Start Up: Rubin’s back!, Uber fires Google hire, blowing up the filter bubble, India goes solar, and more

A curry house in London has been the target of fake news which could shut it down. Photo (of a generic curry) by thomasstache 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.

Eli Pariser predicted the future. now he can’t escape it • Backchannel

Jesse Hempel:


Pariser’s work has led him to believe that blaming fake news for fractured discourse is a red herring. Yes, no doubt, social media is pushing stories that are just plain false. But what most people encounter online isn’t news at all. “The thing that wins now mostly has always won, and is not even news at all,” he says. “The thing that wins now is some guy surfing off his roof into a garbage container.”

The problem with online distribution, Pariser believes, is that specific, true information can’t compete with that guy surfing off his roof. “Is the truth loud enough?” he asks. “If the problem is that the truth isn’t loud enough, it points in very different directions than if the problem is that fake news is misleading people.” I caught up with Pariser last week to discuss how his notion of the filter bubble has evolved.


It’s a worthwhile interview. Such as this answer:


After the election, I felt gratified that the idea that I had put out in the world was useful to people, but also worried that people were taking it a little too far. The filter bubble explains a lot about how liberals didn’t see Trump coming, but not very much about how he won the election. I think even if you’re talking about the conservative media ecosystem, my guess is that talk-radio, local news, and Fox are a much more important piece of that story than random conservative fake news.


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Why I started Essential • Essential blog

Andy Rubin:


For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives. Was this what we had intended? Was this the best we could do?

I left that night reflecting deeply on what was great and what was frustrating with the current state of technology today. After another long talk with my friend we decided that I needed to start a new kind of company using 21st century methods to build products for the way people want to live in the 21st century.

The result is Essential, and this is what we believe:

• Devices are your personal property. We won’t force you to have anything on them you don’t want to have.
• We will always play well with others. Closed ecosystems are divisive and outdated.
• Premium materials and true craftsmanship shouldn’t be just for the few.
• Devices shouldn’t become outdated every year. They should evolve with you.
• Technology should assist you so that you can get on with enjoying your life.
• Simple is always better.


Sounds great. Reality: bezel-less screen (this year’s must-have), $699 price (or so), home thing (for the ecosystem). Overall, it could be a niche hit, but there’s nothing so far that suggests this is going to blow the world away.

That was sort of true with Sidekick and Android originally, but they seemed like crazy ideas. This one just seems blah.
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Uber fires former Google engineer at heart of self-driving dispute • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:


Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, a vice president of technology and the star engineer leading the company’s self-driving automobile efforts, according to an internal email sent to employees on Tuesday.

Mr. Levandowski’s termination, effective immediately, comes as a result of his involvement in a legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving technology unit spun out of Google last year. Waymo claims that Uber is using trade secrets stolen from Google to develop Uber’s self-driving vehicles, a plan aided by Mr. Levandowski, a former longtime Google employee.

Uber has long denied the accusations. But when Mr. Levandowski was ordered by a federal judge to hand over evidence and testimony to that end, he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, seeking to avoid possible criminal charges, according to his lawyers. Uber has been unable to convince Mr. Levandowski to cooperate.


The soap opera continues.
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Android malware Judy’ hits as many as 36.5 million phones •

David Morris:


While the actual extent of the malicious code’s spread is unknown, Checkpoint says it may have reached as many as 36.5 million users, making it potentially the most widely-spread malware yet found on Google Play. Google removed the apps after being notified by Checkpoint.

The malicious apps primarily included a series of casual cooking and fashion games under the “Judy” brand, a name borrowed for the malware itself. The nefarious nature of the programs went unnoticed in large part, according to Checkpoint, because its malware payload was downloaded from a non-Google server after the programs were installed. The code would then use the infected phone to click on Google ads, generating fraudulent revenue for the attacker.

The infection may have spread even more widely than Checkpoint’s estimates, since not all of the extensive line of “Judy” apps are included on Checkpoint’s tally – it’s missing Fashion Judy: Magic Girl Style and Fashion Judy: Masquerade Style, among others. All installments of the series do appear to have been pulled from Google Play.

The “Judy” apps were published by an apparently Korean entity known as ENISTUDIO. However, iterations of the same attack were found on a handful of apps from other publishers.


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Coming off a slow 2016, smartphone shipment volume expected to recover in 2017 and gain momentum into 2018 • IDC


According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to rebound slightly in 2017 with expected growth of 3.0% over the previous year. In 2016, year-over-year growth was 2.5%, marking the lowest growth the industry has ever experienced. With several major devices entering the market this year, IDC anticipates shipment volumes will grow to 1.52 billion in 2017. And IDC expects this momentum to carry into 2018, when smartphone shipments are forecast to grow 4.5% year over year, fueled by improved economic conditions in many emerging markets and a full year of new iPhone shipments from Apple.


It’s kinda “meh”. Forecast total sales for 2017: 1.5bn. Forecast total sales for 2021: 1.74bn. That’s just 3.4% compound; the smartphone world caught fire, and now we have embers. (Also note that IDC used to be very optimistic about PC sales; then smartphones came along. Never rule out the unexpected.)
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People are creating their own fake news stories and they’re going viral • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman and Sara Spary:


Shrina Begum couldn’t understand why people were calling her Indian restaurant to accuse it of selling human meat. The calls started on May 11, and by the next day Begum says she and her staff had answered hundreds of them.

“Both of our phone lines went off and people starting screaming, ‘Why are you selling human meat?’” she told BuzzFeed News.

Business at Karri Twist, her restaurant in London, soon dropped by half. Begum had to reduce hours for some staff, and she feared the business might not survive the false rumor. “During one of the calls, [my employee] managed to calm a person down to find out where they’d seen this, and they were like, it’s been sent to them via Facebook. I just couldn’t believe it whatsoever.”

Begum eventually tracked down the origin of the false rumor: A website called had published a story claiming that her restaurant, Karri Twist, was caught selling human meat and that its owner had been arrested. The completely fake report, replete with spelling mistakes and the wrong name of the owner, featured a picture of Karri Twist and said nine bodies had been found on the premises in the freezer.

The story looked like any other news report when shared on Facebook, and it quickly spread on the site, as well as on Twitter and WhatsApp. People who clicked on the link were brought to a page with the story, and beside it was text that read, “You’ve Been Pranked! Now Create A Story & Trick Your Friends!”’s homepage is in fact a form that enables anyone to create a fake news story, add an image, and instantly share it on Facebook…

… isn’t an isolated make-your-own-fake-news site. Using domain registration records, BuzzFeed News identified two separate networks that together own at least 30 nearly identical “prank” news sites and that published more than 3,000 fake articles in six languages over the past 12 months. They’re also generating significant engagement on Facebook: The sites collectively earned more than 13 million shares, reactions, and comments on the social network in the last 12 months.


And money. Don’t forget the money. Now view this story in the light of the following one.
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Facebook concerned over German plan to tackle fake news • Business Insider

Sam Shead:


In March, the German government proposed legislation to fine social media companies if they fail to remove slanderous or threatening online postings quickly. The plans were approved by Germany’s cabinet in April but they are yet to come into force.

Now Facebook has responded to the new law, which is being referred to as the “Network Enforcement Act” or “Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz” in German (NetzDG, for short).

The Californian tech giant issued a statement over the weekend explaining why the draft law “is not suitable to combat hate speech and false news.”

In the statement, Facebook says: “The draft law provides an incentive to delete content that is not clearly illegal when social networks face such a disproportionate threat of fines.”

The company added: “It would have the effect of transferring responsibility for complex legal decisions from public authorities to private companies. And several legal experts have assessed the draft law as being against the German constitution and non-compliant with EU law. Facebook is committed to working in partnership with governments and civil society on solutions that will make this draft law unnecessary.”


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Apple is working on a dedicated chip to power AI on devices • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


Apple devices currently handle complex artificial intelligence processes with two different chips: the main processor and the graphics chip. The new chip would let Apple offload those tasks onto a dedicated module designed specifically for demanding artificial intelligence processing, allowing Apple to improve battery performance.

Should Apple bring the chip out of testing and development, it would follow other semiconductor makers that have already introduced dedicated AI chips. Qualcomm Inc.’s latest Snapdragon chip for smartphones has a module for handling artificial intelligence tasks, while Google announced its first chip, called the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), in 2016. That chip worked in Google’s data centers to power search results and image-recognition. At its I/O conference this year, Google announced a new version that will be available to clients of its cloud business. Nvidia Corp. also sells a similar chip to cloud customers.

The Apple AI chip is designed to make significant improvements to Apple’s hardware over time, and the company plans to eventually integrate the chip into many of its devices, including the iPhone and iPad, according to the person with knowledge of the matter. Apple has tested prototypes of future iPhones with the chip, the person said, adding that it’s unclear if the component will be ready this year.


Gurman says it’s known internally as the “Apple Neural Engine”. Makes perfect sense to put it on the phone – leave the GPU and CPU alone where possible.
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AppsFlyer helps mobile advertisers beat back ad fraud via machine learning • VentureBeat

Dean Takahashi:


AppsFlyer is helping mobile game and app developers deal with the severe problem of fraudulent advertising responses via third-party ad networks. In doing so, the company said it has already saved brands tens of millions of dollars since 2016.

Today, the San Francisco-based maker of mobile attribution and marketing analytics is launching Active Fraud Insights 2.0, hoping to set a new marketing industry standard for detecting fraud. The platform leverages metadata from 98% of the world’s mobile devices, and it uses proprietary advances in big data and machine learning. Ad fraud is causing an estimated $7.2 billion to $16.4 billion losses a year.

AppsFlyer’s tool can review ad network partners in an effort to combat mobile fraud, where an ad network or other party creates a fake user that tricks the advertiser into believing that a real human is downloading or using an app or game.


The scale of this is probably a lot bigger than we think.
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India cancels mega plans to build coal power stations due to falling solar energy prices •

Shreya Kalra:


13.7GW of planned coal power projects have been cancelled so far this month and this goes to show the rate of change regarding solar energy.

In January 2016, Fortum, a Finnish company, got on board to generate electricity in Rajasthan at record low prices.

The Director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said, “For the first time solar is cheaper than coal in India and the implications this has for transforming global energy markets is profound.

“Measures taken by the Indian Government to improve energy efficiency coupled with ambitious renewable energy targets and the plummeting cost of solar has had an impact on existing as well as proposed coal fired power plants, rendering an increasing number as financially unviable.

“India’s solar tariffs have literally been free falling in recent months.” According to him investors from the world over are interested in India’s fast-growing solar market.


Lots of debate in the comments about how useful solar really is to satisfy base load. But nobody expects it to be base load.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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