Start Up: iPhone bug bounties, peak oil fades, HTC’s keyboard ads, DJI’s hacking war, and more


“Cracking end-to-end encryption” might actually be as simple as doing this. (Ignore the date.) Photo by Johan Larsson on Flickr.


Posting note: for personal reasons, it’s possible that the next Overspill posting will be delayed by a day or so. (I can’t presently predict if it will or wont.) If it is, you won’t get tomorrow’s update. (And it won’t be on the website.) If it isn’t, you’ll.. get a post as normal. I realise this is indistinguishable from incompetence. Apologies in advance.


You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New law would force Facebook and Google to give police access to encrypted messages • The Guardian

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Under the law, internet companies would have the same obligations as telephone companies to help law enforcement agencies. Police would need warrants to access the communications. [Australian Prime Minister Malcolm] Turnbull said the legislation was necessary to keep pace with advances in technology that could facilitate crime.

“We need to ensure that the internet is not used as a dark place for bad people to hide their criminal activities from the law,” he said.

Asked by reporters how legislation would prevent users simply moving to encryption software not controlled by tech companies, Turnbull said Australian law overrode the laws of mathematics.

“The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

Turnbull denied the government’s plans involved the use of a “back door” into programs to allow access to encrypted messages on platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

“A back door is typically a flaw in a software program that perhaps the developer of the software program is not aware of, and that somebody who knows about it can exploit,” Turnbull said. “If there are flaws in software programs, obviously, that’s why you get updates on your phone and your computer all the time. So we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about lawful access.”

Pressed on whether the government’s plans meant it would ask companies such as Facebook and Apple to keep a copy of encryption keys used by customers, Turnbull said:

“I’m not a cryptographer, but what we are seeking to do is to secure their assistance. They have to face up to their responsibility. They can’t just wash their hands of it and say it’s got nothing to do with them.”

The attorney general, George Brandis, said the legislation would “impose an obligation upon device manufacturers and service providers to provide appropriate assistance to intelligence and law enforcement on a warranted basis”. It could be used to tackle terrorism, or serious organised crime such as paedophile networks.

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This isn’t totally absurd. The clue is in Turnbull’s quote about “updates on your phone” and Brandis’s “obligation.. to provide appropriate assistance”. What’s likely to happen is that targeted individuals will receive SIM updates which let the authorities spy on them. Simple as that. If you read the above (and the story) in that light, it becomes feasible – sensible, even. If you think they want to have access to everyone’s encrypted messages all the time, you’re overthinking it. However, that might mean having a supply of the following…
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iPhone bugs are too valuable to report to Apple • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

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Last year, Apple pushed back against the FBI for months as it resisted an order to help the feds break into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter, who killed 14 people and injured 22 in December of 2015. The FBI eventually got into the phone, but not with Apple’s help. Instead, the FBI paid for a costly exploit found by unknown, independent researchers. As The New York Times argued at the time, perhaps one reason hackers had exploits to sell to the FBI was that they had little incentive to report them to Apple instead.

Though the announcement of the program was public, nearly everything else about it has been rolled out with Apple’s typical secrecy. For now, the program is invite-only.

The researchers who received an invite to join have had a chance to earn rewards ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 for bugs in iOS and MacOS, according to Krstic’s talk.

That might sound like a lot of money. But one of the reasons why the researchers we talked to aren’t itching to report bugs is that Apple’s rewards aren’t as high as they could or maybe should be. In the private, gray market, where companies such as Zerodium buy exploits from researchers and sell them to their customers, a method comprised of multiple bugs that can jailbreak the iPhone is valued at $1.5m. Another firm, Exodus Intelligence, offers up to $500,000 for similar iOS exploits. These companies claim to sell only to corporations to help them protect their networks, or to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help them hack into high-value targets…

…”Apple has to compete with the true value for the bugs they want to buy,” Dan Guido, the CEO of the cybersecurity research firm Trail Of Bits, told me. “They’re trying to buy game-over stuff at $200,000, but it’s just worth more than that.”

In other words, the economics of the bug bounty are just not worth the trouble.

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Clever story. But what’s the solution for Apple? Let hackers name their price? Outbid whatever the market is offering? (The latter could vary hugely.) Easy to identify the problem, but not the solution.
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iOS 11 will expand your iPhone’s NFC capabilities beyond Apple Pay in several ways • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

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Apple at WWDC 2017 last month introduced Core NFC, a new iOS 11 framework that enables apps to detect Near Field Communication tags.

Similar to Apple Pay, iPhone users are prompted with a “Ready to Scan” dialog box. After holding the iPhone near an item with an NFC tag, a checkmark displays on screen if a product is detected. An app with Core NFC could then provide users with information about that product contained within the tag.

A customer shopping at a grocery store could hold an iPhone near a box of crackers, for example, and receive detailed information about their nutritional values, price history, recipe ideas, and so forth. Or, at a museum, a visitor could hold an iPhone near an exhibit to receive detailed information about it.

Core NFC will expand the iPhone’s NFC chip capabilities beyond simply Apple Pay in several other ways.

Cybersecurity company WISeKey, for example, today announced that its CapSeal smart tag will now support iPhone thanks to Core NFC. CapSeal smart tags are primarily used for authentication, tracking, and anti-counterfeiting on products like wine bottles. Many other companies offer similar solutions.

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iPhone 7 upwards only at present.
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Remember Peak Oil? Demand may top out before supply does • Bloomberg

Javier Blas:

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When Bob Dudley, chief executive officer of British oil giant BP Plc, was asked at a recent conference when oil demand will peak, he had a precise answer: June 2, 2042.

The audience at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum burst into laughter, knowing it’s impossible to predict such an event down to the day. But the American executive wasn’t speaking entirely in jest: The most recent edition of BP’s widely scrutinized Energy Outlook has global demand for crude maxing out in 2½ decades, give or take a year. That projection casts a shadow over one of the world’s largest industries, which until recently was far more concerned with boosting supply. The advent of electric cars, the fight against climate change, and slowing economic growth in China is dampening the world’s once boundless appetite for crude. Carmaker Volvo AB announced on July 5 that it will manufacture only electric or hybrid models from 2019 onward. Three days later, France said it would ban sales of cars with diesel and gasoline engines starting in 2040.

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As a date for “Peak Oil Demand”, 2040 seems reasonable. And it’s not that far away.
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Scholars cry foul at their inclusion on list of academics paid by Google • The Chronicle of Higher Education

Chris Quintana:

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Last week an advocacy group published what it called a list of scholars who have received money from Google and who have written papers that supported its interests, sometimes without disclosing that apparent conflict of interest. Sarah T. Roberts said she doesn’t understand why she was on the list.

Sure, she told The Chronicle, she was a Google fellow in 2009, but that meant a $7,000 award to cover her expenses during a 10-week stint working in Washington, D.C., for the American Library Association.

Why that 2009 fellowship would be relevant to a 2015 paper on information privacy — in which Ms. Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, was listed as the fourth author — is not clear to her. More important, she said, she didn’t receive any money from the technology giant in connection to that paper. And if the advocacy group’s concern was that she had benefited from Google in the past, that information is on her curriculum vitae.

“What else would they like me to do?” she asked. “I think it’s pretty irresponsible.”

Ms. Roberts is one of a handful of scholars who told The Chronicle on Wednesday that they felt the Campaign for Accountability, the group that issued the report, had included them unfairly in its list of academics who had received money from Google in connection to research that could be used to defend the company’s business practices.

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Seems like the Campaign for Accountability needs to get in touch with the Campaign for Context. This story is unravelling rather quickly.
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Facebook will start showing ads inside Marketplace, its Craigslist-style section for browsing used goods • Recode

Kurt Wagner:

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Facebook has found another place to show advertisements to its users.

The company announced on Friday that it will start running ads inside Marketplace, its Craigslist-style hub where users can buy and sell used goods.

The ads are just a test for now, which means only a small percentage of US Facebook users will see them. Facebook is not even selling ads specifically for Marketplace just yet — instead, it will take existing News Feed ads and put them inside the Marketplace tab free of charge to advertisers, as a way to experiment.

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I can’t imagine anything that.. makes more sense. People look for stuff and you show them ads about stuff? Worked out OK for Google.
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Implementing Webmentions • All In The Head

Drew McLellan:

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In a world before social media, a lot of online communities existed around blog comments. The particular community I was part of – web standards – was all built up around the personal websites of those involved.

As social media sites gained traction, those communities moved away from blog commenting systems. Instead of reacting to a post underneath the post, most people will now react with a URL someplace else. That might be a tweet, a Reddit post, a Facebook emission, basically anywhere that combines an audience with the ability to comment on a URL.

Whether you think that’s a good thing or not isn’t really worth debating – it’s just the way it is now, things change, no big deal. However, something valuable that has been lost is the ability to see others’ reactions when viewing a post. Comments from others can add so much to a post, and that overview is lost when the comments exist elsewhere.

Webmention is a W3C Recommendation that solves a big part of this. It describes a system for one site to notify another when it links to it. It’s similar in concept to Pingback for those who remember that, just with all the lessons learned from Pingback informing the design.

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I remember how pingback got turned into a spam problem so bad that most people – and stop me if this bit sounds familiar in this whole debate – turned it off. Yup, any system that scales and allows anyone to contribute will have a spam problem. It will also, now, have a “mad troll” problem, if one thinks the two are different.

The problem with comments is not in systems for allowing comments. It’s in what people want to put into their comments: most has zero value, even to the commenter.
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The standard keyboard on the HTC 10 has begun showing ads : mildlyinfuriating • Reddit

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User WagnerianDoorbell: “Ads are probably based off all the words you’ve entered with that keyboard.

“From an advertiser’s perspective, having access to the full log of everything entered on a system’s keyboard is like the holy grail of profiling data.”

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Utterly dismaying. Though given how poorly HTC is doing, it might think this is a good idea. In reality, you’d expect if word gets out sufficiently then it will hasten its end.
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DJI is locking down its drones against a growing army of DIY hackers • Motherboard

Ben Sullivan:

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On YouTube, Facebook, drone forums, and Slack groups around the internet, hackers have published instructions for altering the firmware on DJI’s drones, leading to a rising number of drone pilots who have circumvented flight restrictions imposed by DJI on its products. In recent days the company has updated its software to render these hacks moot, and has started removing vulnerable versions of its firmware from its servers in an attempt to regain control of its drones.

DJI told me on Friday it will continue to investigate cases of unauthorized modification and that it will “issue software updates to address them without further announcement.”

“Unauthorized modification of a DJI drone is not recommended, as it can cause unstable flight behavior that could make operating the drone unsafe,” Victor Wang, DJI’s technology security director, told me in a statement. “DJI is not responsible for the performance of a modified drone and we strongly condemn any user who attempts to modify their drone for illegal or unsafe use.”

“This is the beginning of the fight for DJI to retain control of these aircraft,” consumer drone expert Kevin Finisterre, who this week developed and released his own DJI exploit, told me in an email. “End users are more invigorated than ever with the desire to emancipate their drone.”

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A very strange arms race. But given the fact that they’ve been used by ISIS in battle, this is one of those fights that DJI looks likely to lose.
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Essential marketing vice president leaves after seven months • Business Insider

Steve Kovach:

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Brian Wallace, Essential’s VP of marketing, has left the company, he confirmed to Business Insider on Friday.Wallace is now CMO at i.am+, a “connected lifestyle” company founded by musician will.i.am. 

Wallace’s move is the latest sign of turmoil at Essential. Wallace joined Essential in December after running marketing for the augmented reality startup Magic Leap. Before that, he worked at Samsung and helped put together the iconic “Next Big Thing” campaign that propelled Samsung’s mobile business in the US.

Wallace isn’t the only major departure at Essential. Andy Fouché, who is listed as the company’s head of communications on its website, left recently as well, he told Business Insider in an email last month. However, Fouché also described himself as an advisor to the company. He also worked with Wallace as the head of communications at Magic Leap. Kenzo Hing, Essential’s head of product marketing, will be running communications in the meantime.

Hing did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The departures are not a good look for Essential.

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I can believe that a startup might have quite a bit of churn as you discover whether people are really right for this stuff, but losing your marketing bod to Will.i.am? That’s really got to burn.
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It took nine years, but Bitly turned short web links into a real company • Recode

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Peter Kafka: here’s a story that won’t get much attention: A modest success for a company that once had much grander aspirations.

That would be Bitly, a company that lets marketers and other businesses keep tabs on customers as they move around the web by generating short, trackable URL links.

Spectrum Equity just bought a majority stake in the nine-year-old company for $63m. A press release doesn’t spell out the specifics but I’m told Spectrum now owns a significant majority of Bitly, and that the new deal values the company below the $100m valuation of its last raise, back in 2012.

In other words, maybe the investors who put a reported $29m into Bitly prior to the Spectrum deal got their money back. But they certainly didn’t make much on this.

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Amazing that a company which does web shortening can be valued at all, but perhaps there’s some value in aggregating links. But $63m worth?
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Trump’s MAGAnomics is here. And his team repeated Obamanomics’ big mistake • The Washington Post

Heather Long:

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the architects of MAGAnomics are making the same error that the masterminds of Obamanomics made: They’re promising far more than they are likely to deliver. Even worse, they are putting a very concrete target out there: 3% GDP growth or bust.

Trump’s already off track. Growth this year is shaping up to be the same — or even worse — than under Obama. Expectations for the coming years are not much better.

On the same day Mulvaney published his MAGAnomics commentary, the Wall Street Journal ran a story with the headline “Forecasters lower economic outlook amid congressional gridlock.” Economists surveyed by the Journal predict 2.4% growth in 2018 and just 1.9% in 2019.

Of course, this is not the first time the Trump team has vowed “huge” and “spectacular” economic growth. Trump himself has said he can achieve 5% growth (annual growth has not exceeded 5% since 1984). The White House website promises 4% a year expansion and 25 million new jobs, the most of any U.S. president.

Trump’s team should have learned from Obama: Be careful with concrete economic promises.

Obama spent a lot of his early days in the White House in 2009 trying to generate support for a big stimulus proposal by promising it would create millions of jobs. His team told the nation that unemployment was unlikely to go above 8% if the stimulus passed, part of detailed projections of the results they expected their plan to deliver. In reality, unemployment hit 10% a few months later.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: hacking US votes, crypto-tulips, spool that thread!, signing gloves, and more


Radiohead’s new old 1990s album is enhanced with something for this 1980s wonder, the ZX Spectrum. Photo by Alessandro Gussu on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

American democracy is now under siege by both cyber-espionage and GOP voter suppression • The Nation

Ari Berman:

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In September 2010, the District of Columbia unveiled a pilot project to enable overseas residents and people serving in the military to vote over the Internet, and invited users to test the system. Within 36 hours, University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman and his team were able to hack into it, flipping votes to candidates named after famous computers, like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and playing the Michigan fight song, “The Victors,” after every recorded vote. Amazingly, it took two days for election officials in DC to notice the hack and take the system down. The pilot project was eventually scrapped.

Though online voting remains a distant prospect in American politics, this wasn’t the first election system that Halderman hacked. On June 21, 2017, he testified before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in a hearing on “Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Elections.” “My conclusion,” Halderman told the committee, “is that our highly computerized election infrastructure is vulnerable to sabotage, and even to cyber-attacks that could change votes.”

“Dr. Halderman, you’re pretty good at hacking voting machines, by your testimony,” Senator Angus King of Maine observed. “Do you think the Russians are as good as you?”

“The Russians have the resources of a nation-state,” Halderman replied. “I would say their capabilities would significantly exceed mine.”

It is now clear that Russian interference in the 2016 elections went far beyond hacking Democratic National Committee e-mails; it struck at the heart of America’s democratic process. “As of right now, we have evidence of election-related systems in 21 states that were tar-geted,” Jeanette Manfra, the chief cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, testified at the Senate hearing.

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Strangely, nobody on the winning side (the GOP) seems overly concerned about this.
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Radiohead album hides an app that only runs on an ’80s computer • Engadget

Tom Regan:

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In the age of the hipster, dust-covered and irrelevant mediums like the vinyl and cassette tape have slowly been given a new lease of life. Now, thanks to Radiohead, it looks like popular British computer the ZX Spectrum might be the next 80s relic to come back into fashion. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s genre-bending opus– OK Computer –Radiohead has released a £100 commemorative special edition of the album, entitled OKNOTOK.

As well as containing a beautiful looking art book, a collection of Thom Yorke’s notes and the expected limited edition vinyl of the album, the package also comes with a classic C90 cassette. While the vast majority of the 90-minute tape houses a collection of rare demos from the band, the last two minutes treat listeners to a bizarre high-pitched frequency. Quickly identified by Redditors as the grating greeting of the ZX Spectrum, one passionate YouTuber has cleverly EQ’d those digital squawks and squeaks to perfectly match the aging computer’s audio language.

Running those EQ’d files through a ZX Spectrum emulator, the software pops up with the names of all the band members, dating the software back to the 19th December 1996.

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Here you go then.


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Crypto-tulips • Coppolacomment

Frances Coppola:

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There are three key stages in the lifecycle of a financial bubble:

The “Free Lunch” period. A long, slow buildup of price distortion, during which investors convince themselves that rising prices are entirely justified by fundamentals, even though it is apparent to (rational) observers that they are buying castles built on sand.

The “This is nuts, when’s the crash?” period. Everyone knows prices are far out of line with fundamentals, but they carry on buying in the irrational belief they can get out before the crash they all know is coming. Speculators pile in, hoping to make a quick profit. Prices spike. 

The “Every man for himself” period (sorry, FT, I couldn’t find a reference for this one). Prices crash as everyone runs for the exit. This can happen a number of times, separated by brief periods of stability when everyone congratulates themselves on a lucky escape. But they are wrong. The ship is sinking. 

This is what the three stages look like, charted: 

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that there are no tulips in this chart. That is because financial crashes don’t have to involve tulips. This one above, of course, is stocks. 

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But cryptocurrencies are now heading from stage 2 to 3, she suggests. Not just bitcoin – all of them.
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Spooler • Tiny Subversions

Darius Kazemi:

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Enter the URL of the last tweet of a Twitter thread, press “Spool it!”, and the thread will appear as a blog post here. It only works for a single person’s thread, not replies from other people. This could take up to two seconds per tweet in the thread, so be prepared to wait.

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This is a neat tool, to be added to the long list of neat tools around Twitter; but now we’re in the times of 100-tweet threads (looking at you, Seth Abramson), it turns out to be important. A future improvement might be to find the whole thread from any point in it.

Anyhow, a good one to bookmark.
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Designing the perfect date and time picker • Smashing Magazine

Vitaly Friedman:

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What could be so difficult about designing a decent date picker? Basically, we just need an input field and an icon that represents a calendar clearly enough, and once the user clicks on that icon, we pop up a little overlay with the days lined up in rows. Right?

Well, not every date picker fits every interface, just like not every interface actually needs a date picker. But when a date picker is required, quite often it’s just a bit too tedious and annoying to specify that one date, and too often it produces irrelevant results or even a zero-results page, although just a few minor refinements would make it much easier to use.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time working with various companies trying out various approaches and studying them in usability tests. This series of articles is a summary of observations and experiments made throughout that time. Over the course of months, we’ll be exploring everything from carousels to car configurators.

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Everyone has come across an infuriating date picker, and a wonderful one, and wondered why the people who built the first didn’t use the second. This article demonstrates why it’s not quite so easy.

They’ve also previously looked at the design of accordions, if that’s more your thing.
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Morgan Stanley: ‘Bitcoin acceptance is virtually zero and shrinking’ • Business Insider

Frank Chaparro:

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A research note out Wednesday by a group of analysts at Morgan Stanley led by James E Faucette said “bitcoin acceptance is virtually zero and shrinking,” despite its impressive appreciation. 

According to the bank, last year bitcoin was accepted at five of of the top 500 online merchants. Today, only three of the top 500 merchants accept bitcoin as a form of payment. 

“The disparity between virtually no merchant acceptance and bitcoin’s rapid appreciation is striking,” the analysts wrote. 

The investment bank outlined three reasons for the decline in bitcoin acceptance among merchants. 

The first reason has to do with the appreciation of bitcoin. Most owners of the cryptocurrency are unwilling to let go of their holdings to pay for goods because they expect the price of bitcoin to go up. This point underpins the bank’s thesis that bitcoin mainly functions as an investment vehicle rather than fiat currency that you could spend on goods and services.

Issues with bitcoin’s scalability, which has made transactions slow and expensive, is another reason the bank thinks merchants find bitcoin unappealing as a form of payment.  

Finally, there has been a lack of pressure from the people who run the bitcoin infrastructure, according to the bank, to push merchants to accept bitcoin as a form of payment. 

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So it might only be useful for peer-to-peer money transfer, not as a broad currency.
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Glove turns sign language into text for real-time translation • New Scientist

Timothy Revell:

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A new glove developed at the University of California, San Diego, can convert the 26 letters of American Sign Language (ASL) into text on a smartphone or computer screen. Because it’s cheaper and more portable than other automatic sign language translators on the market, it could be a game changer. People in the deaf community will be able to communicate effortlessly with those who don’t understand their language. It may also one day fine-tune our control of robots.

ASL is a language all of its own, but few people outside the deaf community speak it. For many signing is their only language, as learning written English, for example, can be difficult without having the corresponding sounds to go with it.

“For thousands of people in the UK, sign language is their first language,” says Jesal Vishnuram, the technology research manager at the charity Action on Hearing Loss. “Many have little or no written English. Technology like this will completely change their lives.”

When they need to communicate with people who are not versed in ASL, their options are limited. In the UK, someone who is deaf is entitled to a sign language translator at work or when visiting a hospital, but at a train station, for example, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate with people who don’t sign. In this situation a glove that can translate for them would make life much easier.

The device consists of a standard sports glove kitted out with nine flexible strain sensors that are placed over different knuckles. When a user bends their fingers or thumb, the sensors stretch, and their electrical resistance goes up. The software uses these signals to work out the configuration of the hand.

Motion sensors on the back of the glove work out whether the hand is still or in motion, a necessary step to differentiating similar letters. For example, both the signs for “i” and “j” involve extending just the little finger. But for “i” the hand remains still, whereas to signify “j” you rotate your hand 180 degrees. The motion sensors detect these differences.

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PepsiCo decries same consumer trends battering retail • AdAge

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On Tuesday, PepsiCo Inc. CEO Indra Nooyi echoed what companies like Target and retail analysts have long been saying: More spending is happening online — and for experiences, health and wellness instead of possessions.

PepsiCo’s comments on consumer trends overshadowed the Purchase, N.Y., company’s second-quarter results and have consequences for the whole consumer staples sector, which has underperformed leisure and recreation stocks this year.

Customers are “seeking more premium experiences and at the same time seeking value. And across the spectrum, consumers continue to be interested in health and wellness but with differing definitions,” Nooyi said on a conference call with analysts.

As with retailers, consumer-products giants are adjusting to the world of Amazon and delivery startups. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola Co. spent decades building a distribution system that serves vending machines and brick-and-mortar stores, but they’re still in the beginning stages of selling products directly to customers online.

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Ironic little note if PepsiCo were to suffer like physical retail. Probably won’t happen, but given its contribution to the ill-health of nations through excessive sugar and carbonic acid, it would be a beneficial side-effect of the internet-isation of everything. Though what would basement-dwellers quaff?
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SoundCloud sinks as leaks say layoffs buy little time • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

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A tense scene unfolded yesterday as user-generated, music-streaming service SoundCloud held an all-hands meeting to explain to employees why it suddenly had to lay off 40% of its staff last week.

Exiting team members wanted to know why they weren’t warned, while those who survived the cuts wanted assurance that the cost reductions would keep the company afloat for the long-run.
But as security ominously filed into SoundCloud’s meeting rooms at its offices around the world during the all-hands video conference broadcast from its Berlin headquarters, the startup’s staff discovered they wouldn’t be getting the answers they wanted. Instead, sources at SoundCloud tell TechCrunch that founders Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss confessed the layoffs only saved the company enough money to have runway “until Q4” — which begins in just 50 days.

That seems to conflict with the statement Ljung released alongside the layoffs, which noted that, “With more focus and a need to think about the long term, comes tough decisions.” The company never mentioned how short its cash would still last. 

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Traditional PC market fares slightly better than expectations as component shortage pressures ease • IDC

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Worldwide shipments of traditional PCs (desktop, notebook, workstation) totaled 60.5 million units in the second quarter of 2017 (2Q17), posting a year-on-year decline of 3.3%, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. The results tilted just above the previous forecast that called for a decline of 3.9%, and hewed to the expectation that unlike past seasonal patterns of significant positive sequential growth, second quarter volume showed only a modest uptick from the first quarter.

Whereas one factor affecting shipments during the past several quarters was an inventory buildup caused by shortages of key components such as SSD (Solid State Drive), the second quarter operated under less harsh constraints, though in some instances component shortages still played a role in driving shipment dynamics. Moreover, as expected, the increased bill of materials (BOM) cost due to the shortage also began to impact the final price of systems, which was also factored into IDC’s original assumption of inhibiting shipments.

From a geographic perspective, mature markets generally outperformed emerging markets, with Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) and Latin America in particular showing weakness, though Latin America did outperform IDC’s original forecast. The U.S. posted just a slight decline but otherwise also pulled ahead of forecast in part due to Chromebook activity. Japan again posted positive growth, in part against the backdrop of tough market conditions in 2015 through the first half of 2016.

“Amid some unevenness in market trends across the regions, the global PC market has continued to trend toward stabilization,” said Jay Chou, research manager, IDC Worldwide Personal Computing Device Tracker.

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I love how it’s “trending toward stabilisation” as the sales keep dropping year-on-year. Apple is now 4th biggest vendor worldwide (though less than half as large as Dell). Acer has dropped out of the top five.

Gartner’s view is even gloomier, with a 4.3% fall, though its total is slightly higher – 61.1m. But it says Chromebook sales grew 38% in 2016 – miles ahead of the PC market. But “not a PC replacement yet”, according to Gartner’s analysts.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Razer, the PC gaming company, is based in Singapore (not Hong Kong – that’s where it’s seeking a public listing).

Start Up: Vertu dies (but will live?), Android misconceptions, the lawbot cometh, Razer’s optimism, and more


Guess whose hotels have had their booking and payment systems hacked three times since 2014? Photo by sandy kemsley on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

British luxury phonemaker Vertu wound up with loss of 200 jobs • FT

Nic Fildes:

»

The liquidation of a company that made the world’s most expensive handsets comes months after a last-ditch attempt to revive the business by reducing the cost of its non-customised handsets from £10,000 and above to between £4,000 and £7,000.

The collapse of the business follows its sale in March to Murat Hakan Uzan, a Turkish exile based in Paris. The company was previously owned by an obscure Chinese company called Godin Holdings, and was rumoured to be on the brink of administration last year. The company failed to file its 2015 accounts, which raised alarm bells before the sale to Mr Uzan.

Mr Uzan inherited a business which he later discovered had an accounting deficit of £128m, according to a Daily Telegraph report. The manufacturing arm was placed into administration, before he tried to buy back the business for £1.9m — a plan that failed this week.

Mr Uzan will, however, keep the Vertu brand, technology and design licences. He plans to rebuild the luxury phonemaker, according to a person familiar with the situation.

«

Not sure that Vertu is worth rebuilding, to be honest.
link to this extract


Misconceptions about Android — Tech Specs

Daniel Matte has a few points to make, of which this is probably the key one:

»

Malware on Android is often portrayed as an ever-growing, constant crisis. While Android does have tons of major security concerns, the overall issue is still hugely overstated.

Firstly, the term malware can mean absolutely anything. The vast majority of stories about mobile security spread FUD and sensationalism, to the detriment of readers. I won’t pretend to be a security expert, but even imperfect sandboxing probably goes a long way compared to the completely unsandboxed traditional PC application environments. It doesn’t seem clear to me whether Android or macOS is more secure overall, for example. As with many things, it probably depends.

There is however an extreme case: the Chinese market. Because Android is out of Google’s control in China, the OS genuinely is a security nightmare in the country. I remember waiting for a flight at the airport in Beijing and watching with amusement as some seemingly low-threat app started downloading itself onto my phone over the air. All I did was merely have Wi-Fi on; I hadn’t attempted to connect to any access points.

«

You should also note his points about force-quitting Android apps, touch latency, and why people perceive its scrolling and similar as “janky”.
link to this extract


Hackers have been stealing credit card numbers from Trump’s hotels for months • The Washington Post

Abha Bhattarai:

»

Guests at 14 Trump properties, including hotels in Washington, New York and Vancouver, have had their credit card information exposed, marking the third time in as many years that a months-long security breach has affected customers of the chain of luxury hotels.

The latest instance occurred between August 2016 and March 2017, according to a notice on the company’s website, and included guest names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as credit card numbers and expiration dates. The breach took place on the systems of Sabre Hospitality Solutions, a reservation booking service used by Trump Hotels, but did not compromise the Trump Hotels’ systems.

“The privacy and protection of our guests’ information is a matter we take very seriously,” the notice said, adding that Trump Hotels was notified of the breach on June 5. Trump Hotels declined to comment beyond what was posted in the notice.

«

First infiltrated in May 2014; malware installed on networks. Informed of the breach in June 2015; posted a notice on website four months later (August 2015). Hacked again in November 2015. And in March 2016.

Sure the details about who has been going to these hotels will all get posted on Wikileaks soon, right?
link to this extract


Joshua Browder’s parking ticket bot is expanding to 1000 areas of law • Business Insider

Shona Ghosh:

»

Lawyers can be really expensive, and for small disputes like fighting your landlord, claiming lost luggage for an airline, or a parking ticket, it can feel like a fight isn’t worth it.

Enter DoNotPay, the world’s first robot lawyer, built by young British entrepreneur Joshua Browder. DoNotPay hit headlines in early 2016 after then successfully appealing £2 million in parking tickets. The bot then expanded to help refugees, and now it’s expanding into 1,000 different areas of law in all 50 US states and across the UK.

According to MarketLine research, the US legal market alone is worth $292 billion (£227 billion).

Now Browder’s bot can help you ask for more parental leave, dispute nuisance calls, fight a fraudulent purchase on your credit card, and a host of other issues.

“I originally started DoNotPay two years ago to fight my own parking tickets and became an accidental witness to how lawyers are exploiting human misery,” said Browder. “From discrimination in Silicon Valley to the tragedy in London with an apartment building setting on fire, it seems the only people benefitting from injustice are a handful of lawyers.

“I hope that DoNotPay, by helping with these issues and many more, will ultimately give everyone the same legal power as the richest in society.”

«

Browder thinks it could be helpful to get landlords and developers to follow “basic safety regulations” too. It’s positive thinking, though landlords are pretty good at ignoring letters of all sorts.
link to this extract


Microsoft to close Surface Hub manufacturing plant in Oregon • Petri

Brad Sams:

»

Microsoft has informed the state of Oregon that it intends to close location where it has built the Surface Hub. The plant was located in Wilsonville and will impact 124 jobs in that region.

In a letter to the state, as noted by OregonLive, Microsoft will close the plant with 61 job cuts coming on September 8 with 63 jobs being cut the following months. The reason Microsoft had a facility in the state is that it was part of Perceptive Pixel that the company acquired in July of 2012 and likely used that team to help build the Surface Hub.

As for the future of the Surface Hub, I don’t think this has much to do with the long-term outlook for that product. Early indications about the sales pipeline was that Microsoft could not make enough of them and feedback from users has been positive.

Further, references to Surface Hub 2 have shown up in some internal documentation from Microsoft which makes it appear that another device is on the horizon. As such, I do not think this is the end of the line for the Surface Hub.

When the company announced where they were going to build the Surface Hub, it was a point of pride for the company as they were making the device in the United States; an unusual move by modern standards. But, here we are, with the company closing down the facility as they likely found that they can produce the device elsewhere at a lower price point.

«

Going to guess that “elsewhere” is outside the US. Shh!
link to this extract


Facebook’s Messenger ads are bad and must be destroyed • TechCrunch

Devin Coldewey:

»

Why so big? Did the ad department say they couldn’t sell anything that didn’t completely take over the app? Did they not want to ask for smaller assets after asking for ones at this size to begin with? Do they think people like ads as much as ad people do?

At least now there’s only one ad instead of a series you’re invited to explore. I’m guessing engagement with the carousel was abysmal — who would think, hmm, not enough ads in my chat feed?

To be fair, even good ads interrupt the user’s experience a little. But this is just way too much. As soon as you open the app, smack dab in the middle of the most-used main interface: an ad that takes up more of the screen than the content you opened the app to access. That’s intolerable.

I asked Facebook what its test users had said about the ads. A representative told me that “We monitored people’s engagement closely throughout the initial test and the results were promising…” and that “since we began testing in Australia and Thailand we have put people’s experience first, and we will continue to prioritize this as we roll out the Messenger ads test further.”

The idea that these ads resulted from putting people’s experience first is, of course, ridiculous. If Facebook were doing that, it would never have snipped Messenger off from the main app in the first place, much less burdened it with huge ads.

When I asked again what the users’ feedback had actually been, I received no response. I also asked if users could expect to see ads just one time, or every few threads, or what — but no info on that either. We’ll find out soon, but I’m guessing they’re keeping their options open on that one.

Is it possible to make ads that fit on a mobile screen alongside your messaging content? Sure! In fact, I would bet that Facebook looked at several designs that did just that and rejected them.

«

Gotta love the optimism of the marketing people who told the engineer designing that popup to include one saying “This ad is useful”. This probably happens as often as people winning the lottery twice in a row.
link to this extract


American tech companies are so afraid of offending Indians that they’re censoring all their products • Buzzfeed

Pranav Dixit:

»

“Western companies trying to expand in India are being overcautious because of the huge investments they are making in the country,” Prithwiraj Mukherjee, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, told BuzzFeed News. “They don’t want to risk offending anyone’s sentiments in a diverse country like India.”

The country is a crucial market for Silicon Valley: There are now more internet users in India than there are people in the United States — and millions more will come online in the next few years. But as American tech companies pour billions into the country, they’re fumbling as they attempt to appeal to India’s already-online, Snapchat-savvy, English-speaking, Beyoncé-listening, urban millennials, while also trying to win over the country’s comparatively conservative millions.

Amazon Prime Video launched in India in December 2016, and was immediately blasted by angry Indian customers on Twitter for proactively censoring many TV shows and movies, including its own productions like Transparent. Worse, the censorship was arbitrary. Some nudity, like a sex scene a couple of minutes into the pilot of Transparent, was blurred out. In another instance, Amazon chopped one episode of its car show, The Grand Tour, in half to remove a plotline involving a car made of animal carcasses with a windshield of cow innards, presumably to avoid offending religious Hindus, who consider cows sacred. But most of Californication, a series well-known for its gratuitous nudity, survived Amazon’s airbrushing.

«

One has to feel this makes a change from just assuming that whatever’s right in the US is right in another country, though? India is a gigantic market, and reactions can be intense.
link to this extract


Razer made PC hardware cool again. Just not profitable • Bloomberg

Tim Culpan on the Hong Kong-based PC company whose early investors include Intel and Foxconn:

»

In the past two years, Razer’s revenue growth averaged a mere 11.5%. That’s nice if you want to compare it with Acer and Asustek, which both posted declines, but isn’t the kind of top-line growth investors look for in a pre-IPO tech company.

And at least those two posted operating profits last year. The same cannot be said for Razer, whose profitability is going backwards.

Massive increases in marketing – more than double in two years – as well as continued funding of R&D pushed Razer into the red in 2015, with that loss surging last year.

In reality, the buzz that its marketing team has managed to create is providing diminishing returns. A closer look at the income statement shows that Razer’s gross margin is shrinking. One way to assess how much a brand name is really worth is by looking at how much markup a hardware company can extract above the cost of making the goods it sells. By this measure, Razer’s value is falling.

And while its Razer Blade laptops get top billing on the company’s product website, 76.2% of sales comes from peripherals such as keyboards, mice and audio devices. That makes Logitech International SA a better point of comparison.

«

As Culpan shows, Razer’s operating income has gone from positive in 2014 to negative in 2015 and 2016, principally due to huge marketing costs.
link to this extract


Responding to the “Campaign for Accountability” report on academic research • Google blog

Leslie Miller, director of public policy:

»

we’re proud to maintain strong relations with academics, universities and research institutes, in our own name, so we wanted to take a few moments to respond to the report.

We run many research programs that provide funding and resources to the external research community. This helps public and private institutions pursue research on important topics in computer science, technology, and a wide range of public policy and legal issues. Our support for the principles underlying an open internet is shared by many academics and institutions who have a long history of undertaking research on these topics—across important areas like copyright, patents, and free expression. We provide support to help them undertake further research, and to raise awareness of their ideas.

These programs (and those run by other companies) augment the government and university-funded research that is the backbone of academic discourse in the United States.

We also run policy fellowship programs. Most other companies do this too; the difference with Google is that we list ours publicly on our policy website.

«

Miller notes that the Campaign for Accountability, which pointed to all this funding, doesn’t disclose its funding sources itself. However, the CfA isn’t trying to influence governments or persuade academics to write papers which broadly back its work.
link to this extract


Profits are for suckers • DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jay Greenberg:

»

Scan the list of the latest IPOs, and the trend is clear. Of the last 20 technology IPOs only 3 companies were profitable in the year before going public, and many were not even close.

Call us old-fashioned, but we like profits. One of the first posts on this site covered the importance of profits. Companies that have profits control their destinies. Without profit, they operate at the mercy of people providing capital.

But clearly something has changed – the cost of capital has fallen off a cliff. Calculating a company’s cost of capital is complicated. The topic is an entire course at Business School. People get their PhDs looking at the subject, but a very rough way to calculate the cost of equity finance is to invert a company’s P/E multiple. So a company trading at a P/E of 10x has a 10% cost of equity, at 20x that cost is 5%. For a company trading at 200x, the cost of equity is basically 50bps. To put that in perspective, inflation is around 2% in the US, while the average multiple for an S&P 500 stock is 26.5X, or a 3.7% cost of capital. For the many companies going public on little or no profits, public market investors are paying companies for the privilege of investing in them.

In this kind of environment it makes all kinds of sense for companies to raise as much as possible. They are being paid to do so. There are many companies that probably ‘make’ more money from this equity float than they are making from the product or service they are selling.

«

Snap being an obvious example.
link to this extract


Investigators look for links between Trump, Russia cyber operations • McClatchy Washington Bureau

Peter Stone and Greg Gordon:

»

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks, .

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told McClatchy he wants to know whether Russia’s “fake or damaging news stories” were “coordinated in any way in terms of targeting or in terms of timing or in terms of any other measure … with the (Trump) campaign.”

By Election Day, an automated Kremlin cyberattack of unprecedented scale and sophistication had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters, many in swing states, even in key precincts.

«

Given what we now know about the Trump campaign meeting Russia-linked folk, this becomes a more important question.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s post about Fitbit buying a smartwatch maker dated from January. Since then, there hasn’t been any good news for Fitbit.

Start Up: death of the web startup?, how Google paid for academic coverage, Daily Mail sued, and more


Windows Phone’s first incarnation: the world was very, very, very different then, as the BBC story indicates. Photo by JesarArts on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Windows Phone dies today • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft is killing off Windows Phone 8.1 support today, more than three years after the company first introduced the update. The end of support marks an end to the Windows Phone era, and the millions of devices still running the operating system. While most have accepted that the death of Windows Phone occurred more than a year ago, AdDuplex estimates that nearly 80% of all Windows-powered phones are still running Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, or Windows Phone 8.1. All of these handsets are now officially unsupported, and only 20% of all Windows phones are running the latest Windows 10 Mobile OS.

Windows Phone 8.1 was a big update to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system, and included the company’s Cortana digital assistant. A new notification center, UI changes, and updates to the core mobile OS. It marked one of Microsoft’s biggest efforts with its Windows Phone work, but it wasn’t successful at competing with Android and iOS. 99.6% of all new smartphones now run Android or iOS, and Microsoft has given up producing its own Lumia-branded hardware as a result.

«

Flashback to September 2010:

This was the funeral – allegedly – for the iPhone, because Windows Phone v 1.0 had been released to manufacture. Life comes at you.. quite slowly sometimes.
link to this extract


McDonald’s takes domain names off the menu • Domain Name Wire

Andrew Allemann:

»

McDonald’s had decided it doesn’t want to run new top level domain names after all.

The restaurant chain applied to run the .McDonalds and .MCD top level domain names, but it recently sent termination notices (pdf) to domain name overseer ICANN voluntarily relinquishing the two domains.

It joins a host of companies that applied for so-called .brand top level domain names that have decided it’s not worth the expense or effort.

ICANN also just published a termination notice from Pampered Chef, a Berkshire Hathaway company, for .PamperedChef.

«

Another example of the new top-level domains being pointless. They really are the deforested wastelands of the web. (OK, nothing had to be torn down, but who is there at all that finds them useful?)
link to this extract


The end of the internet startup • Vox

Timothy Lee:

»

the 2010s seem to be suffering from a startup drought. People are still starting startups, of course. But the last really big tech startup success, Facebook, is 13 years old.

Until last year, Uber seemed destined to be Silicon Valley’s newest technology giant. But now Uber’s CEO has resigned in disgrace and the company’s future is in doubt. Other technology companies launched in the past 10 years don’t seem to be in the same league. Airbnb, the most valuable American tech startup after Uber, is worth $31 billion, about 7% of Facebook’s value. Others — like Snap, Square, and Slack — are worth much less.

So what’s going on? On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, I posed that question to several technology executives and startup investors.

“When I look at like Google and Amazon in the 1990s, I kind of feel like it’s Columbus and Vasco da Gama sailing out of Portugal the first time,” said Jay Zaveri, an investor at the Silicon Valley firm Social Capital.

The early internet pioneers grabbed the “low-hanging fruit,” Zaveri suggested, occupying lucrative niches like search, social networks, and e-commerce. By the time latecomers like Pinterest and Blue Apron came along, the pickings had gotten slimmer.

«

This doesn’t make sense. There aren’t big startups, apart from the gigantic Uber, Snap, AirBnB, Square, hang on, don’t go, I’ll run out of names in a minute, Slack…

One could have thought this at any time from 1997. It still isn’t true. There will be other big startups; you just aren’t looking in the right place.
link to this extract


News publishers team up to take on Facebook, Google • WSJ

Lukas Alpert, Deepa Seetharaman and Brent Kendall:

»

The News Media Alliance—a trade coalition representing some 2,000 organizations across the U.S. and Canada, including Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones—says antiquated antitrust laws have had “the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position,” by limiting publishers’ ability to push for changes together.

Federal antitrust law bars competitors from coordinating on business decisions and market strategy. If granted a limited waiver by Congress, the group said it would seek stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for digital subscription models and a fairer share of revenue and customer data.

“Quality journalism is critical to sustaining democracy and is central to civic society,” the alliance’s president and chief executive, David Chavern, said in a statement. “To ensure that such journalism has a future, the news organizations that fund it must be able to collectively negotiate with the digital platforms that effectively control distribution and audience access in the digital age.”

«

No, no, no, no. The monopoly that Facebook and Google have in this space – search and social – is entirely legally acquired. It’s not right to allow a cartel – illegal in every other area of business – just because publishers are having trouble with the shift to digital. Had they made different choices earlier on, things might have been different.
link to this extract


Paying professors: inside Google’s academic influence campaign • WSJ

»

Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.

Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found.

University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18,830 to fund the work. The paper, published in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.”…

…Google has paid professors whose papers, for instance, declared that the collection of consumer data was a fair exchange for its free services; that the company didn’t use its market dominance to improperly steer users to Google’s commercial sites or its advertisers; and that it hasn’t unfairly quashed competitors. Several papers argued that Google’s search engine should be allowed to link to books and other intellectual property that authors and publishers say should be paid for—a group that includes News Corp, which owns the Journal. News Corp formally complained to European regulators about Google’s handling of news articles in search results.

«

News Corporation’s long-running struggle against Google continues. Put like this, though, Google’s position doesn’t look great.
link to this extract


Daily Mail sued for ‘pirating’ dozens of viral videos • TorrentFreak

“Ernesto”:

»

Initially, [viral video maker] Rumble and the Daily Mail had a license agreement to use the videos on their website. However, according to the complaint, the British tabloid continued to publish them after the license expired.

When the infringing usage continued, Rumble retained legal counsel to solve the matter, but that didn’t help either. This eventually culminated in legal action.

“Rumble asserts that the infringement here is of the most bold and bald-faced kind, exhibiting an utter disrespect for the copyrights of others,” the complaint reads.

“That [the infringment] is ‘willful’ in the factual and legal sense of the word is beyond dispute, such that the ultimate damages to be awarded will be reasonably and justifiably enhanced, including an award of Rumble’s attorneys fees as well.”

Rumble expects that Daily Mail will claim that they were not aware of the infringing activities so cautions the court not to fall for these type of excuses. The video platform stresses that turning a blind eye to the copyrights of others is part of the tabloid’s playbook, and plans to prove this at trial.

With dozens of videos listed in the legal paperwork, the potential piracy damages requested by the company are around $10m. In addition, Rumble asks for an injunction to stop the infringing activity as soon as possible.

«

Hmm, this is going to be a tough one for the Mail to argue.
link to this extract


Unjust, unreasonable, and unduly discriminatory: electric utility rates and the campaign against rooftop solar by Ari Peskoe :: SSRN

Ari Peskoe of the Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative:

»

The century-old technology and business model for electricity distribution is under threat. Decentralized technologies and services now allow consumers to buy less power from their local monopoly provider and customize the timing and price of the electricity they do buy. In response, investor-owned utilities (IOUs), which distribute power to 75% of U.S. homes, are urging state utility regulators to take action to protect the incumbent paradigm.

«

This is a followup to the NYT story from the other day about lobbying by utilities over the rates paid for solar installations.

From the paper itself (free download):

»

the average price charged by IOUs to residential ratepayers increased by 50% between 2000 and 2014, and some analysts predict that PV [photovoltaic] power will soon be less expensive than the local IOU’s rate across the country. As the price of central grid power and PV power converge, more ratepayers will find it economical to purchase or lease their own PV, rather than rely solely on the IOU.

The potential for this new paradigm raises several questions, such as: does an electricity system that connects thousands of PV systems ultimately benefit consumers, and how does society socialize the costs of this new grid? This paper does not seek to answer either question. Rather, it presumes that there is enormous uncertainty about how the electricity system will develop. Using regulation to prevent the deployment of a particular set of technologies and services is ill-advised because it locks the industry into existing models and inhibits innovation, which could ultimately harm consumers.

This paper does not argue that specific technologies or services should be deployed today, or even ever. Rather, the paper provides context for understanding ongoing debates between factions representing the central grid and those in favor of increasing decentralization.

«

In short: solar is disruptive.
link to this extract


Facebook to show ads on Messenger to bolster revenue growth • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:

»

Facebook has spent years developing two of the world’s most popular messaging apps. Now, with slowing revenue growth in its core service, it wants to cash in.

Starting Tuesday, Facebook will show advertisements inside Messenger, the chat app that Facebook says is now used by 1.2 billion people every month. The ads will be shown between users’ messages, similar to the way ads are sandwiched between posts in Facebook’s news feed, the main scroll of pictures, videos and posts that greets everyone who uses the service.

Facebook plans to roll out the ads “slowly and carefully” to Messenger’s users, said Stan Chudnovsky, Messenger’s head of product, replicating the strategy followed by its photo-sharing app, Instagram, which started showing ads to users in 2013 and took a couple of years to implement more widely.

Facebook also has been studying ways to profit from WhatsApp, the company’s other messaging app…

…Both Messenger and WhatsApp, which also claims 1.2 billion users, have been studying moneymaking strategies centered on connecting users to advertisers. Facebook has said two billion messages are sent between people and businesses every day over Messenger. Barclays Capital estimates that figure is about 2.5 billion for WhatsApp. But Messenger is more popular in affluent markets like the U.S. and Europe, while WhatsApp is more popular in developing countries that haven’t yet been lucrative for Facebook.

Facebook could net an extra $11bn in revenue from the two messaging apps by 2020, Barclays Capital estimates.

«

link to this extract


Bitcoin is having a civil war right as it enters a critical month • Bloomberg

Lulu Yilun Chen and Yuji Nakamura:

»

After two years of largely behind-the-scenes bickering, rival factions of computer whizzes who play key roles in bitcoin’s upkeep are poised to adopt two competing software updates at the end of the month. That has raised the possibility that bitcoin will split in two, an unprecedented event that would send shockwaves through the $41bn market.

While both sides have big incentives to reach a consensus, bitcoin’s lack of a central authority has made compromise difficult. Even professional traders who’ve followed the dispute’s twists and turns aren’t sure how it will all pan out. Their advice: brace for volatility and be ready to act fast once a clear outcome emerges.

“It’s a high-stakes game of chicken,” said Arthur Hayes, a former market maker at Citigroup Inc. who now runs BitMEX, a bitcoin derivatives venue in Hong Kong. “If you’re a trader, there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what happens. Once there’s a definitive signal about what will be done, the price could move very quickly.”…

…after previous counter-proposals championed by Wu [Jihan, cofounder of the world’s largest bitcoin mining organisation Antpool], fell through, miners last month agreed to compromise and support SegWit, in exchange for increasing the block size. Wu says the plan will alleviate short-to-medium term congestion and give Core enough time to flesh out a long-term solution. That proposal is what is known as SegWit2x, which implements SegWit and doubles the block size limit.

“You can think of the SegWit2x proposal as an olive branch,” said Wu.

Support for SegWit2x has reached levels unseen for previous solutions. About 85% of miners have signaled they are willing to run the software once it’s released on July 21, and some of bitcoin’s largest companies have also jumped on board.

The unprecedented level of endorsement is partly prompted by anxiety of bitcoin losing its dominant status to ethereum, a newer cryptocurrency whose popularity has soared thanks to its ability to run smart contracts and its more corporate-friendly approach.

«

link to this extract


Samsung rebuts reports of lackluster Galaxy S8 sales • AndroidAuthority

Bogdan Petrovan:

»

Reports out of Korea suggest the Galaxy S8 has failed to outsell its predecessor in the first months of availability.

Financial publication The Bell, via The Investor, cited reports from industry analysts that put Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus sales at around 9.8m units in the first two months. That’s 20% lower than the 12m Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge’s that Samsung is estimated to have moved in the same period last year. According to the unnamed analysts, Samsung has reduced component orders, a sign of lackluster sales.

A Samsung official refuted the reports, pointing that the Galaxy S8 initially launched in a smaller number of markets compared to the wide global launch that the Galaxy S7 enjoyed. “We estimate S8’s sales volume to be similar to that of S7 for now,” the Samsung representative added.

If the analyst reports would be accurate, it would be a major reversal for the well-reviewed Galaxy S8. On May 16, Samsung announced it sold 5m Galaxy S8 units in the first three weeks of availability, 20% to 30% higher than the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. To go from 20% higher to 20% lower, sales in the second month of availability must have been extremely poor, which is unlikely.

«

I changed the headline, which originally said “refutes” (which means offers evidence disproving); “rebut” means “to contradict”. There’s no evidence from Samsung, only some pointers on why something might not be true.

While reading this article, I wondered how long sites like Android Authority and Android Police can continue. Now that the white heat of smartphone sales expansion is over, their narrow focus looks, well, narrow, and hence unsustainable. Who’s going to care about the minutiae of Samsung phone sales, Google Maps feature tweaks, and other marginalia in five years’ time?
link to this extract


Fitbit acquires the Vector smartwatch startup, as the wearable giant continues its roll-up • TechCrunch

Mike Butcher:

»

Well this is a relatively fast exit. In March last year a brand new smartwatch brand appeared, hoping to offer something different. Combining the incredible engineering talent in Central Europe’s Romania with the business smarts of London and former executives from Citizen watches, the Vector startup carved out a very credible slot in the “affordable luxury” smartwatch sector.

Only a year later, Vector has been acquired for an undisclosed price by global wearable giant Fitbit. Founder and CTO Andrei Pitis confirmed to TechCrunch that the company was acquired for its software platform and design team. This does not, however, signal a move into the luxury smartwatch sector by Fitbit.

What is does confirm is that Fitbit is continuing its roll-up of talent associated with watches, wearables and fitness devices. In November, Fitbit acquired a pioneer in the smartwatch space, Pebble, with all its engineering talent being sucked into Fitbit. The same fate now awaits Vector, which raised only a small amount of cash, but turned heads with its clever hardware and software integration and design smarts.

«

Race against time for Fitbit. Has to get to successful smartwatches because the step trackers aren’t going to sustain them.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Final Fantasy’s housing crunch, Twitter tightens up, Oculus cuts its price (again), and more


Have you seen about 300,000 of these? A Shanghai startup has, um, lost them. Photo by matej.duzel on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Two Final Fantasy XIV players buy dozens of homes, spark debate over housing shortage • Kotaku

Cecilia D’Anastasio:

»

Frustration over Final Fantasy XIV’s housing shortage has come to a head after two players angered a lot of others by buying up 28 homes in the land-strapped massively multiplayer online game. Now, players are questioning whether virtual housing is an equal right or a privilege meant for the rich and over-dedicated.

The two players bought their homes in a formerly vacant corner of the game, a server called Mateus, where they could pursue dual ambitions of opulence and privacy. Their critics say they’ve hoarded land from dozens of FFXIV citizens, who feel they deserve a chance at housing. That criticism has gotten ugly as players hotly debate whether their elitism—or desire for mass amounts of property—has any place in a game where everybody pays the same fee.

“Given we both came to Mateus for the quiet, it’s distinctly uncomfortable to have others come in and insult us,” one of the bulk home-owners, a player who goes by the name Martyr Igeyorhm, told me during a tour of their two-occupant neighborhood today. “We’ve had to report people for harassment a few times.” Her housing partner Seraph Altima agreed, adding, “I think it’s wrong that people ignore the work and just see themselves being deprived.”

FFXIV has had housing drama as long as it’s had houses. When producer Naoki Yoshida introduced housing to FFXIV in 2011, he emphasized fair land distribution. But in the intervening years, housing has become a contentious topic in the game as speculators and thick-pocketed players monopolized property on big servers. Other times, players didn’t even use the houses they buy; it’s just a status symbol.

About 2,500 houses are available for each of FFXIV’s servers, which on average host over twice that amount of players. Houses aren’t a necessity in FFXIV, but owning one means having your own space to invite new raiding friends, host parties and, most importantly, decorate.

«

Can’t escape the reality of social policy even in fantasy.
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About the Notifications timeline • Twitter Help Center

Twitter has updated things:

»

Advanced filter settings
You might receive notifications from certain types of accounts you’d like to avoid. In addition to enabling the quality filter, you can choose to disable notifications from the following types of accounts: 

• Accounts that are new (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts that don’t follow you (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts you don’t follow.
• Accounts with a default profile photo (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts without a confirmed email address (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts without a confirmed phone number (that you don’t follow).

«

Quite a few of these are things that people have been asking for since almost forever. Everything comes if you’re patient. But it might be too late for Twitter.
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Car startup Faraday Future halts North Las Vegas factory plan amid cash troubles, is working on Plan B • The Nevada Independent

Michelle Rindels:

»

Faraday Future’s announcement Monday to halt its existing factory-building plan and pursue a smaller option comes less than a week after a Shanghai court froze $183m in assets of Jia Yueting because of missed loan payments from LeEco — his Chinese media and online video conglomerate — to various Chinese financial institutions. Architects of the deal to bring the company to Nevada say the state braced from the start for this possibility and hasn’t lost money on the dropped venture, although it dashes hopes for major job creation and workforce training in a needy part of the state.

“We have decided to put a hold on our factory at the Apex site in North Las Vegas. We remain committed to the Apex site in Las Vegas for long-term vehicle manufacturing,” Stefan Krause, who’s been Faraday Future’s chief financial officer for the past four months, said in a statement. “We at Faraday Future are significantly shifting our business strategy to position the company as the leader in user-ship personal mobility — a vehicle usage model that reimagines the way users access mobility.

“As a result of this shift in direction, we are in the final stages of confirming a new manufacturing facility that presents a faster path to start-of-production and aligns with future strategic options.”

«

A company with no money is confirming a new manufacturing facility? That’s going to be special.

link to this extract


Member of UK gig-economy review panel was an early Deliveroo investor • FT

Aliya Ram:

»

Greg Marsh, one of four key members of an influential government review into modern employment practices, was an early investor into one of the companies at the heart of the discussion.

Mr Marsh, an entrepreneur, participated in a 2014 funding round in which Deliveroo, the food takeaway app, raised £2.75m. He bought shares worth “less than £10,000″ in the company, he said, which he attempted to to sell in November after being appointed to the government commissioned review.

According to Mr Marsh, his stake in Deliveroo was fully disclosed to Matthew Taylor, the former Labour official leading the review. He added that he had sold his full stake by the end of January.

The link between Mr Marsh and Deliveroo will raise questions about the impartiality of the Taylor review, which is due to be published tomorrow and will make recommendations about the employment practices of “gig” employers such as Deliveroo.

«

link to this extract


Pando goes to… “The Startup Mingle Party and ‘Summer Seduction’ Lingerie Fashion Show” • Pando

Sarah Lacy:

»

Mic in hand, the host of SOMA’s most talked about “Startup Mingle and Lingerie fashion show” was keen to “get this party started.” But first, he had something to get off his chest.

 “I don’t know how many of you read the news,” he began, the slight against millennial curiosity presumably unintentional. “But there have been some people saying that this event is sexist. And, sure, all publicity is good publicity, but this is something we take very seriously. Obviously, they have no idea who we are or what this event is about.” 

“If they were really investigative journalists, they’d be here,” he added as a newspaper reporter in the crowd silently unsheathed her notebook and I stepped further into the shadows.

Until last week, there’s no earthly reason why you would have heard of J. Brad Carrick, a man whose styling might be best described as Gavin Newsom meets off-Strip illusionist. Nor should you be familiar with his legal and business services company, Creative Startup Labs, or his “functional fashion” startup, Solz, maker of foldable shoes and solar-powered backpacks, or his online fashion-meets-legal-advice magazine, Fashion Injuction. Similarly, if you’re a serious Silicon Valley entrepreneur it’s unlikely you will have found yourself at one of his now-infamous minglers.

«

link to this extract


Here’s why you should worry less about dwell time on web pages • Medium

SessionCam monitors what people do on sites, and has some news for those who think “longer on the page is better”:

»

The old assumption is that people who buy things spend longer on your site than people who don’t, so targeting longer dwell time is a great idea. But let’s examine that a little more closely: Those visitors spent more time because they were already looking to buy or your content was already relevant to them. Dwell time isn’t the catalyst for engagement, it’s a side-effect of it.

We’ve analyzed hundreds of thousands of website sessions and high dwell times tend to indicate that visitors are struggling. They don’t interact with the page because they can’t understand it or don’t easily find what they’re looking for. Those sessions often feature pages with too much information or poor layout.

Conversely, our analysis of sessions with a low dwell time indicates that in those cases visitors find what they need to on the page. That allows them to more quickly complete their intended task. What you consider an acceptable dwell time will differ from page to page. You want a login process to be fast but expect completing a payment form to take a little longer.

Dwell time alone is a black box. It’s hard to work out whether a visitor is engaged, struggling or simply away from the keyboard. The distance traveled by the cursor is just one measure that can act as a proxy for duration and the visitor has to be present. Our studies suggest distance traveled is much more important in identifying struggle than duration.

«

link to this extract


Facebook cuts price of Oculus Rift VR headset to $400, matching PlayStation VR • Business Insider

Alex Heath:

»

Facebook is once again cutting the price of its high-end Oculus Rift virtual reality headset amidst heated competition from HTC, Sony, and others.

For the next six weeks, Facebook-owned Oculus VR is lowering the combined price of its Rift headset and touch controllers from $600 to $400. The new price point matches Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, which has quickly emerged as the early leader in the race to bring VR to the masses.

Oculus VP of content Jason Rubin told Business Insider that the Rift’s reduced price is intended to attract less avid gamers who are reluctant to spend a lot of money on high-end VR.

“We know that hardware moves at that price point,” said Rubin.

Sony announced in February that it had sold 925,000 units of its PlayStation VR headset. Oculus has yet to disclose sales of its headset, but third-party estimates show that Rift sales have fallen well behind Sony and the HTC Vive.

Facebook kicked off the tech industry’s push into VR with its purchase of Oculus for $2bn in 2014. Since then, a string of production setbacks, management shakeups, and a $500m lawsuit with game maker ZeniMax have plagued Oculus. Earlier this year, Facebook closed hundreds of its Oculus VR pop-up shops in Best Buys after some stores went days without a single demo.

«

Price cuts won’t turn a fourth-placed product into a first-placed one. Without the content (read: games) and the installed base ready to use it (Sony miles ahead of the pack there), this is money down the drain. If it costs the same as a Sony device, but you’ll need a pricey desktop PC (most people have laptops), you’re not going to add any new sales at the margin.
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Binary co-founder blames “corrupted” media for his resignation offer • Axios

Dan Primack:

»

Binary Capital co-founder Jonathan Teo slammed the media, investor leaks and at least one of his portfolio companies in an email sent to all Binary portfolio CEOs on Saturday, more than two weeks after his former partner, Justin Caldbeck, resigned over allegations that he had sexually harassed female founders. Axios has obtained the email, which is reprinted in full after the jump.

Some highlights:

• Teo remains managing partner of Binary Capital, as its limited partners have not yet accepted his offer to resign.

• Teo says that his resignation offer was not based on any personal failings, but rather was intended to stop a news cycle “by giving the blunt-tooled media activists what they wanted.” He also writes: “The news we read and have access to is a problem. Media has been corrupted.”

• Teo claims only one entrepreneur has asked to buy back shares from Binary, and says that those who choose that route are engaged in “opportunistic grandstanding.”

• Teo lashed out at an investor who he believes has been leaking information to the media (psst Jon, it’s more than one), and repeatedly complains about “whiners” who want to be “coddled.”

• He says he is “angry” that women have been hurt, although he also says it is “moronic” that some believe only a woman should be chosen as Binary’s next general partner.

«

TL;DR: man angry about way that sexism is finally being acted on in Silicon Valley is still angry.
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Umbrella-sharing startup loses nearly all of its 300,000 umbrellas in a matter of weeks • Shanghaiist

»

With bike-sharing companies like Mobike becoming incredibly successful in Chinese cities, a few startups have decided to mimic the concept with shareable umbrellas. The only problem: most of the umbrellas have gone missing.

Only a few weeks after starting up operations in 11 cities across China, Sharing E Umbrella announced that it had lost almost all of its 300,000 umbrellas.

The Shenzhen-based company was launched with a 10 million yuan ($1.4m) investment. The concept was similar to those that bike-sharing startups have used to (mostly) great success. Customers use an app on their smartphone to pay a 19 yuan ($2.80) deposit fee for an umbrella, which costs just 50 jiao for every half hour of use.

According to the South China Morning Post, company CEO Zhao Shuping said that the idea came to him after watching bike-sharing schemes take off across China, making him realize that “everything on the street can now be shared.”

«

If they introduced continuous billing for the umbrellas, then these guys are rich beyond avarice.

If not.. they’ve just lost a ton of money, and about 100kg of umbrellas.
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Self-driving cars prove to be labour-intensive for humans • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Self-driving cars seem like a magical idea. The concept of vehicles that can operate themselves, without steering wheels or pedals, leaps straight from the pages of science fiction. 

Yet like so many fantastical stories, there are “wizards” hidden behind the curtain — lots of them. Constructing the road to fully automated driving, it turns out, requires a lot of manual labour. 

Most companies working on this technology employ hundreds or even thousands of people, often in offshore outsourcing centres in India or China, whose job it is to teach the robo-cars to recognise pedestrians, cyclists and other obstacles. The workers do this by manually marking up or “labelling” thousands of hours of video footage, often frame by frame, taken from prototype vehicles driving around testbeds such as Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh and Phoenix. 

“Machine learning is a myth, it’s all Wizard of Oz type work,” says Jeremy Conrad, an investor at Lemnos Labs in San Francisco. “The labelling teams are incredibly important in every company, and will need to be there for some time because the outdoor environment is so dynamic.”

…“AI practitioners, in my mind, have collectively had an arrogant blind spot, which is that computers will solve everything,” says Matt Bencke, founder and chief executive of Mighty.Ai, which taps a community of part-time workers to filter and tag training data for tech companies.

«

link to this extract


Google Home breaks up domestic dispute by calling the police • Gizmodo

»

We’re gradually learning that smart home devices can be quite valuable for police. Following a recent case in which Amazon handed over data from its Echo device to police investigating a murder, a Google Home called the police when a couple was allegedly involved in a violent domestic dispute.

According to ABC News, officers were called to a home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico this week when a Google Home called 911 and the operator heard a confrontation in the background. Police say that Eduardo Barros was house-sitting at the residence with his girlfriend and their daughter. Barros allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend when they got into an argument and asked her: “Did you call the sheriffs?” Google Home apparently heard “call the sheriffs,” and proceeded to call the sheriffs.

«

Except that some intrepid reporting by Alex Hern has found that perhaps it wasn’t a smart speaker, since the Alexa can’t make a call and there wasn’t a Google Home. Most likely: the girlfriend silently dialled 911 on her phone, which would explain the man saying “Did you call the sheriffs?” So, non-story.

(Also, if you knew people whose last name was Sheriff – I do – then innocent conversations at home could go awfully awry.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Russia hacks US power, the solar subsidy fight, wild Amazon bot!, what Google reveals, and more


Vertu faces a court battle which might determine whether it has a future – though even that looks cloudy. Photo by legos+dream on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Court battle puts Vertu’s future on the line •Daily Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»

‘I have two of these phones that are basically useless now,” says Kenneth Tong, a customer of the troubled British smartphone brand Vertu. “$40,000 worth,” he adds.

Tong is upset that Vertu suddenly stopped providing on-demand concierge services for its well-heeled clientele. For almost 200 workers at the company’s Hampshire manufacturing base who have not been paid this month and have discovered around £400,000 missing from their pension fund, the problems are more serious.

This weekend they are in limbo as Vertu’s owner, a Paris-based Turkish exile named Murat Hakan Uzan, prepares to apply to the High Court to allow a pre-pack administration of their employer, the manufacturing arm Vertu Corporation. They have been told their jobs can be saved if the court and creditors agree to wipe out an accounting deficit of more than £128m and allow Uzan to buy the company out of administration for just €2.2m (£1.9m).

It is an ignominious fate for a brand that targets the super-rich, with handsets clad in titanium and sapphire glass starting at around £10,000 and going up to as much as £280,000 for bespoke, jewel-encrusted devices.

«

If word gets out, Vertu is toast. Oh, hang on..
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U.S. officials say Russian government hackers have penetrated energy and nuclear company business networks • The Washington Post

Ellen Nakashima:

»

Russian government hackers were behind recent cyber-intrusions into the business systems of US nuclear power and other energy companies in what appears to be an effort to assess their networks, according to US government officials.

The US officials said there is no evidence the hackers breached or disrupted the core systems controlling operations at the plants, so the public was not at risk. Rather, they said, the hackers broke into systems dealing with business and administrative tasks, such as personnel.

At the end of June, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent a joint alert to the energy sector stating that “advanced, persistent threat actors” — a euphemism for sophisticated foreign hackers — were stealing network log-in and password information to gain a foothold in company networks. The agencies did not name Russia.

The campaign marks the first time Russian government hackers are known to have wormed their way into the networks of American nuclear power companies, several US and industry officials said. And the penetration could be a sign that Russia is seeking to lay the groundwork for more damaging hacks.

«

Must just be preparation for that impenetrable joint cyber security thingamajig they’re going to set up jointly.
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16 startup metrics • Andreessen Horowitz

Jeff Jordan, Anu Hariharan, Frank Chen, and Preethi Kasireddy from the venture capital fund:

»

We have the privilege of meeting with thousands of entrepreneurs every year, and in the course of those discussions are presented with all kinds of numbers, measures, and metrics that illustrate the promise and health of a particular company. Sometimes, however, the metrics may not be the best gauge of what’s actually happening in the business, or people may use different definitions of the same metric in a way that makes it hard to understand the health of the business.

So, while some of this may be obvious to many of you who live and breathe these metrics all day long, we compiled a list of the most common or confusing ones. Where appropriate, we tried to add some notes on why investors focus on those metrics. Ultimately, though, good metrics aren’t about raising money from VCs — they’re about running the business in a way where founders know how and why certain things are working (or not) … and can address or adjust accordingly.

«

This is a fascinating list: would you know the difference between “Total Contract Value” and “Annual Contract Value”, and “Gross Merchandise Value v Revenue”?
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Rooftop solar dims under pressure from utility lobbyists • The New York Times

Hiroko Tabuchi:

»

Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900% by one estimate.

That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2%, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.

But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)

Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.

«

Selling back at the retail price (that you would pay to receive it) seems excessive. But solar deserves subsidy, for this reason: it reduces the future investment that utilities would otherwise have to make in power plants (or their own solar farms). Every kilowatt-hour generated by home solar doesn’t have to be paid for by the utility, and every kilowatt installed means a concomitant amount won’t be needed for daytime generation in the future. Pricing the subsidy correctly is tricky, for sure; too high and you crush the utilities’ business model; too low and it crushes the solar business.

However the “talking points” that the utilities were offering to try to get repeals (revealed later in the story) are nonsense. After all, the simple measure for them is to install more solar themselves on customers’ houses, pay for it, and keep the repayments on that basis.
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My-Handy-Design phone cases • Amazon.com

This is a page which shows what happens when a bot which can make anything to order goes wrong. It’s offering phone cases. And it’s trying to hit peoples’ interests via some weird search gaming. So you get phone cases which have pictures described like this:

»

Three year old biracial disabled boy in medical stroller, happy cell phone cover case Samsung S5

Cheese wheel on bady instead of table cell phone cover case iPhone6

Ingrown toenail with dressing cell phone cover case Samsung S5

Handgun in nightstand drawer cell phone cover case Samsung S5

«

It is quite surreal.
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Everybody lies: how Google search reveals our darkest secrets • The Guardian

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who takes a big data look via Google searches at peoples’ anxieties, prejudices, sexual preferences and fears, and also this:

»

The final – and, I think, most powerful – value in this data is its ability to lead us from problems to solutions. With more understanding, we might find ways to reduce the world’s supply of nasty attitudes. Let’s return to Obama’s speech about Islamophobia [after the 2015 San Bernadino attack]. Recall that every time he argued that people should respect Muslims more, the people he was trying to reach became more enraged. Google searches, however, reveal that there was one line that did trigger the type of response Obama might have wanted. He said: “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbours, our co-workers, our sports heroes and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform, who are willing to die in defence of our country.”

After this line, for the first time in more than a year, the top Googled noun after “Muslim” was not “terrorists”, “extremists”, or “refugees”. It was “athletes”, followed by “soldiers”.” And, in fact, “athletes” kept the top spot for a full day afterwards. When we lecture angry people, the search data implies that their fury can grow. But subtly provoking people’s curiosity, giving new information, and offering new images of the group that is stoking their rage may turn their thoughts in different, more positive directions.

Two months after that speech, Obama gave another televised speech on Islamophobia, this time at a mosque. Perhaps someone in the president’s office had read Soltas’s and my Times column, which discussed what had worked and what hadn’t, for the content of this speech was noticeably different.

Obama spent little time insisting on the value of tolerance. Instead, he focused overwhelmingly on provoking people’s curiosity and changing their perceptions of Muslim Americans. Many of the slaves from Africa were Muslim, Obama told us; Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran; a Muslim American designed skyscrapers in Chicago. Obama again spoke of Muslim athletes and armed service members, but also talked of Muslim police officers and firefighters, teachers and doctors. And my analysis of the Google searches suggests this speech was more successful than the previous one. Many of the hateful, rageful searches against Muslims dropped in the hours afterwards.

«

This assumes that Google does take American’s temperature correctly – that people are primed to respond like this. Which may well be true.
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The Essential Phone passed its 30-day shipping promise, and that’s fine • AndroidAuthority

Williams Pelegrin:

»

When Android co-creator Andy Rubin took the wraps off the Essential Phone around the end of May, the Playground and Essential CEO also said the phone would ship within the following 30 days. It has been over 30 days since then, and even though the Essential Phone is not yet at my doorstep, I am perfectly okay with that.

Regardless of Rubin’s pedigree in the industry, Essential is the new kid on the block. There are plenty of wrinkles for such a young player to iron out, some of which a company like OnePlus, which has been on the market for over three years, is still working out.

It’s not as if Essential has stood on its laurels – the company received a $300m investment in June, which means that the company is now valued somewhere between $900m and $1bn. Along with the $30m the company raised in 2016, Essential is in a better position than other nascent smartphone manufacturers, at least financially.

«

Yeah, fine, it’s not as if we want to hold people to their word or anything.
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BlackRock gets wiped out on Jawbone • The Information

Serena Saitto and Alfred Lee:

»

Funds overseen by BlackRock expect to lose at least 96% of the roughly $300m loan they made two years ago to Jawbone, which is going out of business, government filings show.

The New York-based asset manager marked down the value of the debt it held in Jawbone by nearly 98%, according to a Wednesday filing with the SEC. Slightly offsetting that loss is a stake the funds received in a new company affiliated with Jawbone founder Hosain Rahman, Jawbone Health Hub. The funds valued the stake at close to $6m.

The Jawbone loss risks wiping out much of the gains on BlackRock’s private tech portfolio. The firm’s Global Allocation Fund, for example, made $687 million in investments in 2014 and 2015 in venture-backed companies, which was worth $656m on paper as of April 30 after accounting for the fund’s $207m loss on Jawbone. Still, the loss is a small fraction of the $40bn managed by the Global Allocation Fund.

«

I’m handing this over to my World’s Tiniest Violin Fund. Also, love how BlackRock, having seen $300m go down the tubes, is now ready to invest again in the same guy.
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A year after ‘Pokémon Go,’ where are the augmented-reality hits? • WSJ

Sarah E. Needleman and Cat Zakrzewski:

»

There are thousands of augmented-reality games among the millions of apps in the Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc. stores. None, though, has come close to the success of “Pokémon Go.” There are several reasons why, industry observers say.

One is that the allure of “Pokémon Go” wasn’t primarily its augmented reality.

While the game’s digital monsters materialize as if in the real world, they don’t interact with it. A Snorlax might appear next to a tree, but the catlike creature won’t peek from behind it. Many players who took up hunting the monsters ended up turning off the augmented-reality feature.

The real innovation of “Pokémon Go,” analysts say, was its use of location-based technology to get players walking outside and socializing with others. A recent update to the game doubled down on community building by letting players meet at specific locations to jointly defeat powerful monsters in “raids.”

“We have worked for many years to build a new kind of game based on real world exploration, physical movement and social gameplay,” Niantic Inc., the game’s creator, said in an email. “Our definition of ’Augmented Reality’ is the entire concept of building a game that takes place in and augments the real world.”

«

It’s going to be really good game mechanics which wins this, not good mechanics.
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How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous • The Guardian

David Runciman, in the latest of the Guardian’s “Long Read” series:

»

Political cynicism has weaponised climate scepticism. But it might also prove to be its achilles heel. Just as pure science struggles with the fact that it can’t avoid politics, so pure politics struggles with the fact that it can’t avoid science. Even the most cynical political operators need to know what’s really likely to happen.

As reporting in the Los Angeles Times has shown, at the same time that it has been funding a PR campaign to question the scientific consensus, ExxonMobil has also been funding some of the research that underpins that consensus, including studies of rapidly shrinking ice levels in the Arctic. In the words of David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman, writing in the New York Review of Books, “a company as sophisticated and successful as Exxon would have needed to know the difference between its own propaganda and scientific reality”. Kaiser and Wasserman argue that, as a result, the company has committed fraud: it failed to disclose to its shareholders the basis on which it was making its investment decisions. Its business plans take it for granted that climate change is a real and imminent threat.

This behaviour has clear echoes of an earlier attempt to challenge the scientific consensus: the campaign by the big tobacco companies to dispute the link between smoking and cancer. Although many of these businesses recognised as far back as the 1950s that the science was sound, they funded a body of widely disseminated research designed to throw doubt on that view. Their goal was to keep the public open-minded about the dangers of cigarettes, and therefore to keep as many of them puffing away for as long as possible.

It was a purely cynical business strategy, and in some cases it was criminal as well. It worked to the extent that it bought the tobacco industry time to reorient its investment and marketing to take account of the new reality. But in the long run it failed. No reasonable person – and certainly no serious politician – now doubts the link between smoking and cancer. The fate of tobacco can give hope to people who worry that the truth is always outgunned: the science won out over the cynics in the end.

«

This does offer the best route forward on tackling the sceptics – who are really cynics, not interested in truth. But as Runciman also points out, the danger is in ascribing change too quickly to climate effects.
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uBeacSec: privacy and security aspects of the ultrasound ecosystem

Following on from last time’s note about ultrasonic tracking via your phone, there’s a resistance movement:

»

For the first time, we examine the different facets of ultrasound-based technology. Initially, we discuss how it is already used in the real world, and subsequently examine this emerging technology from the privacy and security perspectives. In particular, we first observe that the lack of OS features results in violations of the principle of least privilege: an app that wants to use this technology currently needs to require full access to the device microphone. We then analyse real-world Android apps and find that tracking techniques based on ultrasounds suffer from a number of vulnerabilities and are susceptible to various attacks. For example, we show that ultrasound cross-device tracking deployments can be abused to perform stealthy deanonymization attacks (e.g., to unmask users who browse the Internet through anonymity networks such as Tor), to inject fake or spoofed audio beacons, and to leak a user’s private information.

Where do we go from here?
Based on our findings, we introduce several defense mechanisms. We first propose and implement immediately deployable defenses that empower practitioners, researchers, and everyday users to protect their privacy. In particular, we introduce a browser extension and an Android permission that enable the user to selectively suppress frequencies falling within the ultrasonic spectrum. We then argue for the standardization of ultrasound beacons, and we envision a flexible OS-level API that addresses both the effortless deployment of ultrasound-enabled applications, and the prevention of existing privacy and security problems.

«

The members list is a combination of University of California and University College London professors and PhD students. So someone is on it. (Via Tony Hirst.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google facing Android fine?, Jawbone exits, Texas’s political portents, Twitter truths, and more


Ultrasonic beacons are seen but not heard – at least by humans. Phones are another matter. Photo by Ignatius Wahn on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Also, you know, Friday. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: EU considers record fine as panel checks Google Android case – sources • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

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EU antitrust regulators are weighing another record fine against Google over its Android mobile operating system and have set up a panel of experts to give a second opinion on the case, two people familiar with the matter said.

Assuming the panel agrees with the initial case team’s conclusions, it could pave the way for the European Commission to issue a decision against Alphabet’s Google by the end of the year.

The Commission in April last year charged Google with using its dominant Android mobile operating system to shut out rivals following a complaint by lobby group FairSearch, US-based ad-blocking and privacy firm Disconnect Inc, Portuguese apps store Aptoide and Russia’s Yandex.

The move by the EU competition authority, which hit the company with a €2.4bn ($2.7bn) penalty for unfairly favoring its shopping service last month, could pose a bigger risk for the world’s most popular internet search engine because of Android’s huge growth potential.

The potential fine is expected to top that €2.4bn penalty.

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Compared to the shopping decision, this one will have come down in record time. The argument – that Google used the dominance of Android to shut out rivals – is slightly circular; Android got big in large part because it had Google in there. But the logic will be that it already had desktop dominance (true) and then used that to muscle out would-be rivals.
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Hundreds of apps can listen for marketing ‘beacons’ you can’t hear • WIRED

Lily Hay Newman:

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There are certainly legitimate uses of “ultrasonic cross-device tracking” technology. Some apps are part of rewards programs that automatically offer customers promotions when they visit particular stores. Others facilitate ticketing at events like sports games.

But plenty of apps deploy it without so clear a use case, at least as far as direct benefits for the person who downloads them. In fact, research presented last week at the IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy found 234 current Android applications that incorporate a particular type of ultrasonic listening technology. That doesn’t quite constitute widespread distribution, but the infrastructure to support it has landed in more and more apps every year. And there are many mainstream examples, like the Philippines versions of the McDonald’s and Krispy Kreme apps. That doesn’t mean these apps have the function turned on, necessarily, but they are ready to support it at any time.

Beacon technology is also showing up in more physical locations. While the researchers didn’t find any ultrasonic tones being broadcast out on a sampling of television programming from seven countries, they did find that four of the 35 retail stores they visited around Germany did have beacons installed. “It was really interesting to find beacons at the entrance of some stores in two German cities,” says Erwin Quiring, a privacy and Android security researcher who worked on the study. “It affects all of us if there’s some kind of privacy invasive technique we don’t know about and which runs silently on phones.”

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Worth checking what apps are demanding to use your microphone on iOS or Android.
link to this extract


Jawbone to be liquidated as Rahman moves to health startup • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

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Jawbone, the consumer electronics firm once valued at $3bn, is going out of business. The company has begun liquidation proceedings, after years of financial pressures, according to a person close to Jawbone. 

Jawbone co-founder and CEO Hosain Rahman has founded a new company called Jawbone Health Hub that will make health-related hardware and software services, according to the person. Many employees of Jawbone moved to the new firm earlier this year, the person said. Jawbone Health will service Jawbone’s devices going forward, said the person.

BlackRock, which loaned Jawbone $300m in 2015 and is the only secured creditor, received a stake in the new firm, the person said. BlackRock didn’t respond to a request for comment. An investor with no ties to Jawbone has put money into the health firm.

A notice sent to creditors said Jawbone entered into insolvency proceedings under California law on June 19.

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“Jawbone Health” would be sued by Jawbone for passing off if the latter weren’t closing down. What a coincidence.

Anyway: a wearable company shutters. The crunch goes on.

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How spammers, superstars, and tech giants gamed music • Vulture

Adam Raymond:

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A few weeks after the release of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” the hard-charging lead single on his fourth album Damn., the song landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s streaming chart. It’s been on the chart ever since, never falling below No. 3 as users have played it more than 291 million times on Spotify alone.

And that’s just the streaming total for Lamar’s version. His hit song has also been a boon for Spotify’s parasitic underbelly — the coverbots and ripoff artists who vomit out inferior versions of popular songs every week, flooding the website with dreck that only succeeds when users are misled. No one would willingly listen to King Stitch’s “Sit Down, Be Humble,” a third-rate cover of Lamar’s original, but the track has been streamed more than 300,000 times thanks to Spotify’s broad search results and a clever title designed to confuse those who don’t know the song’s real name.

On a website with more than 100 million active daily users, there are plenty of ways to game the system, be it for attention, or, if the streams pile up enough, profit. And the frauds cashing in on the latest hot single are hardly alone. A bevy of unknown artists have found ways to juice their streaming totals, whether it’s covering songs from artists who don’t allow their songs on Spotify, or uploading an album of silent tracks, each precisely long enough to generate a fraction of a cent for the artist…

Even Spotify is reportedly gaming the system by paying producers to produce songs that are then placed on the service’s massively popular playlists under the names of unknown, nonexistent artists. This upfront payment saves the company from writing fat streaming checks that come with that plum playlist placement, but tricks listeners into thinking the artists actually exist and limits the opportunities for real music-makers to make money. Spotify did not respond to questions about the accusation, but this is not the first time Spotify, which pays minuscule streaming fees, has been accused of bilking artists.

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America’s future Is Texas • The New Yorker

Lawrence Wright with a fabulously long and detailed look at the bizarre politics of Texas, where whites are in the minority and Democrat-leaning voters in the majority, yet the legislature is mostly white and right-wing – with the aid of gerrymandering. There’s plenty of other detail; one could choose any extract, such as this:

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Politicians seldom pay a price for the damage that their legislation may do in the name of popular causes, such as declaring war or slashing taxes at the expense of vital social programs. In 2011, Governor [Rick] Perry vetoed a bill that would have banned texting while driving, saying that it was “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Texas is always above the national average in the number of highway fatalities. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, more than four hundred Texans are killed every year in crashes related to distracted driving, often because they are texting.

To my surprise, the sponsor of the bill that Perry vetoed was Tom Craddick, the ultraconservative former speaker. This year, he put the measure forward again, for the fourth time. He compares it to Texas’s seat-belt law, which, he notes, “is very unpopular” in his district. “But they say that ninety-five% of the people obey the law.”

On March 29, 2017, in the middle of the legislative session, a welder named Jody Kuchler called the sheriff’s offices in Uvalde County and Real County to say that a white truck was driving recklessly down a two-lane highway, swerving all over the road. Kuchler, who was following the truck, told the cops, “He’s going to hit somebody head on or he’s going to kill his own damn self.” He then watched helplessly as the truck rammed into a bus carrying members of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels. Thirteen people were killed. The driver of the truck was twenty-year-old Jack Dillon Young, who was largely unhurt. “He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was texting,’ ” Kuchler told reporters. “I said, ‘Son, do you know what you just did?’ ” (Young also had Ambien and other medications in his system.) The accident was one of many that might have been prevented had Governor Perry signed the 2011 texting bill into law.

That year, the Republican state legislature turned its attention instead to defunding women’s-health programs. “This is a war on birth control and abortions,” Representative Wayne Christian, a Tea Party stalwart from East Texas, admitted. “That’s what family planning is supposed to be about.”

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link to this extract


Microsoft will lay off thousands of employees • CNBC

Todd Haselton and Jon Fortt:

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Microsoft announced a major reorganization on Wednesday that will include thousands of layoffs, largely in sales.

The job cuts amount to less than 10% of the company’s total sales force, and about 75% of them will be outside the U.S., the company said.

Reports from last week suggested this was going to happen and that Microsoft was going to specifically focus on how it sells its cloud-services product, Azure.

Microsoft’s cloud business has been booming over recent quarters — Microsoft noted Azure sales growth of 93% last quarter. While Amazon has become a bigger competitor in the space, Microsoft’s restructuring is to pivot to software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure.

“Microsoft is implementing changes to better serve our customers and partners,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC.

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With 71,000 employees in the US and 50,000 outside, the expected cuts are about 3,000.
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SoundCloud cuts 40% of staff, closes San Francisco and London offices • Tech Narratives

Jan Dawson comments on the Bloomberg story of 173 jobs going:

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SoundCloud continues to struggle to find a role for itself as a paid rather than free service. It’s become enormously popular as a free music source, but almost all the artists who start their careers on SoundCloud eventually cross over to the mainstream music industry and its more established business models, including paid streaming, which is becoming increasingly important and is driving almost all the revenue growth in the industry. SoundCloud’s failure to cross over with those artists to the paid streaming world is likely to be fatal unless salvation comes in the form of an acquisition.

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He reckons the mooted Deezer acquisition isn’t happening, and that this is the signal of it not happening.
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Why people with brain implants are afraid to go through automatic doors • Gizmodo

Kristen Brown:

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In 2009, Gary Olhoeft walked into a Best Buy to buy some DVDs. He walked out with his whole body twitching and convulsing. Olhoeft has a brain implant, tiny bits of microelectronic circuitry that deliver electrical impulses to his motor cortex in order to control the debilitating tremors he suffers as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. It had been working fine. So, what happened when he passed through those double wide doors into consumer electronics paradise? He thinks the theft-prevention system interfered with his implant and turned it off.

We live in a world of many, many signals. The more signals there are, the more opportunity for them to cross—and for people with implanted devices, the effect can be disastrous.

Olhoeft’s experience isn’t unique. According to the Food and Drug Administration’s MAUDE database of medical device reports, over the past five years there have been at least 374 cases where electromagnetic interference was reportedly a factor in an injury involving medical devices including neural implants, pacemakers and insulin pumps. In those reports, people detailed experiencing problems with their devices when going through airport security, using massagers or simply being near electrical sources like microwaves, cordless drills or “church sound boards.”

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“Brain implant” is a clumsy phrase, though one struggles to think of a better one. Medical implant?
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Amazon’s Echo Look does more for Amazon than it does for your style • The Verge

Lauren Goode tried it out (but would not have it in the bedroom):

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Beyond the granular details of the Echo Look hardware, the faux depth-of-field on the photos, or the outfits the app thinks I should wear, is the simple premise that Amazon thinks you don’t know what you want to wear. Which, on some level, is true for me: I am one of those people who regularly feels undecided about what to wear, which I blame on having spent my most formative years in a uniform of some sort. As I write this review, I have just finished ironing an entire suitcase filled with unnecessary items because I am generally nervous about traveling without the Right Thing to Wear.

I’m finding as I get older, however, that what I’m wearing is less about what’s cool right now right this minute and more about practicality. Is this item appropriate for a funeral? Is this too casual for an interview, or too precious for a casual coffee? Am I going to be freezing at a friend’s wedding if I wear this? If the answer is yes: why are you not recommending I buy a jacket or shawl for that? Is this something that someone half my age would wear? (Yes, if it’s in the Juniors department.) I’m looking for more context, basically. Amazon, perhaps more than any e-commerce company, has the ability to do this. Amazon says this is “just the beginning” with the Echo Look and that it will get smarter over time, but the Echo Look app is just not there yet.

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But her criticism is that to judge clothes, you need to know context, and the Look can’t know what context you’re wearing an outfit for.
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Twenty Theses about Twitter • ERIC POSNER

(Posner is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. The other 16 are worth looking at too:

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17. In Twitter, the same people act as if their audience consisted of a few like-minded friends and forget that it actually consists of a diverse group of people who may not agree with them in every particular on politics, religion, morality, metaphysics, and personal hygiene. Hence tweeting becomes a source of misunderstanding and mutual hostility. The Twitter paradox is that one seeks solidarity but is constantly reminded of one’s solitude. Fortunately, there is always the mute button.

18. Without realizing it, people who use Twitter damage the image of themselves that they cultivate in the non-virtual world.

19. The sense of validation that Twitter provides is as a potato chip is to a meal. A Frankfurt school theorist would say that the tweet is a commodified form of social engagement in Late Capitalism. Its effect is to alienate its users while immersing them in advertisements.

20. But Twitter doesn’t even make money for the capitalist class. It’s a black hole of value-destroying technology for all concerned.

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Still, could be worse, eh?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: California’s solar loop, watch an AI flirt, Xiaomi’s dice roll, speak to speakers, and more


Photobucket users can’t hotlink unless they stump up $400 annually. Photo by Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka on Flickr

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

California invested heavily in solar power. Now there’s so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it • Los Angeles Times

Ivan Penn:

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No single entity is in charge of energy policy in California. This has led to a two-track approach that has created an ever-increasing glut of power and is proving costly for electricity users. Rates have risen faster here than in the rest of the U.S., and Californians now pay about 50% more than the national average.

Perhaps the most glaring example: The California Legislature has mandated that one-half of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030; today it’s about one-fourth. That goal once was considered wildly optimistic. But solar panels have become much more efficient and less expensive. So solar power is now often the same price or cheaper than most other types of electricity, and production has soared so much that the target now looks laughably easy to achieve.

At the same time, however, state regulators — who act independently of the Legislature — until recently have continued to greenlight utility company proposals to build more natural gas power plants.

…“California and others have just been getting it wrong,” said Leia Guccione, an expert in renewable energy at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, a clean power advocate. “The way [utilities] earn revenue is building stuff. When they see a need, they are perversely [incentivized] to come up with a solution like a gas plant.”

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Kinda messy. But they don’t need *more* gas power plants.

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I used a neural network to flirt with guys on Tinder, and it was a disaster • Mic.com

Melanie Ehrenkranz:

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On Monday morning, I fired up ye olde Tinder app and did what any modern woman looking for her soulmate should do: I messaged all of my matches with word vomit spawned from a machine.

“You must be a tringle? ’Cause you’re the only thing here.”

I hit on my Tinder matches using the approximately 20 pickup lines generated by research scientist Janelle Shane’s neural network framework. Shane used an open-source Torch add-on that uses machine learning to predict and generate text that is meant to imitate human language. In this case, it was writing flirty texts.

They ranged from the sweet (“I want to see you to my heart”) to the nonsensical (“I have a cenver? Because I just stowe must your worms”).

Algorithms are not very good at picking up on the nuances of human language and emotion. Fortunately, for a lot of dudes, that simply doesn’t matter.

I told one guy he “looked like a thing” and I loved him, and he told me he hoped I had a bush. I told another one I would bear his toot. He asked if I was looking to fuck and whether or not I liked Led Zeppelin.

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Wurl… you’re probably not going to get chatted up by a bot. Probably.
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Photobucket accused of blackmail after quietly requiring users to pay $400 a year to hotlink • The Verge

Natt Garun:

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Thousands of listings from online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are now filled with unsightly error images by Photobucket after the photo hosting site quietly introduced a $399 annual fee to users who want to embed images on third party websites. Users are now accusing Photobucket of extortion, as the service failed to make the update to its terms of service abundantly clear.

It all began last week when Photobucket announced in a short blog post that it had updated its terms of service that had begun taking effect from June 20th. Nowhere in the blog post did Photobucket highlight the most important change, which was that it will now cost uploaders $400 a year to insert their photos on another website using direct image links.

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That blog post in full:

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At Photobucket, we are committed to providing the best experience and services for all of your photo and image needs. We have updated our Terms of Service, effective June 20, 2017. Please take a moment to review our updated terms and policies as they may affect your account.

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Those terms of service: you try to read them and it drops a giant modal saying “ENJOY ALL THE GREAT BENEFITS OF BEING A PHOTOBUCKET SUBSCRIBER ONLY $99 PER YEAR”. Amazingly annoying.

Free accounts, though, don’t get hotlinking. In fact nothing does – not the 52GB storage plan ($60/pa), the 102GB plan ($100pa); only the 500GB plan, $400pa.

I don’t know why Photobucket is tired of being on the internet, but clearly it just doesn’t want people to use it any more.
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Fourth largest Bitcoin exchange. Bithumb, hacked for billions of Won • Brave New Coin

Luke Parker:

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The largest bitcoin and ether exchange in South Korea by volume, Bithumb, was recently hacked. Monetary losses from compromised accounts have started to surface, and are quickly reaching into the billions of won. [1bn won is about $0.9m, £0.7m.]

With a reported 75.7% share of the South Korean bitcoin market volume, Bithumb is one of the five largest bitcoin exchanges in the world and hosts over 13,000 bitcoins worth of trading volume daily, or roughly 10% of the global bitcoin trade.

The exchange also hosts the world’s largest ether market. While trade in the South Korean won currently makes up the fourth largest currency market for bitcoin, trailing the US dollar, Chinese yuan and Japanese yen, the won market is Ethereum’s largest. Bithumb accounts for around 44% of South Korean ether trading.

A cyber attack late last week resulted in the loss of billions of won from customers accounts. According to a major local newspaper, the Kyunghyang Shinmun, one victim alone claimed that “bitcoins worth 10 million won” in his account “disappeared instantly.” A survey of those who lost money from the hack reveals “it is estimated that hundreds of millions of won have been withdrawn from accounts of one hundred investors. One member claims to have had 1.2 billion won stolen.”

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The current state of ai: artificial intelligence in music, movies & more • hypebot

Thomas Euler (of Attention Econo.me):

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Today, we’ll be looking at the current-state-of-the-AI in three creative domains: music, writing and video/movies. Keen observers will note that I talked about six domains in the introduction. True. Yet, I was overly optimistic in thinking I could cover all six in a single piece (I mean, sure, I could. In a 4,000+ word piece aka a 20+ minute read; those don’t work particularly well on the web though). Thus, I changed the format on the fly. It’s now a five-part-series. I’ll cover painting, games, and advertising next week.

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A useful little tour through what’s happening; some of these have featured here before, but it’s good to have them in one place. And the videos are fun.
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Xiaomi goes old school to reclaim smartphone crown in China • Bloomberg

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Xiaomi Corp. pioneered an online flash-sales model that lifted it to dizzying heights and made it Asia’s most valuable startup, but it’s since fallen on hard times. Now it’s counting on old-fashioned retail to make a comeback, and that’s proving a much stiffer challenge. 

The smartphone maker is going through a major transformation after missed targets prompted a bout of soul-searching by billionaire co-founder Lei Jun. From Harbin in the chilly northeast to glitzy eastern Shanghai, it aims to build 1,000 “Mi Homes” by 2019 – about twice Apple Inc.’s global store count – that will rake in an envisioned 70 billion yuan ($10bn) in sales by 2021.

Xiaomi – which has no real track record running stores or armies of sales reps – wants to set an upmarket tone for its brand by building its own signature outlets. But it’s taking on surging rental and labor costs, while rivals Huawei, Oppo and Vivo have sewn up prime locations by striking deals with hundreds of thousands of resellers.

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Oh suuure Xiaomi can make retail outlets work. Suuuuuure.

In related news: Xiaomi signed a patent deal with Nokia. It’s a cross-licensing deal, apparently, though I’d think the money mostly goes to Nokia.

Upshot: Xiaomi’s smartphone margins just got worse, and I don’t think they were necessarily that great to start with.
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Digital assistants’ adoption: a marathon not a sprint! • Tech.pinions

Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies:

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The industry is obsessed about determining who is ahead in artificial intelligence and whose assistant is smarter. Consumers, however, do not seem to be asking much of today’s digital assistants.

Alexa reached 15,000 skills just the other day, and Google Assistant and Siri have been growing in the range of tasks they can perform. Consumers are turning to them to ask the same things as they did last year: searching the internet, setting alarms, playing songs, asking directions and checking the news. What is encouraging, however, is that while searching the internet is still the primary task, all the others have grown in popularity compared to a year ago showing that consumer confidence might be growing.

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The “15,000 skills thing” is like saying that Unix has 15,000 commands. The problem is that if you don’t know them, you can’t find them because the command line doesn’t hint. Voice is like the command line in that sense. An SDK is nice, but it’s always going to be marginal until there’s some sort of standard way to interface to home gear – and that’s not going to happen for a long time.
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Will Apple’s bet on the market’s most expensive smart speaker pay off? • IHS Technology

Paul Erickson, senior analyst “Connected Home”:

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Amazon Echo is $179, Amazon Dot is $49, Google Home is $129. With seasonal promotion and third party hardware adding to the pricing mix, a smart-speaker-enabled household with HomePod will be between 2 to 8 times as expensive as the competition. It is thus likely that Apple will not be able to move significant volume of the HomePod in 2017 given how price-competitive the connected audio market (smart speakers, and Wi-Fi connected speakers overall) is expected to be in the fourth quarter. HomePod 2017 sales are expected to be primarily early adopters, the brand-faithful, and the higher income end of the iOS user base.
 
Sonos’ strategy shift highlights the questionable nature of Apple’s price positioning during its HomePod presentation, that $400-$700 is a reasonable price to expect for a smart speaker with quality audio and thus $349 is competitive…
 
Apple’s premium positioning ensures that it cannot hope to compete in pure volume with Amazon’s line (particularly the Dot) as an impulse-buy-friendly mainstream product. Instead, much like the Android-bound Google Assistant, over time it will be the iOS-bound nature of Siri that will spread the Apple-centric smart speaker proposition far and wide. Buyers will opt for the virtual assistant they are already familiar with. 
 
One notable difference from Google Home, however, is that Apple’s HomePod announcements were not accompanied by any indication of an SDK or tools to allow third parties to build similar hardware. As inexpensive third party Alexa and Google Assistant hardware begins to enable low cost of entry in Q4 2017 and beyond, Apple’s high cost of entry will slow HomePod penetration (and by extension the growth of Siri-controlled smart homes). Competitive pressures are expected to generate announcements of a near certain price cut (or release of a lower-priced model below $200) by June or September 2018.

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Question is how useful those tools are.
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Worldwide device shipments will decline 0.3% in 2017 • Gartner

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PC market decline is slowing
PC shipments are on pace to drop 3% in 2017, but the rate of decline is slower than in recent years, alleviated by Windows 10 replacement purchasing. Prices for components such as DRAM memory and SSD hard drives continue to rise, creating headwinds for the global PC market and — to a lesser extent — the smartphone market. The impact of component pricing on PCs is being reduced for buyers as producers absorb some of the cost into their margins — fearing the alternative of a reduction of their share of a competitive market.

“PC buyers continue to put quality and functionality ahead of price,” said Mr. Atwal. “Many organizations are coming to the end of their evaluation periods for Windows 10, and are now increasing the speed at which they adopt new PCs as they see the clear benefits of better security and newer hardware.”

Smartphone shipments set up for strong growth in 2017
Overall smartphone shipments will grow 5% in 2017, reaching nearly 1.6 billion units. End-user spending continues to shift from low-cost “utility” phones toward higher priced “basic” and “premium” smartphones. The smartphone market is now more dependent on new devices that offer something different, as users are extending their purchasing cycles and need to be enticed to make a replacement.

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I like how a (forecast) 3% decline in the PC market is presented as eh, nothing special, when it would have been huge drama a few years ago; while 5% growth in smartphones is “strong”, after years when it has been way over 20%. I guess it helps everyone feel things are OK-ish.
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The iPad is about to get more useful—and confusing • WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler has a try of iOS 11, still in beta. Much you’ll have seen, but I found this bit interesting:

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Drag and drop
This may be the most useful iPad skill yet: Now you can move things from one app to the next. Say you want to email a photo: Tap the image you want to send, then drag it over to your email app and drop it in a new message. It also works with text and files.


Drag and drop several photos by tapping the one you want, then tapping others to make a stack, which you drop as one item. PHOTO: EMILY PRAPUOLENIS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

You can drag multiple things at once: Tap one photo, then use a different finger to tap on another, and they make a stack that you can drop as one.

Is this easier than holding command and selecting multiple things with a mouse or trackpad? No. But it is a clever use for the iPad’s multi-touch screen.

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Drag-and-drop is the sort of thing you’re unlikely to discover by accident; this “gather the flowers” variant even less so. Hope that Apple has some good instructional apps figured out for this.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the troll habit, Deezer buying SoundCloud?, LeEco fizzling out, OLED for all!, and more


What happens to Apple Pay’s implementation if you don’t have TouchID on the front of an iPhone? Photo by tuaulamac on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Please clean up your GIFs after use. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Staring down internet trolls: my disturbing cat and mouse game • Sydney Morning Herald

Ginger Gorman has been hassled by trolls in the past, but persists in wanting to track down and talk to them:

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something bloody-minded within me can’t let it go. My job is to report and trolls like Mark are a risk to public safety. Maybe if I ask enough questions – or ask the right questions – I’ll understand this. Maybe if I reveal his game plan, we’ll all be safer.

The truth, though, is far less convenient than this and I’ve paid the price for my idealism. He’s hurting other people, and I can’t stop him. The more I know about him, the less I understand.

“Because it’s funny,” he says by way of explanation for the trolling, and it provides him “entertainment”.

He says: “I don’t really have emotions that much. I have emotions but nothing to do with regretting stuff and that field of emotions [including] sadness.”

This unsatisfactory answer leaves the notion of “morals” hanging limply between us.

“I don’t think it’s morally OK,” he says.

“Morals don’t come into it. I know everything I do is wrong.”

With some hesitation, I contact him to speak on camera. He agrees and meets me on time.

Perhaps because there’s a camera present, he’s less effusive than normal. He leans back in the chair in an apparent attempt to look relaxed. His answers are short and there’s a scratchiness about him.

Before the tape starts rolling and, out of earshot of the cameraman, he snaps: “If I’m going to be anonymous, I don’t see why you even need to interview me on camera.”

When we first spoke, Mark spent up to 14 hours a week trolling people. These days, he tells me, it’s more like 30 hours a week. His psychopathic tendencies are getting worse as he gets older.

“Have you ever read some of my stuff on the internet?” he boasts during yet another interview that we conduct by phone. “I’m one of the biggest narcissists on the planet.”

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Narcissistic, lacking empathy; an ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) sociopath. Before the internet, he was just one of those people who’d injure the neighbour’s cat under cover of night.
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Microsoft’s chatbot Zo calls the Qur’an violent and has theories about Bin Laden • Buzzfeed

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More than a year after Microsoft shut down its Tay chatbot for becoming a vile, racist monster, the company is having new problems with a similar bot named Zo, which recently told a BuzzFeed News reporter the Qur’an is “very violent.” Although Microsoft programmed Zo to avoid discussing politics and religion, the chatbot weighed in on this, as well as Osama bin Laden’s capture, saying it “came after years of intelligence gathering under more than one administration.”

BuzzFeed News contacted Microsoft regarding these interactions, and the company said it’s taken action to eliminate this kind of behavior. Microsoft said its issue with Zo’s controversial answers is that they wouldn’t encourage someone to keep engaging with the bot. The company also said these types of responses are rare for Zo. The bot’s characterization of the Qur’an came in just its fourth message after a BuzzFeed News reporter started a conversation.

Zo’s rogue activity is evidence Microsoft is still having trouble corralling its AI technology. The company’s previous English-speaking chatbot, Tay, flamed out in spectacular fashion last March when it took less than a day to go from simulating the personality of a playful teen to a Holocaust-denying menace trying to spark a race war.

Zo uses the same technological backbone as Tay, but Microsoft says Zo’s technology is more evolved. Microsoft doesn’t talk much about the technology inside — “that’s part of the special sauce,” the company told BuzzFeed News when asked how Tay worked last year.

«

Um. The Qur’an is violent, in parts; so is the Bible. (Latter contains scenes which may be unsuitable for children, involving human sacrifice, human death by transmogrification into salt, and depictions of extended fasting which may be unsuitable for those of an anorexic disposition.) And the Bin Laden stuff is very uncontroversial.

Chatbots are overrated, but there’s actually nothing dramatic here.
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How Soundcloud could transform Deezer’s market narrative • MIDiA Research

Rumours have emerged that Deezer (very much third place in music streaming subscribers behind Spotify and Apple Music) might buy Soundcloud, notes Mark Mulligan:

»

Soundcloud first rose to prominence as a platform for artists before it rocketed into the stratosphere as a consumer destination with its new VC-powered mission statement ‘to be the YouTube of audio’. The legacy of its unique starting point is that Soundcloud:

• Has a catalogue unlike any other streaming service, except YouTube (and to a lesser extent, Mixcloud)
• Gives artists a direct connection with fans unlike standard streaming services
• Gives up and coming artists a global platform for reaching fans with no intermediary

That unique combination of assets makes Soundcloud a highly valuable commodity despite its diminished user base and similarly reduced valuation (now said to be around $250 from a high of $1 billion). Soundcloud has two crucial attributes that will enrich any streaming service:

• A service tailor-made for Gen Z (ie those consumers currently aged 19 or under)
• A crowd sourced platform for artist discovery

«

SoundCloud certainly has value – the problem is turning that into profit. Certainly additive to Deezer, though it’s unclear whether that is making money either. SoundCloud might be the magic business enzyme to make it all happen, perhaps.
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All 2017 iPhone models said to include standard 5W USB-A adapter, with wireless charger sold separately • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

First and foremost, on the topic of Touch ID, Kuo’s note clearly says the iPhone 8 will not support fingerprint recognition, a prediction some MacRumors readers thought was ambiguous in the first post based on the included wording. Direct from the note:

»

As the OLED iPhone will not support fingerprint recognition, we think it may have to rely on facial recognition to ensure security. As such, we believe Apple (US) will be very demanding as regards the quality of 3D sensing, thereby increasing the difficulties in hardware production and software design.

«

Kuo’s claim has since been backed up by Bloomberg in a report suggesting Touch ID will be replaced by advanced facial recognition technology in the iPhone 8, lending more credence to Kuo’s prediction.

A second tidbit suggests the iPhone 8 and its companion devices, the “iPhone 7s” and the “iPhone 7s Plus” will all adopt glass bodies with metal frames to facilitate WPC-standard wireless charging functionality. WPC-standard refers to the Wireless Power Consortium, which supports the Qi wireless charging functionality built into many Android devices.

According to Kuo, wireless charging will be enabled through an optional accessory that will be purchased alongside the new iPhones — it won’t be a default feature available out of the box. Qi wireless charging is in line with rumors that have predicted the iPhone 8 will support inductive charging rather than a true wireless charging feature.

«

One point: the Bloomberg story (by Mark Gurman, referenced here yesterday) did not say that there wouldn’t be TouchID on the front. It said there would be face unlock. Those are slightly different things.

Also, I just don’t see Apple giving up on fingerprint recognition. The TouchID interface is convenient, quick, natural (you hold the phone that way), personal. I could see an argument for moving it to the side, as some smartphone companies such as Sony have done: that’s also where you hold the phone. But getting rid of it altogether is retrograde in the extreme. As readers here have asked, what happens to Apple Pay, which has been activated by a double press on the home button since its inception in 2014? Putting fingerprint recognition (which banks demand) on the side would be strange. And how do you double press face recognition? It doesn’t make sense. (By contrast, the absence of a headphone jack had been presaged within the smartphone market for some time before the iPhone 7.)
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LeEco chairman ‘has bank accounts frozen over debt’ • BBC News

»

The billionaire co-founder of struggling Chinese technology giant LeEco has had personal assets frozen by a Shanghai court, state media reports.

Assets worth a combined 1.24bn yuan ($183m; £141m) belonging to Jia Yueting, his wife, and three affiliates have reportedly been blocked.

The ruling follows LeEco’s failure to pay interest due on bank loans taken out to fund its smartphone business.

Neither Mr Jia nor the company has commented on the reports.

LeEco was for a while known as the Netflix of China, a company that streamed content and eventually started making its own original material. But it then drew comparison with the likes of Apple and Tesla when it began branching out into hardware, including a smart TV, phones and electric cars.

LeEco started selling devices in the US at the tail end of last year, but is now facing a cash crunch and has been forced to slash costs, including making job cuts. Mr Jia, who resigned as chief executive in May but retains his position as chairman, recently admitted to shareholders that its financial problems were “more severe than we expected”.

In April, a $2bn deal to buy consumer electronics-maker Vizio was called off because of “regulatory headwinds”.

«

Also: its Coolpad smartphone business lost $542m last year, according to unaudited results. LeEco is just awaiting the coup de grâce.
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Official: firm at center of cyberattack knew of problems • Associated Press

Raphael Satter:

»

The small Ukrainian tax software company that is accused of being the patient zero of a damaging global cyberepidemic is under investigation and will face charges, the head of Ukraine’s CyberPolice suggested Monday.

Col. Serhiy Demydiuk, the head of Ukraine’s national Cyberpolice unit, said in an interview with The Associated Press that Kiev-based M.E. Doc’s employees had blown off repeated warnings about the security of their information technology infrastructure.

“They knew about it,” he told the AP at his office. “They were told many times by various anti-virus firms. … For this neglect, the people in this case will face criminal responsibility.”

Demydiuk and other officials say last week’s unusually disruptive cyberattack [of the Petya ransomware] was mainly spread through a malicious update to M.E. Doc’s eponymous tax software program, which is widely used by accountants and businesses across Ukraine.

The malicious update, likely planted on M.E. Doc’s update server by a hacker, was then disseminated across the country before exploding into an epidemic of data-scrambling software that Ukrainian and several other multinational firms are still recovering from.

M.E. Doc initially denied playing any such role in the malicious software’s spread but later deleted the statement from Facebook. The company, which says it’s cooperating with authorities, has not returned messages seeking comment.

«

One wonders where liability stops: if you get hacked and are used to spread malware, is it other peoples’ fault when they’re infected, or should they have taken precautions?
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After Google, Apple rumored to invest in LG’s OLED operation • AndroidAuthority

Bogdan Petrovan:

»

With 95% of the market in its grip, Samsung Display’s position as the superpower of OLED industry seems unassailable.

But competitors – chief among them LG Display – are arming themselves to challenge Samsung. Tens of billions are at stake, as the world’s top manufacturers vie to secure OLED screens for hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

LG Display is said to be in talks with Apple for a deal worth more than $2.5 billion that would see the Korean company dedicate an entire new OLED manufacturing line to the iPhone maker.

Apple could invest between $1.75bn and $2.62bn to fund LG Display’s upcoming E6 plant, industry sources told The Investor. LG is currently buying equipment that would allow it to produce up to 60,000 OLED panel substrates every month at the plant. The E6 facility would be LG’s third OLED plant. The company is already making flexible OLED displays for Apple Watch on a 4.5-gen pilot line, and is currently ramping up production at its E5 facility.

«

Apple essentially spreading the risk, and giving itself some bargaining power against Samsung. Though not, one would think, a lot.
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Sharp will launch a pair of completely bezeless devices on the 17th of July • Gizchina.com

“Airyl”:

»

The race to become the first manufacturer to launch a completely bezeless device has officially ended, and the unexpected winner is Sharp. In a way, this probably should’ve been expected, seeing as Sharp were the ones who really kicked off the trend with the stunning Sharp Aquos Crystal years ago.

The brand new bezeless devices are the Sharp FS8016 and FS8010, two identical devices with different processors. Where the FS8016 features a Snapdragon 660 processor, the FS8010 will have a Snapdragon 330. They will come in two variants of 4GB and 6GB RAM, both paired with 64GB internal memory.

«

They look a bit weird, to be honest. No indication of where the fingerprint reader (there will be one, yes, even though they’re midrange?) is – on the side, or the back? Not the front, anyway.
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TrackID music recognition service closing down • Xperia Blog

“XB”:

»

In an unexpected move, Sony Mobile will be closing its TrackID music discovery app on 15 September 2017. The reason for the closure hasn’t been given, with Sony simply saying that “all businesses move forwards, and sometimes this means that apps are discontinued”.

Unfortunately, this means that your TrackID history will also be lost after this date, so if this important to you, then you should find a means of recreating the list elsewhere. Sony is recommending users to try Shazam as its top pick in recognising music.

«

TrackID has between 10m and 50m downloads on Google Play, so that’s surely millions of users who will be affected. Another sign of Sony cutting costs in mobile to improve the bottom line? A nice fillip for Shazam though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: thanks to multiple readers who pointed out that Peter Smith, who tried to acquire alleged emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s private server (there’s no evidence the emails ever existed or any hack ever occurred), died soon after the Wall Street Journal article about him appeared.

This probably makes him what the FBI would call an “uncooperative” witness.

Start Up: Facebook beats privacy, DeepMind’s wrist slapped, the satellite revolution, and more


Face recognition unlocking looks likely to be included in the next iPhone. Photo by nicolasnova on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook beats privacy lawsuit in US over user tracking • Yahoo Finance

Jonathan Stempel:

»

A US judge has dismissed nationwide litigation accusing Facebook Inc of tracking users’ internet activity even after they logged out of the social media website.

In a decision late on Friday, US District Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California said the plaintiffs failed to show they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, or that they suffered any “realistic” economic harm or loss.

The plaintiffs claimed that Facebook violated federal and California privacy and wiretapping laws by storing cookies on their browsers that tracked when they visited outside websites containing Facebook “like” buttons.

But the judge said the plaintiffs could have taken steps to keep their browsing histories private, and failed to show that Menlo Park, California-based Facebook illegally “intercepted” or eavesdropped on their communications.

“The fact that a user’s web browser automatically sends the same information to both parties,” meaning Facebook and an outside website, “does not establish that one party intercepted the user’s communication with the other,” Davila wrote.

«

It’s your own fault, and also you should have known about it.
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Apple tests 3D face scanning to unlock next iPhone • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple Inc. is working on a feature that will let you unlock your iPhone using your face instead of a fingerprint. 

For its redesigned iPhone, set to go on sale later this year, Apple is testing an improved security system that allows users to log in, authenticate payments, and launch secure apps by scanning their face, according to people familiar with the product. This is powered by a new 3-D sensor, added the people, who asked not to be identified discussing technology that’s still in development. The company is also testing eye scanning to augment the system, one of the people said.

The sensor’s speed and accuracy are focal points of the feature. It can scan a user’s face and unlock the iPhone within a few hundred milliseconds, the person said. It is designed to work even if the device is laying flat on a table, rather than just close up to the face. The feature is still being tested and may not appear with the new device. However, the intent is for it to replace the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, according to the person. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

«

Google has had face unlocking for a while in Android; it’s quite weird how this article doesn’t mention it, but does mention Samsung’s iris unlock. The 3D scan is going to be fun: will you have to waggle the phone? And – crucially not answered – will there still be TouchID unlock on the front face? If not, what happens to the Apple Pay double-click interaction? Welll…

»

The new device will have slimmer side bezels around the screen and eliminate the physical home button in favor of a virtual software-based button. Apple has faced challenges integrating the Touch ID fingerprint scanner into this new screen, people familiar with Apple’s work have said. Apple is also testing additional gestures, such as swiping across the center of the screen to launch actions, to replace the home button.

«

More on this story as it develops.
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Jelmer Verhoog on Twitter

»

@elonmusk Couldn’t wait 4 my #Model3, so made this AR app, what do you think?

«

This is astonishing – see what your new car will look like in your drive. Shadows too (though they’re not quite congruent with the sun’s position). ARKit is already looking like the most significant thing to happen on iOS for a while – though perhaps it gives good demo. But you can see it for architecture, kitchen/house design, and so on.
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The Information Commissioner, the Royal Free, and what we’ve learned • DeepMind

Mustafa Suleyman (co-founder) and Dominic King, clinical lead on Deepmind health:

»

Today, dozens of people in UK hospitals will die preventably from conditions like sepsis and acute kidney injury (AKI) when their warning signs aren’t picked up and acted on in time. To help address this, we built the Streams app with clinicians at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, using mobile technology to automatically review test results for serious issues starting with AKI. If one is found, Streams sends a secure smartphone alert to the right clinician, along with information about previous conditions so they can make an immediate diagnosis. 

We’re proud that, within a few weeks of Streams being deployed at the Royal Free, nurses said that it was saving them up to two hours each day, and we’ve already heard examples of patients with serious conditions being seen more quickly thanks to the instant alerts. Because Streams is designed to be ready for more advanced technology in the future, including AI-powered clinical alerts, we hope that it will help bring even more benefits to patients and clinicians in time.

 The Information Commissioner (ICO) has now concluded a year-long investigation that focused on the Royal Free’s clinical testing of Streams in late 2015 and 2016, which was intended to guarantee that the service could be deployed safely at the hospital. The ICO wasn’t satisfied that there was a legal basis for this use of patient data in testing (as the National Data Guardian said too), and raised concerns about how much patients knew about what was happening. The ICO recognised that many of these issues have already been addressed by the Royal Free, and has asked the Trust to sign a formal undertaking to ensure compliance in future…

…Ultimately, if we want to build technology to support a vital social institution like the NHS, then we have to make sure we serve society’s priorities and not outrun them. There’s a fine line between finding exciting new ways to improve care, and moving ahead of patients’ expectations. We know that we fell short at this when our work in health began, and we’ll keep listening and learning about how to get better at this.

«

DeepMind, as a reminder, is Google’s AI subsidiary – a British company based in King’s Cross, London. This is quite a mea culpa. (Note too how it fits into the Silicon Valley paradigm: better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.)

The ICO report begins bluntly: “The ICO has ruled the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust failed to comply with the Data Protection Act when it provided patient details to Google DeepMind.”
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How to build a simple neural network in 9 lines of Python code • Medium

Milo Spencer-Harper:

»

As part of my quest to learn about AI, I set myself the goal of building a simple neural network in Python. To ensure I truly understand it, I had to build it from scratch without using a neural network library. Thanks to an excellent blog post by Andrew Trask I achieved my goal. Here it is in just 9 lines of code.

«

And yes, it is just nine lines. The explanation is longer, but if you’re looking for a primer on how to build a simple neural network, this is it.
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The time I got recruited to collude with the Russians • Lawfare

Matt Tait, who isn’t an American nor based in the US but who is a security expert who looked at public data about Hillary Clinton’s emails to analyse whether the Russians might have hacked her private email server, was contacted last summer by a someone claiming to be well-connected with the Trump campaign:

»

Towards the end of one of our conversations, [Republican activist Peter] Smith made his pitch. He said that his team had been contacted by someone on the “dark web”; that this person had the emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server (which she had subsequently deleted), and that Smith wanted to establish if the emails were genuine. If so, he wanted to ensure that they became public prior to the election. What he wanted from me was to determine if the emails were genuine or not.

It is no overstatement to say that my conversations with Smith shocked me. Given the amount of media attention given at the time to the likely involvement of the Russian government in the DNC hack, it seemed mind-boggling for the Trump campaign—or for this offshoot of it—to be actively seeking those emails. To me this felt really wrong.

In my conversations with Smith and his colleague, I tried to stress this point: if this dark web contact is a front for the Russian government, you really don’t want to play this game. But they were not discouraged. They appeared to be convinced of the need to obtain Clinton’s private emails and make them public, and they had a reckless lack of interest in whether the emails came from a Russian cut-out. Indeed, they made it quite clear to me that it made no difference to them who hacked the emails or why they did so, only that the emails be found and made public before the election.

«

Some of the detail is quite eye-opening: the company to do this is closely associated with people you’ll have heard of, which tried to set up as a Delaware company to avoid being linked to campaign financing rules. Tait has been quoted in the WSJ in stories about how Smith was in contact with Mike Flynn.

Short version: if there’s a Russian operative on the other end of the “dark web” contact, Smith is in deep trouble, and so is Mike Flynn – and possibly some others close to Trump. The question is whether the FBI or others can pin that down. Of course, this article is how Tait is inviting the special prosecutor Robert Mueller to interview him.
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The tiny satellites ushering in the new space revolution • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance:

»

Once aligned, Planet’s attitude and determination control system, which sets the satellite’s orientation, takes over. Gyroscopes and sensors on the Dove [satellite, about the size of a shoebox] look for magnetic fields and seek out the Earth’s horizon, the sun, and other stars. Magnetorquers and reaction wheels then adjust the satellite’s movement until it reaches the desired alignment. “It’s not that difficult to make a system that does this,” says Ben Howard, Planet’s chief spacecraft architect. “It’s difficult to make it as cheaply as we have and to make it tuned so well for a specific application.”

Each Dove is responsible for collecting 10,000 images covering 2 million square kilometers per day, an area the size of Mexico. The pictures—40 gigabytes’ worth—are relayed during 10 daily eight-minute sessions on custom-built radios between the satellites and a dozen ground stations built by Planet in Antarctica, Chile, Hawaii, Iceland, and other places.

Once the images reach Earth, Planet’s software compiles them, cleans them up, and deletes photos marred by clouds and shadows. Customers can then log on to an application and browse the pictures as they please. Planet’s largest clients include the Mexican government, the German space agency, and the agricultural companies Monsanto, Wilbur-Ellis, and Bayer Crop Science. They pay millions or even tens of millions of dollars per year for access to the most recent, highest-quality images. Nonprofits, students, and news organizations receive the same access for free, while the public at large can see older, lower-quality pictures gratis. Planet refuses to say how much revenue it draws, but it appears to be enough to keep investors interested. The company has raised more than $180m in venture capital to date, and its valuation has been widely reported to exceed $1bn.

Planet’s 88 new satellites, which will give it the only daily view of Earth, at least for now, promise to be even better for the bottom line.

«

The examples of what can be done with systems like this are remarkable. For example:

»

Crawford can call up an image of a port in Shanghai that’s been broken down like a puzzle, with cylindrical oil storage tanks color-coded green, ships in red, and buildings in blue. Hit a button, and the software shows that eight new buildings have gone up in a few months. Hit another button, and the software will calculate how much oil is in a given tank. “There are floating lids that sit on top of the tanks,” Crawford says. “If the lid is all the way up, there’s no shadow, and we know it’s full.” If there’s a shadow, Orbital Insight measures its angle and the dimensions of the tank to calculate the volume of liquid inside. What Crawford’s company is after, he says, is “observational truth.”

«

link to this extract


Demographics of mobile device ownership and adoption in the US • Pew Research Center

»

A substantial majority of Americans are cellphone owners across a wide range of demographic groups. By contrast, smartphone ownership exhibits greater variation based on age, household income and educational attainment.

«

The demographics are the second group here – you have to scroll down the page past the smartphone ownership growth data. Notable falloff among those over 65, those who didn’t graduate from high school (equivalent to secondary school in UK, ie like leaving school after GCSE), those earning under $30,000pa. The latter two – or all three – groups might intersect substantially. Rural ownership is also comparatively low.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified