Start Up: South Africa’s fake news, India blocks Wayback Machine, BlackBerry smartglasses?, Kalanick sued, and more


Typical commutes are about half an hour. What changes if transport speeds up? Photo by Ennev on Flickr

The Overspill is going on its summer (northern hemisphere) break. Daily posting will resume on August 30th, if we’re all spared.

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

How Google Analytics codes unearthed a network of South African fake news sites • bellingcat

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Last month, a group of South African journalists used this method to uncover a series of websites linked to a company in India and the billionaire Gupta family, who have been accused of running disinformation campaigns against South African news organizations for critical coverage of the Gupta family’s business operations. Summaries of this investigation carried out by a group of South African journalists, including from News24, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, and the Daily Maverick‘s Scorpio investigative unit, can be found here and here.

The investigators found connections through WhoIs records, Google Analytics IDs, and AdSense IDs for ten websites, most of which directly target the veracity of the so-called Gupta Leaks and promoting the narrative of “white monopoly capital” (WMC). These sites, as listed by The South African, are: wmcleaks.com, wmcscams.com, dodgysaministers.com, wmc-scams.com, whitemonopolyafrica.com, whitemonopoly.com, fakeguptaleaks.com, publicopinion.co.za, southafricabuzz.co.za and whitemonopolycapital.com.

These sites put on the appearance of being grassroots South African news and investigative outlets, but are all apparently created by “CNET Infosystem,” a web design company based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India and ran by a man named Kapil Garg.

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Political discourse is so susceptible to this sort of tactic. Fortunately, tracking it is still possible thanks to the need to be public about certain information.
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Internet Archive blocked in India • MediaNama

Nikhil Pahwa:

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In what is an inexplicable instance of censorship, India appears to have blocked access to the Internet Archive (also known as the Internet Wayback Machine). The block seems to be new, and is currently propagating. We checked, and on visiting web.archive.org via Airtel (Delhi, mobile) and MTNL (Delhi, wireline) connections, we’re getting the following boilerplate blocking message:

“Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.”

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The block seems to be about the UIDAI – the official Indian website for the organisation mandated to provide a 12-digit unique identifier for every Indian citizen. But quite why isn’t yet clear – though problems such as leaking of those identifiers via the UIDAI site could be part of it.
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BlackBerry makes its first wearable play with AR smartglasses • Wareable

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As we await AR to hit the big time, it’s finding its feet nicely in enterprise. Vuzix is one of the biggest names in this space right now, and it’s just found an ally… in BlackBerry.

The once-heavyweight of the smartphone world is in a new era where it’s licensing its software rather than developing in-house, and smartglasses are next on the agenda.

Vuzix, which has a lot of pedigree in the smart glasses space will be providing the hardware – the Vuzix M300 – while BlackBerry will be providing its UEM software to keep all the data secure.

Unless you’re in an industry where you might be donning one of these bad boys, this probably won’t matter to you. But it’s interesting to see BlackBerry finally edging into the wearable space.

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BlackBerry spent a billion dollars on BB10, and probably half that much on its abortive entry into the tablet market, for almost zero return. One has to hope for its sake that it’s not staking too much on this.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 to feature force touch • The Korea Investor

Lee Ji-yoon:

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Samsung Electronics’ upcoming Galaxy Note 8 has adopted force touch that allows the phone to read the amount of pressure applied to the screen, ET News reported on Aug. 9.

The bigger-screen Note phone will be unveiled on Aug. 23 in New York before its official Korean launch on Sept. 15. 

The force touch, also called 3-D touch, will use the same solution adopted for the current Galaxy S8 to replace all the functionality of a home button and open a hidden menu with shortcuts to different features.

The S8 has removed a physical home button to have a larger display screen, while a fingerprint scanner is relocated to the back of the device. The Note 8 is also expected to feature the “full-screen display” that covers almost the entire front body of the phone.

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So it’s taken two years to adopt this from Apple?
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Apple refuses to enable iPhone emergency settings that could save countless lives • The Next Web

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The majority of emergency calls today are made from cellphones, which has made location pinging increasingly more important for emergency services. There are many emergency apps and features in development, but the strength of Advanced Mobile Location (AML) is that it doesn’t require anything from the user — no downloads and no forethought; the process is completely automated.

With AML, smartphones running supporting operating systems will recognize when emergency calls are being made and turn on GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and Wi-Fi. The phone then automatically sends an SMS to emergency services, detailing the location of the caller. AML is up to 4,000 times more accurate than the current systems — pinpointing phones down from an entire city to a room in an apartment.

“In the past months, EENA has been travelling around Europe to raise awareness of AML in as many countries as possible. All these meetings brought up a recurring question that EENA had to reply to: ‘So, what about Apple?’” reads EENA’s statement.

If Apple would follow Google’s lead and activate the necessary features for AML, millions of people would be safer. However, Apple hasn’t shown any interest in doing so, according to EENA’s statement:

“For months, EENA has tried to establish contact with Apple to work on a solution that automatically provides accurate location derived from iPhones to emergency services and rescuers. Unfortunately, with no result.”

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link to this extract


The risks of Facebook’s video pivot • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

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Facebook’s strategy here is fairly transparent: as consumption of content on Facebook has shifted from text to images to video, the content consumed has gone from being hosted on Facebook to being hosted elsewhere, notably YouTube. That, in turn, has meant that any ad revenue generated directly from the viewing of those videos has gone into Google’s coffers rather than Facebook’s. As such, it wants to shift that viewing and the associated ad revenue from YouTube to its own platform, much as its Instant Articles initiative has done that for news articles. In the process, it clearly hopes to increase time spent on content hosted on Facebook servers, and generate the higher CPMs that video ads command. That’s the theory.

However, there are a number of risks associated with this strategy, at least some of which stem from the decision to autoplay videos in the News Feed with the sound off. That, in turn, meant that ads could never run before videos as they do on YouTube, and mid-roll advertising was therefore the only viable option to monetize video on the platform. We’ve seen a push in that direction over recent months, and it’s the anecdotal evidence I’m seeing from that push that has me worried here. The chart below illustrates both the theory and the risks associated with this new video pivot:

The theory from the Facebook side is that total time spent will go up, and that the ads people see while watching video will generate higher CPMs. The risks are as follows:

• The time people do spend will shift from the News Feed to the Watch tab
• The nature of ads they will see will go from being native and non-interruptive to being non-native and extremely interruptive
• Facebook will go from ad formats where it keeps essentially all the revenue to models where it has to pass along much of the revenue to content owners and therefore generate lower margins, as Mark Zuckerberg confirmed on the company’s recent earnings call.

All told, there’s a significant risk here that instead of people spending more time on Facebook, people try spending some time in the new Watch tab, which Facebook will no doubt promote heavily as it has with the Marketplace and other recently added tabs, and then be put off by the mid-roll ads which will run in the videos they see there.

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link to this extract


With a quiz to comment, readers test their article comprehension • NRK Beta

Ståle Grut on the six months since the news site’s decision to make commenters take a quiz before being able to comment on stories:

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On average, there is a lot more attempts – both correct and wrong – than actual comments.

It seems many take the quiz to check how much they remember from the story – and not necessarily to leave a comment. Almost as a fun little game after reading.


Comments, correct and wrong answers to 14 quizzes Illustration: NRKbeta

A story that stand out is our explainer on how to like Facebook statuses with a rainbow in connection to pride. There were over a thousand wrong attempts to answer the quiz. Due to a human error, the right answer to one of the questions was not indicated. It made it impossible to pass the quiz. Hence the many logged wrong attempts.

On average, there is a staggering error rate of 72% on the quiz. We also suspect a lot of wrong answers coming from visitors of faraway lands. Most would have a hard time breaking our encryption made of solid Norwegian language.

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link to this extract


Scoop: Benchmark Capital sues Travis Kalanick for fraud • Axios

Dan Primack:

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Key paragraph, per the suit: “Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, to entrench himself on Uber’s Board of Directors and increase his power over Uber for his own selfish ends. Kalanick’s overarching objective is to pack Uber’s Board with loyal allies in an effort to insulate his prior conduct from scrutiny and clear the path for his eventual return as CEO—all to the detriment of Uber’s stockholders, employees, driver-partners, and customers.”

Why it matters: If Benchmark’s suit is successful, Kalanick would be kicked off Uber’s board of directors — thus eliminating any faint hopes of him returning to the company in a substantial role.

What to know: Benchmark was an early investor in Uber, and has a seat on its board of directors. It also helped spearhead the move to have Kalanick resign in June, and tensions between the two have contributed, in part, to the slow pace of finding a replacement. Oh, and venture capital firms don’t usually sue fellow board members of their single most valuable investment.

The suit revolves around the June 2016 decision to expand the size of Uber’s board of voting directors from eight to 11, with Kalanick having the sole right to designate those seats. Kalanick would later name himself to one of those seats following his resignation, since his prior board seat was reserved for the company’s CEO. The other two seats remain unfilled. Benchmark argues that it never would have granted Kalanick those three extra seats had it known about his “gross mismanagement and other misconduct at Uber”.

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Wow.

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New Fitbit smartwatch pictures reveal heart rate shake-up • Wareable

Hugh Langley:

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There are three base colour variants of the watch: silver case with navy strap, rose gold case with blue strap, and a darker case with a black strap. The pictures reveal it will also have the same button configuration as the Fitbit Blaze – two on the right side, one on the left – and like on the Blaze the back of the watch protrudes, presumably to get a better lock on that optical heart rate sensor.

More interesting though is the sensor itself. Fitbit has, like many other wearable companies, traditionally used green optical sensors for tracking heart rate, but these new images reveal two red lights. If it’s also using infra-red, which that bottom blue optical could be, it suggests Fitbit’s smartwatch may have a pulse oximeter for measuring oxygen levels in the blood. It could also use red light technology to get a more accurate read on heart rate, heart rate variability, or other physiological parameters that green PPGs struggle with.

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It’s not beautiful, but those are renders, probably from internal work, rather than the object. Wareable says “a lot is resting on Fitbit delivering with its apps – something it was rumoured to be struggling with”, but I’d question exactly how many apps a smartwatch needs.
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Why even the Hyperloop probably wouldn’t change your commute time • The New York Times

Emily Badger points out that most people commute for about 30 minutes to reach their work:

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The general law of the 30-minute commute is known as Marchetti’s constant, named for the Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti, a mentor to Mr. Ausubel. Mr. Marchetti picked up the work of Yacov Zahavi, a transportation engineer who theorized in the 1970s and ’80s that people have a fixed travel-time budget. We allocate part of our day to getting around. And that amount, about an hour, Mr. Zahavi argued, holds steady no matter where we live or how we travel.

Mr. Marchetti noted supporting historical clues: Ancient Rome, Persepolis and Marrakesh were about five kilometers across, or the maximum distance most people can travel in an hour on foot. He diagramed the growth of Berlin, which appeared to expand concentrically as transportation advances enlarged the land people could cover. He found it not coincidental that modern-day prisons still allow inmates one humane concession — the freedom to pace for an hour outdoors.

“From our anthropological point of view, humans are territorial animals,” said Mr. Ausubel, who wrote numerous papers with Mr. Marchetti on the topic. “So they seek to maximize range, which equates with resources. And those resources can be jobs or education, or fields for rice or wheat, or social life.”

We’re hard-wired to roam farther, they argue, when more speed allows us to. (By this same theory, delays in the New York subway disturb something deeply embedded in the human mind.)

Researchers today are not universally sold on Marchetti’s constant. Some developing-world cities have monstrous commutes. Alex Anas, an economist who has modeled the future growth of cities like Chicago, finds that commute times stay relatively stable even as population and developed land area grow. But that’s because the distribution of jobs and the behavior of workers shift in response to congestion, he says. It’s not because humans have some innate hour-long travel budget. “Economists don’t buy that,” Mr. Anas said.

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How long is your commute? (There’s also the UK Travel Time map – linked here before, but always valuable.
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Apple code reveals iPhone 8’s virtual Home button secrets • Cult of Mac

Killian Bell:

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All kinds of iPhone 8 details have been discovered in Apple’s HomePod firmware ahead of the handset’s official unveiling. We now know what the device will look like, and that it will boast features like facial recognition and tap to wake.

After further digging, developer Steve Troughton-Smith has uncovered more information about the iPhone 8’s virtual Home button. As expected, it will sit at the bottom of its edge-to-edge display in the same area as a physical Home button, but it will be customizable.

Apple’s code suggests that the button indicator will be resizable, and that we’ll have the option to hide it. There is no API that would allow developers to change its color to match the theme of their apps (yet), and apps won’t be able to extend into the Home button area.

Sadly, that means developers won’t be able to put toolbars, shortcuts, and other items in this area. Apple’s plans could change later, but for now, the space is reserved exclusively for the Home button when it isn’t hidden away, which means navigation buttons will remain at the top of the screen.

Fullscreen video will automatically hide the Home button indicator, but it’s not yet clear how videos will be adapted to the iPhone 8’s unique aspect ratio.

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“Apps won’t be able to extend into the Home button area” – except for video? Apple has always had the potential to have a virtual home button, but denying apps the ability to extend into it seems strange. If you’re going to have a bigger screen, use it. (A side note: what a ton of info there is in that firmware release. Absolutely colossal; probably even the Apple insiders who were going to test the HomePod didn’t know about many of the features coming up in the phone.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: In yesterday’s story about Facebook’s system for spotting rising stars in the app world, I missed the point that it owns and uses Onavo, a VPN app, to do this. (John Gruber digs into this.) Another reason to be wary of VPN apps – but how would one know about this sort of use?

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