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.

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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:

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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.

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

Matthew Panzarino:

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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.

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

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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.

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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.
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Twitter is being unbundled before our eyes • The Verge

Casey Newton:

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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.

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

Corbin Davenport:

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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.

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Neat idea. Wonder how well BlackBerry has patented it; it’s a natural to copy for security use.
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Diverse protections for a diverse ecosystem: Android Security 2016 Year in Review • Official Google blog

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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I’d love to know the reason behind that increase. It suggests about 10m infected devices outside China.
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Twitter starts using IBM’s Watson technology to help identify bullies who tweet • GeekWire

Geof Wheelwright:

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“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.

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I do hope it identifies Trump as an undesirable.
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The emergence of the white troll behind a black face • NPR

Neha Rashid:

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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.”

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

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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.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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