Start Up: Facebook’s election row, more Uber shocks, iOS 11: NFC+QR, the truth on terror, and more


Just another family day with the Sony VR headset. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik 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.

Facebook election turns into a protest • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

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Among those who cast ballots in the company’s annual stockholder election last week, about 79% of shares not controlled by Mark Zuckerberg voted in favor of a proposal to wipe away a special class of stock that gives him majority control of Facebook. 

Zuckerberg’s right to vote 10 of his shares for every one held by ordinary stockholders is the reason he controls Facebook, even though he owns only 14% of the total. The CEO’s supervoting power was well understood when Facebook went public in 2012. People who bought Facebook shares then and since have essentially agreed to allow Zuckerberg to do whatever he wants even if all other shareholders disagree. Similar supersized stock structures exist to empower founders at Google’s parent company, Workday, Snapchat and other companies.

And yet eight in 10 votes from those other than Zuckerberg were cast in favor of a proposal to essentially undo the CEO’s special class of stock. The election result won’t change anything because Zuckerberg’s votes are the only ones that matter. Including his extra-powerful shares, about 20% of ballots were cast for the proposal, according to a tally Facebook disclosed late Tuesday.

Still, the rejection by shareholders outside the company is an embarrassing result for Facebook and its board of directors, which has already faced criticism and litigation for going along with Zuckerberg’s proposal last year to solidify his majority voting power in perpetuity. 

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As someone said at the Power Switch conference in Cambridge in spring, what happens when Zuckerberg dies? Because he will. Who gets to own all those shares? How do we know they won’t be malicious? Why shouldn’t the control be widened now?
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A top Uber executive, who obtained the medical records of a customer who was a rape victim, is fired • Recode

Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:

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A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources.

He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them by this group.

Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber…

…Alexander had not been among those fired, Uber said yesterday when asked about his status. Now, after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he is no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further.

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You might have thought that Uber couldn’t surprise anymore. Wrong!
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August 2016: Whyd announces its voice-controlled connected speaker for $299 • TechCrunch

Romain Dillet, in August 2016:

»

So what makes this speaker different from the 458 other speakers out there? It starts with the design. The bold, pill-shaped design will stand out in your living room. I don’t think everyone will like it, but it’s definitely not a boring design. Whyd will sell five different pastel colors. The speaker doesn’t ship with a battery so you’ll have to plug it your wall at all times.

The Whyd speaker connects over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, works with AirPlay and Spotify Connect, and can stream music from many different music streaming services out of the box. Whyd is compatible with Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Tidal, Deezer and Google Play Music.

But the main differentiating factor is that Whyd has been working on natural language processing, integrating with Google Cloud Speech and optimizing for music playback. The company bundled multiple microphones and optimized them for long-range queries with noise cancelling technology. This way, you can launch a playlist, play a specific song or look up an artist with your voice. If you want to play an obscure remix on SoundCloud, you don’t have to dig around in the SoundCloud app, you can look it up with your voice. Think about it as a sort of Amazon Echo, but with a better sound and a focus on music.

«

The first batch sold out; now it plans to sell them for $499. Hope it has plenty in production before December…
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iOS 11 could use the iPhone’s NFC chip for more than Apple Pay • Engadget

Andrew Dalton:

»

Although the feature didn’t get any airtime onstage Monday, iOS 11 Beta adds support for Core NFC to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. (And presumably future hardware as well.) In release docs, Core NFC is described as “a new framework for reading Near Field Communications (NFC) tags and data in NFC Data Exchange Format.” At the moment, the iPhone’s NFC chip is useless for anything other than Apple’s in-house payment system, but the new framework appears to let the chip in the latest iPhones read any tags — not just Apple Pay tags — and take action on them based on the phone’s location. NFC could open up more ways for iOS apps to communicate with connected devices and iPhones could also replace NFC-based keycards or transit passes like London’s Oyster card and the Bay Area’s Clipper card. In theory, Core NFC could also enable functions like tap-to-pair Bluetooth speakers — something Android users have been enjoying for awhile now — but it’s possible Apple could block such features to keep the “magic” pairing experience limited to AirPods and other devices with its proprietary W1 chip.

On the other hand, opening NFC could also invite potential privacy issues onto iOS. Like Bluetooth Beacons, NFC tags allow for seamless, location-based interactions for better or worse. While the ability to tap your phone to a movie poster and instantly bring up the trailer might seem magical, even anonymous data gathered from those sorts of interactions can paint a startling clear picture of a consumer.

«

Wonder if Apple will seek some way to anonymise those interactions. But it’s good to finally get these functions; as said, these have been around for years on other platforms.
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How to scan QR Codes In iOS 11 camera app • Redmond Pie

Paul Morris:

»

Apple has offered developers access to a barcode scanning framework in the iOS SDK for quite some time now, but it seems that one new feature within iOS 11 is the ability to natively scan QR codes without needing any additional software. If you are opting to run an iOS 11 beta, and love the idea of welcoming in a QR code resurgence, then follow the simple steps below to see how to interact with QR codes in iOS 11.

Step 1: With iOS 11 installed, launch the stock Camera app on the device. There’s nothing third-party needed here and certainly no downloads from the App Store required.

Step 2: Next, you can’t scan a QR code without the presence of a QR code. Make sure you have some literature with a QR code printed on it or generate your own from the Internet with some arbitrary text in.

Step 3: Using the native Camera app, point it at the QR code, which will either be in print or on a display, and tap on the screen to focus if required.

Step 4: And that is literally all that you need to do. The QR code will be recognized. The information will be extracted. And you will be presented with whatever the payload of that QR code is without having to use any additional third-party apps or readers.

«

Aimed at the Chinese market where you can’t move without QR scanning, at a guess.
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Fidget Spinner • Fidgetspin

Before you turn away, it’s not a real one – it’s an HTML5 one. Only seems to work on Google Chrome, and a bit tricky to figure out how to get it to spin at first. But probably cheaper in the long run than a physical one.
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Many terrorists’ first victims are their wives – but we’re not allowed to talk about that • New Statesman

Helen Lewis:

»

Over the last few days, I have been left completely dejected by the debate which followed the London Bridge attacks. We’ve had a big public argument about greater police numbers, when the police response was exemplary. We’ve had Ukip calling for internment camps for some or all of the 3,000 people the security services believe might be actively contemplating an attack.

What we haven’t talked about, what it feels like we can never talk about, is male violence. And yet that threads through these stories in so many ways. Take our prisons, which the government worries are a source of radicalisation, even to the extent that Liz Truss has called for special units to isolate radical inmates. Prisons are primarily a problem of men: there are 81,000 of them in British jails, compared with just under 4,000 women. Prisons are overcrowded and underfunded, and they end up being the gutter into which men who have been failed by other services wash out. And then they are released, only to wash back in again. Prisons are both boring and frightening places to be: no wonder young inmates are at risk of radicalisation there, no wonder they seek out a sense of belonging. 

Then there are the red flags which are missed because we don’t take domestic violence seriously enough. The whole women’s sector is underfunded, and refuge provision is patchy. The budget cuts of the last few years have hit black and minority ethnic women’s services particularly hard – see the regular protests by Sisters Uncut. The first victim of a terrorist is often his wife. If she doesn’t have anywhere to turn, if she doesn’t have anyone to tell, then we are missing chances to stop these men in their tracks. If women’s services had better contact with minority groups, we could find out earlier which men had already turned to violence – in their own homes.

Despite this, talking about male violence in the context of terrorism is treated like derailing – like you’ve mounted your feminist hobby horse when the grown-ups were talking. The people who control the discussion of Islamist terrorism don’t want to talk about this stuff.

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Tremendously important – multiple people who later went on to carry out terror attacks first began by attacking their wife or female partner. It’s a huge problem, though: 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, says Refuge.

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Sony’s PlayStation VR headset sales top one million units • Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Yoshiyasu Shida:

»

Sony Corp has sold more than one million units of its virtual reality (VR) headset globally, the Asia chief of the Japanese firm’s gaming unit said on Wednesday, as a relatively low price helps push the product into an early lead.

Sales of the PlayStation VR headset, released in October, have “exceeded our expectations,” Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia, said in an interview.

“We are boosting production and a supply shortage should be solved accordingly,” Morita told Reuters.

The sales momentum supports analysts’ view that Sony is in a good position to build an early lead in the high-end VR headset race with its more modest price tag and by tapping the nearly 60 million users of its flagship PlayStation 4 console.

The headset, designed to work with the PlayStation 4 rather than requiring new equipment, retails at $399, cheaper than Facebook Inc’s $599 Oculus Rift and HTC Corp’s $799 Vive.

According to researcher IDC, about 2 million VR headsets were shipped worldwide in the first three months of 2017. Excluding cheaper smartphone-based headsets, Sony ranked top with 429,000 units.

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Sony is clearly winning this phase of the battle. Question is how much bigger, if at all, it will get. I’d love to see usage stats on VR headsets too.
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Fitbit and Intel circle for Moov buyout • Wareable

James Stables:

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Our source revealed that Moov has been talking to Intel’s partnership team about a possible buyout, which would see Intel add Moov’s algorithm to its tech.

“They have had half a dozen calls and two meetings,” our source said. “Conversations have been around adding Moov to their Curie offering due to the algorithms that Intel simply cannot duplicate.”

Recounting a conversation with Intel’s partnerships exec, Intel has become interested in an acquisition after it “missed with their wearable devices in the past with companies such as Basis.” Our source said that Intel believes that buying Moov “allows them to offer more through their licensing arm of the company.”

Of course, Intel is only one half of the story. We’d be surprised if Fitbit wasn’t looking to buy Moov to add to its fitness proposition, yet our source had less detail on this particular aspect of the buyout. “With Fitbit, these rumours popped up in the past five weeks. All have been based around their wellness and initiative.”

The company has already been busy snapping up companies for the Fitbit smartwatch project, namely smartwatch starter Pebble and luxury-wannabe Vector. But would Moov be part of that too?

“That’s what the Moov guys initially thought,” said our source. “But the algorithm wouldn’t work in the watch. As you know one must wear Moov on their ankles sometimes.”

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I get the feeling the writer is putting too much on the one source, who knows about Intel but not Fitbit, which is struggling to incorporate its recent acquisitions. Adding Moov too feels like an overreach which it isn’t even considering.
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Kaspersky files antitrust complaints against Microsoft in Europe • The Seattle Times

Matt Day:

»

Eugene Kaspersky, co-founder of the Russian cybersecurity firm, said Tuesday that the company had recently filed antitrust complaints with the European Commission and Germany’s Federal Cartel Office. Kaspersky had raised the issue with Russia’s antitrust regulator in November.

“We see clearly – and are ready to prove – that Microsoft uses its dominant position in the computer operating system market to fiercely promote its own – inferior – security software,” Kaspersky said.

In many cases, Kaspersky says, customers who update their operating system to Windows 10 from older versions find that their Kaspersky antivirus tools have been deleted or disabled. The company also criticized Microsoft for making it impossible to remove Windows Defender, Microsoft’s own antivirus software, in some editions of Windows.

In a statement, Microsoft said its aim was to protect Windows users, and “we are confident that the security features of Windows 10 comply with competition laws.”

Microsoft said it had reached out to Kaspersky months ago to arrange a meeting between executives to address the concerns, but that gathering has not taken place.

Following Kaspersky’s complaint in Russia, regulators there held hearings on Microsoft’s antivirus policies in Windows 10. They haven’t reached a conclusion.

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Conventional antitrust theory – does the customer lose out by the annexation of the AV (antivirus) market by Microsoft through its control of the OS? – would suggest there is, at least, a case to answer. The key difference from, say, the browser/OS example is that Microsoft isn’t threatening OEMs, since they don’t have an option about including Defender (and many do offer other AV software, which the AV vendors are charged for).

At the same time, the price of AV software to the consumer has already effectively fallen to zero. There’s no consumer surplus to go round; only consumer disbenefit.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: Facebook’s election row, more Uber shocks, iOS 11: NFC+QR, the truth on terror, and more

  1. Re QR codes: bus stops in my French city have QR codes you can scan to get real-time info on when the the few next buses are. You can also send a text or use the app, but I find myself usually scanning ‘coz it’s faster unless there’s a crowd.
    Also used for initial 2FA setup.
    Maybe they moved Marseilles to China and nobody told me ?

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