Start Up: Nest tries again (but smarthomes don’t), Windows Server on ARM, Facebook’s anti-science, and more

What if the genders had been reversed but the characters retained in the US presidential race? Photo by chuckp on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had swapped genders? • New York University

Eileen Reynolds:


After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in October 2016—a battle between the first female candidate nominated by a major party and an opponent who’d just been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women—Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history.

But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?


This is absolutely fascinating. Watching it with roles reversed, you realise how bad a candidate Clinton was; it explains why she lost twice (once to Obama, once to Trump). What people want from a leader is leadership; they want force, and they want drive.

All the punditry was that a woman who was forceful would turn voters off. I think they’d be fine with it. The audience reactions – this was shown as a play – are also noted in the article. Sometimes you need to turn things upside-down to see how they really are.
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Alphabet’s Nest working on cheaper thermostat, home security system • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


Alphabet’s Nest, seeking a bigger share of the connected home market, is developing a cheaper version of its flagship thermostat and new home security products, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

The company is working on a version of its “learning thermostat,” which adjusts the temperature based on usage patterns, that would sell for under $200, the person said. The current version sells for $249. The cheaper model would include less expensive components and at least one internal prototype lacks the flagship model’s metal edges, the person said. 

A home-security alarm system, a digital doorbell and an updated indoor security camera are also in the works, representing potential good news for a company that has struggled to release many new products. 

Co-founded by Tony Fadell, a former Apple Inc. executive who helped create the iPod, Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2bn in 2014 after the first version of its thermostat sold well. Fadell left last year after some employees complained publicly about his aggressive management style. The business is now run by Marwan Fawaz, a former executive vice president of Motorola Mobility. 


A digital doorbell. The giant minds at Nest really are breaking new ground, aren’t they? You can hardly move on Kickstarter for digital doorbells, locks and security cameras. And offering them cheaply isn’t going to help their margins, though it might make the “Other Bets” revenue look more healthy.
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What’s wrong with the smart home? • Stacey on IoT

Stacey Higginbotham:


I’ve been thinking for the last few months that we’ve misled people about the promise of the smart home, and perhaps as an industry, we need to focus on the basics before promising these intuitive homes of the future.

I recently built a presentation to this effect (which also digs into the reasons voice won’t save us) and was excited to see others discussing this topic as well.  Scott Jenson, a designer who works at Google, and Kai Kreuzer who works on the OpenHab smart home platform, both did a great job digging into the current state of the industry to explain why it’s not awesome.

Jenson’s point is that we’ve screwed up by not building the internet of things on the same principles of the open web. Instead, companies force consumers into their own apps and refuse to share data. The result of this is that nothing works together and the onboarding experience is terrible for most consumer devices.

He argues that we are missing essential underpinning technology to get the level of distributed intelligence the smart home needs. So not only do things need to be open, but we also need to think about how to make trusted, distributed systems.


“Trusted, distributed systems”? Sounds a bit like blockchain, or something similar. Equally, the reason companies force consumers into their own apps is that that’s the only way to make the business model work.
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ARMing the cloud; Qualcomm’s Centriq 2400 platform will power Microsoft Azure instances • PC Perspective

Jeremy Hellstrom:


Last December Qualcomm announced plans to launch their Centriq 2400 series of platforms for data centres, demonstrating Apache Spark and Hadoop on Linux as well as a Java demo.  They announced a 48 Core design based on ARM v8 and fabbed with on Samsung’s 10nm process, which will compete against Intel’s current offerings for the server room.

Today marks the official release of the Qualcomm Falkor CPU and Centriq 2400 series of products, as well as the existence of a partnership with Microsoft which may see these products offered to Azure customers.  Microsoft has successfully configured a version of Windows Server to run on these new chips, which is rather big news for customers looking for low-powered hosting solutions running a familiar OS.


Some understatement in that. “ARM servers” has been a promise for years; I recall talking to HP which said it was working on it about five years ago. Now it is becoming a reality. This is very dangerous for Intel – especially with Microsoft breaking away like this. If servers become commoditised on ARM architecture, Intel’s chip business – which lately has looked to servers to keep it going – doesn’t have a floor.

It might not happen overnight, but this is the thin end of a giant wedge in Intel’s most profitable business.
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Google isn’t actually tackling ‘fake news’ content on its ad network • Marketing Land

Ginny Marvin:


Why are my Google display campaigns running on “XYZ-Hyperpartisan-Site” with less-than-accurate or altogether false articles? That’s the polite version of a question I’ve heard in various forms over the past several weeks.

Isn’t Google taking steps against fake news on the Display Network? they ask. Why are sites that spread misinformation still able to earn ad revenue through Google’s AdSense publisher network? they wonder. I’ve heard these questions over and over again recently. In a nutshell, the answer comes down to semantics, namely the difference between “misrepresentation” and “misinformation.” Yes, Google is addressing fake publishers that impersonate well-known news outlets or make up clickbait headlines to drive users to articles that push diet pills or other products. Google’s not looking at misinformation, hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

Last fall, Google earned a lot of press, including on this site, for updating its AdSense “Misrepresentative content” policy to ostensibly “take aim at fake news,” as The New York Times put it. In its most recent Bad Ads Report, Google said it kicked out 200 sites permanantly and blacklisted 340 sites — out of some 2 million AdSense publishers — from the network for violations including misrepresentation. There has been a trend to capitalize on hyperpartisanship — because people are clicking.

Google continues to profit from ads served on hundreds if not thousands of sites promoting propaganda, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and flat-out lies.


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How anti-science forces thrive on Facebook • BuzzFeed News

Stephanie Lee:


In January, Natural News shared a big story on Facebook: A federal scientist had affirmed Donald Trump’s belief that vaccines cause autism.

According to this researcher, the government had supposedly suppressed study data showing that African-American boys had a “340% increased risk for autism” after being vaccinated. “Despite being cast to the lunatic fringe by the mainstream media for his remarks,” the article said, the scientist “has confirmed Trump’s suspicions.”

The claim was false — but the story was an enduring hit. Since it was first published in November 2015, the link has popped up in alternative-health and anti-vaccine communities with names like “Vaccination Information Network” and “Healing ADHD & Asperger’s Without Hurting.” It’s been shared by Trump supporters, a fan account for the hacking group Anonymous, the conspiracy theory subreddit, and a former X Factor contestant on Twitter. All told, it’s garnered more than 141,000 likes, shares, and (overwhelmingly positive) comments on Facebook, according to the social media–tracking tool CrowdTangle. Meanwhile, a Time story that poked holes in the claim got 3,300.


You’re probably able to hum this one already; you’ve heard the chorus enough times. People share stupidity; sense struggles even to get out of its chair before stupidity has got a plane ticket around the world.
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Apple captures 79% of global smartphone profits in 2016 • Korea Herald

Quoting Strategy Analytics research:


Samsung Electronics Co.’s smartphone business posted an operating profit of $8.3bn last year, accounting for 14.6% of the global profits.

Samsung is still reeling from the global recall of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which was discontinued in October last year over safety concerns. The South Korean tech giant’s operating profit margin stood at 11.6% last year, while its annual sales of smartphones fell to $71.6bn from $75.2bn in 2015.

Profitability at Chinese smartphone makers is still low, although their cheaper handsets are rapidly gaining market share.

Huawei posted an operating profit of $929m last year, accounting for 1.6% of global profits. OPPO took 1.5% of the global profits, while its rival Vivo accounted for 1.3%, according to the research.


Hadn’t seen the Huawei figures before; it also shows how there’s (almost) no profit outside China. Apart from Apple, Sony and Samsung, everyone outside China is losing money.
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The need for a Digital Geneva Convention • Microsoft On The Issues blog

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer:


Just as the Fourth Geneva Convention has long protected civilians in times of war, we now need a Digital Geneva Convention that will commit governments to protecting civilians from nation-state attacks in times of peace. And just as the Fourth Geneva Convention recognized that the protection of civilians required the active involvement of the Red Cross, protection against nation-state cyberattacks requires the active assistance of technology companies. The tech sector plays a unique role as the internet’s first responders, and we therefore should commit ourselves to collective action that will make the internet a safer place, affirming a role as a neutral Digital Switzerland that assists customers everywhere and retains the world’s trust.


Dream on with that one, Brad.
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Autonomous cars must learn to drive the Italian way, the German way and every way in-between • IB Timeds

Alistair Charlton:


Another challenge faced by autonomous cars is how to navigate different countries and around humans using different forms of etiquette.

Callegari explained how self-driving cars will need to be taught how human driving and behaviours differ by country, and adapt accordingly.

“Blatting down the Autobahn at 250km/h (155mph) is quite common in Germany, then you’ll get chased down by a Mercedes or a Porsche. Then in Italy you’ll have someone in a Punto doing the same thing, but the driving conditions and the expectations there are quite different.”

In other words, autonomous cars will need to be comfortable with moving quickly in Germany, where lane discipline is generally very good, but in Italy they will need to deal with far more erratic driving from locals.

Callegari went on: “People don’t really tailgate in the UK; you think it’s bad there but it’s not that bad. But here [Switzerland] people tailgate, it’s just part of the way you drive. They sit two metres off your bumper and the conditions are very, very different in those cases…also how people drive, how aggressive they are, how casual they are is very different. In [rural] US it’s very relaxed but around the M25 [motorway around London] it’s completely different.”


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Some comments on the Wikileaks CIA/#vault7 leak • Errata Security

Rob Graham:


I thought I’d write up some notes about the Wikileaks CIA “#vault7” leak. This post will be updated frequently over the next 24 hours.

• The CIA didn’t remotely hack a TV. The docs are clear that they can update the software running on the TV using a USB drive. There’s no evidence of them doing so remotely over the Internet. If you aren’t afraid of the CIA breaking in an installing a listening device, then you should’t be afraid of the CIA installing listening software.

• The CIA didn’t defeat Signal/WhattsApp encryption. The CIA has some exploits for Android/iPhone. If they can get on your phone, then of course they can record audio and screenshots. Technically, this bypasses/defeats encryption — but such phrases used by Wikileaks arehighly misleading, since nothing related to Signal/WhatsApp is happening. What’s happening is the CIA is bypassing/defeating the phone. Sometimes. If they’ve got an exploit for it, or can trick you into installing their software.

• There’s no overlap or turf war with the NSA. The NSA does “signals intelligence”, so they hack radios and remotely across the Internet. The CIA does “humans intelligence”, so they hack locally, with a human. The sort of thing they do is bribe, blackmail, or bedazzle some human “asset” (like a technician in a nuclear plant) to stick a USB drive into a slot. All the various military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies have hacking groups to help them do their own missions.

• The CIA isn’t more advanced than the NSA. Most of this dump is child’s play, simply malware/trojans cobbled together from bits found on the Internet. Sometimes they buy more advanced stuff from contractors, or get stuff shared from the NSA. Technologically, they are far behind the NSA in sophistication and technical expertise…


And there’s plenty more where that come from. His quick conclusion: the CIA isn’t spying on us. (For some variant of “us”. Depends who you are, I guess.)

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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