Start Up: Facebook’s new problems, who works in the ‘gig economy’?, airport Wi-Fi passwords, and more


Pollution from ships in some gases hugely outnumbers that from cars. Photo by MBarendse 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.

Social media firms must face heavy fines over extremist content – MPs • The Guardian

Owen Bowcott:

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The largest and richest technology firms are “shamefully far” from taking action to tackle illegal and dangerous content, according to a report by the Commons home affairs committee.

The inquiry, launched last year following the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right gunman, concludes that social media multinationals are more concerned with commercial risks than public protection. Swift action is taken to remove content found to infringe copyright rules, the MPs note, but a “laissez-faire” approach is adopted when it involves hateful or illegal content.

Referring to Google’s failure to prevent paid advertising from reputable companies appearing next to YouTube videos posted by extremists, the committee’s report said: “One of the world’s largest companies has profited from hatred and has allowed itself to be a platform from which extremists have generated revenue.”

In Germany, the report points out, the justice ministry has proposed imposing financial penalties of up to €50m on social media companies that are slow to remove illegal content.

“Social media companies currently face almost no penalties for failing to remove illegal content,” the MPs conclude. “We recommend that the government consult on a system of escalating sanctions, to include meaningful fines for social media companies which fail to remove illegal content within a strict timeframe.”

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It’s quite possible that a British government of either colour will have the will to go after Google and Facebook over this after the election.
link to this extract


Report: Facebook helped advertisers target teens who feel “worthless” [Updated] • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

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Facebook’s ability to predict and possibly exploit users’ personal data probably isn’t news to anybody who has followed the company over the past decade, but this leak may be the first tacit admission by any Facebook organization that younger users’ data is sorted and exploited in a unique way. This news follows stories about Facebook analyzing and even outright manipulating users’ emotional states, along with reports and complaints about the platform guessing users’ “ethnic affinity,” disclosing too much personal data, and possibly permitting illegal discrimination in housing and financial ads.

Update, 5/1 12:12 p.m.: Facebook has issued a statement disputing The Australian’s report. “The premise of the article is misleading,” the company wrote in its authorless statement. “Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state. The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated.”

Just like the company said in its original apology, it repeated this vague explanation: “Facebook has an established process to review the research we perform. This research did not follow that process, and we are reviewing the details to correct the oversight.” However, the statement didn’t acknowledge why Facebook did not make any distinction clear to The Australian. As of press time, The Australian has not updated its report, nor has it printed or disclosed full pages of the quoted to either confirm or dispute Facebook’s response.

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Clearly need to hear a bit more for this to be clear.
link to this extract


Technology-enabled gig workers and labor • Pew Research Center

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Participation in technology-enabled gig work varies by a number of factors, with age being among the most prominent. Some 16% of 18- to 29-year-olds have earned money from online gig work platforms in the last year – roughly five times the share among those ages 50 and older (3%). The median age of U.S. adults who are gig platform earners is just 32 years old. When it comes to the specific types of work that they do, young adults are especially likely to gravitate towards online task work. Fully 12% of 18- to 29-year-olds have earned money doing online tasks, but that share falls to 4% for Americans ages 30 to 49 and just 1% among those 50 and older.

Along with these differences by age, platform work is also more prevalent among blacks and Latinos than among whites. Some 14% of blacks and 11% of Latinos have earned money in the last year from online gig work platforms, but just 5% of whites have done so.

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Around 8% of American adults have done some sort of gig work. You can interpret the above paragraphs two ways: gig work is producing new opportunities for work; or it’s simply providing a new method to exploit people who didn’t have rights before and don’t get them now.
link to this extract


Light at the end of the funnel: green finance for dirty ships • The Economist

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Shipping may seem like a clean form of transport. Carrying more than 90% of the world’s trade, ocean-going vessels produce just 3% of its greenhouse-gas emissions. But the industry is dirtier than that makes it sound. By burning heavy fuel oil, just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world’s cars put together. So it is no surprise that shipowners are being forced to clean up their act. But in an industry awash in overcapacity and debt, few have access to the finance they need to improve their vessels…

…A new report from the Carbon War Room (CWR), an international NGO, and UMAS, a consultancy, highlights the threat that new environmental regulations pose to the industry. The International Maritime Organisation, the UN’s regulatory agency for shipping, has agreed to cap emissions of sulphur from 2020. Last month the European Parliament voted to include shipping in the EU’s emissions-trading scheme from 2021. Without any retrofitting of ships to meet the new rules, many firms may be forced out of business. That also imperils banks across the world, which have lent $400bn secured on smoke-spewing ships.

Tens of billions of dollars are needed to pay for upgrades to meet the new rules, according to James Mitchell at CWR. But the industry can hardly pay even its existing debts.

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That statistic about the 15 dirtiest ships is stunning. But shouldn’t the argument about debt be answered with a simple “raise the price you charge customers”?
link to this extract


A map of wireless passwords from airports and lounges around the world • foXnoMad

Anil Polat:

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Finding an open wireless connection in many airports isn’t always easy, or possible, without a password (or local phone number which is stupid). The difficulty of getting online is why I asked you for and created an always-up-to-date list of airport wireless passwords around the world. You’ve been sending me your tips regularly and I post on the foXnoMad Facebook page when there’s a new password or airport added.

Recently, reader Zach made a great suggestion that will make it easier for you to search, add, and keep up with this airport wireless password list.

Below is a regularly updated map of all the airport wireless and lounge passwords you send and I come across on my travels. I’ll still be updating the original how to get wireless passwords from airports page with this information as well but now you can search around on the map directly.

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Now also available as an app for iOS or Android.
link to this extract


The death of the smartphone is further away than you think. And there is no ‘Next Big Thing’ • ZDNet

Jack Schofield:

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Earlier this month, Ben Wilson, an analyst who covers emerging technologies for Pacific Crest, wrote a private research note called “There Is No ‘Next Smartphone'”. He described the smartphone revolution as “a singular event in compute platform history that is unlikely to repeat.” The huge shift that we have seen over the past decade simply isn’t going to happen again.

I asked Wilson about a potential shift to smartwatches or some other wearable. He replied: “It would certainly be folly to propose that compute interfaces won’t evolve, and wearables of various flavors seem almost certain to increase their share of future usage patterns. But I do think we’re unlikely to see another wholesale platform shift like that of PC-to-smartphone in any reasonable timeframe. What’s more likely is a move to several fragmented platforms that lever artificial intelligence to demand user attention only when necessary, letting us interact with compute in a more passive fashion.”

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I agree: the smartphone is, as Schofield says, the endpoint of the computer revolution that began with personal logins to mainframes, then went through personal computers, and now reached our pockets.
link to this extract


How Trump could get fired • The New Yorker

Evan Osnos:

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Only one Administration is known to have considered using the Twenty-fifth Amendment to remove a President. In 1987, at the age of seventy-six, Ronald Reagan was showing the strain of the Iran-Contra scandal. Aides observed that he was increasingly inattentive and inept. Howard H. Baker, Jr., a former senator who became Reagan’s chief of staff in February, 1987, found the White House in disarray. “He seemed to be despondent but not depressed,” Baker said later, of the President.

Baker assigned an aide named Jim Cannon to interview White House officials about the Administration’s dysfunction, and Cannon learned that Reagan was not reading even short documents. “They said he wouldn’t come over to work—all he wanted to do was watch movies and television at the residence,” Cannon recalled, in “Landslide,” a 1988 account of Reagan’s second term, by Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus. One night, Baker summoned a small group of aides to his home. One of them, Thomas Griscom, told me recently that Cannon, who died in 2011, “floats this idea that maybe we’d invoke the Constitution.” Baker was skeptical, but, the next day, he proposed a diagnostic process of sorts: they would observe the President’s behavior at lunch.

In the event, Reagan was funny and alert, and Baker considered the debate closed. “We finish the lunch and Senator Baker says, ‘You know, boys, I think we’ve all seen this President is fully capable of doing the job,’ ” Griscom said. They never raised the issue again. In 1993, four years after leaving office, Reagan received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s…

…As an example of “pathological inattention,” [Harvard law professor Laurence] Tribe noted that, on April 11th, days after North Korea launched a missile, Trump described an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, as part of an “armada” advancing on North Korea, even though the ship was sailing away from North Korea at the time. Moreover, Tribe said, Trump’s language borders on incapacity. Asked recently why he reversed a pledge to brand China a currency manipulator, Trump said, of President Xi Jinping, “No. 1, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have—they’ve actually—their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula.”

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One gets the impression – in the other elements Osnos brings to bear – that there is an undercurrent of concern among politicians and Trump staff about quite what they’re dealing with.
link to this extract


Facebook and Google were victims of $100m payment scam • Fortune.com

Jeff John Roberts:

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In 2013, a 40-something Lithuanian named Evaldas Rimasauskas allegedly hatched an elaborate scheme to defraud U.S. tech companies. According to the Justice Department, he forged email addresses, invoices, and corporate stamps in order to impersonate a large Asian-based manufacturer with whom the tech firms regularly did business. The point was to trick companies into paying for computer supplies.

The scheme worked. Over a two-year span, the corporate imposter convinced accounting departments at the two tech companies to make transfers worth tens of millions of dollars. By the time the firms figured out what was going on, Rimasauskas had coaxed out over $100 million in payments, which he promptly stashed in bank accounts across Eastern Europe.

These allegations first appeared in a sealed indictment filed by federal prosecutors in New York last December. In a press release announcing the arrest of Rimasauskas three months letter, the feds hailed cooperation among international law enforcement, and said they had recovered much of the money.

Rimasauskas, however, denies the allegations. Currently facing extradition proceedings in Lithuania, he and his lawyer denounced the charges and the U.S.-led investigation.

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link to this extract


Apple halts license payments to Qualcomm in ‘all-out war’ • Bloomberg

Ian King:

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Apple Inc. cut off billions of dollars in payments to Qualcomm Inc., turning a contract dispute into what one analyst called an “all-out war” that forced the chip supplier to slash forecasts given only days ago.

The world’s largest publicly-traded technology company and one of the main suppliers of components to the iPhone, its most important product, have traded accusations of lying, making threats and trying to create an illegal monopoly. The fight involves billions of dollars of technology licensing revenue that, if permanently cut off or reduced, would damage Qualcomm’s main source of profit and help bolster Apple’s margins.

Apple told Qualcomm it will stop paying licensing revenue to contract manufacturers of the iPhone, the mechanism by which it’s paid the chipmaker since the best-selling smartphone debuted in 2007, the San Diego, California-based company said in a statement. Qualcomm removed any assumption it will get those fees from its forecast for the current period. Apple doesn’t have a direct license with Qualcomm, unlike other phone makers…

…Patents controlled by Qualcomm cover the basics of all high-speed data capable mobile phone systems. It charges a percentage of the total selling price of the phone regardless of whether the device uses a Qualcomm chip or not.

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Qualcomm has cut its forecast for the next quarter by about $500m – just under 10% of the previous expected revenue.

The arrangement whereby the size of the patent payment depends on the end price of a device doesn’t make sense to me. Functionality is functionality. I can see that it’s an advantage to Qualcomm, but this also goes against the principle set out in the US Supreme Court verdict – where Apple lost against Samsung – that a patent’s value has to be determined separately of the price of the product.
link to this extract


Hacker leaks stolen ‘Orange Is the New Black’ season 5 episodes to piracy network • Variety

Todd Spangler:

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According to “thedarkoverlord,” the hacker or hackers also have obtained unreleased shows from ABC, Fox, National Geographic and IFC. The content appears to have been stolen in an attack on post-production studio Larson Studios in late 2016, according to piracy-news site TorrentFreak. “Thedarkoverlord” explained in an online post that they obtained only the first 10 of the 13 episodes of “OITNB” season 5 because the cyberattack was carried out before the final three installments were available.

In a statement Friday, Netflix said: “We are aware of the situation. A production vendor used by several major TV studios had its security compromised and the appropriate law enforcement authorities are involved.”

It’s not clear what impact the theft and piracy of one of Netflix’s top shows will have. The hacker (or hacker collective) behind the heist has claimed to have made an extortion demand to the company, asking for an unspecified sum of money. However, the motive for purloining and leaking “OITNB” could be more about bragging rights in the cybercrime underworld.

In a message posted early Saturday, “thedarkoverlord” was arrogant and even scolding.

“It didn’t have to be this way, Netflix. You’re going to lose a lot more money in all of this than what our modest offer was,” the hacker wrote. “We’re quite ashamed to breathe the same air as you. We figured a pragmatic business such as yourselves would see and understand the benefits of cooperating with a reasonable and merciful entity like ourselves.”

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Maths: Netflix has more than 100m subscribers. There’s plenty of content for them all to watch. How many of them are eager to watch nothing other than OITNB on a pirate network (which will involve all sorts of unknowns) rather than on Netflix? Very few, I’d guess.

How many non-Netflix users will watch this and think “maybe it’s worth subscribing to Netflix”? If that number is more than zero, then Netflix hasn’t lost out overall.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: Facebook’s new problems, who works in the ‘gig economy’?, airport Wi-Fi passwords, and more

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