery by Google would mean its demise. The more attention the site received, the faster death would come—like the movie Untraceable, in which a serial killer broadcasts his murders online, but infinitely less horrendous.

“Part of the goal with the project was to create a sense of unease with the participants—if they liked it, they could and should share it with others, so that the conversation on the site could grow,” Rothenberg told Motherboard. “But by doing so they were potentially contributing to its demise via indexing, as the more the URL was out there, the faster Google would find it.”

Unindexed didn’t do much to hide itself. Much like a Manhattan speakeasy, it was only secret-ish. Rothenberg could have included instructions to Google not to index it, or hosted it on the deep web where Google’s crawlers can’t follow. Instead, he decided to find out how long it would take the search giant to find an obscure site that only circulated by word of mouth.

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Neat idea. Of course if Liam Neesom were in charge of Google he’d find the site much more quickly, and kill everyone responsible in the process.
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My business was bringing in 7 figures — here’s how I grew it to 8 – Business Insider

Noah Kagan:

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Starting a profitable business is tough. 

Often you’re starting with an idea that brings in $1, then $1,000, and hopefully up from there.

That’s why there are lots of articles written about finding a profitable idea. But people rarely talk about growing it because most businesses aren’t at the stage of making 6 figures, 7 figures, and beyond. 

But I was there.

2016 was a huge year for me and the whole team at my company, Sumo. We made the jump from being a 7-figure business to an 8-figure one. We grew from 10 to 30 people. I even did something I never thought I’d do and spent a lot of money — $1.5 million — on our domain name, Sumo.com.

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Kagan’s advice here might sound obvious – but he has grown four different multimillion-dollar/pound businesses, so he’s probably right and you’re wrong to ignore him.
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The perpetual line-up: unregulated police face recognition in America • Center on Privacy and Technology

Clare Garvie, Alvaro Bedoya and Jonathan Frankle, in a substantial report:

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Human vision is biased: We are good at identifying members of our own race or ethnicity, and by comparison, bad at identifying almost everyone else.214 Yet many agencies using face recognition believe that machine vision is immune to human bias. In the words of one Washington police department, face recognition simply “does not see race.”215

The reality is far more complicated. Studies of racial bias in face recognition algorithms are few and far between. The research that has been done, however, suggests that these systems do, in fact, show signs of bias. The most prominent study, co-authored by an FBI expert, found that several leading algorithms performed worse on African Americans, women, and young adults than on Caucasians, men, and older people, respectively.216 In interviews, we were surprised to find that two major face recognition companies did not test their algorithms for racial bias.217

Racial bias intrinsic to an algorithm may be compounded by outside factors. African Americans are disproportionately likely to come into contact with—and be arrested by—law enforcement.218 This means that police face recognition may be overused on the segment of the population on which it underperforms. It also means that African Americans will likely be overrepresented in mug shot-based face recognition databases. Finally, when algorithms search these databases, the task of selecting a final match is often left to humans, even though this may only add human bias back into the system.

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People keep forgetting the basic rule – these systems can only learn from what you teach them.
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UK cops arrest man potentially linked to Apple extortion • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

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On Tuesday, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested a young man on suspicion of hacking and extortion offenses, Motherboard has learned. The man has been bailed pending further enquiries, and the NCA will not elaborate further.

But according to someone who provided a copy of the alleged warrant to Motherboard, the arrest may be connected to the ongoing attempted extortion of Apple by a group calling itself the Turkish Crime Family.

“National Crime Agency officers arrested a 20 year-old male and searched an address in London, N10 on Tuesday 28 March in relation to suspected Computer Misuse Act and extortion offences,” an NCA spokesperson wrote in an email after being approached by Motherboard with a copy of the warrant.

Motherboard was alerted to the arrest by someone in control of the Turkish Crime Family email account. Last week, the group threatened to remotely wipe a number of Apple devices via alleged access to corresponding iCloud accounts unless the company paid a hefty ransom. The group has been capitalizing on a media frenzy in an attempt to collect more compromised Apple accounts.

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Cox noted that the “group’s” operational security didn’t look top-notch from the details he’d seen. The group – I’d guess it’s two or at most three people – made a lot of noise, but the police are pretty good at tracking this stuff nowadays.
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Information changes attitudes towards immigrants • VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal

Chris Roth (U of Oxford) and Diego Ubfal (Bocconi University):

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Survey data suggests that voters are often misinformed about basic facts on immigration. For example, people consistently overestimate the proportion of immigrants in their country (Sides and Citrin 2008, Hopkins et al. 2016). In the US, on average people think that 37% of the population are immigrants, whereas the true figure is only 13%. In a recent paper, we tackle this question by gathering both cross-country evidence from several OECD countries as well as conducting two online experiments in the US (Grigorieff et al. 2016). Our results indicate that exposure to information can durably shift people’s attitudes towards immigrants, but that information is less effective in shifting policy preferences.

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So people who hate immigrants still hate them after they realise there aren’t as many as they thought. This maybe makes sense. But isn’t 99.9% of the US population immigrant, strictly speaking? (Or 100%, depending how far back you want to go?)
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Hoaxy • Indiana University

The university’s Network Science Institute has built this tool: “Visualize the spread of claims and fact checking.” The link goes to one on “trump + russia” (how timely) but you can choose your own input.

Reminds me of Craig Silverman’s Emergent – now sadly defunct since he went to Buzzfeed.
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Premium smartphones take up less than 30% of Samsung’s phone sales in Q1 • Korea Herald

Yonhap News Agency:

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High-end smartphones took up less than 30% of Samsung Electronics Co.’s combined sales of handsets [in Q1 2017], data showed Monday, although the figure is expected to rebound after the launch of the tech giant’s upcoming new flagship model this week.

According to the data compiled by Hana Financial Investment Co., premium models are estimated to have accounted for 29% of Samsung’s combined smartphone sales in the January-March period.

It marks the first time that high-end devices, such as the Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note series, failed to account for 30% of sales for the company.

The portion of high-end smartphones once reached 75% in the second quarter of 2013, when Samsung released the Galaxy S4.

But the figure gradually declined afterwards, falling below the 40% level in 2015.

In terms of average sales price, Samsung’s smartphones were sold at $232 globally in 2016, down 20% from $289 posted a year earlier, the data compiled by industry tracker Strategy Analytics showed.

Over the cited period, that of Samsung’s US rival Apple Inc. shot up 7% to $645.

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The risk for Samsung is that it becomes a budget phone seller, and that’s a space where it would simply be fighting the commodity fight. Of course Q1 is unusual – the pause before the S8 launch, and no Note 7 to buoy up the premium end. But even so.

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If you download Minecraft mods from Google Play, read on … • We Live Security

Lukas Stefanko:

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When launched, the apps immediately request device administrator rights. Once device administrator is activated, a screen with an “INSTALL MOD” button is displayed. Simultaneously, a push notification informs the user that a “special Block Launcher” is needed in order to proceed with the installation.

After clicking the “INSTALL MOD” button, the user is prompted to install the additional module “Block Launcher Pro”, granting it several intrusive permissions (including device administrator rights) in the process. The payload downloaded during the installation is detected by ESET as Android/Hiddad.DA.

Installing the module brings the user to a dead end – a static Minecraft-themed screen with no clickable elements. The only actual function of the app and its module is to display ads – which now show up on the user’s device, interrupting their activity.

Interestingly, this ad-displaying downloader is an evolved version of an app that was originally uploaded to Google Play in February. The original version used a similar interface and also demanded device administrator rights. However, it didn’t have any downloading functionality and, unlike the downloader analyzed in this article, the first version actually provided the user with real Minecraft mods.

Since the result of this evolution – a downloader – is able to download any sort of additional malware to the victim’s device, there is no reason to believe malware authors would stop at only displaying unwanted ads.

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Got to nearly a million installs before they spotted it and reported it. Clearly, Google’s proactive PHA (potentially harmful apps) program isn’t quite perfect when it comes to this stuff.
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Productivity is down • FT

Chris Giles:

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Utilities and telecoms also show outsized drops in productivity growth, while in the gas and electricity sector, output growth slipped back but jobs growth exploded — something the sector often boasts about when highlighting its importance to the economy. RenewableUK, the trade association for the industry, predicts jobs growth will continue from 35,000 in 2015 to 105,000 in the next decade, indicating that productivity is likely to continue to lag.

In telecoms, the ONS data point to a massive drop in real output, exacerbated by a trend of falling prices before the crisis followed by price stagnation after 2008. Data from Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, however, show different industry trends; its own analysis shows households have been spending less on telecoms services in real terms and receiving more for their money.

This contradiction illustrates the other big problem for analysts: the weakness of the data. (There is a similar issue in management consultancy, where the statistics imply that consultancy prices fell in the boom years and rose in the post-crisis stagnation). Nick Vaughan, chief economic adviser at the ONS, told a statistics conference last month that “parts of the service sector are not just ill-measured but completely mismeasured”.

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In other words: telecoms productivity *seems* to be falling because it employs roughly the same number of people, but revenues are flat – but that’s a good thing because the regulator is keeping them down, and telecoms is an enabler for other sectors.

Perhaps the measurements should have some sort of “impact measure” of how much other sectors rely on others.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up: Google’s Pixel drought, “cheap premium” is over, Guardian sues adtech co, Facebook v blasphemy, and more


How much would you pay to see a film in your house on its first day, rather than the cinema? Photo by bigmick 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Google Pixel does not exist • PhoneArena

“Victor H”:

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The Google Pixel, the best Android phone if you ask the majority of tech gurus, does not exist.

It is a delusion, an Android fan’s mirage.

It is vaporware. Vaporware definition: software or hardware that has been advertised but is not yet available to buy, either because it is only a concept or because it is still being written or designed.

The phone that Google launched in early October 2016, some six months ago, and was widely seen as a rival to the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy is simply not available on the one place, where it should be in plentiful supply: the Google Store. To be perfectly exact, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL technically are available, it is just that you have to wait more than a month to actually get one. Six months after the launch of the phone it is abundantly clear that such depressingly long shipping times cannot be blamed on shortage of inventory or any other technicality, but the only logical conclusion left to make is that it is Google itself that is not willing to make the Pixel.

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Google was rather caught out by the initial popularity of the Pixel, which was magnified by the failure of Samsung’s Note 7. But this continuing shortage suggests a failure to get on top of inventory.
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Pakistan says Facebook vows to tackle concerns over blasphemous content • Reuters

Syed Raza Hassan:

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Facebook has assured Pakistan that concerns about blasphemous content on the social media site will be addressed and a company delegation will visit this week to discuss the issue with the government, the interior minister said on Tuesday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier this month ordered that blasphemous content on social media be removed or blocked and that anyone posting such material be punished, and the government requested a meeting with Facebook.

Blasphemy is a criminal offense in the strictly Islamic country and can carry the death penalty.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, quoting from what he said was a letter from Facebook’s vice president received a day earlier, told reporters: “I wanted to reiterate that Facebook takes the concerns raised by the Pakistani government very seriously. We have also committed our representative to meet with you and senior officials of your government.”

Khan described this message as a “very big improvement” from Facebook as, he said, the U.S. social media giant generally had not responded to such complaints in the past.

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Blocking child abuse images is one thing. But isn’t God big enough to deal with this latter sort of thing without help? Facebook’s complicated juggling game of trying to please diverse cultures on a single platform continues.
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Virgin Media suspends staff over £3bn upgrade errors • FT

Nic Fildes:

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Virgin Media has suspended four employees and launched an internal investigation after reducing the number of homes it said had been reached by a £3bn network upgrade.

The cable company said on Tuesday that staff had “misrepresented” the completion status of the Project Lightning expansion when it reported fourth-quarter results in February.

Virgin Media claimed that its new network had grown to pass 215,000 British homes in the three months to the end of December but has now cut that figure to 86,000.

Four employees have been suspended as a result of the revision. Paul Buttery, chief operating officer in charge of driving customers to upgrade to the network, left the company in late February.

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Well this is an odd one.
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You should appreciate germs • Bill Gates

Yes, it’s billg:

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I found some of [Ed] Yong’s reporting [in his new book I Contain Multitudes] directly relevant to my role as a parent. Melinda and I—and most parents in the U.S. and other rich countries—have dramatically cut down on our children’s exposure to the diverse array of microbes that for millennia have helped human beings strengthen their immune systems and avoid inflammatory diseases. As Yong puts it, “We have been tilting at microbes for too long, and created a world that is hostile to the ones we need.”

It’s not just all the anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers we Americans use. Another major problem is the excessive use of antibiotics. On net, antibiotics have been unbelievably positive for humanity. But every time we give them, we are carpet-bombing our microbial ecosystem (microbiome), not merely knocking out pathogens. “A rich, thriving microbiome acts as a barrier to invasive pathogens,” writes Yong. “When our old friends vanish, that barrier disappears [and] more dangerous species can exploit the … ecological vacancies.”

As you can imagine, the book is also quite relevant to my work at our foundation, especially in the area of children’s growth and development. Yong explains why, if we want to prevent malnutrition, we not only need to help alleviate hunger and provide key micronutrients. We will also need to learn why some kids’ microbiomes are out of balance and how to restore them back to a healthy state.
Not only could this lead to low-cost interventions for malnutrition. I suspect this line of research will also help scientists make inroads against many other diseases. The list of disorders that have been linked to disruptions in the microbiome includes Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, obesity, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. Even though we don’t have good ways of manipulating the microbiome to head off disease, I am hopeful we will eventually. I’m particularly excited about the implications for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. It may turn out that these diseases get their start in the gut a decade or more before any brain symptoms show up. If that’s the case, the gut may prove to be a great target for medicines, giving new hope to many millions of families.

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The microbiome is almost surely going to be the source of some of the most profound things to be found out in the next 20 years in medicine.
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Let robots handle your emotional burnout at work • How We Get To Next

Meeri Kim:

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Then there’s Ellie, a clinical therapist whom I recently met in the lab of computer scientist Jonathan Gratch. In a soothing voice, she asked me questions like, “Where are you originally from?” and “What do you like about living in Los Angeles?” As I responded, Ellie nodded her head and smiled at all the right moments, immediately putting me at ease.
As charming as she is, Ellie isn’t a real person. She’s a virtual human — the creation of Gratch and his colleagues at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. A software agent, she looks like an ordinary CGI character displayed on a screen. But she’s not scripted—behind the scenes, she uses sophisticated machine vision and voice analysis to interact with humans in real-time.

“Researchers focused on emotional labor have suggested using virtual humans as a first line of defense, so to speak, in customer service,” said Gratch, who is also a computer science professor at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. “Anywhere you have people doing emotional labor, there could be a potential for this technology to serve that role without incurring the negative effects on a worker’s health.”

I certainly respect Gratch’s line of thinking, but isn’t he ignoring that most customers absolutely hate interacting with robot customer service representatives? Are we really going to change just because we can see a “virtual human” on a computer screen?

After the brief demonstration, Gratch and his colleague lifted the curtain on Ellie. As it turned out, throughout our conversation she had been tracking an astounding amount of data about me: my facial expression, attention level, upper body movements, voice pitch, eye gaze, and smile level. She recorded, moment to moment, if I had seemed happy or sad, engaged or distant, and tweaked her responses accordingly.

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Review: Virtual Competition: the promise and perils of the algorithm-driven economy, by Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice E. Stucke • Times Higher Education Supplement Books

Julia Powles:

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It is becoming increasingly apparent that widespread deployment of algorithmic tools can intensify, rather than reduce, the chasm between the wealthy and the vulnerable. This is the issue Ezrachi and Stucke address as behavioural discrimination. With ever-increasing hoards of data, firms can engage in near-perfect dynamic price discrimination, flipping our attributes, likes and fancies into individually enclosed and tailored worlds. Overall, they argue, this is corrosive to social welfare, because the more vulnerable among us end up paying more. The authors’ assessment of where this is heading is of the most sober kind: absent legal intervention, perfect discrimination will likely become the new norm.

There is a lively gameness to Ezrachi and Stucke’s study, marked by their willingness to call out what the world’s internet users stare into every day – monopoly power on a scale unlike any we have ever known – and their systematic attempt to provide the language and tools needed to start tackling it. The book relies for some of its pivotal claims on an adjacent work that should be seen as a companion text: the unimaginatively titled but brilliantly executed Big Data and Competition Policy (2016). Co-authored by Stucke, this time with the distinguished US anti-trust practitioner Allen Grunes, it contains a detailed analysis of merger and antitrust cases and lucidly explores the interplay between privacy and competition in a way that neatly sets up the analysis, and fills some of the gaps, in Virtual Competition.

The constant aim of both of these works, and their clear achievement, is in exposing the facile mirage of competition in digital markets.

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There’s a conference at Cambridge University on Friday – The Power Switch – which will look at topics like these. Some tickets still available. Ezrachi is among the speakers.
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Global average sales price of Chinese branded smartphones to reach RMB 2,000 by the end of 2017 as ‘affordable premium’ becomes impossible • TrendForce

Avril Wu:

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The global smartphone market, which has been experiencing slowing growth and intensifying competition, has become an even tougher environment because of recent sharp rises in component prices. Avril Wu, smartphone analyst for the global market intelligence firm TrendForce, stated that China-based brands have been raising their prices as they face significant erosion of their margins.

“The global average sales price of Chinese branded smartphones stayed at a level of about RMB 1,700 [US$245, UK£200] during the course of 2016,” said Wu. “By the end of 2017, the global average sales price of Chinese branded smartphones is estimated to climb to around RMB 2,000 [US$290, UK£236]. Facing rising costs and mounting competitive pressure, Chinese smartphone makers will eventually abandon their favorite strategy of selling high specs devices at extremely affordable prices.”

Starting in the second half of 2016, numerous Chinese brands broke from the tradition of offering high performance products at low prices. The deviation from the usual pricing scheme was first noticed among flagship devices such as Huawei’s P9 and Gionee’s M6. The pattern of a general price increase became more apparent as affordable brands including Xiaomi and Meizu also followed suit.

“By raising prices, Chinese brands are at risk of losing consumer demand for their products,” said Wu. “At the same time, maintaining profitability has become a struggle as the market is now more competitive than ever. Therefore, the price hike may be the last resort for some Chinese smartphone makers and an indication of a coming industry consolidation.”

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Most consumers wouldn’t pay high prices for day-and-date in-home movies • Variety

Movie patrons are a price-sensitive group, and many can be turned off if they think a show is too expensive or too difficult to attend — tendencies that keep many fans away from theaters, a new survey commissioned by Variety suggests.

Still, only a small percentage say they’d pay $25 or $50 to see a film at home on the same day it opens in theaters, the survey by CivicScience found. And yet that subset — when spread across the entire population — could create a substantial enough audience to encourage entertainment companies to move ahead with plans to shorten the traditional 90-day window between a movie’s release in theaters and in the home.

Those are the most significant takeaways from questions asked of more than 1,800 Americans in late February and early March by CivicScience, a Pittsburgh-based market-research firm that surveys a representative sample of consumers via questions embedded on hundreds of websites.

That 9% (and the unsure 13%) could turn into a lot of money – especially once you factor in the travel, parking and food. Which raises the question: what is the “job to be done” of a cinema? It’s not just showing a film.
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Did China quietly authorize law enforcement to access data anywhere in the world? • Lawfare

Susan Hennessey and Chris Mirasola:

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On September 20, 2016 the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate (China’s prosecutor), and the Public Security Bureau jointly released 30 regulations governing the collection and examination of digital data in criminal investigations. Unsurprisingly, the regulations were primarily only of interest to Chinese judges, lawyers, and public security officials.

Tucked in among the relatively mundane provisions, however, was a potentially rather alarming development that has thus far escaped much public notice in the United States. The regulations seem to authorize the unilateral extraction of data concerning anyone (or any company) being investigated under Chinese criminal law from servers and hard drives located outside of China.

Article 9 of the 2016 regulations provides that the police or prosecutors may extract digital data from original storage media (e.g., servers, hard drives) that are located outside of mainland China (i.e., including servers in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) “through the Internet” and may perform “remote network inspections” of such computer information systems. Remote network inspections are helpfully defined, in Article 29, as “investigation, discovery, and collection of electronic data from remote computer information systems related to crime through the Internet.” The only caveat to this grant of authority is a requirement that investigations be subject to “strict standards.” No guidance is provided as to what “strict” means.

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By the by, Lawfare is quietly becoming a must-read site.
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Tech kings’ greatest enemy is in the mirror • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

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Advertisers can’t afford to boycott Google for long. Neither can the company afford to brush off the squabble with its usual promises to do better next time because signs of a rebellion are brewing. An executive from the world’s biggest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, said recently that his company could no longer tolerate the long-standing flaws of digital advertising such as fraudulent ad clicks and erroneous measurement. Walt Disney was spooked when it turned out the company was doing business with a YouTube series laced with anti-Semitic messages. My colleague Leila Abboud has suggestions for what Google can do differently.

This feels different from the many, many controversies Google has weathered over the years, including previous flaps over how it polices material. The pushback isn’t coming from its users, regulators, journalists or the newspaper and television companies that are losing sales to Google. This time, the companies that pay Google’s bills are the ones complaining. (Advertising accounts for 88% of Alphabet’s annual revenue and 97% of Facebook’s.)

The gripes about Google — and similar finger-pointing about bogus information spreading on Facebook — aren’t new, but the complaints are growing louder as the companies’ power grows. And in part, they have themselves to blame. Google and Facebook boast that their sophisticated technology can pinpoint 100 people who might buy a new pair of jeans. So why can’t those geniuses sniff out when an internet star’s videos are laced with anti-Semitic commentary or accurately track how long people watch videos?

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The Guardian takes legal action against ad tech company Rubicon Project • Business Insider

Lara OI’Reilly:

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The Guardian is preparing to file a lawsuit against ad tech company Rubicon Project, alleging the ad tech vendor did not disclose fees it levied on advertisers looking to buy the newspaper’s online ad inventory, sources told Business Insider.

The Guardian is due to file its legal papers at the UK High Court’s Chancery Division, Business Insider understands.

A Guardian spokesperson confirmed the matter with Business Insider: “We can confirm that we have commenced proceedings against Rubicon Project for the recovery of non-disclosed buyer fees in relation of Guardian inventory.”

…Business Insider understands the amount The Guardian is looking to recuperate from the supply-side platform (SSP) spreads back over a number of years, but is only in the single-digit millions. Nevertheless, no matter what the outcome, the legal dispute will likely shed more light on the complicated nature of the online ad buying ecosystem…

…Last year, The Guardian conducted a test where it bought its own ad inventory on open ad exchanges so it could get a sense of how much of the money put into the ad tech ecosystem made it back to the publisher.

In the worst case scenario, The Guardian found that for every £1 spent on its inventory, just 30p actually made it to The Guardian, as MediaTel reported in October.

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Wow. Suing adtech companies is really putting the cat among the pigeons. Is 2017 the year in which the wheels start coming off the adtech business?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: productivity at Apple and Google, Samsung recycles Note 7, Medium’s uphill battle, and more


How you record a dice throw could reveal things about corruption in the country you grew up in. Photo by misterbisson 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

National corruption breeds personal dishonesty • Scientific American

Simon Makin:

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The researchers developed a measure of corruption by combining three widely used metrics that capture levels of political fraud, tax evasion and corruption in a given country. “We wanted to get a really broad index, including many different aspects of rule violations,” Schulz says. They then conducted an experiment involving 2,568 participants from 23 nations. Participants were asked to roll a die twice and report the outcome of only the first roll. They received a sum of money proportional to the number reported but got nothing for rolling a six. Nobody else saw the die, so participants were free to lie about the outcome.

If everyone were completely honest about their die rolls, the average claim would be 2.5, whereas if everyone were maximally dishonest, all claims would be 5. Participants from nations with a high prevalence of rule violations (PRV)—including Georgia, Tanzania, Guatemala and Kenya—tended to claim more than those from low-PRV countries—such as Austria, the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany—and average claims correlated with PRV values. In other words, the more corrupt the country, the more its citizens inflated the number they reported. These values were calculated using data from 2003, and the experiments were conducted between 2011 and 2014 using participants whose average age was 21—too young to have personally influenced PRV ratings but old enough to have been influenced by social norms, implying that national corruption levels influenced participants’ honesty, not vice versa.

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The paper is here (if you have a Nature subscription).
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Why employees at Apple and Google are more productive • Fast Company

Stephanie Vozza:

»

Companies like Apple, Netflix, Google, and Dell are 40% more productive than the average company, according to research from the leadership consulting firm Bain & Company. You might think that it’s because these companies attract top-tier employees–high performers who are naturally gifted at productivity–but that’s not the case, says Bain & Company partner Michael Mankins.

“Our research found that these companies have 16% star players, while other companies have 15%,” he says. “They start with about the same mix of star players, but they are able to produce dramatically more output.”

It’s what they do with these high performers. Executives from large companies across 12 industry sectors worldwide said three components of human capital impact productivity more than anything else: time, talent, and energy. And the top quartile organized its business processes in a way that they’re 40% more productive than the rest and consequently have profit margins that are 30%-50% higher than industry averages.

“They get more done by 10 a.m. Thursday morning than the others do in a week, but they don’t stop working,” says Mankins. “This difference compounds every year; over a decade, they can produce 30 times more than the rest, with the same number of employees.”

«

Mankins has written a book on this. One of his cases in point: iOS 1.0 v Vista. Though in the article it’s written as “iOS 10” and described as “mission critical”. Also critical: careful reading.
link to this extract


Samsung confirms the Note 7 is coming back as a refurbished device • The Verge

Natt Garun:

»

Ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch, the company has released a statement regarding its plans to recycle Note 7 devices. The process comes in three parts: save salvageable components such as camera modules and semiconductors, extract metal parts with the help from “eco-friendly” third-party companies, and sell refurbished devices “where applicable.”

The announcement appears to walk back on what Samsung initially pledged last fall, when it said it would dispose of the Note 7 and had no plans to repair or refurbish them. Instead, Samsung has confirmed it will work with local authorities and carriers to sell it as a refurbished device, rumored to come with a smaller battery to prevent it from overheating and catching fire. The company said available markets are to be determined as they work with local regulators to approve of the sale.

“The objective of introducing refurbished devices is solely to reduce and minimize any environmental impact,” Samsung told The Verge in a statement.

«

“This millstone? Yeah, we’ve painted it, and think it looks nice around our neck, actually.”
link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy S8: The antidote for phone fatigue? • CNET

Roger Cheng:

»

Samsung will hold its Galaxy S8 launch event in New York at Lincoln Center on Wednesday starting at 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. PT), and CNET will bring you all the details and full coverage as it happens.

But the stakes aren’t just isolated to one company — phones in general need a jump start, a spark of innovation to get us excited again. Samsung is banking the Galaxy S8 is just that catalyst.

Because let’s face it, there’s been a general malaise creeping into the phone world as the innovative jumps between versions of phones get smaller and smaller. Sure, phones boast faster processors, better cameras and brighter displays — but that’s all kind of expected now, right?

It’s telling that amid all of the new phones released at the Mobile World Congress trade show last month, it was the reboot of a 17-year-old feature phone — the Nokia 3310 — that captured everyone’s attention. Keep in mind this was a show where household names like LG and Sony rolled out their big phones and BlackBerry mounted yet another comeback attempt with the KeyOne (courtesy of Chinese phone maker TCL).

But did anyone care? Nope.

I’ll readily admit that I suffer from an extreme form of phone fatigue. It’s hard not to when you deal with the next greatest smartphone seemingly every month. It can’t just be me, right?

«

Smartphone evolution has slowed so much it has pretty much stopped. There isn’t anything dramatic you can do now to the form factor or, largely, function. So we’re now into the commoditisation era, when retro stuff feels fun because it’s properly different.
link to this extract


Dishwasher has directory traversal bug • The Register

Richard Chirgwin:

»

Don’t say you weren’t warned: Miele went full Internet-of-Things with a dishwasher, gave it a web server and now finds itself on the wrong end of a bug report and it’s accused of ignoring the warning.

The utterly predictable bug report at Full Disclosure details CVE-2017-7240, “Miele Professional PG 8528 – Web Server Directory Traversal”.

“The corresponding embedded Web server ‘PST10 WebServer’ typically listens to port 80 and is prone to a directory traversal attack, therefore an unauthenticated attacker may be able to exploit this issue to access sensitive information to aide in subsequent attacks.”

Proving it for yourself is simple: GET /../../../../../../../../../../../../etc/shadow HTTP/1.1 to whatever IP the dishwasher has on the LAN.

Directory traversal attacks let miscreants access directories other than those needed by a web server. And once they’re in those directories, it’s party time because they can insert their own code and tell the web server to execute it.

«

If you squint hard, you can see why you might want this – to turn on your dishwasher at some convenient time of day when you’re not there. (Solar panels work during the day…) However, internet security is harder than making dishwashers.
link to this extract


Beware Google ads for ‘abortion consultations’ • Bloomberg

Alice Hines:

»

Imagine you’re pregnant, and you don’t want to be. You type “abortion pittsburgh” into Google, and the first result is the Pittsburgh Women’s Clinic, offering “free abortion consultations.” “Only you know what’s best for you,” the Google ad reads. “Same-day appointments available. Call now!” You click and come face-to-face with a photo of a smiling woman with a stethoscope. “Looking for an abortion?” she asks in 65-point font. But you won’t get one from her or from the Pittsburgh Women’s Clinic. No clinic with that precise name exists.

The site is a landing page for a network of 41 pregnancy centers seeking to deter women from getting abortions. These centers, located in what they say are America’s “most abortion-dense cities,” are affiliated with or owned by Human Coalition—formerly Online for Life, sometimes going by the name Media Revolution Ministries—a Texas-based nonprofit that reaches “abortion-determined women” via ad campaigns shaped by search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

«

Totally predictable, but the question is whether this is false advertising. Some US cities are passing ordinances against such dubious schemes.
link to this extract


Why you won’t see Unilever announcing it is pulling its ads from YouTube • Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»

[Unilever marketing chief Keith] Weed says the current industry-standard for a view — 50% of the pixels of an ad seen for 1 second or more — doesn’t go far enough. He says a view should be 100% of the pixels seen. On video, he says half of the ad must have been watched to count as a view — versus the industry-standard of 50% of the pixels for 2 continuous seconds.

“I was saying [back during discussions with Google in 2015] I’m not taking a stance against YouTube or any other platform, I’m taking a stance about what I’m willing to pay for. This is my criteria, if you don’t match that criteria, at the end of the day, it’s Unilever dollars. If you don’t match that criteria, that’s fair enough. But our dollars will follow where that criteria exists,” Weed said.

Marc Pritchard, the chief marketing officer at consumer goods giant P&G, delivered two landmark speeches earlier this year in which he gave its agencies and suppliers a year’s notice to get audited and open themselves up to accredited third-party verification services. Media agency The&Partnership’s founder Johnny Hornby said advertisers and agencies should set a “Cannes deadline” — referring to the Cannes Lions advertising industry event that takes place in June — for Google and Facebook to sort out issues such as ad fraud and ad misplacement, or else the industry should cut its spend on those platforms

Weed said the progress digital platforms have made on those types of areas over the past couple of years has been “fantastic,” although they are still not where they should be. But he doesn’t plan to put an public deadline on his demands, like his biggest competitor has. Instead, Unilever is giving individual companies separate, private deadlines.

«

You’ve “seen” a video ad if half its pixels come into view for 2 seconds? Then again, TV advertising can’t really guarantee any viewing for any length of time.
link to this extract


The high-speed trading behind your Amazon purchase • WSJ

Christopher Mims noticed the price of marshmallows – of all things – had fluctuated wildly overnight on Amazon:

»

Amazon’s retail business “is like this massive slowed-down stock exchange,” says Juozas Kaziukėnas, founder and chief executive of Marketplace Pulse, a business-intelligence firm focused on e-commerce. The usual market dynamics are at work: Sellers entering and leaving the market, temporary scarcity when someone runs out of stock or a manufacturer falls behind, and sellers testing consumers and each other with high and low prices.

The vendor of the marshmallows I wanted told me his high price was an attempt to bait competitors into raising their own asking prices for the item. This works because sellers of commodity items on Amazon are constantly monitoring and updating their prices, sometimes hundreds of thousands of times a day across thousands of items, says Mr. Kaziukėnas. Most use “rules-based” pricing systems, which simply seek to match competitors’ prices or beat them by some small fraction. If those systems get into bidding wars, items offered by only a few sellers can suffer sudden price collapses—“flash crashes.”

More sophisticated systems for pricing are offered by companies like New York City-based Feedvisor, which claims to use artificial intelligence to learn the market dynamics behind every item in a catalog. This system is “set it and forget it,” says Barry Lampert, one of Feedvisor’s customers and a top-500 seller on Amazon. The algorithm will often raise the price on items in a seller’s catalog, to see if other sellers will follow suit. The goal is to maximize sales while avoiding bidding wars that can be a race to the bottom.

«

Fascinating piece; one of those things where if colossal computing power can be applied to something, it definitely will. And of course AI makes an appearance.
link to this extract


Burned once, publishers are wary of Medium’s new subscription offering • Poynter

Benjamin Mullin:

»

This week, two months after denouncing web advertising, Williams unveiled Medium’s new plan to monetize content: A subscription service for $5 per month that gives contributors an improved reading experience, exclusive stories and a “personal, offline reading list.” The initiative includes a partner program whereby publishers can pitch stories to Medium that the company will fund on a per-story basis. For publishers who were relying on Medium’s revenue beta, the partner program represents a potential new revenue stream. But some interviewed for this article say it won’t be enough to pay their bills.

“Right now, we’re very concerned about the future of our site’s partnership with Medium,” said Neil Miller, the founder of pop culture site Film School Rejects. “What we were sold when we joined their platform is very different from what they’re offering as a way forward.”

“It’s almost as if Ev Williams wasn’t concerned that he was pulling out the rug from underneath publishers who had placed their trust in his vision for the future of journalism,” he said.

Medium, which sold publishers on being a home for quality journalism, is now putting the sites it recruited in jeopardy, Miller said.

“I sincerely hope it works out, but at this point there’s a lot of uncertainty in the viability of Medium as a platform for independent publishers,” he said. “We’d love to stay with them on this journey, but I worry that it will be impossible without significantly damaging our ability to operate our business.”

«

This isn’t going to work for Medium, and now we await its next pivot, which will either be to artisanal pottery, or taking advertising.
link to this extract


Signal and “sharing” of contacts • JWZ

Jamie Zawinski, a former founder of Mozilla and Netscape:

»

When you install Signal, it asks for access to your contacts, and says very proudly, “we don’t upload your contacts, it all stays on your phone.”

And then it spams all of your contacts who have Signal installed, without asking your first.

And it shares your phone number with everyone in your contacts who has Signal installed.

And then when you scream ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME and delete your account and purge the app, guess what? All those people running Signal still have your phone number displayed for them right there in plain text. Deleting your account does not delete the information that the app shared without your permission.

So yeah. Real nice “privacy” app you’ve got there.

I’m going back to Facebook Messenger, where at least the privacy failings are obvious.

«

The developers swear up and down that they don’t; there’s a colossal row in the comments on the piece (and an update in the blogpost, not backing down). It seems to me that what happens is this: Signal notes when a new number joins, and if someone else has Signal installed and also has that person’s number in their address book, Signal notes that they can now communicate that way. But it doesn’t distribute the number to people who don’t have the number already. (Otherwise your Signal contacts would have every phone number of every person who ever joined.) Zawinski insists his number was distributed. I don’t think so. Noted here because it’s such a huge row, and an example of how one can misinterpret what one sees. After all, if someone is in your contacts, that implies you have their number – so they likely have yours, right?
link to this extract


The internet, privacy and terrorism… • Paul Bernal’s Blog

»

The internet is something we all use – and it’s immensely useful. Yes, Google is a really good way to find out information – that’s why we all use it. The Mail seems shocked by this – not that it’s particularly difficult to know how a car might be used to drive somewhere and to crash into people. It’s not specifically the ‘terrorists’ friend, but a useful tool for all of us.

The same is true about WhatsApp – and indeed other forms of communication. Yes, they can be used by ‘bad guys’, and in ways that are bad – but they are also excellent tools for the rest of us. If you do something to ban ‘secret texts’ (effectively by undermining encryption), then actually you’re banning private and confidential communications – both of which are crucial for pretty much all of us.

The same is true of privacy itself. We all need it. Undermining it – for example by building in backdoors to services like WhatsApp – undermines us all. Further, calls for mass surveillance damage us all – and attacks like that at Westminster absolutely do not help build the case for more of it. Precisely the opposite. To the surprise of no-one who works in privacy, it turns out that the attacker was already known to the authorities – so did not need to be found by mass surveillance. The same has been true of the perpetrators of all the major terrorist attacks in the West in recent years. The murderers of Lee Rigby. The Boston Bombers. The Charlie Hebdo shooters. The Sydney siege perpetrators. The Bataclan killers. None of these attacks needed identifying through mass surveillance. At a time when resources are short, to spend time, money, effort and expertise on mass surveillance rather than improving targeted intelligence, putting more human intelligence into place – more police, more investigators rather than more millions into the hands of IT contractors – is hard to defend.

What is also hard to defend is the kind of journalism that produces headlines like that in the Mail [“Google, the terrorists’ friend], or indeed in the Times. Journalists should know better. They should know all too well the importance of privacy and confidentiality – they know when they need to protect their own sources, and get rightfully up in arms when the police monitor their communications and endanger their sources. They should know that ‘blocking terror websites’ is a short step away from political censorship, and potentially highly damaging to freedom of expression – and freedom of the press in particular.

«

Journalists don’t get much chance to resist what their newsdesks or editors tell them is going to be the story on papers like the Mail. They can, but they’ll find work intolerable for some time afterward.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: more YouTube ad trouble, iPad optics, troll factory rebrands, Walmart madness, and more


An Uber self-driving car, here seen the right way up. Other orientations were on display this weekend. Photo by iwasaround 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 12 links for you. (British) Summer time is here! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

LA Times and ads • Nelson’s log

Nelson Minar:

»

The LA Times is a good newspaper and is currently doing the best political coverage in California. They are also the most aggressive ad shoveling website I have ever seen. Their ad blocker blocker and paywall works, preventing me from reading articles. I even tried installing an ad blocker blocker blocker which doesn’t work.

So I open articles like this in incognito mode, and let it run its ads, and close the popups and mute the videos and try to ignore the visual distraction. But boy that page does not go quietly. Here’s how they reward their readers.

That’s a timeline of 30 seconds of page activity about 5 minutes after the article was opened. To be clear, this timeline should be empty. Nothing should be loading. Maybe one short ping, maybe loading one extra ad. Instead the page requested 2000 resources totalling 5 megabytes in 30 seconds. It will keep making those requests as long as I leave the page open. 14 gigabytes a day.

«

Yes, ad services doing the work. This is part of how many sites monetise; Recode used to recycle its page even if you didn’t have the tab frontmost.
link to this extract


iPad optics • Asymco

Horace Dediu on the puzzle of slowing iPad sales:

»

user satisfaction with the product continues to be very high. Apple cited that in November, 451 Research measured a 94% consumer satisfaction rate for iPad Mini, a 97% rate for iPad Air, and 96% for iPad Pro. Finally, browsing, shopping and app usage data also show continuing high utilization for iPads.

Furthermore, iPads are still growing in “non-consuming” markets. iPad posted double-digit growth in both Mainland China and India, it continues to attract a very high percentage of first-time tablet buyers.

Finally, within corporate buyers there is a 96% satisfaction rate with 66% purchase intent. Apps and solutions are continually being developed for the platform.

Taking into account that the iPad has a large, stable, engaged and loyal user base that continues to expand and find new uses the optically bad sales data needs an explanation. The simplest explanation is probably the best: iPads remain in use far longer than phones, and perhaps even longer than some computers.

Anecdotally we can see evidence for this. Few iPads are replaced every two years the way phones are. They are not tied to service contracts or subsidized. They are also less likely to be damaged during usage as phones are dropped and banged-up. iPads are more stationary or carried in protected containers. Phones are in pockets, iPads are in bags.

So iPads are longer-lived products and it’s perfectly reasonable that people who have them keep using them and more people are joining them but slowly.

«

Consider that corporate PCs often get replaced quite strictly on a three-, four- or five-year basis. No such certainty in the consumer market.
link to this extract


Uber suspends self-driving car program after Arizona crash • Reuters

Gina Cherelus:

»

Uber Technologies suspended its pilot program for driverless cars on Saturday after a vehicle equipped with the nascent technology crashed on an Arizona roadway, the ride-hailing company and local police said.

The accident, the latest involving a self-driving vehicle operated by one of several companies experimenting with autonomous vehicles, caused no serious injuries, Uber said.

Even so, the company said it was grounding driverless cars involved in a pilot program in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco pending the outcome of investigation into the crash on Friday evening in Tempe.

“We are continuing to look into this incident,” an Uber spokeswoman said in an email.

The accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber vehicle while making a turn, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department.

“The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side,” she said in an email. “There were no serious injuries.”

Two ‘safety’ drivers were in the front seats of the Uber car, which was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, Uber said in an email, a standard requirement for its self-driving vehicles. The back seat was empty.

«

Over at Google/Waymo, they’ll be groaning. Or delighted. This was inevitable (admit it), but is it better than it happened to Uber – everyone’s favourite whipping boy this month – rather than the poster boy for self-driving cars, Waymo? Segue straight into…
link to this extract


Inside Uber’s self-driving car mess • Recode

Johana Bhuiyan:

»

taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100% of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day.

But the company’s autonomous efforts are in turmoil. According to extensive interviews Recode conducted with former and current employees at the self-driving effort, many think it is at a technological standstill and plagued by significant internal tension, especially among its executive leadership.

The issues have included a wave of key talent departures and problematic demos. At least 20 of the company’s engineers have quit since November. One source says a “mini civil war” has broken out between those who joined Otto in search of the independence of a startup, and those who joined Uber’s ATG with ambitions to solidify the company’s place in the future of transportation.

Many of those issues and the resulting questions can be traced back to when Uber acquired Otto, several sources said. As part of the acquisition, Kalanick put its founder and CEO Anthony Levandowski in charge of all of its autonomous efforts.

Uber says that it’s normal for an entity that was founded two years ago as of January 2017 to see this level of attrition, particularly as the company recently paid out its employee bonuses. However, the departures began as early as November 2016. Additionally, a company spokesperson said Uber’s ATG has seen fewer departures than the overall company and has hired more people than have left since the start of the year.

«

There was a meeting scheduled for Monday, though possibly it was brought forward?

link to this extract


Inside Alabama’s auto jobs boom: cheap wages, little training, crushed limbs • Bloomberg

Peter Waldman:

»

Parts suppliers in the American South compete for low-margin orders against suppliers in Mexico and Asia. They promise delivery schedules they can’t possibly meet and face ruinous penalties if they fall short. Employees work ungodly hours, six or seven days a week, for months on end. Pay is low, turnover is high, training is scant, and safety is an afterthought, usually after someone is badly hurt. Many of the same woes that typify work conditions at contract manufacturers across Asia now bedevil parts plants in the South.

“The supply chain isn’t going just to Bangladesh. It’s going to Alabama and Georgia,” says David Michaels, who ran OSHA for the last seven years of the Obama administration. Safety at the Southern car factories themselves is generally good, he says. The situation is much worse at parts suppliers, where workers earn about 70¢ for every dollar earned by auto parts workers in Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Many plants in the North are unionized; only a few are in the South.)

Cordney Crutcher has known both environments. In 2013 he lost his left pinkie while operating a metal press at Matsu Alabama, a parts maker in Huntsville owned by Matcor-Matsu Group Inc. of Brampton, Ont. Crutcher was leaving work for the day when a supervisor summoned him to replace a slower worker on the line, because the plant had fallen 40 parts behind schedule for a shipment to Honda Motor Co. He’d already worked 12 hours, Crutcher says, and wanted to go home, “but he said they really needed me.” He was put on a press that had been acting up all day. It worked fine until he was 10 parts away from finishing, and then a cast-iron hole puncher failed to deploy. Crutcher didn’t realize it. Suddenly the puncher fired and snapped on his finger. “I saw my meat sticking out of the bottom of my glove,” he says.

Now Crutcher, 42, commutes an hour to the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., where he’s a member of United Auto Workers. “They teach you the right way,” he says. “They don’t throw you to the wolves.” His pay rose from $12 an hour at Matsu to $18.21 at GM.

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It’s quite disturbing how low the bottom is in a race to the bottom.
link to this extract


Russia’s infamous ‘troll factory’ is now posing as a media empire • Moscow Times

Alexey Kovalev:

»

Today, FAN forms the core of a media empire consisting of 16 news websites. Collectively, they employ over 200 full-time journalists and editors whose content attracts more that 30 million pageviews every month.

The monthly cost of running FAN and its sister sites is in the area of 20 million rubles ($350,000), RBC estimates. The source of the funding is unclear too, but most of the websites in the empire attract little if any ad revenue. Allegedly, the group has a mysterious sponsor, believed to be Yevgeni Prigozhin, who also known as “Putin’s Cook.”

Everyday, the sites churn out dozens of articles every day that praise Putin, cast Ukraine as a failed Nazi state and expose the nefarious machinations of the United States. Still, FAN stands out. It exploits the unstable media labor market to lure in journalists from other publications with salaries above the market average. FAN even employs foreign reporters — RBC reports they are the most likely to be sent to Syria to provide coverage.

In its coverage of Syria, FAN has an unique advantage over other news outlets — including state-owned media behemoths. Unlike new organizations, FAN reporters are not obligated to embed with Russia’s Defense Ministry, which censors coverage.

Instead, RBC reports that FAN reporters embed with the so-called the “Wagner Group,” a private military company — also reportedly funded by Prigozhin — that is covertly employed by Russia’s Defense Ministry to buttress its Syria operation. This allows FAN’s reporters to file their reports from dangerous frontlines faster than state news media.

«

Hall of mirrors adds conservatory extension.
link to this extract


iMessage apps have become pretty interesting and useful • Finer Tech

David Chartier:

»

Not stickers, apps. I’ve been a sticker proponent for quite a while, as stickers have been a massive (and profitable) hit in other countries for years. They also just make people happy, and in a world like this one, we need more of that. But some apps like Line attribute most (if not all) of their attraction and impressive revenue to stickers. Apple and iMessage basically just closed a five-year gap there.

iMessage apps are different. They appropriate functionality, which lives elsewhere outside of iMessage, and place it right in the conversation with you. For a while, I figured “why not just open that app and tap a share or copy link?” But tinkering with two iMessage apps helped things click for me: Pocket and Fandango.

They remove friction from switching apps to grab content, a link, or even functionality, and keep that stuff right there with me and my friends. There’s something useful about not having to break away from a conversation to go get this stuff.

«

I always think only of stickers, but apps might be worth looking at again.
link to this extract


Survey finds foreign students aren’t applying to american colleges • NBC News

Ron Allen:

»

In Cairo, Momen Rihan, who spent a few months as an exchange student in America and decided not to come back, said he’s been observing posts on social media from other travelers.

“They say they face problems at airports when they try to check into the United States because they are Arab,” Rihan said.

Taiwanese student Vicky Sung, who is deciding whether to attend University of Southern California or Boston University, said she’s mindful of recent attacks on foreigners living and working in the United States. In February, two Indian-born men working in Kansas were shot and one of them killed in what federal prosecutors are calling a hate crime because the shooter allegedly said, “Get out of my country.”

“Safety is a big concern for choosing which university to go to,” Sung said, “or even whether to go at all.”

Her friend, Yi Zhihui of China, also expressed concern about whether Trump will make visa’s more restrictive if tensions with China over trade or other political issues heat up.

“I consider education sort of an investment, and if my visa gets canceled and I can’t enter the country, that’s kind of investment failure,” he explained.

«

Drip, drip.
link to this extract


Walmart’s e-commerce binge is one big Silicon Valley bailout • LinkedIn

Jake Anderson-Bialis on Walmart’s buyup of a number of perhaps not-so-profitable e-commerce companies:

»

Let me be clear, e-commerce is an insanely hard business. Judges in Colombia have more lifetime security. Especially if you’re selling and moving physical product. Only in e-commerce could a company brag about being “contribution margin profitable,” which is code for “we barely make enough money to build anything valuable.” What’s their answer for losing money on customers? Volume. Unless your company’s name starts with the word “Warby,” “Harry,” “Stitch,” or “Blue” (all spectacular dog names, by the way), it’s probably not a great e-commerce business. The reality is there is a yawning chasm between the superb e-commerce businesses and the rest.

Once e-commerce companies go public, they trade at 1x forward revenue. And not a nickel more. That’s a problem when you’ve fooled investors, and yourself, into valuing the business at 3 – 5x. Ultimately, e-commerce companies spend evermore more money to acquire worse customers, sales slow and profits become elusive. Personally, I rode Zulily shares down 80% and most days felt like my own personal flash crash. And Zulily was one of the better-run outfits.

As one hedge fund manager friend likes to say, “companies get valued either on DCF (Discounted Cash Flow) or GFT (Greater Fool Theory).” I cannot tell you how many investments have been made in the last five years with the thinking “we’ll just sell this to Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook” (let’s call this the “A.G.A.F. approach”). But these players got rich, and stayed rich, by being disciplined and building their own products. Amazon knows e-commerce better than anyone and owns the market. Guess how many companies its bought for over a billion dollars? Zero…

…E-commerce, especially in Silicon Valley, is a roach motel for shoddy businesses run by slick entrepreneurs.

«

Elegiac.
link to this extract


Google’s YouTube has continued showing brands’ ads with racist and other objectionable videos • WSJ

Jack Nicas:

»

A week after Google apologized for running customers’ advertisements alongside objectionable videos, triggering a change in policy, its YouTube site is still rife with examples that are angering more big advertisers and causing some to cut spending with the tech giant.

Google’s automated system placed ads for some of the world’s biggest brands—including Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble, Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp.—on five YouTube videos peddling racist and anti-Semitic content, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal.

Asked about the Journal’s finding that their ads were still appearing with such content on YouTube as of Thursday night, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dish Network Corp. said Friday they were suspending spending on all Google advertising except targeted search ads. Starbucks Corp. and General Motors Co. said they were pulling their ads from YouTube. FX Networks, part of 21st Century Fox Inc., said it was suspending all advertising spending on Google, including search ads and YouTube.

Wal-Mart said: “The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values.”

«

It has started to hit search ads? Stuff got real. This was Friday; I think there weren’t many Google or YouTube staff relaxing at home over the weekend.
link to this extract


Google kills Gchat, replaces with Google Hangouts • NY Mag

Madison Malone Kircher:

»

Starting in June, Google is saying good-bye to one of its most beloved products, Gchat. Officially, the chat app’s name was Google Talk; Gchat was just what hip, personal-computer owners started calling it back in the day, but the name has persisted. While the functionality of Gchat isn’t really going away — users will be rolled over to Hangouts, a Google chat platform that has been up and running for four years at this point and does effectively the same thing — the name and user interface will be no more.

Gchat’s run as the king of adult instant-messaging started back in 2005. For those of us just getting into the web around then, it was a perfect platform: Your tech-inept parents weren’t on it yet. It was cleaner and easier to use than AIM. And there was the added bonus that because it was new — Gmail launched in 2004, a year prior to Gchat — you might actually be able to snag a variation on your name, if not your given name exactly. Realistically, you probably went with something much cooler and more true to your inner spirit, like “flypegasusfly,” “crewgirl16,” or “mormonboy12804.” (I wish I could say I made any of those up.)

Sure, when the Google Hangouts switch happens in June, your online interactions aren’t really going to change that much. But the name will die, and that’s something to grieve on this slow-for-tech-news Friday.

«

One fewer, sort of, Google messaging app, or is it platform? But still more of them than you can shake a stick at.
link to this extract


Swarovski shelves plans for Basel smartwatch launch • WatchPro

Andrew Seymour:

»

“Swarovski has decided to postpone its smart device initiative and will not present new smart device products at Baselworld 2017. Swarovski is simply not ready yet. We cannot yet make any statement regarding the timing of the launch,” he explained.

Details of the Android device, aimed at the women’s market, first emerged at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year when tech partner Qualcomm told journalists it was providing the chipset for the watches.

Mr Buchbauer said no blame could be laid at the feet of Qualcomm and Google for the delay.

“The cooperation with and technology provided by all partner companies have been outstanding. The postponement was purely driven by Swarovski’s strive for excellence in execution,” he commented.

Swarovski has already been involved in the smartwatch market through collaborations with Samsung, Polar and Huawei. But the watch it was due to unveil in Basel would have been the first produced by its own team.

«

Perhaps realised that it’s not going to be a magic wand – not even a crystal-encrusted one – to boost sales.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Apple buys Workflow, SoundCloud deeper in debt, Android’s patchy security, and more


There’s nothing glorious about walking miles to work if you have no other choice. Photo by mdurwin2 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The gig economy celebrates working yourself to death • The New Yorker

Jia Tolentino:

»

It’s a stretch to feel cheerful at all about the Fiverr marketplace, perusing the thousands of listings of people who will record any song, make any happy-birthday video, or design any book cover for five dollars. I’d guess that plenty of the people who advertise services on Fiverr would accept some “whiteboarding” in exchange for employer-sponsored health insurance.

At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear.

Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.

«

link to this extract


Apple has acquired Workflow, a powerful automation tool for iPad and iPhone • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»

If you spool out the thread here it’s not hard to see Workflow being integrated heavily with Siri, allowing even more seamless activation and composition of actions now that the team has access to Apple’s private APIs, which are more robust than the tiny bit of Siri that’s public so far.

There are also great opportunities here to offer value-add “power user” capabilities to the iPad ecosystem. Apple’s efforts to get people to see the iPhone, iPad and even Apple Watch ecosystem as something that can be used for many light-to-medium tasks could be bolstered here.

The Workflow app for Apple Watch is especially clever and a nice organic fit — I’ve long been a proponent of the “1.5 seconds or bust” interaction model with Apple Watch. Workflow’s “endpoint” is a single tap or automated action that can “hide” a complex system of commands or interactions underneath it — ideal for Apple Watch.

Workflow’s acquisition is a fairly crisp example of the kinds of app successes that have become a bit more muddied in this age of services. A small, clever team (that were one-time WWDC student scholarship recipients) built a tool so useful on iOS that Apple itself essentially copped that they couldn’t do it better and bought it. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

«

Apple has clearly decided it needs to pep up iOS’s scripting ability. Pretty much immediately, it took out the ability to use Google Maps (gotta use Apple Maps) and Google Translate (it’s Bing).

Will it become a sort of Tasker? There is so much more that could be done in scripting iOS. (I use Workflow, and also Pythonista, which is able to get deep into user interaction.)
link to this extract


SoundCloud raises $70m in debt funding: Companies House documents • Business Insider

»

James Cook: Music streaming service SoundCloud has raised $70m (£56m) in debt funding, according to documents filed with Companies House in the UK.

The documents show that SoundCloud raised the loan from Kreos Capital’s fifth debt fund, as well as the Davidson Technology Growth Debt Fund and Ares Capital. The loan was agreed on March 10, the documents show.

SoundCloud confirmed the debt funding round in a statement to Business Insider… SoundCloud last raised money in June 2016 when it raised around $70m from Twitter Ventures, Twitter’s investment arm, as part of a $100m (£80m) round.

«

Debt financing – well, SoundCloud calls it a credit line – is more dangerous to a company than venture funding, because it’s directly repayable, with interest. Both SoundCloud and Spotify now have substantial debt funding (compared to their revenues). SoundCloud’s revenues were just €21m in 2015, and it raised debt early in 2016 too.

Both companies are running out of time.
link to this extract


Twitter is being unbundled before our eyes • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

The final, and most durable, part of Twitter’s bundle has been that network of VIPs. Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, LeBron James — some of the most famous people in the world, across every sphere of influence, making news with every tweet. To the extent that Twitter’s final collapse is unimaginable, it’s because of the collective power of their tweeting — a massive network of politicians, celebrities, athletes, and journalists feeding off and reinforcing one another.

And that’s what makes this month’s moves by Amazon and Reddit so interesting. They’re acknowledgements that Twitch and Reddit have influential networks of their own, and that those networks would benefit from real-time public broadcasts of text, images, and video. And given the ambitions of both services to transcend their niches, they could ultimately pose real threats to Twitter.

In the weeks since it was announced, Amazon has introduced a desktop player for Twitch and hired several former Twitter employees, including its former Android lead and an iOS engineer. Reddit is much earlier in its transformation into a full-fledged broadcast network — but that transformation appears to be coming.

«

Pity Twitch couldn’t drain off all the gamers about three or four years ago, amirite? But I don’t see this as a serious threat to Twitter, which remains its own biggest threat through mad spending.
link to this extract


BlackBerry releases Privacy Shade, an app to keep nearby people from reading your screen • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

As large phones have become the norm, there’s plenty of information for wondering eyes to get a look at. If you sometimes catch family or friends sneaking a peek at your phone, BlackBerry has just the app for you – if you have a BlackBerry device, that is.

The aptly-named Privacy Shade darkens the entire screen, except a small view area that can be easily moved or resized. You can change the transparency of the shade, as well as change the view area from a box to a circle. That’s pretty much it.

«

Neat idea. Wonder how well BlackBerry has patented it; it’s a natural to copy for security use.
link to this extract


Diverse protections for a diverse ecosystem: Android Security 2016 Year in Review • Official Google blog

Mel Miller, Android security program manager, introducing the overview:

»

Security updates are regularly highlighted as a pillar of mobile security—and rightly so. We launched our monthly security updates program in 2015, following the public disclosure of a bug in Stagefright, to help accelerate patching security vulnerabilities across devices from many different device makers. This program expanded significantly in 2016:

• More than 735m devices from 200+ manufacturers received a platform security update in 2016.
• We released monthly Android security updates throughout the year for devices running Android 4.4.4 and up—that accounts for 86.3% of all active Android devices worldwide.
• Our carrier and hardware partners helped expand deployment of these updates, releasing updates for over half of the top 50 devices worldwide in the last quarter of 2016.

We provided monthly security updates for all supported Pixel and Nexus devices throughout 2016, and we’re thrilled to see our partners invest significantly in regular updates as well. There’s still a lot of room for improvement however. About half of devices in use at the end of 2016 had not received a platform security update in the previous year.

«

Take the first bullet point together with the final sentence, and you get a figure of about 1.4bn-1.5bn Google Android devices in use at the end of 2016. (That doesn’t include China, of course, where it’s AOSP Android without Google services.)

Sideloading meanwhile remains the risk for malware:

»

there’s more work to do for devices overall, especially those that install apps from multiple sources. While only 0.71% of all Android devices had PHAs installed at the end of 2016, that was a slight increase from about 0.5% in the beginning of 2015. Using improved tools and the knowledge we gained in 2016, we think we can reduce the number of devices affected by PHAs in 2017, no matter where people get their apps.

«

I’d love to know the reason behind that increase. It suggests about 10m infected devices outside China.
link to this extract


Twitter starts using IBM’s Watson technology to help identify bullies who tweet • GeekWire

Geof Wheelwright:

»

“We’re working to identify accounts as they’re engaging in abusive behavior, even if this behavior hasn’t been reported to us. Then, we’re taking action by limiting certain account functionality for a set amount of time, such as allowing only their followers to see their Tweets,” the company explained in the post. “For example, this change could come into effect if an account is repeatedly Tweeting without solicitation at non-followers or engaging in patterns of abusive behavior that is in violation of the Twitter Rules.”

At IBM InterConnect, [Twitter VP of data strategy Chris] Moody discussed where Twitter goes next in fighting abuse. “We’re starting just now to partner with the Watson team. Watson is really good at understanding nuances in language and intention,” he said. “What we want to do is be able to identify abuse patterns early and stop this behavior before it starts.”

Not connected to his bullying comments, but as an observation at the beginning of his speech, Moody said people at the company are still sometimes surprised at the way Twitter is used, even though Twitter is now a full 11 years old, having reached that milestone on Tuesday.

«

I do hope it identifies Trump as an undesirable.
link to this extract


The emergence of the white troll behind a black face • NPR

Neha Rashid:

»

Trolls, as the Internet describes them, are users who bait others for their own amusement. So whenever Vann Newkirk, a writer at The Atlantic with a large following, gets a provocative clap back on his tweets about race, he usually ignores it.

But he began to pay attention when an account bearing an image of a black woman mentioned she would be okay with her son being subject to police brutality if he misbehaved, and when another account with a picture of a black person said Emmett Till deserved to die.

“I’m used to trolling, and it doesn’t bother me, but the idea of a black woman selling her sons out to police with everything we know now was so sad to me that I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And the idea that anyone — let alone a black person — could say Emmett Till deserved to die is just so beyond the pale,” he said.

Over the past few months, Black Twitter has noticed an increase in the number of white trolls creating fake Twitter accounts. Newkirk says he first noticed this around election time last year, when people began posting directions on how to create these fake accounts on websites and forums.

One such post is an article on white supremacist website, The Daily Stormer. “How to be a Ni**** on Twitter” breaks down methods for creating a fake account in order to take “revenge on Twitter” for banning Andrew Auernheimer’s white supremacist ads and for blocking Jared Wyand’s account for anti-Semitic tweets. The secondary goal, the article notes, is to “create a state of chaos on twitter, among the black twitter population, by sowing distrust and suspicion, causing blacks to panic.”

«

Sowing distrust and suspicion. Such a wonderful way to spend your limited time on the planet.
link to this extract


74% of No. 1 iPhone apps don’t last a month in the top 25 • Sensor Tower

Ruika Lin is mobile insights strategist at the app-monitoring company:

»

Developers spend a substantial amount of time and money attempting to drive their apps to the top of the App Store charts. But reaching the coveted No. 1 ranking for downloads doesn’t necessarily ensure longterm visibility on the App Store. In fact, as Sensor Tower’s App Intelligence data shows, of the apps that reached No. 1 for the first time on the U.S. App Store during the past two years, 74% dropped out of the top 25 within a month—and merely 8% remained there after three months.

Twenty-two apps topped the U.S. App Store downloads ranking on iPhone for the first time in 2015. That number increased to 31 in 2016, for a total of 53 in the past two years. As the chart above illustrates, after they reached the top, most apps’ discoverability rapidly diminished…

…As our data shows, the resources needed to reach No. 1 through traditional user acquisition strategies don’t appear to produce a lasting return on investment for most apps.

They face numerous obstacles maintaining a long-term presence at the top of the charts, the most prominent one being the increasing dominance of massive apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger. With their strong brand recognition and inexhaustible marketing budgets, they consistently lead the download chart while most other apps don’t come close.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: AT&T yanks YouTube ads, cloudy hacker threats, AI v breast cancer, opioid hopes, and more


Hackers! They’re everywhere. Photo by The Preiser Project 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

AT&T, other US advertisers quit Google, YouTube over extremist videos • USA Today

Jessica Guynn:

»

AT&T, Verizon, Enterprise Holdings and other major US advertisers are pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in business from Google and YouTube despite the Internet giant’s pledge this week to keep offensive and extremist content away from ads.

AT&T said that it is halting all ad spending on Google except for search ads. That means AT&T ads will not run on Google’s video service YouTube and on a couple million websites that take part in Google’s ad network.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

Sanette Chao, who handles marketing communications and branding for Verizon, confirmed that mobile operator has also pulled its ads.

“Once we were notified that our ads were appearing on non-sanctioned websites, we took immediate action to suspend this type of ad placement and launched an investigation,” Chao said in a statement.

Programmatic ad buying “has gotten ahead of the advertising industry’s checks-and-balances,” Enterprise Holdings spokeswoman Laura Bryant said.

«

So this is really starting to gather some steam. A few advertisers in the UK is one thing, but when big brands like AT&T and Verizon pull ad money from YouTube and non-search sites, the reputational hit begins to be important.

Google is in trouble here, and it isn’t going to get out of it easily. In the physical world, say with billboards, you know where your ad is running. In the virtual one, you don’t.
link to this extract


Inside the hunt for Russia’s most notorious hacker • WIRED

Garrett Graff:

»

The news about the sanctions [imposed on 30 December by Obama against Russia for hacking the US elections] had broken overnight, so Tillmann Werner, a researcher with the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, was still catching up on details. Following a link to an official statement, Werner saw that the White House had targeted a short parade’s worth of Russian names and institutions—two intelligence agencies, four senior intelligence officials, 35 diplomats, three tech companies, two hackers. Most of the details were a blur. Then Werner stopped scrolling. His eyes locked on one name buried among the targets: Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev. 

Werner, as it happened, knew quite a bit about Evgeniy Bogachev. He knew in precise, technical detail how Bogachev had managed to loot and terrorize the world’s financial systems with impunity for years. He knew what it was like to do battle with him.

But Werner had no idea what role Bogachev might have played in the US election hack. Bogachev wasn’t like the other targets—he was a bank robber. Maybe the most prolific bank robber in the world. “What on earth is he doing on this list?” Werner wondered.

«

This is the most amazing piece of work. Graff has gone into gigantic detail for a story which covers the Zeus botnet, Cryptolocker ransomware, and state-level hacking. Give yourself plenty of time, but make sure you read this.
link to this extract


Hackers: we will remotely wipe iPhones unless Apple pays ransom • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»

the hackers are threatening to reset a number of the iCloud accounts and remotely wipe victim’s Apple devices on April 7, unless Apple pays the requested amount.

According to one of the emails in the accessed account, the hackers claim to have access to over 300 million Apple email accounts, including those use @icloud and @me domains. However, the hackers appear to be inconsistent in their story; one of the hackers then claimed they had 559 million accounts in all. The hackers did not provide Motherboard with any of the supposedly stolen iCloud accounts to verify this claim, except those shown in the video.

By reading other emails included in the account, it appears the hackers have approached multiple media outlets. This may be in an attempt to put pressure on Apple; hackers sometimes feed information to reporters in order to help extortion efforts.

«

They’re demanding $75,000 in bitcoin or Ethereum, or $100,000 of iTunes gift cards. For that many accounts? It sounds like a bluff. They might have access to a few hundred thousand iCloud accounts, but Apple would be able to spot access – and wiping – quite easily, one imagines.
link to this extract


Scrolling on the web: a primer • Microsoft Edge Dev Blog

Nolan Lawson, program manager for Microsoft Edge (it’s a browser):

»

Today, scrolling is still the most fundamental interaction on the web, and perhaps the most misunderstood. For instance, do you know the difference between the following scenarios?

• User scrolls with two fingers on a touch pad
• User scrolls with one finger on a touch screen
• User scrolls with a mouse wheel on a physical mouse
• User clicks the sidebar and drags it up and down
• User presses up, down, PageUp, PageDown, or spacebar keys on a keyboard

If you ask the average web user (or even the average web developer!) they might tell you that these interactions are all equivalent. The truth is far more interesting.

«

This is a great, if technical, read.
link to this extract


Sellers printing counterfeit books and selling under Amazon’s brand • Hacker News

The jumping-off point for this was a tweet about a Python for Kids book, where the counterfeit is just not as good. This is the first comment:

»

Counterfeits in comingled inventory has become pretty common on Amazon these days. “Fulfillment by amazon” has led them to comingle inventories on common products, meaning every seller’s product gets jumbled together.

I’ve gotten counterfeit huggies diapers from amazon (invalid serial number for huggies ‘points’ and different build quality), Mach 3 razor blades, GE MWF Water filters, even a counterfeit baby bath.

The baby bath counterfeit was obvious I got a box with only Chinese characters on the box. Here is their response: “We had a recent issue with an Amazon seller selling “knock-off” Blooming Baths on our Amazon account. We have since had this seller removed entirely from Amazon, as these are counterfeit items and NOT the Blooming Bath. The product you have received is not ours, I suggest returning it and ordering again from Amazon or from http://www.bloomingbath.com. Just make sure the seller you buy from is “Blooming Bath” if you buy from Amazon.

“Very sorry for this inconvenience.”

I no longer trust Amazon for anything health related – it just seems too easy to get counterfeit products into their system.

«

link to this extract


Samsung’s new iPad Pro is just fantastic • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz lays on the irony pretty thick, but then relents:

»

Past the iPad-like trappings, the Galaxy Tab S3 is, at its core, a supplemental computing device built for an audience I don’t think either Samsung or Apple quite knows. This isn’t for business use, or as a primary device for students, or a necessity for artists. Its a pure luxury item Samsung and Apple like to insist we need even we’ve already got phones and laptops that do everything the Tab S3 does. It’s what you buy because you’re tired of a computer on your lap while you watch TV or you want something light to carry on the plane for your next trip out of town.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is very good at being a supplemental device. If you broke your iPad or finally saved up enough pennies to purchase your first premium tablet than the Tab S3 is a fine $600 choice. It’s a $100 less than an iPad Pro and Pencil and the only true downside is how tablet-unfriendly Android can occasionally be. That’s a pretty dang minor downside in my book. As iPad knock-offs go, the Galaxy Tab S3 reigns supreme.

«

In summary: display looks nice, Android on a tablet (especially in landscape mode) doesn’t.
link to this extract


The painkillers that could end the opioid crisis • MIT Technology Review

Adam Piore:

»

For the last 20 years, [James] Zadina, a researcher at the Tulane School of Medicine and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, has been on the front lines of a battle to defeat an ancient human adversary: physical pain. But lately his work has taken on new urgency. As opioid-related deaths and addiction in the United States reach epidemic proportions, Zadina has been attempting to engineer a new kind of painkiller that wouldn’t have the devastating side effects often caused by commonly prescribed drugs such as Oxycontin.

His pursuit is difficult because the very mechanisms that make those pills good at dulling pain are the ones that too often lead to crippling addiction and drug abuse. Like their close chemical cousin heroin, prescription opioids can cause people to become physically dependent on them. Researchers have been trying for decades to “separate the addictive properties of opiates from the pain-reducing properties,” says David Thomas, an administrator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a founding member of the NIH Pain Consortium. “They kind of go together.”

But Zadina believes he is getting close to decoupling them.

«

It would be remarkable if this could be done. But would people stop taking opioids? Just because a non-addictive drug is available doesn’t mean that addicts won’t use the addictive one (which will probably also be cheaper). It’s hopeful, but fixing addiction – and the opioid problems in multiple countries – isn’t so simple as replacing drugs.
link to this extract


Google AI detects breast cancer better than pathologists • Pharmaphorum

Marco Ricci:

»

After ‘training’ the algorithm, researchers were able to achieve a 92% sensitivity in picking out tumour cells from the slides – significantly higher than the 73% achieved by trained pathologists with no time constraint.

In addition, the team recreated the accuracy in different datasets taken from other hospitals and scanning machinery.

The team did report an average of eight false positive per slide compared to none from trained pathologists. However, this rate was lowered through further customisation of the algorithm.

The algorithm results display as a heat map (shown below) that overlay a particular colour in regards to the likelihood of a specific part of an image housing cancerous cells.


Left: Pathology slides of two lymph node biopsies. Middle: early results from deep learning tumour detection. Right: final results following further customisation of the algorithm.

In everyday practice, pathology slide analysis is a time-consuming process, especially when considering that each patient typically has 10 or more pathology slides for their suspected tumour. Even when the pathology process is complete, it does not always lead to a definitive diagnosis.

Because of this, using machines to accurately analyse imagery for disease diagnosis, providing a definitive decision in a much shorter time period, is an area of particular excitement in the ongoing adoption of AI in healthcare.

«

There must be a complicated calculation to make about how few false positives and negatives you hit before you let the machine do all the diagnosis and the doctors get on with more important stuff, such as talking to the patients.
link to this extract


Google Maps will now let you share your location, creating a whole new set of privacy concerns • Recode

Tess Townsend:

»

the updates don’t mark a sweeping change as the company has been careful about how it tweaks the service. That’s because Maps is Google’s most-used app after YouTube and the fourth most used app overall with over 95 million people accessing it every month, according to comScore. Maps has become crucial to Google’s mobile strategy.

Given that, it’s noteworthy that the changes don’t include any new ways for Google to make money from Maps.

Location sharing is the most significant update. People can let anyone else know where they are by sending a text message with a link. The link can be opened by anyone, even if they don’t have the Maps app.

That could raise all kinds of privacy concerns. The links, for example, can be shared on to anyone else through a simple copy and paste, whether or not the original user intended their information to be known to a wider circle.

But Maps product manager Ben Greenwood noted there are already ways a person could share your location. “It’s also possible they could take a screenshot of where you are,” he added.

Additionally, users will be able to share their location for set periods of time, or indefinitely until they turn the feature off. People will receive email reminders every two or three weeks that it’s still on.

That level of location sharing could be a problem in an abusive relationship where one person could demand the other keep the feature turned on, making it easier for them to track their whereabouts.

«

This sort of location-sharing has been in Apple’s “Find My Friends” app for ages (in my family, we call it “Stalk My Friends”). Except you can’t copy-paste a link; you have to give permission explicitly to let someone track you.

Another thought: if there are 95m Google Maps users in the US, and Apple Maps (60m users, in the linked ComScore slide deck) are used 3.5x more than Google Maps on iOS, that means 17m Google Maps users on iOS, and so 78m Google Maps on Android users. If no Google-Maps-on-iOS user uses Apple Maps, that means 77m iPhone users, and 78m Android users in the US. But that seems too close; there’s surely overlap on the Apple side.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: catching the GIF-tweeter, hacking tractors, the 2038 problem, that laptop ban, and more


Looks good – OK, let’s go and DDOS somewhere. Photo by sunrisesoup 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New Clips app hints at Apple’s augmented reality ambitions • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Apple has launched a new app for adding filters and special effects to photos and videos that could act as a launch pad for its ambitions to become a significant player in the emerging field of augmented reality.

Clips, a free app, is only available on Apple’s iPhones and iPads. It is the latest example of how the smartphone camera has become a new battleground for tech companies, with Snap describing itself as a “camera company” and Google using artificial intelligence to enhance photos taken on its Pixel handset.

With its comic-book styles and playful animations such as speech bubbles, Clips’ simple editing tools recall Snapchat’s selfie “lenses”, Instagram’s filters and the artistic effects of Prisma, which manipulates photos so that they look as if they had been painted by Van Gogh or Picasso. Videos can be up to 60 minutes long, incorporating music from iTunes, emoji and captions automatically generated from a user’s voice.

«

Just me, or are people seeing AR in absolutely anything Apple does?
link to this extract


What’s attacking the web? A security camera in a Colorado laundromat • WSJ

Drew Fitzgerald:

»

While Bea Lowick’s customers were busy folding clothes last year, the security system at her Carbondale, Colo., laundromat was also hard at work.

Though she didn’t know it, Ms. Lowick’s Digital ID View video recorder was scanning the internet for places to spread a strain of malicious software called Mirai, a computer virus that took root in more than 600,000 devices last year.

Ms. Lowick, 59 years old, said she wasn’t aware the device was doing anything other than acting up. Her remote-viewing app kept disconnecting. She was able to reconnect it by restarting the digital video recorder.

“I would have to go in and unplug and plug in the DVR” to fix it, Ms. Lowick said, adding that she didn’t know that unwanted software was to blame…

…Bill Knapp, who installed the laundromat’s surveillance system, said he learned of the virus after being notified by a reporter.

“One of the hardest parts of this business is that everyone loses their passwords,” said Mr. Knapp, owner of Security Solutions LLC. When Ms. Lowick forgot her password, he said, Digital ID View would reset the DVR to its default password, “123456”—a weak but common option that opens the door to attackers. Compulan Center Inc., which does business as Digital ID View, said it was investigating the situation but didn’t believe its product was responsible for the problem.

«

link to this extract


FBI Complaint and Affidavit for Search Warrant, re: John Rivello in Kurt Eichenwald GIF-tweeting case • DocumentCloud

This is a scan of the document; you’ll have to read it. The perpetrator used a burner phone to create the account – but used his old SIM in it. And his SIM was associated with a smartphone…
link to this extract


Why American farmers are hacking their tractors with Ukrainian firmware • Motherboard

Jason Koebler:

»

A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for “crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software.” The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and “authorized” repair shops can work on newer tractors.

“If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it,” Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me. “You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.”

“What you’ve got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market,” he added.

Kenney and Kluthe have been pushing for right-to-repair legislation in Nebraska that would invalidate John Deere’s license agreement (seven other states are considering similar bills). In the meantime, farmers have started hacking their machines because even simple repairs are made impossible by the embedded software within the tractor. John Deere is one of the staunchest opponents of this legislation.

«

link to this extract


2038: only 21 years away [LWN.net]

Jonathan Corbet:

»

Sometimes it seems that things have gone relatively quiet on the year-2038 front. But time keeps moving forward, and the point in early 2038 when 32-bit time_t values can no longer represent times correctly is now less than 21 years away. That may seem like a long time, but the relatively long life cycle of many embedded systems means that some systems deployed today will still be in service when that deadline hits. One of the developers leading the effort to address this problem is Arnd Bergmann; at Linaro Connect 2017 he gave an update on where that work stands.

«

And it’s going to be cars that we’ll probably have to worry about. And all the embedded systems put together a while back.
link to this extract


You think it’s a Muslim laptop ban? This picture suggests it’s really a terrorist ban • The Overspill

By me:

»

when the governments of not one but two countries impose sudden bans on the transport of potentially explosive things, you might think that people would take it seriously. There was one occasion when a would-be mass murderer ignited a bomb on the passenger deck of a plane out of Somalia – after apparently being handed the explosives by a ground worker. In a fabulous demonstration of karma, he was sucked out of the hole he’d made in the fuselage, and the plane landed safely. Subsequently, 20 ground staff in Somalia were arrested.

There are suggestions that this latest ban has been under discussion for a couple of weeks, in fact. That’s how intelligence works: gather data, consider risks, act.

The number of people complaining that “it’s just another version of the [Trump] Muslim ban” can’t be thinking clearly. The original “Muslim ban”, as a reminder, included Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

It didn’t include the ones in the US ban: UAE (which includes Dubai), Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, or Morocco. The UK ban includes Tunisia too.

It should be pretty obvious, even if you think Trump is a fool, that this isn’t his idea. It has come from intelligence agencies who are worried about the possibility of a mid-air explosion.

«

link to this extract


Onboard battery fires underscore need for meaningful action • Runway Girl

John Walton:

»

This week, a battery caught fire in the overhead bins on a KLM 777, Qantas became the third airline to refuse freight carriage of lithium battery shipments, and Air France’s new safety video has started warning passengers not to move their seat if they lose their phone between the cushions. It’s time to talk about lithium batteries in PEDs [personal electronic devices].

With images and video circulating from yet another battery fire in an airline cabin — this time on board KLM 876 from Amsterdam to Bangkok — air safety regulators don’t seem to be on top of the problem. A compounding factor: the cabin crew actions in the video are not entirely in accordance with IATA safety guidelines.

Answers to an in-depth series of questions from Runway Girl Network to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA), as well as to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), provoked more concerns than they resolved.

«

link to this extract


To censor or not to censor? YouTube’s double bind • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

[Regarding ads on hate speech] YouTube’s parent company Google has apologised, and promised a raft of changes to appease the big spenders, from better categorisation of hate speech to simpler, more powerful controls for advertisers. It’s also promised to hire “significant numbers of people”, on top of the thousands who already do the work, to review questionable content.

At the same time, in a very different community, YouTube creators are lambasting the site after the discovery that its “restricted mode”, a feature intended to let schools, parents and libraries filter out content not appropriate for children, also removed a vast amount of LGBT content. Some videos from pop duo Tegan and Sara, who are gay, were hidden from view, as were videos from bisexual YouTuber NeonFiona – but only those which talked about her sexuality.

YouTube has apologised there too. Initially, it argued that “LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be”. That defence was torpedoed, however, as the community continued to experiment with what was getting blocked: a video titled “GAY flag and me petting my cat to see if youtube blocks this” – showing just that – was blocked on restricted mode. The company now admits that the system sometimes “makes mistakes in understanding context and nuances when it assesses which videos to make available in Restricted Mode”, and as a result many videos were wrongly blocked.

In other words, YouTube is currently being attacked by advertisers for not censoring enough and by creators for censoring too much. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for them.

Not quite, though. Because really, the two problems are the same: YouTube sucks at categorising videos, and the larger the site gets, the more serious the ramifications.

«

That’s it, in a nutshell. Plus it benefits Google to ignore the difference between children aged 13 and those aged one day under 18, since then it can just advertise to them all. For most of its life it hasn’t had to care about how bad it is.
link to this extract


Google’s stock rating downgraded as YouTube ad boycott contagion goes global • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

»

The boycott has rapidly gone global [paywalled]. The UK is Google’s second largest market after the USA, bringing in 9% of Alphabet’s revenue, and the only territory where Google breaks out revenue in its financial statements.

Pivotal’s Brian Wieser explained he’d taken the decision because Google wasn’t taking the problem seriously, and accused it of “attempting to minimize the problem rather than eliminating it, which is the standard we think that many large brand advertisers expect”.

It’s four years since Google’s Theo Bertram promised to “drain the swamp”. What’s in the latest evacuation?

In a post titled ‘Expanded safeguards for advertisers’, Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, reiterated a commitment to give spenders more control over where their ads appear. Schindler euphemistically refers to “higher risk content”.

Promises include a pledge to tighten up the threshold for “acceptable content” and make exclusions easier.

«

Promising to drain the swamp and then not doing so seems to be in fashion these days.
link to this extract


Battery Status not included: assessing privacy in W3C web standards • Security, Privacy and Tech

Lukasz Olejnik (again – we’ve had him recently):

»

In 2016, Englehardt and Narayanan published a report (Online Tracking: A 1-million-site Measurement and Analysis) that has validated my previous work – they have identified the misuse of this API in the wild. Together with the fact that battery information may bring second-order privacy risks due to price discrimination (based on Uber study – and by the way, Uber is collecting battery ) it became clear that the matter had to be addressed.

Browser vendors reacted in a number of ways. In October 2016, Mozilla decided to remove Battery Status API from Firefox; I previously wrote about this. WebKit did the same, which means that Safari browser will not enable the API (although it has never did so). Yandex Browser has decided to offer the API in an opt-in manner – the user needs to explicitly enable the API. In March 2017, Firefox has shipped with the API removed, an unprecedented move in the history of the web; for the first time, an entire API has been purged citing privacy concerns.

«

It’s good that this pressure is getting W3C to recognise that there is more to life than making everything available to every site that wants to snarf the data on your device. Olejnik points to two companies whose widely-used scripts have been used to track peoples’ use and which sites they viewed.
link to this extract


Unicode domains are bad, and you should feel bad for supporting them • VGRsec

Valentine Reid:

»

I’m going to begin by caveating my opening statement by saying unicode domains improve accessibility to the internet, and that’s a good thing, just unicode is so broad, there are many opportunities for lookalike domain spoofing, and that’s bad.

I discovered during a discussion with @jaredhaight that unicode domains were a thing. We immediately joked about how bad this was, so I went about registering some test domains and ran some test cases to determine how well they were supported across various ecosystems. The following is an exploration of unicode domain names and how they’re interpreted across various platforms as of Feb 2017.

«

Guess what? He registered Gmail.com (with a weird “m”). Google rejected his emails, but other mail organisations didn’t. Dangerous.
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Huawei Watch 2 review: Why? • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

In the world of technology, it’s rare that a successor product is actually worse than the one that preceded it.

Today is a rare day.

The Huawei Watch 2 is a step backward – multiple steps, even – from the original, even if it does claw back some of that lost ground with new features. The Huawei Watch 2 adds NFC, GPS, LTE, and Android Wear 2.0 to its repertoire, which all sounds well and good. Alas, it all feels for naught when it comes down to the final product experience. What it takes away is almost everything that made the original the de facto champion of the Android Wear world.

The screen is [much] smaller, having shrunk nearly two tenths of an inch, which is very considerable when we’re talking about something the size of a watchface. There’s a giant, raised bezel that makes actually using this touchscreen a major frustration, too, harkening back to some of the earlier round Wear devices. Wear 2.0’s intense reliance on gestures makes this a considerably greater frustration, though, and there’s no rotating crown to fall back on, unlike the new LG Watch Sport and Watch Style.

The Huawei Watch 2 is such a bizarre series of product and design decisions that I’m unsure how the company that built the original could have come up with… this. It’s kind of sad.

«

Ruddock really doesn’t like the design, doesn’t like the Android Pay implementation, and doesn’t like Android Wear 2.0. Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

In fact, Ruddock seems disappointed with stuff coming out of the Android ecosystem. He tears into the HTC Ultra, essentially saying that HTC has wasted its own and any buyer’s money.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

You think it’s a Muslim laptop ban? This picture suggests it’s really a terrorist ban

Airside at Baghdad Airport
The photo is apparently taken airside at Baghdad Airport; the paper says “The Islamic State is right in your home”. Source: Twitter.

The decision by the US and UK to ban carry-on electronics of various sorts from a number of countries in the Middle East has brought out all sorts of unthinking reactions. Trump is driving a lot of people stupid, which is a pity.

An example of the unthought-through reaction is this article at PC Mag, where Sascha Segan says

The DHS notice doesn’t give any evidence of specific threats leading to this new ban, which will go on indefinitely. It doesn’t explain why a bomb can explode in the cabin but not the cargo hold, or why travelers but not airline employees are affected. While it has a 30-question FAQ about the ban, most of it is meaningless weasel words adding up to “trust us.” The more you think about any aspect of this ban, the less it makes sense from a security perspective.

Not to pick on Segan particularly; variations of this article, in hot-take form, were all over the web when the news broke on Monday (US ban) and Tuesday (UK ban).

However, it’s worth remembering – as if you hadn’t had plenty of reminders recently? – that the intelligence services have access to more information than you do.

Liquid memories

Remember the liquids ban of summer 2006? It was imposed out of the blue, and threw airports, airlines and security into near-chaos. Wikipedia has a good summary of why it was introduced: British police (perhaps helped by intelligence services) had uncovered a plot to blow up a plane in mid-air, using liquid explosives in soft drink bottles. In all, more than 20 people were arrested; nine were eventually tried, and seven found guilty of conspiracy to murder.

Now, with that in mind, when the governments of not one but two countries impose sudden bans on the transport of potentially explosive things, you might think that people would take it seriously. There was one occasion when a would-be mass murderer ignited a bomb on the passenger deck of a plane out of Somalia – after apparently being handed the explosives by a ground worker. In a fabulous demonstration of karma, he was sucked out of the hole he’d made in the fuselage, and the plane landed safely. Subsequently, 20 ground staff in Somalia were arrested.

There are suggestions that this latest ban has been under discussion for a couple of weeks, in fact. That’s how intelligence works: gather data, consider risks, act.

The number of people complaining that “it’s just another version of the [Trump] Muslim ban” can’t be thinking clearly. The original “Muslim ban”, as a reminder, included Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

It didn’t include the ones in the US ban: UAE (which includes Dubai), Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, or Morocco. The UK ban includes Tunisia too.

It should be pretty obvious, even if you think Trump is a fool, that this isn’t his idea. It has come from intelligence agencies who are worried about the possibility of a mid-air explosion.

You can see why Islamic State and similar terror groups might want to do something now. IS is being gradually crushed in Mosul, which means that its fighting force is dwindling fast. Its revenues are dwindling too, because its sources – illicit oil sales, “taxes” on the populations it oppresses, and ransoms – are all being squeezed. Lower revenues means less money for weapons and less opportunity to control territory, and the caliphate suddenly looks a lot less attractive.

(None of this is Trump’s doing either. He doesn’t have a “30-day plan to get rid of Isis”. He has no plan, other than “ask someone else to do it and bluster”.)

IS’s oil income has been plummeting as Turkey in particular has cracked down on illicit sales, and the price of oil itself has fallen considerably since IS got its big break.)

Losing the fight

Which brings us to terror groups wanting to make a splash. Simple way: get airside, put a bomb on board. Or whatever. The photo at the top was sent to me by a source on Twitter who watches this stuff. It was originally tweeted by a Twitter account @poihhp – since suspended. I can’t find any data on the account (age or followers) though the lack of responses to it suggests it is pretty new. As the photo caption above says, the paper seems to say “The Islamic State is right in your home”, and claims to have been taken at Baghdad International Airport.

I’ll admit that my ability to read Arabic is nonexistent (I relied on Bing Translate and my source’s slightly better translation). But that looks like a form of the IS flag scribbled on the right-hand side of the paper. They’re holding it in their right hand. I can’t identify the airlines that the two aircraft are from – they don’t seem to be Turkish Airlines or Iraq Airlines. There’s a list of airlines which go through Baghdad International. I can’t identify them from that either.

It’s possible this is a fake, or a jape. But it feels like there’s something authentic there. And remember: you didn’t know why the liquids ban was introduced in 2006, and you probably thought that was stupid too. (The arrests weren’t announced.)

But it turned out not to be. The reasons behind the carry-on ban are likely to be the same.

Start Up: Google faces the advertisers, crowdsourced e-ink iPhone flops, Rubin rebuffed, and more


Lego does augmented reality – will Apple follow? Photo by antjerevena 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Popslate, the company putting an E Ink display on your iPhone, is shutting down • The Verge

Andrew Liptak:

»

A couple of years ago, Popslate developed a case for an iPhone that added an E Ink display to the back of the phone, designed as a way for users who check their phones often to conserve their batteries. We found the first version to be a bit limited, but an intriguing idea. The company later announced a follow-up device, the Popslate 2, which would act as a battery charger and come with a better screen.

The company raised raised over $1.1m to manufacture the Popslate 2 through Indiegogo, which it intended to deliver to customers by July 2016. Now, in an update to its backers, the company announced that it has “entered into the legal process for dissolution of the company,” and that backers would not receive their orders or be refunded.

The reason, according to CEO Yashar Behzadi and CMO Greg Moon, is financial. The company spent a considerable amount of money preparing to manufacture the device, and ran into some technical problems with its design. Last year, the company announced that it was pushing back shipping to October, noting that initial prototypes weren’t sufficient. Furthermore, when Apple announced the iPhone 7, it prompted Popslate to explore redesigning the device so that it would fit both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7, only to backtrack when it discovered that a hybrid wouldn’t comply with Apple’s Made For iPhone program.

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Spent a million bucks to discover their phone case blocked the signal. Uh-huh.
link to this extract


The fake freedom of American health care • The New York Times

Anu Partanen, an exported Finn, on the madness of US healthcare funding:

»

Overall, Americans spend far more of their hard-earned money on health care than citizens of any other country, by a very wide margin. This means that it is in fact Americans who are getting a raw deal. Americans pay much more than people in other countries but do not get significantly better results.

The trouble with a free-market approach is that health care is an immensely complicated and expensive industry, in which the individual rarely has much actual market power. It is not like buying a consumer product, where choosing not to buy will not endanger one’s life. It’s also not like buying some other service tailored to individual demands, because for the most part we can’t predict our future health care needs.

«

It’s the latter point which is key. Will you get cancer? You don’t know. If you do, will it be easy or difficult to treat? Same answer. How much healthcare will you need in the future? None of us knows for sure. But if you spread the cost over the widest possible group, by funding it from taxes and then providing it as needed, you can make broadly accurate estimates about healthcare needs. The only problem is delivery. The US system is so far from optimal that it’s a testament to the power of ideology that it is retained.
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Brexit Britain is suddenly debating trade – but it’s the wrong talking point • The Guardian

Larry Elliott is the Guardian’s economics editor:

»

Pascal Lamy spent some of the best years of his life struggling to polish off the Doha round of trade liberalisation and an overspill room was needed to hear what he had to say about Britain’s likely post-Brexit deal.

Battle-scarred as he is, Lamy has no illusions about the difficulties of the negotiations that will follow the triggering of article 50 by the government later this month. He had a nice metaphor for the likely complexity of the talks: separating an egg from an omelette. And a warning born of experience: it won’t be achieved within two years.

Lamy divided the issues facing the negotiators into three categories: things that will be simple; things that will be more complex; and things that will be really complex.

In what might come as a surprise to the UK’s new army of trade experts, Lamy said the creation of a free trade deal would be simple. It was a “no brainer” that there would be zero tariffs so that integrated supply chains did not suffer. It would also be easy enough for the UK to keep the trade with countries that have signed bilateral agreements with the EU. Fishing could also turn out to be less difficult than expected if the EU and the UK maintained mutual access for their fleets.

Lamy then outlined a few of the more complex issues.

«

And boy, are they complex. The news about the integrated supply chains is good; but things indeed get very complex over VAT, state support, environmental standards, and particularly intellectual property rights. Those could take up to six years, he suggested.
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Google algorithms are targeting offensive, upsetting, inaccurate & hateful search results • Search Engine Roundtable

Barry Schwartz:

»

Paul Haahr, a lead search engineer at Google who celebrated his 15th year at the company, told us that Google has been working on algorithms to combat web pages that are offensive, upsetting, inaccurate and hateful in their search results. He said it only impacts about 0.1% of the queries but it is an important problem.

With that, they want to make sure their algorithms are doing a good job. So that is why they have updated their quality raters guidelines so that they can test to make sure the search results reflect their algorithms. If they don’t that data goes back to the engineers where they can tweak things or make new algorithms or machine learning techniques to weed out even more of the content Google doesn’t want in their search results.

Paul Haahr explained that there are times where people specifically want to find hateful or inaccurate information. Maybe on the inaccurate side, they like satire sites or maybe on the hate side, they hate people. Google should not prevent people from finding content that they want, Paul said. And the quality raters guidelines explains with key examples on how raters should rate such pages.
But overall, ever since the elections, Google, Facebook and others have been under fire to do something about facts and hate and more. They released fact checking schema for news stories. They supposedly banned AdSense publishers. They removed certain classes of hate and inaccurate results from the search results. And they tweaked the top stories algorithm to show more accurate and authoritative results.

Google has been working on this and they want to continue working on this. The quality raters will help make sure what the engineers are doing, does translate into proper search results. At the same time, as you all mostly know, quality raters have no power to remove search results or adjust rankings, they just rate the search results and that data goes back to the Google engineers to use.

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link to this extract


SoftBank drops $100m investment in iPhone rival • WSJ

Rolfe Winkler:

»

The episode is a window into the unpredictable investing style of SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son, who is set to enhance his position as one of the tech industry’s most powerful investors with his $100bn tech-focused Vision Fund. That mammoth fund is expected to launch as early as this month, according to a person familiar with the matter.

As part of the proposed deal with Essential, Mr. Son had promised that SoftBank’s telecom subsidiary in Japan would provide a big marketing push for the release of [Android founder Andy Rubin’s] Essential’s high-end smartphone, scheduled for this spring, the people said, ahead of Apple’s expected fall release of its 10th anniversary iPhone.

In January, Apple agreed to commit $1bn to the Vision Fund. Though Apple didn’t block the Essential deal, according to the people, its investment complicated SoftBank’s interest in a competing smartphone company. In February, after months of negotiations and when final investment contracts were being drawn up, Mr. Son backed out of the deal.

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Just a reminder: the Rubin scheme is for a sort of smart modular smartphone. Nobody makes those. For good reason: ask LG about sale of the modular G5.
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Ad agencies and accountability • Stratechery

Ben Thompson on the Google-UK government-Havas-extremist-videos shenanigans:

»

there are reasonable debates that can be had about hate speech being on Google and Facebook’s platforms at all; what is indisputable, though, is that the logistics of policing this content are mind-boggling.

Take YouTube as the most obvious example: there are 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute; that’s 24,000 hours an hour, 576,000 hours a day, over 4 million hours a week, and over 210 billion hours a year — and the rate is accelerating. To watch every minute of every video uploaded in a week would require over 100,000 people working full-time (40 hours). The exact same logistical problem applies to ads served by DoubleClick as well as the massive amount of content uploaded to Facebook’s various properties; when both companies state they are working on using machine learning to police content it’s not an excuse: it’s the only viable approach.

Don’t tell that to the ad agencies though.

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Let’s consider for a moment how Google (and Facebook) can hope to solve this with ML. They’ll need to pick out a load of extremist videos, train a network against it, and set it loose on all of YouTube. It notes the videos that it thinks are “extremist” (or “extreme”?) or somewhere in the shades of extremity. Because it must be a spectrum, correct?

Imagine how that is going to play out.
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Matt Brittin on how Google plans to tackle its YouTube brand safety problem • Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»

Google’s EMEA chief Matt Brittin said on Monday the issue of brand ads appearing next to questionable — and sometimes extremist — content on YouTube is affecting “pennies, not pounds” of their spend, but promised an announcement about how the company plans to tackle the issue in “the coming days.”

A growing number of brands in the UK — including the government, L’Oreal, McDonald’s UK, HSBC, and ad agency Havas UK on behalf of all of its clients — suspended their advertising from YouTube and Google this week over fears their ads were appearing next to questionable content and funding their creators.

Google’s executives were summoned to appear in front of the UK government last week after ads for taxpayer-funded services were found next to extremist videos, following an investigation by The Times newspaper. Google must return later this week with a timetable for the work it is doing to prevent the issue from occurring again.

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“Pennies not pounds” does feel like a way of saying “your outrage isn’t big enough to interest us”, though that’s not what he meant.
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Apple’s next big thing: augmented reality • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman: Hundreds of engineers are now devoted to the cause [of building augmented reality capability at Apple]

»

, including some on the iPhone camera team who are working on AR-related features for the iPhone, according to one of the people. One of the features Apple is exploring is the ability to take a picture and then change the depth of the photograph or the depth of specific objects in the picture later; another would isolate an object in the image, such as a person’s head, and allow it to be tilted 180 degrees. A different feature in development would use augmented reality to place virtual effects and objects on a person, much the way Snapchat works. The iPhone camera features would probably rely on a technology known as depth sensing and use algorithms created by PrimeSense, an Israeli company acquired in 2013. Apple may choose to not roll out these features, but such additions are an up-and-coming trend in the phone business.

The AR-enhanced glasses are further down the road, the people say. Getting the product right will be key, of course. Wearables are hard. Apple’s first stab at the category, the Watch, has failed to become a mainstream hit. And no one has forgotten Google Glass, the much-derided headset that bombed in 2014. Still, time and again, Apple has waited for others to go first and then gone on to dominate the market. “To be successful in AR, there is the hardware piece, but you have to do other stuff too: from maps to social to payments,” [Loup Ventures founder and former starry-eyed ‘Apple is making a TV’ analyst Gene] Munster says. “Apple is one of the only companies that will be able to pull it off.”

«

The Watch might not yet be a mainstream hit, but it took the iPhone and iPod a few years on the market to break through. (Three years at least for both.)

Meanwhile, how is what Gurman describes about the changing depth in a picture an AR feature? I’ve seen it in a Huawei system, where it’s just part of the dual-lens setup. (And rather neat.) Adding elements, a la Snapchat, isn’t AR either to my understanding. As for the glasses idea, it’s clear in the story that he has no idea whether Apple has even prototyped this. It’s a thin story bolstered only by details about the targeted acquisitions Apple has made in the field. I’m sure it’s doing something in AR, but I’d hope it’s aiming higher than tweaking focus.
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Bixby: a new way to interact with your phone • Samsung Newsroom

InJong Rhee (of Samsung):

»

Samsung has a conceptually new philosophy to the problem:  instead of humans learning how the machine interacts with the world (a reflection of the abilities of designers), it is the machine that needs to learn and adapt to us.  The interface must be natural and intuitive enough to flatten the learning curve regardless of the number of functions being added. With this new approach, Samsung has employed artificial intelligence, reinforcing deep learning concepts to the core of our user interface designs. Bixby is the ongoing result of this effort.

Bixby will be a new intelligent interface on our devices. Fundamentally different from other voice agents or assistants in the market, Bixby offers a deeper experience thanks to proficiency in these three properties:

«

Those being “completeness”, “context awareness” and “cognitive tolerance” – the latter being “how do you ask it to do X?” On this, Rhee promises that

»

“Bixby will be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge, and then will prompt users to provide more information and take the execution of the task in piecemeal. This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use.”

«

I think “wait and see” is the correct approach there. Bixby will also have a dedicated button. Notable how Samsung is pushing this out ahead of the S8 launch itself. It’s a piecemeal rollout in which it’s always going to be playing catchup to all the other major rivals.
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Uber president Jeff Jones is quitting, citing differences over ‘beliefs and approach to leadership’ • Recode

Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:

»

Jeff Jones, the president of Uber, is quitting the car-hailing company after less than a year. The move by the No. 2 exec, said sources, is directly related to the multiple controversies there, including explosive charges of sexism and sexual harassment.

(UPDATE: Uber confirmed the departure, saying in a statement: “We want to thank Jeff for his six months at the company and wish him all the best.” And, in a note to staff, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said: “After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber. It is unfortunate that this was announced through the press but I thought it was important to send all of you an email before providing comment publicly.)

(UPDATE: Jones also confirmed the departure with a blistering assessment of the company. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” he said in a statement to Recode.)

Jones, said sources, determined that this was not the situation he signed on for, especially after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced a search for a new COO to help him right the very troubled ship.

«

Also departing: Uber’s head of maps Brian McClendon, who is heading off to do politics; Mike Isaac totted up the body count:

»

The departures add to the executive exodus from Uber this year. Raffi Krikorian, a well-regarded director in Uber’s self-driving division, left the company last week, while Gary Marcus, who joined Uber in December after Uber acquired his company, left this month. Uber also asked for the resignation of Amit Singhal, a top engineer who failed to disclose a sexual harassment claim against him at his previous employer, Google, before joining Uber. And Ed Baker, another senior executive, left this month as well.

«

This is going to leave Scruffy the Janitor helping out Travis Kalanick until a new chief operating officer is appointed.
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Meet the man whose site Mark Zuckerberg reads every day • BuzzFeed News

Charlie Warzel profiles Gabe Rivera:

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Techmeme may be a niche site compared to the Facebooks and the YouTubes of the world, but the tech-news aggregator influences the people who make the Facebooks and the YouTubes of the world: Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are both confessed readers, as are LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, former PayPal exec and current Facebook Messenger head David Marcus, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.

Hunter Walk, a former product manager at YouTube turned seed-stage venture capitalist, told me he checks the site three to five times daily. “It’s one of my first morning sites,” he told me over email. “My perception is that lots of us [in Silicon Valley] use it.” That includes journalists: Rivera’s taste in that day’s news often dictates what stories are followed and chased by newsrooms across the country. Without writing a word himself, Rivera is shaping tech’s story for the legion of reporters and editors tasked to tell it.

Techmeme, then, wields tremendous power over a tremendously powerful group of people. And as its founder, Rivera has been quietly defining Silicon Valley’s narrative for the industry’s power brokers for more than a decade. But Rivera is uncomfortable — or unwilling — to reckon with how his influence has affected one of the most important and powerful industries in the world. The result is that Rivera can cast himself both as a gimlet-eyed insider with a powerful readership and as a mostly anonymous entrepreneur running a niche link blog from the comfort of his home. It’s a convenient cognitive dissonance.

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Personally in my newswriting time I never relied on Techmeme as anything but a lagging indicator – it didn’t tell you what was going to be written, it told you what had been written. (Questions about how it deals with video and audio content are separate.) I can see why executives might dial into it a lot, but the reality, as I think Rivera is attuned to, is that very few people outside the rarified tech bubble read it.

It’s significant too that Techmeme barely linked to stories about Theranos – because that’s “medical technology”. Take too narrow a view of what “technology” is, and you miss the forest because you’re arguing about what constitutes a tree.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Samsung’s watch race, why iMessage apps?, Uber’s stop-start autonomy, future GMOs, and more


Guess who the money comes from? Advertisers. But what if it’s an extremist video which the advertiser doesn’t support? Photo by believekevin 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Samsung’s Simband tried to preempt the Apple Watch (and why it didn’t work) • Fast Company

Mark Sullivan:

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Rumors that Apple might build a smartwatch started way back in 2011, giving Samsung plenty of time to think about the competitive implications. The company’s top brass at headquarters in Seoul were indeed worried about the Apple Watch, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Those executives feared that Apple could immediately jump way ahead in the smartwatch race by releasing a device with advanced, clinical-grade biosensors, a source with knowledge of the situation told me. The Apple Watch’s sensors, the executives believed, might take health measurements that were far more meaningful than the step counters seen in wearables so far. They thought the Apple Watch’s sensors might be able to deliver highly accurate measurements of things like blood pressure or blood oxygen levels.

In typical Samsung fashion, sources say, the executives in Korea wanted Samsung to beat Apple to the market with its own advanced health wearable. “They especially wanted to get a product announced before the Apple Watch was announced,” one engineer told me.

The one current Samsung executive I spoke to for this story, Francis Ho, vice president at the Samsung Innovation and Strategy Center (SSIC), denies that Simband was a defensive act against Apple, at least from his vantage point in Silicon Valley. “No one really knew what they were going to do, to begin with,” Ho told me. “So we were much more interested in playing offense than defense.”

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More interested in getting out in front than actually focussing, perhaps? The article is very detailed – Sullivan has really gone into the Samsung corporate culture, which sounds like an utter mess at times.
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Is the iMessage App Store dying or already dead? • Medium

Adam Howell:

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I love the idea of the iMessage App Store. I love Apple’s focus on privacy. I love building on top of an app I use all day everyday. But not only is the iMessage App Store dying —I’m afraid it might already be dead.

Five months in, normal people still have no idea where the iMessage App Store is, how to access it, or how to use it.

Stickers, apps, and store are deeply, excruciatingly buried in iMessage’s confusing UI…

…Using the App Store icon to access the iMessage app drawer doesn’t make sense. I’m guessing Apple did it to highlight the fact that the iMessage App Store was new? But tapping it doesn’t take you to the store — it takes you to either the “Recents” list or to the iMessage sticker or app you most recently used. It’s confused everyone I’ve ever shown it to.

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iMessage App Store, TV App Store, Watch App Store – the trick doesn’t necessarily repeat. The Mac App Store works, but no developer is calling it a raging success.
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Internal metrics show how often Uber’s self-driving cars need human help • BuzzFeed News

Priya Anand:

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Human drivers were forced to take control of Uber’s self-driving cars about once per mile driven in early March during testing in Arizona, according to an internal performance report obtained by BuzzFeed News. The report reveals for the first time how Uber’s self-driving car program is performing, using a key metric for evaluating progress toward fully autonomous vehicles.

Human drivers take manual control of autonomous vehicles during testing for a number of reasons — for example, to address a technical issue or avoid a traffic violation or collision. The self-driving car industry refers to such events as “disengagements,” though Uber uses the term “intervention” in the performance report reviewed by BuzzFeed News. During a series of autonomous tests the week of March 5, Uber saw disengagement rates greater than those publicly reported by some of its rivals in the self-driving car space.

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Once per mile. Never enough let you relax. Sure to improve, but what is the “safe” amount?
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Extremists made £250,000 from ads for UK brands on Google, say experts • The Guardian

Rupert Neate:

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Extremists and hate preachers are estimated by marketing experts to have made at least $318,000 (£250,000) from adverts for household brands and government departments placed alongside their YouTube videos.

Google, which owns YouTube, is estimated by internet analysts to have taken a cut of $149,000 from advertisers for its role placing the ads against the content, even though brands did not want their names associated with the hate speech.

Wagdi Ghoneim, an Egyptian-Qatari Salafi Muslim preacher who has been banned from entering the UK due to concerns he is seeking to “provoke others to commit terrorist acts”, is estimated to have made $78,000 from adverts placed in anti-western propaganda videos.

Adverts placed against Ghoneim’s videos include campaigns by the BBC, Boots and Channel 4. Ghoneim’s YouTube channel, Wagdy0000, is the most popular of the online extremists found by the Times to be benefiting from Google’s programmatic advertising system, which uses algorithms to place brand adverts against any videos.

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YouTube advertising backlash gathers pace as Havas pulls spending • FT

NAMES:

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Havas, the French media agency, has joined the British government in pulling all of its digital ad spending from Google and YouTube in the UK, after it was revealed that government and corporate advertisements were being displayed alongside videos that advocate extremism. 

Havas, one of the world’s largest marketing groups, spends about £175m on digital advertising in the UK annually. It said it was also considering a global freeze on YouTube and Google ads. 

The UK government has also stopped its YouTube spending, which is part of a £60m annual budget for digital advertising, until the problem is resolved.

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This is far from a new problem: in 2012 I edited a piece on precisely this topic at The Guardian. But it didn’t have the same resonance at the time, perhaps because “extremism” didn’t seem like such a problem. Things are changing now.
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Google injected an ad in to Google Home and all hell broke loose • @ReadMultiplex

Brian Roemmele harks back to Free-PC, which proposed to offer super-cheap PCs in 1999 by subsidising them with ads which constantly ran along the side of the screen:

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As I presented in my 1989 Voice Manifesto and many articles,  the concept of a system based universal adverting system would be repugnant to a vast majority of users. This test [by Google of an ad in Google Home] confirmed the accuracy today as the internet exploded with outrage. Twitter has Google Home trending with over 11,000 negative tweets by 6pm.

Ironic how similar issues in advertising played out over a quarter century ago informs the new Voice First revolution. Although Amazon was very successful in injecting advertising on a subsidized version of the Kindle eBook reader, this was a far less interference into the use case.

Injecting any form of direct advertising into the base system functions of a Voice OS will statically always be met with the same response history has demonstrated in the past. And thus it was not surprising to observe the rebellion from Google Home users and observers.

Simply put, the bandwidth of a Voice First device is the Voice. Anything presented takes over the entire channel of the bandwidth.  It is equivalent to taking over the entire screen of a computer or device with 30 seconds of lock out. At the root OS level this not only annoys but signals anger. And today with just a wee bit of a pinky toe in the water Google empirically discovered something I understood before GoTo and Free-PC.com was thought of.

I have surfaced over 50 modalities for monetization of Voice First systems. General advertising in the manner Google presented, even when targeted correctly, will cause the response we saw today. I wrote an article in Forbes that addressed this quagmire for Google in 2016.

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Bill Gross came up with the idea for Free-PC; he also came up with the idea of ads beside search queries. You may be able to think of a company which does that. Oddly, it’s the same one which is now trying to mimic the Free-PC idea. Is Google just recapitulating all Gross’s ideas?
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Exclusive: China’s LeEco, Tesla wannabe, to sell Silicon Valley site amid cash crunch – sources • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:

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Chinese technology conglomerate LeEco is looking to sell a 49-acre Silicon Valley property less than a year after buying it from Yahoo Inc, sources said, in what is the latest effort by the firm to ride out a cash crunch.

LeEco, one of China’s most ambitious companies that grew from a Netflix-like video website to a business empire spanning consumer electronics to cars within 13 years, is struggling to support its goals that include beating Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors in premium electric vehicle making.

LeEco’s billionaire founder and CEO Jia Yueting admitted in a letter to staff in November that the firm was facing a “big company disease” and battling a cash crunch after expanding at an unprecedented rate.

But less than a month prior to the letter, amid much fanfare at LeEco’s official US launch at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Jia had outlined plans to build its North America headquarters at the Silicon Valley site.

“This property will be an EcoCity that houses 12,000 employees,” Jia said at the time.

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Live fast, leave a good-looking property portfolio.
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Five biotech products US regulators aren’t ready for • MIT Technology Review

Emily Mullin:

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Lab-made meat. Hornless cattle. Designer bacteria. Dozens of futuristic-sounding products are being developed using new tools like CRISPR and synthetic biology. As companies seek to commercialize more of these products, one big question lingers: Who will regulate them?

A new report issued by the National Academy of Sciences says US regulatory agencies need to prepare for new plants, animals, and microbes that will be hitting the market in the next five to 10 years. The new products, the report says, could overwhelm regulatory agencies like the US Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.

“All of these products have the potential to be beneficial, but the question to me is, how do they compare to the alternative?” says Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee that prepared the report.

Here are some products scientists are already working on that US regulatory agencies aren’t ready for.

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Most of these look harmless, but the one involving the release of gene-edited animals or insects looks particularly risky. People overplay the risks from GMOs because it suits them; most changes are self-limiting and harmless. And GMO crops or foods can’t, in themselves, harm you.
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Training customers to be stupid • Terence Eden’s Blog

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Companies face a complicated choice. Make things easy for the customers, or make things secure for them.

Convenience seems to take priority most of the time. This forces companies to get their customers to risk their own security.

In this example, we see Verizon Wireless asking their customers to type their passwords into Twitter for everyone to see!

This is dangerous. It is likely that many of their customers recycle their passwords. Does the average customer know that their “billing” password is different from their account password?
Is it safe for people to post their phone numbers in public like that?

All a scammer has to do is ring the number, say “Hello Mrs Example, I’m calling from Verizon about your billing problem – let me take you through security…”

Some companies ask for the information via Direct Message. This is also problematic.

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He’ll explain why. And show you people putting everything out there.
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Bloke cuffed after ‘You deserve a seizure’ GIF tweet gave epileptic a fit • The Register

Iain Thomson:

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In December, Kurt Eichenwald, a Newsweek journalist who has written about living with epilepsy, appeared on the US Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss his claims that the then-President-elect Donald Trump had spent time in a mental institution.

That evening, Eichenwald received a tweet from pseudo-anonymous Twitter user jew_goldstein that contained a strobing image and the words: “You deserve a seizure.” The image, we’re told, induced an epileptic fit in Eichenwald, who lives with his family in Dallas, Texas. His wife later called the police when she pieced together what had happened.

On Friday morning this week, cops and federal agents arrested in Maryland a 29-year-old bloke who is thought to have sent the life-threatening tweet. John Rivello, from Salisbury, Maryland, was due in court today on charges of cyberstalking.

According to the US Department of Justice, investigators obtained a search warrant for Rivello’s computers and found direct messages in his Twitter account to other people including the phrases “I hope this sends him into a seizure,” “Spammed this at [victim] let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”

They also got access to Rivello’s iCloud account and found a screenshot of Eichenwald’s Wikipedia page which had been altered to show a fake obituary with the date of death listed as December 2016. Also found were screenshots from the epilepsy.com website with a list of commonly reported seizure triggers.

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You think that’s all. But here’s the kicker (apart from the FBI investigating 40 people who subsequently sent strobes to Eichenwald):

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Epileptic seizures can be fatal; your humble hack lost a fellow journalist and friend to the condition. You may joke to your mates that a flashing light or strobing animation gave you epilepsy. For tens of millions of people, a GIF could be the last thing they ever see.

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One for the lawyers: there is “speech” that can kill directly. What price “free speech”?
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What the numbers say about refugees • Nature News & Comment

Declan Butler:

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Growing concerns over an ‘invasion’ of refugees and migrants helped to elect Donald Trump and sway Brexit voters. Yet the data suggest that the situation is very different from how it is often portrayed.

Researchers warn that misleading reports about the magnitude of flows into Europe and the United States are creating unjustified fears about refugees. That is undermining efforts to manage the massive humanitarian problems faced by those fleeing Syria and other hotspots.


SOURCE: UNHCR
“The alleged increase in migration and forced displacement tells us more about the moral panic on migration than the reality,” says Nando Sigona, a social scientist at the University of Birmingham, UK.

The number of refugees and migrants entering the European Union is low compared with the bloc’s population. Nations in Africa and Asia are absorbing many more. “The number of refugees in Europe is a classic example of perception versus reality,” says geographer Nikola Sander at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

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Nature, if you aren’t familiar with it, is one of the premier peer-reviewed science journals. There’s also a PDF infographic you can download with more detail.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified