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”:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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,


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:


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.


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:


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.


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):


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.


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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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”.


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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