Start Up: Apple seeks switchers, Facebook bullies, LeEco’s CEO out, AMP v the web, and more

Which sites from then are still going today? Photo by Leo Reynolds 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.

Which websites from 1995 are still online? • The Atlantic

Adrienne LaFrance:


Today there are more than 1 billion sites on the web. But in 1995, the year AltaVista and Amazon launched, there were 23,500. (The year before that, there were only 2,738 websites, according to Internet Live Stats, a site that tracks web trends.) “For anyone with a computer, modem and so-called browser software, the place to be in 1995 is the World Wide Web, a section of the Internet overflowing with sights and sounds,” the [New York] Times wrote in its 1995 “site-seeing” guide.

The first site it recommended was “everyone’s favorite plastic oracle, on line,” a place where you could consult a Magic 8-Ball. It’s funny now: The tenor of the early web, with its gimmicks and sense of play, was eventually repeated in the early app environment. Remember when having an iPhone meant demonstrating a smattering of silly apps—things like Magic 8-Balls, virtual lighters, and digital beer that disappeared when you tilted the device?

The Magic 8-Ball website from 1995 is still live, remarkably, but it has changed. “The ‘Magic 8-Ball’ went away because of a letter from Tyco’s lawyers indicating that they didn’t appreciate my abuse of their Copyright,” a message on the site now says. “Thank you Tyco, for giving me the impetus to create a far cooler web site.”


Lovely idea; great detective work.
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Apple launches website for android switchers • Tech Narratives

Jan Dawson on Apple’s new Switch site area:


targeting that audience of Android switchers specifically makes perfect sense.  The site focuses on a few aspects of buying and owning an iPhone: ease of use, ease of switching, camera quality, speed, privacy and security, iMessage extensions, support from Apple people, and environmental responsibility.

Out of all the possible things Apple could emphasize, that’s an interesting list – design, for example, isn’t one of them, though the word appears in other contexts three times on the site, and all the things highlighted here are functional rather than aesthetic.

In fact, other than one oblique shot of an iPhone at the top, there isn’t a single full shot of an iPhone or any shot with the screen on until you get to the “buy” section at the bottom. Given how central the design message and product shots have traditionally been to Apple promotional material, that’s an interesting departure and likely reflects research on why people switch from Android.


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How Facebook allows users to post footage of children being bullied • The Guardian

Nick Hopkins:


Documents also show the site allows the “sharing of footage of physical bullying” of children under seven, as long as there is no caption.

The social media group has ruled that anyone with more than 100,000 followers on a social media platform is a public figure, with “no exceptions for minors”.

The details appear in documents that detail how Facebook attempts to deal with cruel, insensitive and abusive posts on the site.

The training manuals for moderators say Facebook regards bullying as “an attack on private persons with the intent to upset or silence them”. But they add that you are only “a ‘private person’ if you are not a public figure”.

According to the documents, public figures include politicians, journalists, people “with 100,000 fans or followers on one of their social media accounts”, or people “who are mentioned [by name or title] in the title or subtitle of five or more news articles or media pieces within the last two years”.

Under the headline “People excluded from protection”, one document adds: “We want to exclude certain people who are famous or controversial in their own right and don’t deserve our protection.”

The types of groups and individuals excluded from protection include Jesus, the mass murderer Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden, rapists and domestic abusers, any political and religious leaders before 1900 and people who violate hate speech rules.


Hopkins is The Guardian’s investigations editor; this is the second day of what is sure to be a multi-day onslaught of revelations about Facebook’s moderation practices. You’d think the company might be trying to get out ahead of them, but seems not.
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China’s LeEco founder cedes control of listed unit amid cash crunch • Reuters

Sijia Jiang and Jake Spring:


The founder of LeEco, a Chinese Netflix-to-Tesla-like conglomerate, has stepped down as the CEO of the group’s main listed unit, as the company begins to streamline and cut debt after rapid expansion led to a cash crunch.

Jia Yueting, who will remain as chairman and CEO of LeEco, envisions the group maintaining its separate unlisted automotive unit but rolling all other areas of business into Leshi Internet Information & Technology Corp Beijing, according to a transcript of his remarks to journalists on Sunday.

The firm has also trimmed loans by nearly half from a peak of 10 billion yuan ($1.45bn), Jia said.

Shenzhen-listed Leshi said in a stock exchange filing that Liang Jun, a long-time Lenovo Group Ltd executive who joined Leshi in 2012, will replace Jia as chief executive officer. Leshi’s finance chief Yang Linjie, who resigned for personal reasons, will also be replaced by Zhang Wei.

The restructuring comes several months after the group received a much-needed $2.2bn investment from property developer Sunac China Holdings Ltd.


It’s been a fun ride, but now it’s back to nothing much.
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EU to conclude Google antitrust cases in next few months • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:


EU antitrust regulators will rule in the “next few months” whether Alphabet’s Google abused its dominance of internet searches and other areas, a senior European Commission official said on Monday, an outcome that could lead to a hefty fine.

The world’s most popular internet search engine has been in the Commission’s crosshairs since 2010 over the promotion of its own shopping service in internet searches at the expense of the services of rivals.

The EU competition enforcer opened a second front against Google last year as it charged the company with using its dominant Android mobile operating system to squeeze out rivals.

It has since leveled a third charge, that of blocking rivals in online search advertising. This relates to Google’s “AdSense for Search” platform, in which Google acts as an intermediary for websites such as online retailers, telecoms operators or newspapers. These searches produce results that include search ads.

“In the next few months, we will reach a decision on the Google cases, Google search, AdSense and to me the most interesting is Android,” Tommaso Valletti, the Commission’s chief competition economist, told a conference organized by the University of Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy.


But it already knows that Google has abused this; that’s why it has sought remedies, which have been rejected by complainants. I’ve no idea now what Margrethe Vestager is waiting for.
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AMP: breaking news • Andrew Betts

Betts takes issue with Google’s AMP format, which showed him a page of “news” whose format had been stripped by AMP so it looked like any other:


I tapped a link in the Twitter app, which showed as…, got a page in Twitter’s in-app webview, where the visible URL bar displays the reassuring 🔒 But this is actually content from Russia Today, an organisation 100% funded by the Russian government and classified as propaganda by Columbia Journalism Review and by the former US Secretary of State. Google are allowing RT to get away with zero branding, and are happily distributing the content to a mass audience.

This is not OK. This is catastrophic.

Ambiguous content attribution at scale is a scary thing indeed, but beyond the negative effect that AMP, and other distributed content systems, have on the authenticity of independent journalism, there are other significant issues too. Googlers like to consider AMP-the-format and AMP-the-platform separately, and while I think they are inseparable as concerns let’s look at the problems with each independently…

…There is more, but in summary, AMP forces technical restrictions on publishers that limit their ability to create value for their customers, limit their ability to further engage the user beyond reading the initial article, and prevent them iterating on their business model with the freedom they would normally have. Added to this AMP may not actually be any faster than the publisher’s own webpages…

…So that brings us back to Russia Today.

Truth and evidence and nuance are hard to find, hard to represent accurately and fairly, expensive to distill into a consumable product, and hard to understand quickly. If the world’s biggest content discovery and delivery platforms prioritise security, performance and popularity, over authenticity, evidence and independence, well, the likely result is an exponential rise of simplistic, populistic thinking, inevitably spreading and amplifying until false beliefs become tacitly accepted as facts.

When I imagine a Maslow’s pyramid of needs in relation to news, I think the need for truth is more important than the need for speed.


I’m noticing a growing amount of opposition to AMP from web designers, though nothing substantial from publishers. But the latter tend not to respond to problems until well past the time when it would have been a good idea to do so.

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Exclusive: Hackers hit Russian bank customers, planned international cyber raids • Reuters

Jack Stubbs:


Russian cyber criminals used malware planted on Android mobile devices to steal from domestic bank customers and were planning to target European lenders before their arrest, investigators and sources with knowledge of the case told Reuters.

Their campaign raised a relatively small sum by cyber-crime standards – more than 50 million roubles ($892,000) – but they had also obtained more sophisticated malicious software for a modest monthly fee to go after the clients of banks in France and possibly a range of other western nations.

Russia’s relationship to cyber crime is under intense scrutiny after U.S. intelligence officials alleged that Russian hackers had tried to help Republican Donald Trump win the U.S. presidency by hacking Democratic Party servers.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegation.

The gang members tricked the Russian banks’ customers into downloading malware via fake mobile banking applications, as well as via pornography and e-commerce programs, according to a report compiled by cyber security firm Group-IB which investigated the attack with the Russian Interior Ministry.

The criminals – 16 suspects were arrested by Russian law enforcement authorities in November last year – infected more than a million smartphones in Russia, on average compromising 3,500 devices a day, Group-IB said.


This seems to have been taking advantage of flaws in Android OS, but without more detail it’s hard to be sure. Killer quote from a Sherbank spokeswoman:


“It isn’t clear which specific group is being referred to here because the fraudulent scheme involving Android OS (operating system) viruses is widespread in Russia and Sberbank has effectively combated it for an extensive period of time.”


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Special glasses give people superhuman colour vision • New Scientist

Chris Baraniuk:


It’s sometimes practically impossible to tell similar colours apart. Even side by side, they look the same. A special pair of spectacles gives us new power to see more distinct colours, and could one day help to spot counterfeit banknotes or counteract camouflage.

The glasses, devised by a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, basically enhance the user’s colour vision, allowing them to see metamers – colours that look the same but give off different wavelengths of light – as recognisably distinct hues.

Human colour vision relies on three types of cone cells that react to short (blue), medium (green) and long (red) wavelengths. While brushing up on his knowledge of the eye before teaching a photonics class, physicist Mikhail Kats had a brainwave. Could the eye be tricked into effectively having another type of cone cell?

In theory, this could take our vision from being trichromatic, which uses three colour channels, to tetrachromatic. Some animals see in four (or more) channels. Goldfish, for example, have cells for red, blue, green and ultraviolet light. Some researchers suggest that a very small number of humans may be tetrachromats too.


So neat. I love tetrachromats (there are plenty of them about).
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The real radicals are now on the right – and the left can’t stand it • The Spectator

Jamie Bartlett:


Every counter-culture – especially youthful ones – tends to share two features, both of which are currently found in the radical right more than anywhere else.

First, they oppose whatever the establishment values happen to be with a reckless, gleeful abandon. Granted, the word ‘establishment’ is often used to lazily denigrate opponents (hardly anyone says they are part of the establishment). But it is possible to identify a set of received wisdoms that are held by the overwhelming majority of people in positions of economic, political or cultural power. These include the value of cultural and religious diversity, the importance of certain limits on free speech, the need to fight certain forms of social and economic inequality, (relatively) open borders especially within the EU, and so on.   

The radical right revel in tearing into all this, and plainly enjoy the offence they cause each time they trample over polite society’s holy screeds. Donald Trump at times appeared to run much of his election campaign on this very basis. Although only a small, and probably over-hyped, wedge of this new radical right, the ‘alt-right’ culture is a good illustration. Its origins are found in 4chan, the notorious image sharing board famous for its subversive memes, anything-goes trolls, hackers and general taboo breaking. Many alt-righters are grown-up 4channers, uncertain of where their genuine beliefs stop and gratuitous offence starts (and preferring to keep the boundary blurred). 

Is it not thrilling to rebel with such a carefree attitude, after all? Is it not more exciting to take on every social taboo? Transgression against any kind of dominant idea is what people, especially young people, always do. Therefore, when those dominant ideas change, so do its recalcitrant challengers.


I think Bartlett’s right: consider the 1967 “summer of love”, whose participants appalled (many of) its parents’ generation for its inclusive, anything-goes approach. And now those people are parents, or even grandparents. While it’s stupid to say “conservatism is the new punk” (because that misunderstands what punk essentially was: rebellion against highly structured, highly organised forms of music and the music business), the idea of rebellion is consistent down the ages.
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Another large-scale cyberattack underway, experts say • The Japan Times


Instead of completely disabling an infected computer by encrypting data and seeking a ransom payment, Adylkuzz uses the machines it infects to “mine” in a background task a virtual currency, Monero, and transfer the money created to the authors of the virus.

Virtual currencies such as Monero and Bitcoin use the computers of volunteers to record transactions. They are said to “mine” for the currency and are occasionally rewarded with a piece of it.

Proofpoint said in a blog post that symptoms of the attack include loss of access to shared Windows resources and degradation of PC and server performance, effects that some users may not notice immediately.

“As it is silent and doesn’t trouble the user, the Adylkuzz attack is much more profitable for the cyber criminals. It transforms the infected users into unwitting financial supporters of their attackers,” said Godier.

Proofpoint said it has detected infected machines that have transferred several thousand dollars worth of Monero to the creators of the virus.

The firm believes Adylkuzz has been on the loose since at least May 2, and perhaps even since April 24, but due to its stealthy nature was not immediately detected.

“We don’t know how big it is” but “it’s much bigger than WannaCry,” said Robert Holmes, Proofpoint’s vice president for email products.

A U.S. official on Tuesday put the number of computers infected by WannaCry at over 300,000.


This is from last week but points to something interesting. ProofPoint says that *this* one, which preceded Wannacry, shuts down SMB networking – and so could have limited the spread of Wannacry. Does that imply that they’re separate groups behind the two? Or that Wannacry was an attempt to monetise the same attack more quickly?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: Apple seeks switchers, Facebook bullies, LeEco’s CEO out, AMP v the web, and more

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