Start Up: Facebook’s weird censorship, Google v Canada, Petya the wiper?, iPad Pro and con, and more

Just the place to unlock your smartphone! And next year’s phone will be able to. Photo by 海正藍~A on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook’s secret censorship rules protect white men from hate speech but not black children • ProPublica

Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger:


In the wake of a terrorist attack in London earlier this month, a U.S. congressman wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Higgins’ plea for violent revenge went untouched by Facebook workers who scour the social network deleting offensive speech.

But a May posting on Facebook by Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado drew a different response.

“All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” Delgado wrote. The post was removed and her Facebook account was disabled for seven days.

A trove of internal documents reviewed by ProPublica sheds new light on the secret guidelines that Facebook’s censors use to distinguish between hate speech and legitimate political expression. The documents reveal the rationale behind seemingly inconsistent decisions. For instance, Higgins’ incitement to violence passed muster because it targeted a specific sub-group of Muslims — those that are “radicalized” — while Delgado’s post was deleted for attacking whites in general…

…While Facebook was credited during the 2010-2011 “Arab Spring” with facilitating uprisings against authoritarian regimes, the documents suggest that, at least in some instances, the company’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities. In so doing, they serve the business interests of the global company, which relies on national governments not to block its service to their citizens.


Just amazing. It’s a looking-glass world; the bizarre cultural norms of Silicon Valley applied to the globe.
link to this extract

Google loses Supreme Court of Canada case over search results •

Jeff John Roberts:


The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Google on Wednesday in a closely-watched intellectual property case over whether judges can apply their own country’s laws to all of the Internet.

In a 7-2 decision, the court agreed a British Columbia judge had the power to issue an injunction forcing Google to scrub search results about pirated products not just in Canada, but everywhere else in the world too.

Those siding with Google, including civil liberties groups, had warned that allowing the injunction would harm free speech, setting a precedent to let any judge anywhere order a global ban on what appears on search engines. The Canadian Supreme Court, however, downplayed this objection and called Google’s fears “theoretical.”

“This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values, it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders. We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods,” wrote Judge Rosalie Abella.


Google’s not having a good week in the courts.
link to this extract

Google faces years of EU oversight on top of record antitrust fine • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee and Eric Auchard:


The real sting is not from the fine for anti-competitive practices in shopping search but the way the EU has thrown the issue back to Google to solve, meaning the company won’t be able to comply through an easy set of technical steps.

In effect, the Commission is forcing Google to demonstrate that rivals have made substantial inroads into its businesses before there is much chance of it being let off the regulatory hook.

EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager promised Google was in for years of monitoring to guard against further abuses.

“Just being put on notice can limit Google’s strategic options into the future,” said Matti Littunen, a digital media and online advertising analyst with Enders Analysis in London.

The EU’s 2004 ruling that Microsoft Corp had abused its dominant market position in Windows and other markets is now seen as having curtailed the software giants moves over the subsequent decade to expand more quickly into emerging markets such as online advertising, opening the way for Google’s rise.

Putting the onus on the company underlines regulators’ limited knowledge of modern technologies and their complexity, said Fordham Law School Professor Mark Patterson.

“The decision shows the difficulty of regulating algorithm-based internet firms,” he said. “Antitrust remedies usually direct firms that have violated antitrust laws to stop certain behaviour or, less often, to implement particular fixes.

“This decision just tells Google to apply ‘equal treatment,’ not how to do that”.


link to this extract

Google on track for quantum computer breakthrough by end of 2017 • New Scientist

Matt Reynolds:


The company is testing a 20-qubit processor – its most powerful quantum chip yet – and is on target to have a working 49-qubit chip by the end of this year.

Qubits, or quantum bits, can be a mixture of 0 and 1 at the same time, making them potentially more powerful than classical bits.

And if everything goes to plan, the 49-qubit chip will make Google the first to build a quantum computer capable of solving certain problems that are beyond the abilities of ordinary computers. Google set itself this ambitious goal, known as quantum supremacy, in a paper published last July.

Alan Ho, an engineer in Google’s quantum AI lab, revealed the company’s progress at a quantum computing conference in Munich, Germany. His team is currently working with a 20-qubit system that has a “two-qubit fidelity” of 99.5% – a measure of how error-prone the processor is, with a higher rating equating to fewer errors.

For quantum supremacy, Google will need to build a 49-qubit system with a two-qubit fidelity of at least 99.7%. Ho is confident his team will deliver this system by the end of this year. Until now, the company’s best public effort was a 9-qubit computer built in 2015.


Very hard to know what to make of this. Is it the fabled “instant code cracker” of yore? Or something better suited to biology problems. I’ve been writing about quantum computing since 2000 or so, and while there are more (qu)bits, the applications remain elusive.
link to this extract

Petya.2017 is a wiper, not a ransomware • Comae Technologies

Matt Suiche:


We believe the ransomware was in fact a lure to control the media narrative, especially after the WannaCry incidents to attract the attention on some mysterious hacker group rather than a national state attacker like we have seen in the past in cases that involved wipers such as Shamoon.

Lately, the number of attacks against Ukraine increased from Power Grids being shut down to the car a top military intelligence officer exploding yesterday — the day Petya.2017 infected Ukraine.

The fact of pretending to be a ransomware while being in fact a nation state attack — especially since WannaCry proved that widely spread ransomware aren’t financially profitable — is in our opinion a very subtle way from the attacker to control the narrative of the attack.


A “wiper” simply ruins the first or more sectors of the boot disc, meaning that you can’t recover your files. Petya’s email address has been shut down too. The emerging narrative is that this is North Korea or Russia: the latter would be aiming at zapping systems in Ukraine, where the first infections were spotted.
link to this extract

iPad Pro: You do You! • Tech.pinions

Carolina Milanesi on using the iPad Pro as a main work device (a step that Joshua Topolsky has said is unreasonable, impossible and possibly also mad, bad and dangerous to know):


Before I moved to the iPad Pro I had to embrace the cloud. This step was crucial in empowering me to use the best device for the job at any given time. When I travel, mobility trumps everything else. Going through a little pain that a smaller screen and keyboard imply is well worth the advantage of cellular connectivity, instant on, all-day battery and the ability to dump all in one purse.

What does a normal day at the office entail for me? Well usually I engage in most of the following: reading articles, reports, papers and books, writing, social media interactions, listening and recording podcasts, email, messaging, data analysis and creating or reviewing presentations.

I could perform all of those tasks on an iPad Pro as well as on a MacBook and a PC. What differed is which task was best executed on each device. Anything touch first was better on my iPad Pro or on my Surface Pro as was anything that supported pencil or inking. The MacBook Pro and Surface were slightly better with Office apps but mainly because of the larger screen and the better keyboard. The iPad Pro still offered a better balance of work and play thanks to the larger ecosystem and better apps and partly because Surface is held back by a Windows 10 jargon that makes it walk and talk too much like a PC.


She then lists a number of features in iOS 11 which make it much easier to use. The point is that if you try to make an iPad “be” a PC, it won’t – rather as a PC isn’t a tablet. But there’s a prevailing view that the two should be equivalent, as you’ll see in the next link…
link to this extract

iOS 11 on an iPad Pro still won’t replace your laptop • The Verge

Tom Warren critiques the multitasking interface on iOS 11, and then looks at the touchscreen/mouse question:


Microsoft attempted to force its Windows 8 interface onto traditional PCs in a vague hope that it would get more tablet apps and boost its mobile efforts. Windows 8 users hated this, because they were used to using a keyboard and mouse for tasks and precision. Equally, Apple is forcing people to use a touchscreen for productivity and it’s confusing its message with optional keyboard and stylus additions to the iPad Pro. This keyboard doesn’t have a trackpad for precision, and you’re forced to move your hands from the keys to reach out and touch most of the time you want to interact. Yes, there are keyboard shortcuts that help, but a lack of mouse input feels unnatural if you’re used to a laptop.

Apple has caved on keyboard and stylus support for the iPad, so it might seem obvious that the company will eventually implement some type of mouse support. I’m not convinced it will, as Apple’s iOS hardware is primarily designed around touch. Apple sees touch as the future, and the iPad is slowly heralding that future. Drag and drop in iOS 11 is an excellent example of that, and a window into the future of the iPad. Software developers have been eagerly awaiting such a feature, and perhaps now they’ll start to invest in more complex and productivity-focused app for the iPad. There are some, like the Aviary photo editor, that are truly great examples of our touch future, but there aren’t enough.


I think this is, as Milanesi says, a failure to grasp what “working on an iPad” is about. If we’d only had iPads, and someone invented laptops, you’d say
– terrible battery life
– so heavy!
– why isn’t it touchscreen?
– the ability to angle the screen is good
– all these overlapping windows make a horrendous mess
– jeez, all the FOLDERS and FILES. Don’t these programs know what files are theirs?
– you can write software, a bit like Workflow only much more text-y. Kinda cool.

And so on. (I may explore this theme at a later date.)
link to this extract

Pandora’s radio service revolutionized music but its chances of surviving look shaky in an Apple and Spotify world • Quartz

Amy Wang (not, I think, the one from Futurama):


Pandora’s slow death is not an unfamiliar tale in the entertainment industry. A company introduces a novel idea, and then it’s beat out by bigger and better companies that take that idea to the next level. Yet with Pandora, the story is particularly sad. It seemed to sit idly by, unaware of its full potential, as Spotify, Apple Music, and the new wave of on-demand music streaming services took its core ideas of instant delivery and automated recommendations and used them to topple Pandora’s internet radio empire.

In late 2015, Pandora—playing a game of much-too-late catch-up—spent $75 million on streaming service Rdio, and in late 2016, it proudly unveiled Pandora Premium, a subscription service meant to complete with the likes of the streaming giants. Not even a month later, it was forced to lay off 7% of its US workforce. The company still reports around 80 million active users, but only 4 million of those are on the paid tier, with the rest freeloading off the original, ad-supported service. (Compare that to nine-year-old Spotify, which boasts 140 million users, 50 million of them on a paid tier.)

With [founder and CEO Tim] Westergren’s departure as CEO now, the odds of long-term survival aren’t in Pandora’s favor, and the Greek tragedy will likely continue unfolding before our eyes.


I dug into Pandora’s financials recently; they’re pretty horrendous. Since going public in 2012, it has made a cumulative operating loss of over $500m, at about -10% margins; and in the past few quarters the negative margin has been growing. It’s not going to be independent for long on that basis.
link to this extract

It’s happening: Qualcomm is building fingerprint scanners that go inside your phone’s screen, coming in 2018 • Android Police

David Ruddock:


We’ve been waiting years for this moment, and it looks like Qualcomm will be the first one to deliver on our dreams: fingerprint scanners that go directly underneath your phone’s display panel. At MWC Shanghai today, Qualcomm announced that it will be supplying these futuristic scanners – a new business for the company – starting in summer 2018.

Qualcomm’s design utilizes the company’s previously-announced ultrasonic fingerprint detection method. Because of its use of ultrasonics – as opposed to capacitance – Qualcomm says this fingerprint scanner design makes it much easier to “see” through your smartphone’s display panel to take a fingerprint read… as long as it’s not too thick. The catch is that Qualcomm’s design will only work when implemented on an OLED panel under 1200 μm thick. That leaves LCDs out of the running.

Qualcomm’s sensor can even go beyond reading fingerprints, with the ability to detect heart rate and blood flow, something a traditional capacitive fingerprint scanner really isn’t capable of. And yes, it works with the screen on or off – it doesn’t matter. Qualcomm says its solution will be just as quick as fingerprint scanners on modern high-end smartphones, and it even works underwater, where capacitive fingerprint scanners are basically useless. Because the sensor sits under the display panel, there’s also no hole that needs to be drilled into the device to add it in anymore, making producing a waterproof smartphone even easier.


One wonders if Apple is already up on this (given the persistent rumours about the next iPhone) which would mean it could have a year’s lead or more, as the “summer 2018” timetable for Qualcomm means it won’t be in other phones until late 2018 at the earliest.

Still: “works underwater”! Everyone wants to unlock their phone in the swimming pool. But what about leaks through the damn headphone jack?
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up: Facebook’s weird censorship, Google v Canada, Petya the wiper?, iPad Pro and con, and more

  1. I’m fascinated when these “cultural norms” get written out, in detail. That is, when someone can’t just blather “We must not allow hate speech, the bad stuff, the evil words, that which is ungood, etc.”. But rather must be specific about what is meant. If the President of the United States states “I propose policy X against group Y, because Z”, are you really going to have someone delete it from social media due to being against the rules? That’s playing at a very high level, to say the least. If not, what if someone then says “I agree with the President’s statement that (repeat), and I urge my fellow citizens to support this action”. Can the President say it but nobody else? Senators? Governors? How about mere candidates? Grassroots activists? That’s just one situation.

    By the way, it’s not really “the cultural norms of Silicon Valley”. I know what you mean by that phrase, but the cultural norms of Silicon Valley held you can’t donate to oppose gay marriage, for example (Br*ndan E*ch). But I believe a Facebook page funding-raising for opposition to gay marriage would be permitted. Sigh, I have to disclaim I’ve always supported gay marriage. Simply noting the previous, does not mean I approve of the opposition. The same norms also are now debating about if one can be a big donor and vocal supporter of Trump. Again, I believe that’s acceptable to Facebook. This is the definitional problem of hate speech in the most abstract sense.

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