Start Up: the real fake news, the upgrade downturn, NYPD’s smart phones move, blinding cameras, and more


Mechanical reproduction rights date back to the phonograph. But is Spotify exempt? Photo by origamidon on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Not to be used for underground tests. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The fake-news fallacy • The New Yorker

Adrian Chen reviews a book on “the art of fake news”:

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One lesson you get from Hemmer’s research is that the conservative skepticism of gatekeepers is not without a historical basis. The Fairness Doctrine really was used by liberal groups to silence conservatives, typically by flooding stations with complaints and requests for airtime to respond. This created a chilling effect, with stations often choosing to avoid controversial material. The technical fixes implemented by Google and Facebook in the rush to fight fake news seem equally open to abuse, dependent, as they are, on user-generated reports.

Yet today, with a powerful, well-funded propaganda machine dedicated to publicizing any hint of liberal bias, conservatives aren’t the ones who have the most to fear. As Facebook has become an increasingly important venue for activists documenting police abuse, many of them have complained that overzealous censors routinely block their posts. A recent report by the investigative nonprofit ProPublica shows how anti-racist activism can often fall afoul of Facebook rules against offensive material, while a post by the Louisiana representative Clay Higgins calling for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims was deemed acceptable. In 2016, a group of civil-rights activists wrote Facebook to demand that steps be taken to insure that the platform could be used by marginalized people and social movements organizing for change. There was no high-profile meeting with Zuckerberg, only a form letter outlining Facebook’s moderation practices. The wishful story about how the Internet was creating a hyper-democratic “participatory culture” obscures the ways in which it is biased in favor of power.

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link to this extract


How Russian & alt-right Twitter accounts worked together to skew the narrative about Berkeley • Arc Digital

“Caroline O”:

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The narrative surrounding last weekend’s protests in Berkeley took shape on social media and was picked up, at least in part, by mainstream news outlets. The result was a skewed presentation of events that was almost entirely devoid of the context in which they took place. Even more troubling: that narrative was influenced by pro-Russian social media networks, including state-sponsored propaganda outlets, botnets, cyborgs, and individual users.

In the case study below, I describe how the narrative surrounding Berkeley was picked up and shaped by Russian-linked influence networks, which saw a chance to drive a wedge in American society and ran with it. Next, I look at the individual accounts and users that were identified as top influencers on Twitter, and explore what they were posting, how they worked together to craft a narrative, and the methods they used to amplify their message. Finally, I look at how news coverage of the events in Berkeley was shaped by the skewed narrative that emerged on social media.

This is just a single case study in a larger story, but it serves as an important reminder that Russia is still exploiting social media to harm U.S. interests — and that plenty of Americans are willing to join in on the effort.

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On Twitter as @rvawonk, she does do a lot of interesting, factual analysis.
link to this extract


Spotify: don’t compare us to Napster • Hollywood Reporter

Eriq Gardner:

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Spotify, facing a lawsuit claiming “staggering” copyright infringement, is attempting to distinguish itself from illegal file sharing services of yore and putting an issue front and center that will likely command notice throughout the entertainment and tech sectors. Namely, in court papers filed Wednesday, Spotify argues that “streaming” implicates neither reproduction nor distribution rights under copyright law.

Bob Gaudio, a songwriter and founding member of the group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is suing Spotify in the wake of the company’s proposed $43 million settlement in a class action. In Gaudio’s lawsuit, that settlement is called an “empty gesture that encourages infringement and is entirely insufficient to remedy years of illegal activity.”

Spotify, led by CEO Daniel Ek, licenses sound recordings from record labels and also has blanket licenses from the likes of ASCAP and BMI so that it may publicly perform musical compositions.

What Gaudio’s lawsuit alleges — as did the prior class action — is Spotify is violating the reproduction rights of publishers and songwriters. Those making a mechanical reproduction of a musical composition can obtain a compulsory license and bypass having to negotiate terms with publishers. However, those doing so have to follow certain protocol like sending out notices and making payments. The lawsuit claims that Spotify hasn’t done an adequate job of doing this.

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This would be a hell of a result for Spotify if it succeeds in this argument. Somehow I doubt it will, though.
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Upgrade downturn: why are people holding on to their old phones? • The Guardian

Sarah Butler and myself on what’s stalling the phone market:

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A common refrain among phone owners outside the [Regent Street Apple Store] shop is to point to their handset and state: “I’ll probably wait till it breaks.” The new iPhone makes its debut on 12 September and is rumoured to have a number of new features for an Apple device, including doing away with the home button on the front of the handset, but there is a perception among mobile phone owners that the pace of technological evolution has slowed.

Phone replacement has slumped in the UK since 2013, when consumers bought a new one every 20 months. According to retailer Dixons Carphone, people now buy a new handset every 29 months.

Speaking outside the Apple store on Regent Street, Leon Allard, 31, said: “These days, especially with the iPhone, there is not a lot of difference between the phones coming out.” He added that price was also a “big thing” when considering upgrades, with the next iPhone expected to cost at least £800 in the UK.

At a nearby Carphone Warehouse branch, there was little urgency for an upgrade. Tinu Thomas, 29, said he had owned a Motorola phone for nearly four years and would probably hold on to it for another year. “I would like to say I’m a gadget freak,” he said. “I love technology but I don’t see the value in upgrading. I use my phone for Facebook, WhatsApp and voice calls and I’m still able to do all of that with my almost four-year-old phone.”

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link to this extract


Response to NY Post article • NYPD News

Deputy commissioner of Information & Technology Jessica Tisch:

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This Sunday, while a Post reporter was writing her story, NYPD officers used their smartphones to help respond to over 25,000 911 calls; ran 18,000 searches; and viewed 1,080 flyers of missing or wanted persons. Sunday is a slow day.

Three years ago we made the decision to bring mobility to the NYPD. At that time, neither iOS nor Android phones allowed us to cost-effectively utilize prior investment in custom Windows applications.

Moreover, we assessed that the Windows platform would be most effective at achieving our goal of securing 36,000 devices that would be used for sensitive law enforcement operations. This was of paramount importance. The devices were rolled out as tools to help officers fight crime, enhance their safety and improve policing in New York City.

The contract entered provided for the smartphones at no cost. It also allowed for the NYPD to replace the smartphones with devices of our choosing two years later, also at no cost.

We have since continually reviewed the evolution of mobile platforms. A year ago, we learned that improvements in Apple controls would allow NYPD to responsibly and cost effectively move our mobility initiative to the Apple platform. We began plans to make the transition, which will take effect this fall.

Our smartphone initiative is 45% under budget. Based on current rate of spending, we expect to stretch what was initially budgeted at two years of spending to more than four years.

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Ah. So the phones were free, and they can be replaced for free. Microsoft took a gamble that it would be stronger by now, but instead it failed. I wrongly thought that Tisch would get fired over this, before knowing the details of the free phones.

Instead, she looks quite smart: for the cost of a few app rewrites, the NYPD doesn’t have to gamble on the mobile platform war.
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Inside the black market where people pay thousands of dollars for Instagram verification • Mashable

Kerry Flynn:

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“I mean if Mashable wants to pay for it, I can get you a blue check over night,” reads a recent Twitter direct message.

This is a guy who knows a guy, a middleman in the black market for Instagram verification, where anyone from a seasoned publicist to a 22-year-old digital marketer will offer to verify an account—for a price. The fee is anywhere from a bottle of wine to $15,000, according to a dozen sources who have sold verification, bought verification for someone else, or directly know someone who has done one or the other.

“These guys pay all their bills from one to two blue checks a month,” another message from the middleman added later.

The product for sale isn’t a good or a service. It’s a little blue check designated for public figures, celebrities, and brands on Instagram. It grants users a prime spot in search as well as access to special features. 

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link to this extract


Rental camera gear destroyed by the solar eclipse of 2017 • Lens Rentals

Zach Sutton:

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despite our warnings, we still expected gear to come back damaged and destroyed. And as evidence to our past posts of broken gear being disassembled and repaired, we figured you’d all want to see some of the gear that we got back and hear what went wrong. But please keep in mind, this post is for your entertainment, and not to be critical of our fantastic customer base. Things happen, and that’s why we have a repair department. And furthermore, we found this to be far more exciting than we were disappointed. With this being the first solar eclipse for Lensrentals, we didn’t know what to expect and were surprised with how little of our gear came back damaged. So without further ado, here are some of the pieces of equipment that we got back, destroyed by the Solar Eclipse of 2017.

The most common problem we’ve encountered with damage done by the eclipse was sensors being destroyed by the heat. We warned everyone in a blog post to buy a solar filter for your lens, and also sent out mass emails and fliers explaining what you need to adequately protect the equipment. But not everyone follows the rules, and as a result, we have quite a few destroyed sensors. To my personal surprise, this damage was far more visually apparent than I even expected, and the photos below really make it visible. 

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Lots more where that came from. Lesson: though many will, in any crowd there are people who won’t listen.
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Leaked Surface Mini images provide a closer look at Microsoft’s canceled tablet • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Surface Mini images leaked earlier this year, and now we’re getting an even closer look at Microsoft’s canceled tablet. Evan Blass has published marketing images for the Surface Mini, revealing a red rubber case with a kickstand and full specifications. The Surface Mini was reportedly a 7.5in device with a 1440 x 1080 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. It appears that Microsoft was planning black, red, and blue variants of the Surface Mini before its cancellation.

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Very wise to cancel it. The vogue for mini-tablets passed in 2013 or so; phablets have eaten that market for all but kids, and this wouldn’t have appealed to kids.
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Windows is doomed • The Week

Navneet Alang:

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the continually rising tides of Apple and Google’s platforms will likely wash Windows away as people shift their work and play habits to opposing platforms. While many are fond of saying that you still need Windows for real work, as analyst Benedict Evans likes to point out, “the connective tissue of work needs to be rebuilt” in light of mobile, AI, and the cloud — and it’s hard to see how Windows will be a part of that as new technologies emerge in new places.

It’s not that Microsoft is oblivious to this reality. Recognizing a do-or-die scenario, Microsoft has now retrenched when it comes to Windows, putting its efforts into desktop and making Windows work on ARM, the type of chips found in iPhones and Android phones. The new, rumored goal is that using ARM will not only let Microsoft and its partners make thin, light laptops and tablets with great battery life, it will also let them create a phone that runs full Windows and can be used as a complete computer when docked into a keyboard, mouse, and monitor — and in doing so, give Microsoft a complete device to offer its millions of customers.

But this is likely just fantasy. As the deal with Amazon suggests, companies need a platform of their own to build out the vertically integration that has made Apple and Google so wildly successful. Platforms are like networks, and without the core node of mobile in a mobile-first world, Microsoft’s Windows cannot last.

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I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one. COBOL is pretty old, and it’s still underpinning banks and transactions around the world.
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Stop trying to kill the headphone jack • The Next Web

Abhimanyu Ghoshal:

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Over a year ago, I wrote about how phone makers were starting to do away with headphone jacks. I’ve seen this unfortunate trend – which I hoped would just be a passing fad – continue to plague devices well into 2017, and it looks like we’re still in danger of losing one of the most essential features our phones have to offer today.

We’ve tested a wide range of phones over the past year, and found that a number of premium handsets like the the iPhone 7, the Essential Phone and Xiaomi’s Mi 6 have nixed the jack. Others, like the OnePlus 5, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 and the brand new LG V30, still have them. The story is similarly fragmented at the lower end of the price spectrum too.

Basically, there’s no consensus among brands, or even within them, about whether it’s a good idea to ditch the jack – but I implore hardware makers to keep it around, for all that is holy and good in the world.

For one thing, there’s no real reason to kill it off. Last year, LeEco’s president of R&D Liang Jun told The Verge that ditching the headphone jack and going USB-C only didn’t impact the manufacturing process, or help the Chinese gadget maker save space in its phone design.

If other brands believe this approach can help them make phones slimmer, I’d like to register my protest against the idea. I’m fine with a device that I can literally talk to, connect to the internet and shoot ultra-high-resolution video with being 8mm thick, thanks very much. If there’s any honest justification at all for killing the jack, I haven’t heard it yet.

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I’ve been using an iPhone 7 for a year, and it doesn’t have a 3.5mm jack. It came with a dongle. I haven’t noticed the lack of a headphone jack port at any point, except a couple of time on a car journey where I wanted to listen to a podcast on the stereo and couldn’t (the car had Aux In, no Bluetooth). The radio worked though.

I think if there’s a dongle, it’s not a problem. If there isn’t, it could be a problem – but Bluetooth gets around a lot of things now.
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Augmented Reality: iOS Human Interface Guidelines • Apple Developer

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Use the entire display to engage people. Devote as much of the screen as possible to viewing and exploring the physical world and your app’s virtual objects. Avoid cluttering the screen with controls and information that diminish the immersive experience.

Create convincing illusions when placing realistic objects. Not all AR experiences require realistic virtual objects. Those that do, however, should include objects that appear to inhabit the physical environment in which they’re placed. For best results, design detailed 3D assets with lifelike textures and use the information ARKit provides to position objects on detected real-world surfaces, scale objects properly, reflect environmental lighting conditions on virtual objects, cast virtual object shadows on real-world surfaces, and update visuals as the camera’s position changes.

Consider physical constraints. Bear in mind that people may attempt to use your app in an environment that’s not conducive to an optimal AR experience. For example, they may open your app in a location where there isn’t much room to move around or there aren’t large, flat surface areas. Try to anticipate scenarios that might present challenges, and clearly communicate requirements or expectations to people up front. Consider offering varying sets of features for use in different environments.

Be mindful of the user’s comfort. Holding a device at a certain distance or angle for a prolonged period of time can be fatiguing.

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There are a couple more – safety, gradual introduction of motion, audio and haptic feedback – and then much more. One of the key ones is going to be “handling problems”. Not long to go now.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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