Start Up: should Facebook forget, Google’s adblock plans, Trump’s 90-day mark, is Bose listening?, and more


Imagine a tumble dryer that dries with sound and doesn’t get hot. It exists. Photo by CarbonNYC on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Don’t worry, there’s reading. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Build a better monster: morality, machine learning, and mass surveillance • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski, in a speech (and piece) from which this is only a smidgen of the many great ideas: that social networks and Google should dump the data about us more quickly:

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The online world forces individuals to make daily irrevocable decisions about their online footprint.

Consider the example of the Women’s March. The March was organized on Facebook, and 3-4 million people attended. The list of those who RSVP’d is now stored on Facebook servers and will be until the end of time, or until Facebook goes bankrupt, or gets hacked, or bought by a hedge fund, or some rogue sysadmin decides that list needs to be made public.

Any group that uses Facebook to organize comes up against this problem. But keeping this data around forever is not central to Facebook’s business model. The algorithms Facebook uses for targeting favor recency; and their output won’t drastically change if Facebook forgets what you were doing three months or three years ago.

We need the parts of these sites that are used heavily for organizing, like Google Groups or Facebook event pages, to become more ephemeral. There should be a user-configurable time horizon after which messages and membership lists in these places evaporate. These features are sometimes called ‘disappearing’, but there is nothing furtive about it. Rather, this is just getting our software to more faithfully reflect human life.

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This is all worth reading, especially for his description of how he thought Pacman should be played as a child.
link to this extract


Google plans adblocking feature in popular Chrome browser • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

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The ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web.

Google could announce the feature within weeks, but it is still ironing out specific details and still could decide not to move ahead with the plan, the people said.

Unacceptable ad types would be those recently defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that released a list of ad standards in March. According to those standards, ad formats such as pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and “prestitial” ads with countdown timers are deemed to be “beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability.”

In one possible application Google is considering, it may choose to block all advertising that appears on sites with offending ads, instead of the individual offending ads themselves. In other words, site owners may be required to ensure all of their ads meet the standards, or could see all advertising across their sites blocked in Chrome.

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This has been rumbling for some time. Here was Lara O’Reilly at Business Insider in May 2016:

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Google is exploring the creation of an “acceptable ads policy” that appears to suggest it wants to create an industry-standard for online ad formats.

Several executives with knowledge of these discussions confirmed to Business Insider that Google has been looking at spearheading such a policy. Google has been meeting with several companies and industry trade bodies to discuss how it might be implemented in practice. Whatever form it takes will likely lean heavily on new research Google is due to publish in the coming weeks about the types of ads consumers find unacceptable.

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The antitrust implications are huge. Chrome is the dominant browser, worldwide (outside China). Google can get outside organisations to decide “acceptable ads”, but if it’s choosing which organisation feeds its whitelist – and there will be a whitelist – then it has a clear conflict of interest. Any ad definition that would block a Google ad won’t be allowed. This will require transparency on a huge scale.

But this looks like Google getting out ahead of the curve. Adblocking is a problem; it’s the equivalent of pop-up windows back at the start of the century, which browser makers all moved to block pretty fast. (Remember the X10?)
link to this extract


Trump’s claim that ‘no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days’ • The Washington Post

Glenn Kessler:

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The first 100 days of a presidency mark a rather artificial milestone, but one by which all presidents have been measured since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s whirlwind of action when he took office in the midst of the Great Depression. President Trump appears especially conscious of this marker. During the presidential campaign, he even issued a list of 60 promises that he said he would fulfill in his first 100 days.

We’ve been tracking Trump’s promises, and so far he has not even taken action on 60 percent of the promises — and he’s broken five of them, such as his pledge to label China as a currency manipulator.

Yet here’s the president declaring that he has accomplished more in his first 90 days than any previous president. So how does he stack up?

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The “promise tracker” is pretty good.
link to this extract


The continuing fallout from Trump and Nunes’s fake scandal • The New Yorker

Ryan Lizza:

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As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

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I’m sure this will all be explained fully and everyone will own up to their part in what went on.
link to this extract


In the duopoly’s shadow, Apple News is finding favor with some publishers • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

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If publishers are down on Facebook Instant Articles, they’re increasingly effusive about Apple News as a platform partner.

Apple News, a pre-installed app on Apple phones and tablets, has long been the distant No. 3 in platform publishing initiatives. Introduced in 2015, Apple News didn’t elicit the kind of excitement Facebook got with IA and Google with its Accelerated Mobile Pages. But in recent months, Apple began sending more traffic publishers’ way and letting them sell subscriptions on the news aggregation app. Kunal Gupta, CEO of branded content platform Polar, which works with premium publishers, estimates that for those publishers that are benefiting big, Apple News is supplying 10-15% of their mobile traffic.

Platforms have been an uneven source of actual ad revenue to publishers, and Apple News has barely sent publishers any revenue at all. But for publishers that sell subscriptions, Apple News inspires hope because that business is becoming increasingly important as they face more competition for digital ad revenue.

“They’re getting frustrated with the lack of monetization options on [Facebook Instant Articles] and see Apple News as a direct opportunity to gain subscribers which has inherent value,” said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of digital audience analytics firm Parsely.

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But surely in June 2015 it was “Why publishers are worried about Apple News” (that’s the page headline, though not the article headline) and publishers were told Instant Articles was “built to meet their needs? It’s as if nobody writing about this stuff was able to discern motives beyond the public pronouncements of companies.
link to this extract


Ultrasonic drying: seeking commercial partners • Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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UT-Battelle, LLC, acting under its Prime Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the management and operation of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is seeking commercialization partners for its Ultrasonic Drying technology. 

Researchers at ORNL have developed a new approach to the traditional process of thermal drying using an innovative ultrasonic drying technology. The technology uses low-energy piezoelectric transducers to produce high-frequency vibrations to mechanically remove water from a variety of materials quickly and three times more efficiently than thermal drying. In addition to lower energy costs, ultrasonic drying technology could potentially be applied to a wide range of processed materials that would benefit from the removal of a drying heat source.

The technology utilizes ultrasound transducers to create a high frequency mechanical oscillation on the surface of the material subjected to drying. This forms an extremely fine mist of droplets about one micron in diameter that are readily entrained into an air flow. Unlike the thermal drying that evaporates water molecules only, these water droplets will carry with them all impurities that are present in the water content of material (e.g., salt, minerals and detergents), which is very beneficial in some applications and might be detrimental in other applications.

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This is one of those projects that makes you say “wow”. It’s worth looking at the slide presentation for it too. Clothes dryers (tumble dryers in the UK) consume 1% of US energy; this uses from 20% to 33% of the standard amount, and doesn’t get hot.

General Electric is interested; one can also imagine that Shenzhen is going to be alive with companies making ultrasonic transducers. The expectation is that these are a couple of years from the market, but I’d be unsurprised if Chinese versions don’t appear sooner.

I wonder about two things: who first thought “hey, we could dry clothes this way!” (a quick literature review suggests that ultrasound’s ability to cause evaporation was discovered in 1927); and might some fabrics or parts (buttons?) be subtly damaged by ultrasound? Perhaps some helpful Chinese folk will discover this for us.
link to this extract


I just love this Juicero story so much • Deadspin

Albert Burneko on Bloomberg’s report about the company which got over $100m from VCs to make a high-priced juicer which turned out to be, well, you read it:

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Here is another good-ass sentence from what, for my money, is the best story ever written about Silicon Valley. It pairs very nicely with the previous one:

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But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.

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Oh no! This must have been a terrible shock to these venture capitalists. Sir, we’ve received some disturbing news. I don’t know how this happened, but apparently some of our customers are slightly less stupid than the absolute stupidest they possibly could be.

I like this one, too (emphasis mine):

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One of the investors said they were frustrated with how the company didn’t deliver on the original pitch and that their venture firm wouldn’t have met with Evans if he were hawking bags of juice that didn’t require high-priced hardware.

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When we signed up to pump money into this juice company, it was because we thought drinking the juice would be a lot harder and more expensive. That was the selling point, because Silicon Valley is a stupid libertarian dystopia where investor-class vampires are the consumers and a regular person’s money is what they go shopping for. Easily opened bags of juice do not give these awful nightmare trash parasites a good bargain on the disposable income of credulous wellness-fad suckers; therefore easily opened bags of juice are a worse investment than bags of juice that are harder to open.

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The last clause of that sentence is worth pondering for a bit, because it honestly is how many of these companies operate, and are funded to operate: make it more difficult to get at The Thing People Want.
link to this extract


Bose headphones spy on listeners: lawsuit • Reuters

Jonathan Stempel:

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The complaint filed on Tuesday by Kyle Zak in federal court in Chicago seeks an injunction to stop Bose’s “wholesale disregard” for the privacy of customers who download its free Bose Connect app from Apple Inc or Google Play stores to their smartphones.

“People should be uncomfortable with it,” Christopher Dore, a lawyer representing Zak, said in an interview. “People put headphones on their head because they think it’s private, but they can be giving out information they don’t want to share.”

Bose did not respond on Wednesday to requests for comment on the proposed class action case. The Framingham, Massachusetts-based company has said annual sales top $3.5 billion.

Zak’s lawsuit was the latest to accuse companies of trying to boost profit by quietly amassing customer information, and then selling it or using it to solicit more business.

After paying $350 for his QuietComfort 35 headphones, Zak said he took Bose’s suggestion to “get the most out of your headphones” by downloading its app, and providing his name, email address and headphone serial number in the process.

But the Illinois resident said he was surprised to learn that Bose sent “all available media information” from his smartphone to third parties such as Segment.io, whose website promises to collect customer data and “send it anywhere.”

Audio choices offer “an incredible amount of insight” into customers’ personalities, behavior, politics and religious views, citing as an example that a person who listens to Muslim prayers might “very likely” be a Muslim, the complaint said.

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An app with such terrible privacy? The EULA doesn’t seem to include such a warning (by my reading). The complaint itself doesn’t provide evidence of it happening. Bose hadn’t commented in any story through the day. One images lots of “but DO we??” conversations at its offices.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: should Facebook forget, Google’s adblock plans, Trump’s 90-day mark, is Bose listening?, and more

  1. Re the potential for ultrasound clothes drying;

    “… might some fabrics or parts (buttons?) be subtly damaged by ultrasound?”

    Possibly but surely fewer than those vulnerable to extreme heat. (?)

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