Start Up: Ubuntu Unity dead, bots swamp Google Play reviews, LG’s G6 reviewed, Ms ‘Alexa Siri’, and more


Alton Towers: a place where regulations apply – with good reason. Photo by Myrialejean on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ubuntu Unity is dead: Desktop will switch back to GNOME next year • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

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Six years after making Unity the default user interface on Ubuntu desktops, Canonical is giving up on the project and will switch the default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME next year. Canonical is also ending development of Ubuntu software for phones and tablets, spelling doom for the goal of creating a converged experience with phones acting as desktops when docked with the right equipment.

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth explained the move in a blog post today. “I’m writing to let you know that we will end our investment in Unity8, the phone and convergence shell,” he wrote. “We will shift our default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS,” which will ship in April 2018.

This is a return to the early years of Ubuntu, when the desktop shipped with GNOME instead of a Canonical-developed user interface. Shuttleworth’s blog post didn’t specifically say that phone and tablet development is ending. But Canonical Community Manager Michael Hall confirmed to Ars that the Ubuntu phone and tablet project is over.

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Ah yes, the Ubuntu Edge – the phone that would become a PC! The Kickstarter that fell shorter of a giant target than any other! I said at the time it was a quixotic idea:

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Yes, you can put the notes into the cloud via Evernote or Dropbox – but in that case, why mess about with 128GB of storage? Why, in fact, not just sit down in front of a personal computer of whatever hue (Windows, Mac, Linux distro, Chromebook) and connect to your cloud services? What problem does having a dual-boot phone actually solve?

To my mind the category error that Shuttleworth and the Canonical team have fallen into here is to gaze upon the smartphone landscape, look upwards at the PC, and say “there’s a gap there”. There is. But it’s already filled.

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Holds up OK; the case for the smartphone-PC still doesn’t work, despite Samsung’s latest efforts.
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Microsoft opens up more on data it’s collecting with Windows 10 • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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When choosing privacy settings for a device running Windows 10 Creators Update, existing Windows 10 users’ settings are going to be carried over as the default. Users will then have the option to turn on/off location data, speech data, advertising relevancy data, and more. For those setting up a new Windows 10 device for the first time or running a clean install of Windows 10, the data collection settings will all be set to off and diagnostics to the Basic level by default. Again, users can change this if they so desire.

Microsoft’s “recommended” settings, unsurprisingly, call for Windows 10 to collect location, speech, tips, and ad relevance to be turned on and diagnostics set to Full.

“We believe the recommended settings will provide you with the richest experience and enable important Windows 10 features to operate most effectively,” officials said again in today’s blog post.

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I think people would be a lot less worked up about this if there weren’t adverts in Windows 10.

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Troubled Chinese giant LeEco said to delay paying US employees • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:

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Chinese technology conglomerate LeEco Inc. delayed payroll for U.S. employees this month, people familiar with the matter said, another sign that billionaire Jia Yueting’s media and Internet empire is grappling with a cash squeeze.

LeEco’s U.S. employees are normally paid on the 15th and last day of every month, but the company has told employees that March 31 paychecks would be delayed until April 4, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing private matters. LeEco told employees in the U.S. the delay was due to issues with moving money from China, according to one of the people…

…A LeEco spokeswoman said payroll was met April 4.

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The signs of stress are very clear.
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Google keeps radio silence as botnets flood Play Store with fake reviews • The Next Web

“Mix”:

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As readers on Reddit previously speculated, the army of bots has most likely been tasked to rate well-established apps in an attempt to give more credibility to the ratings it leaves on apps from paying customers.

Google has traditionally managed to adequately moderate the Play Store for bogus ratings, which is why fake reviews tend to be rather expensive, selling for $1 a piece on average.

The Big G has so far refused to comment on the exact magnitude and cause of the sudden deluge of game-related spam reviews, but it seems the botnet has continued to gradually expand since our last report a week ago.

According to data sourced from intelligence firm AppAnnie, the inflow of suspicious positive reviews is increasing at a fast pace. More troubling, however, is that the botnet seems to be getting better at covering its tracks by diversifying the overwhelmingly positive reviews with slightly less positive ones.

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Seems to be only on the Play Store, not the iOS App Store. Nor is it clear why they’re doing it, since there’s no obvious pattern in which apps it reviews.
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12-letter domains. The ad fraud scheme • Sadbottrue

Reporting on something it has investigated: a giant ad click fraud scheme involving 12-letter-jumble domains which live for a few days, attract huge traffic, and then go dark:

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Where and by whom was this traffic used?

This traffic was used not only by the owners of this botnet for their own digital assets but also put up for sale inside the closed digital community, as well as on open marketplace.

This is one of the largest suppliers of bot traffic, not only for other black webmasters but for large white publishers and agencies. The organizers of the botnet sold targeted referral traffic, which allows publishers to receive the most expensive advertising.

Which brands were affected?

If we are talking about hundreds of billions of advertising views, then the victims were exactly all those who spent more than $ 1000 on digital advertising in the last 8 months. We will analyze the individual cases in the following articles.

On the sites that received this traffic, all major advertising systems were installed, including Adsense/DoubleClick, its partners, all members of the open RTB ad exchange.

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Very bold claims.
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Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about • The Guardian

George Monbiot:

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If the government agrees to a “bonfire of red tape”, we would win bent bananas and newt-squashing prerogatives. On the other hand, we could lose our rights to fair employment, an enduring living world, clean air, clean water, public safety, consumer protection, functioning public services, and the other distinguishing features of civilisation. Tough choice, isn’t it?

As if to hammer the point home, the Sunday Telegraph interviewed Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, in an article claiming that the “red tape burden” was too heavy for listed companies. He described some of the public protections that companies have to observe as “bloody baggage”. The article failed to connect these remarks to his company’s own bloody baggage, caused by its unilateral decision to cut red tape. As a result of overriding the safety mechanism on one of its rides at Alton Towers – which was operating, against the guidelines, during high winds – 16 people were injured, including two young women who had their legs amputated. That’s why we need public protections of the kind the Telegraph wants to destroy.

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Remember this when someone’s telling you that regulations are awful and must be wiped away. They aren’t created for no reason. There are reasons demanding their existence; sometimes peoples’ limbs, sometimes their limbs, sometimes just their health.
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Driverless ed-tech: the history of the future of automation in education • Hack Education

Audrey Waters:

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We can see the “driverless university” already under development perhaps at the Math Emporium at Virginia Tech, which The Washington Post once described as “the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning.”

Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000. Students walk to class through a shopping mall, past a health club and a tanning salon, as ambient Muzak plays.

The pass rates are up. That’s good traffic data, I suppose, if you’re obsessed with moving bodies more efficiently along the university’s pre-determined “map.” Get the students through pre-calc and other math requirements without having to pay for tenured faculty or, hell, even adjunct faculty. “In the Emporium, the computer is teacher,” The Washington Post tells us.
“Students click their way through courses that unfold in a series of modules.” Of course, students who “click their way through courses” seem unlikely to develop a love for math or a deep understanding of math. They’re unlikely to become math majors. They’re unlikely to become math graduate students. They’re unlikely to become math professors. (And perhaps you think this is a good thing if you believe there are too many mathematicians or if you believe that the study of mathematics has nothing to offer a society that seems increasingly obsessed with using statistics to solve every single problem that it faces or if you think mathematical reasoning is inconsequential to twenty-first century life.)

Students hate the Math Emporium, by the way.

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The whole talk deals with the way that libertarianism is woven into so much of Silicon Valley’s thinking.
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Never mind the Russians, meet the bot king who helps Trump win Twitter • Buzzfeed

Joseph Bernstein:

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Unconvincing internet investigations have suggested that MicroChip [who has been banned multiple times from Twitter, and controls some huge number of bots] could be anyone from the prominent alt-righter Baked Alaska, to Justin McConney, the director of social media for the Trump Organization, to a shadowy Russian puppet master.

But in an interview with BuzzFeed News — his first with a media organization — MicroChip said the truth, both about his identity and the method he developed for spreading pro-Trump messages on Twitter, is far more prosaic. Though he would not divulge his real name or corroborate his claim, MicroChip said he is a freelance mobile software developer in his early thirties and lives in Utah. In a conversation over the gaming chat platform Discord, MicroChip, who speaks unaccented, idiomatic American English, said he guards his identity so closely for two reasons: first, because he fears losing contract work due to his beliefs, and second, because of what he calls an “uninformed” discourse in the media and Washington around Russian influence and botting.

“I feel like I’m a scientist showing electricity to natives that have been convinced electricity is created by Satan, so they murder the scientist,” he said.

Indeed, in a national atmosphere charged by unproven accusations about a massive network of Russian social media influence, the story of how MicroChip helped build the most notorious pro-Trump Twitter network seems almost mundane, less a technologically daunting intelligence operation than a clever patchworking of tools nearly any computer-literate person could manage. It also suggests that some of the current Russian Trumpbot hysteria may be, well, a hysteria.

“It’s all us, not Russians,” MicroChip said. “And we’re not going to stop.”

MicroChip claims he was a longtime “staunch liberal” who turned to Twitter in the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and “found out that I didn’t like what was going on. So I redpilled myself.” Through Twitter, he found a network of other people who thought liberal politicians had blindly acceded to PC culture, and who had found a champion in Donald Trump. In his early days on the platform, MicroChip said, he started “testing,” dabbling in anti-PC tags like #Rapefugees and seeing what went viral. His experience as a mobile developer had exposed him to the Twitter API, and a conversation with a blogger who ran social media bots convinced him he could automate the Twitter trending process.

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Basically, if the latter paragraph is true, he’s a credulous idiot who is good at gaming weakly protected social networks which have wide influence. Or it might be he’s just good at gaming weakly protected social networks, and that the “staunch liberal” stuff is hooey. Bernstein didn’t find any way to confirm anything about him.
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LG G6 review: LG’s “personal best” still can’t compare to Samsung • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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The biggest problem with the LG G6 is the price. In the US, you’ll be paying anywhere from $650-$700 (depending on the carrier) for a 32GB phone with a Snapdragon 821. There are no higher storage tiers. Compare this to the OnePlus 3T, which for just $440 will give you 2 more GB of RAM (6GB total), 32GB more storage (64GB total), a bigger battery, a metal body, and better software. If you buy the LG G6, it’s because you’re in love with the design and the taller screen. But Samsung is offering what looks like a better version of the same thing with the Galaxy S8.

The Galaxy S8 and LG G6 both hit all the same pros and cons. They’re high-end phones in the $700 range with new, slim bezel designs and glass backs. They have old, skinned Android builds and will be poorly supported with slow updates. They’re both heavily sold through carriers and can be easily gotten on a payment plan. So if that’s what you’re looking for, why not just go with Samsung, which is offering a better version of the same phone? The Galaxy S8 has a faster, newer processor, a 64GB baseline of storage, the usual dump truck full of Samsung extras (free VR goggles! An iris scanner! A desktop dock!), and probably a better camera for just a bit more money ($720-$750).

I was hoping for some kind of discount, thanks to the older SoC and paltry 32GB of storage. But with the G6 still hovering around the price of the Galaxy S8, I just don’t see any room for it in the market.

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32GB of storage, but you can add more with a microSD card. Worth reading for Amadeo’s fury at “LG Smart World”, LG’s app store which seems to be hosted on a Pentium PC in a basement in South Korea.

In brief: this isn’t going to save LG. Another year of losses beckon while Sony and Samsung eke and reap, respectively, the profits.
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Woman who shares name with ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ says life is ‘waking nightmare’ • The Huffington Post

David Moye:

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You think you’ve got it rough? Try having the same names as two most popular virtual assistants.

That’s the dilemma facing a 21-year-old college student in New Jersey, whose name is Alexa Seary. Alexa just happens to be the name of the human-like bot on the Amazon Echo device, while Siri is the one on Apple iPhones and computers.

Seary, who lives in Ventnor City, describes her life as a “waking nightmare” to South West News Service (SWNS).

“In the beginning when Siri came out, I got it all the time,” she said. “If I introduced myself with my last name people would always tie it to that.”

Seary says when Apple first introduced Siri in 2011, friends and colleagues at the restaurant she works part-time kept addressing her by her last name as if she were a machine.

It got worse in 2015 when Amazon released its Echo device which has a Siri-type helper named “Alexa.”

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Amazingly, this is not an early or late April Fool’s. (Wouldn’t have linked to it if it were.) What’s even better is that Ms Seary looks like Hayley from Modern Family; the writers must be heartbroken to have missed a story thread that could have used this. Though who knows, perhaps they will.
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It’s 30 years ago: IBM’s final battle with reality • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

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If you’re not familiar with the significance of OS/2 and PS/2 and don’t want to read thousands of words, here’s a capsule summary. The setter of standards for the past three decades, IBM had responded to the microprocessor revolution by allowing its PC to be easily “cloneable” and run a toy third-party operating system. It didn’t matter too much to senior IBM management at first: PCs weren’t really computers, so few people would buy them. Business computing would be done on real multiuser systems. That was the norm at the time. But the runaway sales of the PC clones worried IBM and in 1984, just three years after the launch of the IBM PC, Big Blue plotted how to regain control. The result was a nostalgic backward-looking vision that under-estimated that computing standards would increasingly be set by the open market, not by IBM.

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Some nice links to the problems with IBM culture.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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