Start Up: an LTE Apple Watch?, Pentagon bans DJI drones, Google sought Snapchat, reactions on Google, and more


Hidden Figures: maybe someone at Google needs to watch this more and write “man-ifestos” less. Photo by minhee.cho on Flickr.

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

If you use a browser extension [particularly VPNs], your full Internet history may be for sale – and easily de-anonymized • Privacy Online News

Glyn Moody:

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The research consisted of some social engineering by the journalist Svea Eckert, followed by data analysis by Andreas Dewes. Eckert set up a Web site and LinkedIn profile for a fake company called Meez Technology, allegedly based in Tel Aviv, which purported to offer “data-driven consulting”. Using Meez Technology as cover, Eckert contacted Web analytics companies and data brokers, asking for Internet browsing histories of German citizens, which she said Meez Technology was interested in acquiring for its data analysis.

In the end, one gave her 14 days’ free access to a month’s worth of “clickstream data” – the complete browser histories – as a sample of what it could offer. The information included 3 billion URLs from three million German users, spread over 9 million different sites. Many companies said they were unable to supply URLs for German users, but were able to offer this information for people in the US and UK.

Once the researchers obtained their dataset, Dewes tried to de-anonymize the individuals it referred to. For some users, this was simple. Dewes had the complete URL, not a truncated portion, so it often showed data that was transmitted to the site in question. Sometimes that included the user’s name. For example, when someone visits their own analytics page on Twitter, the URL contains their Twitter username. Since it is only visible to them and Twitter, that’s not usually a problem. But when Internet browsing datasets include the full URL, it is, because it means that all the URLs linked to an otherwise anonymous user can now be associated with the person identified through one of them – in this case, Twitter. Out of the 3 million anonymous profiles obtained by the researchers, over 100,000 individuals could be identified in this way.

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Someone thinks they’ve solved the mystery behind who Donald Trump thanked on Twitter • Mashable

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Sure, fake news runs rampant now more than ever—but don’t let it distract you from another threat: fake Twitter accounts. 

When Donald Trump tweeted his appreciation on Saturday to a “supporter” named Nicole Mincey/@protrump45, Twitter user @Rschooley debunked the account’s identity, explaining in a thread exactly why “Nicole” and a variety of other Twitter users were in fact fakes, not actual Trump supporters. 

Buckle up—this gets interesting. 

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It is interesting: the person behind this account, and a number of linked accounts, uses a site called Placeit.com to grab stock photos and slot pro-Trump slogans into “drop image here” spaces. They build up a big network of bots. And they sell merchandise off it.

Now, the question is: how much due diligence did the White House’s social media manager, who one assumes did the retweet rather than Trump, do before the shout out to this “supporter”? If none – that’s lazy. If they knew this was a front to sell stuff, that’s worse because it’s promoting a business using the White House account.

So either lazy or venal. And meanwhile, a huge bot network using stolen or faked pictures, making money out of social media partisanship. What a world.
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Exclusive: here’s the full 10-page anti-diversity screed circulating internally at Google • Gizmodo

Kate Conger with the authentic scoop on the “man-ifesto”, which can be summed up through its own TL:DR:

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• Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

• This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

• The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

• Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression

• Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

• Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

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You can also get an idea of his thinking via his (zero chance it’s a woman author) framing of political positions:

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Left Biases: Compassion for the weak; Disparities are due to injustices; Humans are inherently cooperative; Change is good (unstable); Open; Idealist

Right Biases: Respect for the strong/authority; Disparities are natural and just; Humans are inherently competitive; Change is dangerous (stable); Closed; Pragmatic

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So left-wing people are idealists, while right-wing ones are pragmatic? Google’s “open” credo makes it left-wing? It’s a really bizarre collection of assertions which wouldn’t look out of place in a university junior common room. I wonder if Google is looking at its recruiting systems in light of this.
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So, about this Googler’s manifesto • Medium

Yonatan Zunger was until recently a senior person at Google:

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Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique. The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.

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One begins to see the problem, though. Google (and so many other companies) make you prove yourself at the low-level field, in writing code, and then promote people to the engineering process level. Men, particularly intense narrow-vision men, might excel at that first process. Then in the next one they’re awful. And so you see screwups like Google Buzz.
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A Googler’s anti-diversity screed reveals tech’s rotten core • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

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reactions to the screed are sound, but they risk missing a larger problem: The kind of computing systems that get made and used by people outside the industry, and with serious consequences, are a direct byproduct of the gross machismo of computing writ large. More women and minorities are needed in computing because the world would be better for their contributions—and because it might be much worse without them.

Workplace equity has become a more visible issue in general, but it has reached fever pitch in the technology sector, especially with respect to women. When the former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published an explosive accusation of sexism at that company earlier this year, people took notice. When combined with a series of other scandals, not to mention with Uber’s longstanding, dubious behavior toward drivers and municipalities, the company was forced to act. CEO Travis Kalanick was ousted (although he remains on the board, where he retains substantial control)…

…If you rolled back the clock and computing were as black as hip-hop, if it had been built from the ground up by African American culture, what would it feel like to live in that alternate future—in today’s alternate present? Now run the same thought experiment for a computing forged by a group that represents the general population, brown of average color, even of sex, and multitudinous of gender identity.

Something tells me the outcome wouldn’t be Google and Twitter and Uber and Facebook…

As my colleague Mark Guzdial puts it, women used to avoid computer science because they didn’t know what it is. Now they avoid it because they know exactly what it is.

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And Bogost points out, Google struggles to achieve a truly diverse workplace. People complain about affirmative action, but can’t see the disaffirming action they carry out all the time.
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Apple plans to release a cellular-capable Watch to break iPhone ties • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Scott Moritz and Ian King:

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Intel Corp. will supply the LTE modems for the new Watch, according to another person familiar with the situation. That’s a big win for the chipmaker, which has been trying for years to get its components into more Apple mobile devices. Qualcomm Inc. has been the main modem supplier for iPhones and other Apple mobile gadgets, but the two companies are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute. Apple added Intel as a modem supplier for some iPhones last year.

Apple is already in talks with carriers in the U.S. and Europe about offering the cellular version, the people added. The carriers supporting the LTE Apple Watch, at least at launch, may be a limited subset of those that carry the iPhone, one of the people said. However, AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. in the U.S. plan to sell the device, according to other people familiar with the matter. The new device could still be delayed beyond 2017 – indeed, the company had already postponed a cellular-capable smartwatch last year. Apple, Intel and the carriers declined to comment.

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It “could still be delayed”? Schrödinger’s Watch. This would make sense, but only in the limited situations – as I see it – where you don’t have your phone with you. When is that? In my experience, when you are out exercising. While a lot of people who have a Watch might use it to exercise, I’m not so sure many of them would want a data-capable Watch just for getting messages or similar while out and about.

Unless it could really do apps – such as Uber and so on. That might change things a little.
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‘Cyber vulnerabilities’ prompt US Army to ban ‘all use’ of DJI drones • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

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The US Army appears to have issued a global order banning its units from using drones made by Chinese firm DJI, citing “cyber vulnerabilities”.

The memorandum, apparently issued by the US Army’s Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, orders all US Army units with DJI products to immediately stop using them.

“Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products,” the memo read.

In the memo, soldiers are also ordered to remove all batteries and storage media from their DJI drones and await further instructions.

DJI told The Register: “We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision. We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the US Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues.”

The firm’s spokesman added: “We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities’.”

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Probably the rumours that DJI drones are beaming data back to China. Could that be it, by any chance?
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Google offered to buy Snapchat for at least $30bn in early 2016, insiders say • Business Insider

Alex Heath:

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Three people, including people inside and close to the company, separately confirmed they had heard the chatter and price tag, with one calling it an “open secret” among Snap’s upper ranks and certain tech industry circles.

Business Insider first heard the rumor of Google’s $30bn-plus interest in Snap last year and heard further tales of the discussions from more insiders over the past several days.

It’s unclear how formal the discussions these insiders say happened may have been, but Snap and Google have long been close. Informal discussions between companies are frequent in the tech world, especially surrounding major events, like an initial public offering or a large round of fundraising.

Google’s initial offer would have been discussed just before Snap raised its Series F round of private funding in May 2016, valuing the company at $20 billion. CapitalG, the growth equity fund managed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, ended up quietly participating in the round.

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Yet another big fish that got away from Google. Hard to feel it would have gone well inside it, though.
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Apple has proven me wrong about HomeKit • The Verge

The ever-demonstrative Internet of Shit:

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Ikea, which announced its own smart lighting system in 2016, looks to be one of the first companies to take advantage of this change: it’ll add HomeKit support, presumably via a software update, later this year. So there should be no need to pay for replacement hardware like when Philips required users to buy a HomeKit-compatible version of its Hue hub. In the future, these HomeKit-via-software updates could mean products from Nest get HomeKit compatibility, simply because the company will be able to expand its user base retrospectively. What remains to be seen is how many device makers will follow the charge.

There’s one other key feature that makes HomeKit interesting: if device makers want to use it, they’re required to integrate directly with Apple’s Home app and can’t force you to use a third-party app exclusively. That’s huge, simply because it grants you the freedom to avoid touching the device maker’s software on your phone if you don’t want it, and it allows you to interact with the smart home directly through Apple’s app without an intermediary. In theory, it means you really own your devices, and they shouldn’t just break if the company that makes them disappears since you’ll still have a direct connection with each device, thanks to HomeKit.

HomeKit still assumes everyone in your house has an iPhone in their pocket all the time, but with the announcement of the Apple HomePod smart speaker, that changes as well. Android-loving family and friends can just use their voice to tap into your smart home, which brings it on par with Amazon and Google (albeit at a far higher price of $349) when it ships later this year.

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This begins to make sense in a comprehensive, ecosystem way. Whether it’s enough to catch up with Amazon is another question, but Ikea’s smart home system is highly regarded.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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