Start Up: the attention economy crash, Tories on Facebook, Yosemite solo, Google’s sex data exit?, and more

Guess how long it will take identity thieves to try to use your data online? Photo by mag3737 on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Yeah, we’re carrying on as usual. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The great reckoning in digital attention •

Andrew Motalenti:


The attention economy is broken… [and] consumers — you and me — are the ones footing the bill. We see increasingly slow page load times for publisher pages which are bloated with ad tech vendor code; increasingly invasive ads from brands who are desperate to catch a click; and, a media trend toward outrage, rather than thoughtful debate.

On this last point: it is outrage, not truth, that prevails in an Internet economy built around attention capture and auction, which is how our programmatic digital advertising ecosystem works.

This is because outrage — through a quirk of societal and brain evolution — is more effective at capturing our time. Indeed, as we’ve been learning, outrage decoupled from truth is one of the most engaging forms of content on the web.

“Fake news” isn’t a Russian conspiracy to undermine our democracy; it is, instead, the end-state of an unhealthy race-to-the-bottom for consumer attention.

And yes, we’ve hit the bottom.

Just think through where we are now: Google perpetually records your voice, your search queries, your location, and your browser history. Facebook has enough data on you, your friends, and your personality to persuade you emotionally and politically.

Meanwhile, the rest of the web is frantically trying to catch up. That is, thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of sites are trying to catch up to a state of complete and total digital surveillance. Even though this milestone has already been achieved — on multi-billion-user scale — by the top two players.

The first step to a solution is to admit this much: we have a problem. I think we can all agree we need to send digital advertising to rehab.


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How the Tories are paying to push anti-Corbyn ads into your Facebook feed • Buzzfeed

Jim Waterson:


The Conservatives are using Facebook to bombard key target seats with paid-for adverts attacking Jeremy Corbyn, according to data obtained by BuzzFeed News that reveals for the first time the full extent of the party’s under-the-radar online campaign blitz.

Dozens of different variations of Tory ads, some of which have already been viewed by millions of people, have been spotted online. The vast majority feature starkly negative messages and focus on Corbyn’s leadership style, his supposed inability to lead Brexit negotiations, and claims that he is a security risk who would put up taxes.

Voters in crucial constituencies such as Wirral West, Bath, and Twickenham have been targeted by the anti-Corbyn adverts, which enable national spending to be diverted to support what are essentially local campaigns without breaking electoral spending laws.

Seats the Conservatives hope to gain – including Walsall North, Hampstead and Kilburn, and Brentford and Isleworth – have been targeted by videos warning the UK faces a Brexit disaster if Corbyn is allowed to carry out negotiations.

Meanwhile, voters in York Central, Normanton, and Ynys Mons – all traditional Labour-leaning areas – have been shown adverts in their Facebook feeds emphasising Theresa May’s leadership qualities.

Paid-for online advertising is remarkably difficult to track and it is difficult for journalists to monitor the reach of these adverts. Data provided to BuzzFeed News by users of the Who Targets Me service allows us for the first time to see a sample of who is being targeted by the Conservative campaign.


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How fast will identity thieves use stolen info? • FTC

Ari Lazarus:


If you’ve been affected by a data breach, or otherwise had your information hacked or stolen, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What happens when my stolen information is made public?” At the FTC’s Identity Theft workshop this morning, our Office of Technology staff reported on research they did to find out.

First, they created a database of information about 100 fake consumers. To make the information realistic, they used popular names based on Census data, addresses from across the country, email addresses that used common email address naming conventions, phone numbers that corresponded to the addresses, and one of three types of payment information (an online payment service, a bitcoin wallet or a credit card).

They then posted the data on two different occasions on a website that hackers and others use to make stolen credentials public. The criminals were quick to pounce. After the second posting, it took only nine minutes before crooks tried to access the information.


The research slides really repay some reading: attempted credit card purchases running to thousands of dollars.
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Alex Honnold climbs Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope • National Geographic

Mark Synnott:


It’s hard to overstate the physical and mental difficulties of a free solo ascent of the peak, which is considered by many to be the epicenter of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. From the meadow at the foot of El Capitan, climbers on the peak’s upper reaches are practically invisible to the naked eye.

“This is the ‘moon landing’ of free soloing,” said Tommy Caldwell, who made his own history in 2015 with his ascent of the Dawn Wall, El Capitan’s most difficult climb, on which he and his partner Kevin Jorgeson used ropes and other equipment only for safety, not to aid their progress.

(What Caldwell and Jorgeson did is called free climbing, which means climbers use no gear to help them move up the mountain and are attached to ropes only to catch them if they fall. Free soloing is when a climber is alone and uses no ropes or any other equipment that aids or protects him as he climbs, leaving no margin of error.)

Climbers have been speculating for years about a possible free solo of El Capitan, but there have only been two other people who have publicly said they seriously considered it. One was Michael Reardon, a free soloist who drowned in 2007 after being swept from a ledge below a sea cliff in Ireland. The other was Dean Potter, who died in a base jumping accident in Yosemite in 2015.


I used to like soloing. Then I took a 30-foot fall onto solid ground. I recovered, but my enjoyment of soloing didn’t. I’m glad Honnold survived. There are some pictures if you want a vicarious moment of terror.
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Spigen accuses Andy Rubin’s company Essential Products of trademark infringement • Android Police

Scott Scrivens:


Andy Rubin has only just announced his much-anticipated new smartphone, but his company may already be in legal hot water over the infringement of intellectual property. It’s been brought to our attention that Spigen, the US case and accessory maker, already has a trademark for the term “Essential” and has written to Rubin’s organization to contest its use. The letter firmly compels Rubin’s fledgling company to “cease and desist from any and all uses of marks including the term “Essential”.”

Spigen, Inc. successfully registered the trademark (Reg. No. 5014095) as early as August 2016. It’s an International Class. 9 mark, the category which relates to computers and scientific devices, including smartphones and accessories. The trademark itself is incredibly broad, and Spigen seemingly only uses the designation for a range of battery packs and chargers, as well as some bluetooth headphones. Despite the vagueness, Essential’s use of the name still presents potential confusion for consumers, which is exactly what Spigen is alleging.

[Rubin’s] Essential had its own registration for the “Essential” term refused on the basis of likely confusion with Spigen’s trademark.


Seems like Rubin is trying to emulate Steve Jobs (who launched the iPhone when Cisco already owned the name) in another way. He might (almost surely will) be able to buy the trademark, but it’s an expense that could have been foregone.
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‘Blame the internet’ is just not a good enough response, Theresa May • The Guardian

I wrote about Theresa May’s response to the London Bridge attack:


“The kneejerk ‘blame the internet’ that comes after every act of terrorism is so blatant as to be embarrassing,” commented Paul Bernal, a law lecturer at the University of East Anglia who has worked with the police. The pressure, he says, comes from the politicians. For an example look no further than John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw since 2001, who this morning said: “I repeat, yet again, my call for the internet companies who terrorists have again used to communicate to be held legally liable for content.”

Perhaps he has forgotten the 1970s, when in the pre-mobile phone era the IRA would use phones to organise its attacks – without anyone calling for (nor were there online social networks to “radicalise” would-be IRA members, but still they joined). The authoritarian sweep of Mann’s idea is chilling: since legal liability is meant to deter, the companies would need people to monitor every word you wrote, every video you watched, and compare it against some manual of dissent. It’s like a playbook for the dystopia of Gilead, in The Handmaid’s Tale (which, weirdly enough, most resembles Islamic State’s framework for living).

The problem is this: things can be done, but they open a Pandora’s box.


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‘Sensitive’ UK terror funding inquiry may never be published • The Guardian

Jessica Elgot:


An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.

The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.

The investigation was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015.

Tom Brake, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that the investigation will not be shelved.

The Observer reported in January last year that the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit had been directed by Downing Street to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to Theresa May, then home secretary, and Cameron.


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2011: Anatomy of a crushing • Pinboard blog

Maciej Ceglowski in March 2011 recalls what happened the previous time Delicious got closed – or as good as closed:


A number of people asked about the technical aspects of the great Delicious exodus of 2010, and I’ve finally had some time to write it up. Note that times on all the graphs are UTC.

On December 16th Yahoo held an all-hands meeting to rally the troops after a big round of layoffs. Around 11 AM someone at this meeting showed a slide with a couple of Yahoo properties grouped into three categories, one of which was ominously called “sunset”. The most prominent logo in the group belonged to Delicious, our main competitor. Milliseconds later, the slide was on the web, and there was an ominous thundering sound as every Delicious user in North America raced for the exit. [*]

I got the message just as I was starting work for the day. My Twitter client, normally a place where I might see ten or twenty daily mentions of Pinboard, had turned into a nonstop blur of updates. My inbox was making a kind of sustained pealing sound I had never heard before. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.

Before this moment, our relationship to Delicious had been that of a tick to an elephant. We were a niche site and in the course of eighteen months had siphoned off about six thousand users from our massive competitor, a pace I was was very happy with and hoped to sustain through 2011. But now the Senior Vice President for Bad Decisions at Yahoo had decided to give us a little help.

I’ve previously posted this graph of Pinboard web traffic on the days immediately before and after the Delicious announcement. That small blue bar at bottom shows normal traffic levels from the week before. The two teal mountain peaks correspond to midday traffic on December 16 and 17th.


There’s lot of great detail for anyone who designs web databases for a living, or even amusement. And I think that Yahoo at that time had multiple Senior Vice Presidents for Bad Decisions.
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Eric Schmidt publicly defends Jared Kushner. Next day, Trump shutting DoL division investigating Google • Pando

Sarah Lacy:


What, you might wonder (and Google staff certainly did) would Schmidt or any Silicon Valley leader stand to gain from being one of the only on the record sources defending Kushner [in a New York Times article] just as the Russia scandal was engulfing the President’s son in law?

That’s a good question.

Because the very next day this stunning news broke:


The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.


That’s right: As luck would have it, three days after the Department of Labor reminded Google that compliance with its anti-discrimination investigation was the price of being a government contractor, and just hours after Eric Schmidt issues his bizarre public defense of Jared Kushner, news broke that the Trump administration was planning to disband the organization doing the investigation…

…It is not a coincidence that many of the most powerful women in tech – Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Wojcicki – all built their careers and names at Google.

And yet, many of these same women have told me that Google wasn’t this way because of the founders or the male senior leadership. It was this way because it employed senior women early on, who advocated for other women. Google does this better than many companies, but there are still scores of stories of harassment, stealing credit from female employees, unwanted advances and discrimination.


I’m willing to think that Schmidt was just buttering up the utterly useless Kushner because buttering up people in powerful offices is what Schmidt does. But I also think that he might have previously let slip to Kushner – or people who actually do have some clout – that this Department of Labor investigation was such an obstacle to getting things done, and, well, he’d love for Google to be helping out with building the wall/opening coal plants/whatever, but… *turns up hands*.

And the White House, meanwhile, has blocked the release of who visits and how often, so you don’t know if Schmidt has been lobbying hard for this.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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