Start Up: Citymapper’s (K)Night Rider, Twitter’s abuse numbers, dark web goes darker, and more


Why is it Netflix makes money, while Spotify loses it, when they’re growing at the same rate? Photo by Javier Dominguez Ferrero on Flickr

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

CM2- Night Rider, our first ££ commercial bus route • Citymapper

Citymapper is starting a night bus, after analysing peoples’ travel needs and where they go. It’s all mod cons; looks very swish. And for the international readers:

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Note to Silicon Valley: it’s a social hyper-local multi-passenger pooled vehicle
Our geo-matching technology routes the multi-seated vehicles to specially calculated lat long locations, which optimise the boarding of multiple homosapiens with varied demographics, while minimising waiting times, leading to efficient overall ETAs.

Note to rest of the world: it’s a bus
A proper bus, since this is a busy route. We will use bus stops just like any other bus. We will operate hop on hop off just like any other bus. The buses will be green though of course.

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But all of it is worth a read. Going from a free app to a paid-for bus is a neat idea.
link to this extract


Twitter touts progress combating abuse, but repeat victims remain frustrated • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:

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It’s been just over seven months since Twitter pledged to move faster to combat the systemic abuse problem that has plagued it for a decade, and the company claims to have made dramatic improvements in that time.

In a Thursday blog post by Ed Ho, Twitter’s general manager of the consumer product and engineering groups, the company said that users are “experiencing significantly less abuse on Twitter today than they were six months ago.” The company also touted, for the first time, statistics about its progress on combating abuse. According to Ho, Twitter is “taking action on 10x the number of abusive accounts every day compared to the same time last year” and has limited account functionality and suspended “thousands more abusive accounts each day” compared to the same time last year.

Twitter claims this uptick in account suspensions and limitations is changing the behavior of its most contentious users. According to Ho, 65% of limited accounts are only suspended once for rules violations; after Twitter limits or suspends accounts for a brief time (and explains why), these users “generate 25% fewer abuse reports.”

Lastly, the company said that it has seen evidence that its biggest anti-abuse feature — customized muting and algorithmic filtering tools — is “having a positive impact.” According to Ho, “blocks after @mentions from people you don’t follow are down 40%.”

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Also not having an amazingly divisive election going on helps.
link to this extract


Fitbit chief confident new smartwatch will deliver • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

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Fitbit’s forthcoming smartwatch will feature more precise GPS tracking, a music player and new biometric sensors, according to chief executive James Park, who insisted that the product remained “on track” despite reports of delays.

Over the longer term, the device could pave the way for new medical applications that would require regulatory approval, Mr Park told the Financial Times, as the company looked to make its wearable technology a “must-have” for consumers by becoming more integrated into the healthcare system.

“The product is on track to meet our expectations and the expectations that we’ve set for investors,” Mr Park said. “It’s going to be, in my opinion, our best product yet.”

The long-awaited smartwatch, which analysts expect to go on sale this year, is a make-or-break product for Fitbit as it faces a resurgent Apple Watch and lower-cost competition from China.

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link to this extract


Intel eliminates wearables division • CNBC

Christina Farr:

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Intel has axed the division that worked on health wearables, including fitness trackers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The company has been slowly de-emphasizing its own line of wearables for the past several years, and has not mentioned wearables on its earnings calls since 2014.

In November, TechCrunch reported that the company was planning to take a step back from the business after its acquisition of the Basis fitness watch didn’t pan out as expected. Intel denied at the time that it was stepping back.

But a source told CNBC that the chip maker in fact let go about 80% of the Basis group in November. Many of the people were given the opportunity to relocate to other parts of the business.

About two weeks ago, Intel completely eliminated the group, this person said. The company’s New Technologies Group, which looks at cutting-edge business areas, is now focusing on augmented reality, another source told CNBC.

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Anyone get the impression wearables are harder than they look?
link to this extract


Here’s Spotify’s biggest problem – in a Netflix-shaped nutshell – Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

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Netflix’s average monthly subscriber spend has been calculated by taking the firm’s total subs revenue at the end of Q4 of each year, then dividing it by the firm’s total paying subscriber count in the same period – and then splitting by three to give a mean monthly average. Spotify’s has been worked out slightly differently: dividing its total annual subscription revenue with its subscriber base at the end of December in each case.

On Spotify’s side, this gives us an inevitably low-end approximation of Average Revenue Per Subscriber (ARPS), but it’s still within the realms of accuracy.

So, science done… back to ‘Netflix up, Spotify down’. Here’s the line graph that gave us our headline above. Just look at the difference between 2012 and 2016.

Interestingly, in 2016, Netflix raised its prices – moving up its standard HD subscription charge in the US from $9-a-month to $10-a-month. Alongside this move, the company brought in an SD subscription tier at $8-a-month, while also launching an ultra-HD tier at $12-a-month. These new prices, and the opportunity to upsell customers to an ultra-HD/4K package, explains the near-dollar rise in ARPS in the chart above. (In Q4 2016, Netflix’s streaming operation generated $2.35bn, up 41% YoY.) Recent reports suggest more Netflix price hikes could be on the way later this year.

Remember: Netflix and Spotify are now growing at almost exactly the same rate of 10m net subscriber additions every six months. But only one of these companies is pushing the average spend of these new customers further and further down.

Guess what? It’s the one that’s losing money.

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Netflix’s advantage is in the points at the end: it can upsell customers to higher-quality video. Nobody cares about higher-quality sound. (Except you, fine, but it’s only you.) Spotify has tiered pricing for desktop-only and mobile, but beyond that it’s stuffed. Netflix has many more ways to make money, and so profit, from the same piece of content.
link to this extract


National Audit Office confirms that police, banks, Home Office pass the buck on fraud • Light Blue Touchpaper

Ross Anderson on the NAO’s report which points out that online fraud is a big problem:

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I’m afraid that the NAO’s recommendations are less impressive. Let me give an example. The main online fraud bothering Cambridge University relates to bogus accommodation; about fifty times a year, a new employee or research student turns up to find that the apartment they rented doesn’t exist. This is an organised scam, run by crooks in Germany, that affects students elsewhere in the UK (mostly in London) and is netting £5-10m a year. The cybercrime guy in the Cambridgeshire Constabulary can’t do anything about this as only the National Crime Agency in London is allowed to talk to the German police; but he can’t talk to the NCA directly. He has to go through the Regional Organised Crime Unit in Bedford, who don’t care. The NCA would rather do sexier stuff; they seem to have planned to take over the Serious Fraud Office, as that was in the Conservative manifesto for this year’s election.

Every time we look at why some scam persists, it’s down to the institutional economics – to the way that government and the police forces have arranged their targets, their responsibilities and their reporting lines so as to make problems into somebody else’s problems. The same applies in the private sector; if you complain about fraud on your bank account the bank may simply reply that as their systems are secure, it’s your fault. If they record it at all, it may be as a fraud you attempted to commit against them. And it’s remarkable how high a proportion of people prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act appear to have annoyed authority, for example by hacking police websites. Why do we civilians not get protected with this level of enthusiasm?

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link to this extract


Facebook exec Campbell Brown: we are launching a news subscription product • TheStreet

Leon Lazaroff:

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A week after publishers asked Congress for an anti-trust exemption to negotiate collectively with large platforms, specifically Facebook and Alphabet’s Google (GOOGL) , Brown, the head of the company’s news partnerships, said Facebook will launch a subscription-based news product with initial tests beginning in October.

The feature appears to be built on top of Facebook’s Instant Articles, which aggregates stories from hundreds of publishers based on a reader’s interests and preferences. In addition to steering readers to a publisher’s home page to consider taking out a digital subscription, Facebook plans to erect a paywall which would require readers to become subscribers of the platform after they’d accessed 10 articles, Brown said.

“One of the things we heard in our initial meetings from many newspapers and digital publishers is that ‘we want a subscription product — we want to be able to see a paywall in Facebook,'” Brown said at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, an industry conference, in New York City on July 18. “And that is something we’re doing now. We are launching a subscription product.”

The paywall idea is based on premium and metered plans and has been in the works for a while, Brown said.

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This will work fine as long as nobody can access free content elsewhere on Facebook. That will happen, right?
link to this extract


US, Europol, and Netherlands announce shutdowns of two massive dark web markets • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

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Robert Patterson, deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, also confirmed that Alexandre Cazes—who was arrested in Thailand July 5 and was found dead while jailed there—was the suspected administrator of AlphaBay.

The Dutch police force Politie led the investigation into Hansa, and gained control of the market after the arrest of two staff members in Germany.

“The fall of Hansa Market is the culmination of an infiltration operation, the Dutch police in June had management control of the marketplace,” a Google translation of the Politie press release reads. It adds that the authorities intercepted tens of thousands of unencrypted messages, which allowed investigators to identify delivery addresses. “Some 10,000 foreign addresses of buyers [of] Hansa Market are transferred to Europol,” the release reads.

In an ironic twist, when AlphaBay closed, many users migrated to Hansa, which was already under the control of the authorities.

AlphaBay launched in December 2014, around a year after law enforcement seized the original Silk Road marketplace. After the administrators of Evolution, another marketplace, seemingly disappeared with millions of dollars worth of their users’ bitcoins, AlphaBay quickly became the dominant dark web trading site. Nicolas Christin, a researcher from Carnegie Mellon University who has followed the dark web marketplaces closely, told Motherboard in an email on Thursday he estimated the AlphaBay was generating revenue of between $600,000 and $800,000 a day in 2017.

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Closing down one site and catching all the people migrating to the next – where they would give their real(ish) details to receive goods – is good coordination. To the question “why not just track where stuff is going, since you can see the address, and arrest people individually?” the answer is probably (1) don’t want to be dealing illegal stuff (2) very labour-intensive to do that, and you’d have to give evidence in court of how you know to arrest someone. No word from the government(s) on how they infiltrated the sites; probably through zero-day exploits.

There’s also an FBI press release which mentions DRUGS, so there you go.
link to this extract


I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration. • The Washington Post

Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the US Interior Department for seven years – and then was moved abruptly to an unrelated job “in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies”:

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On Wednesday, I filed two forms — a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.

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Trump got 51.3% of votes cast in Alaska in November 2016, slightly increasing the margin from 2012.
link to this extract


Public service announcement: you should not force quit apps on iOS • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

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The single biggest misconception about iOS is that it’s good digital hygiene to force quit apps that you aren’t using. The idea is that apps in the background are locking up unnecessary RAM and consuming unnecessary CPU cycles, thus hurting performance and wasting battery life.

That’s not how iOS works. The iOS system is designed so that none of the above justifications for force quitting are true. Apps in the background are effectively “frozen”, severely limiting what they can do in the background and freeing up the RAM they were using. iOS is really, really good at this. It is so good at this that unfreezing a frozen app takes up way less CPU (and energy) than relaunching an app that had been force quit. Not only does force quitting your apps not help, it actually hurts. Your battery life will be worse and it will take much longer to switch apps if you force quit apps in the background.

Here’s a short and sweet answer from Craig Federighi, in response to an email from a customer asking if he force quits apps and whether doing so preserves battery life: “No and no.”

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I think that of all the misconceptions around iOS (well, computing misconceptions; there are plenty of business ones which need not detain us for now), this is the most pervasive, most persistent, and most rooted in behaviour learnt from past computing paradigms. Of course on your PC you free up more memory and so give programs more room to breathe by force-quitting unused apps. Obviously.

This is a remarkable aspect of iOS: it is essentially a mainframe OS (BSD Unix) which has been tweaked to do this. (Android, as Gruber notes, hasn’t been tweaked in this way, which is why iOS runs rings around it on a “multiple loop app test”.)
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‘Samsung not enthusiastic about AI speaker’ • Korean Investor

Shin Ji-hye:

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Samsung Electronics may not launch an artificial intelligence speaker anytime soon due to marketable issues, said a source familiar with the matter. 

There has been growing speculation over whether Samsung will soon roll out an AI speaker, following reports of its development of one powered by voice assistant Bixby. The project codenamed Vega has reportedly progressed for more than a year.

“Samsung currently does not view Al speakers as marketable, as the global market is already dominated by unbeatable Amazon and the Korean market is too small to make profits,” an anonymous source told The Korea Herald.

The global AI speaker market is currently dominated by Amazon Echo, which has a more than 70% share. There is also the emerging player Google Home. The Korean market is dominated by SK Telecom’s NUGU with around 100,000 units of sales.

“More importantly, Samsung cannot afford to focus on the uncertain market, as most of its AI specialists – whose number is much less than that of the US tech giants – are currently going all out to develop the Bixby version in English,” the source said. 

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That’s gone from “floated as an idea” to “shot down” in about a week. A new record?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: Citymapper’s (K)Night Rider, Twitter’s abuse numbers, dark web goes darker, and more

  1. Good set of links as always. The Netflix v Spotify post was a great pick to include, but I disagree with your commentary:

    Netflix’s advantage is in the points at the end: it can upsell customers to higher-quality video. Nobody cares about higher-quality sound. (Except you, fine, but it’s only you.)

    Not the part about higher-quality sound. That’s both funny and exactly right. But the line about Netflix having pricing power because offering higher-quality video. Netflix has pricing power because they own content. Simple as that. They’d being doing nearly as well without the HD tiers. Spotify is a commoditized service since the major labels own music rights. And have enough of an oligopolistic structure to have pricing power.

    Probably you’d agree. Just that the line jumped out at me.

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