Start Up: Apple Pay on iPhone X, Russia’s fake Americans, Yelp accuses Google, and more

Apple’s new iPhone has a big screen. Not quite that big. Photo by Mark Gregory007 on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Priced to sell. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The fake Americans Russia created to influence the election • The New York Times

Scott Shane:


Sometimes an international offensive begins with a few shots that draw little notice. So it was last year when Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website.

“These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US,” he wrote on June 8, 2016. “Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!”

Mr. Redick turned out to be a remarkably elusive character. No Melvin Redick appears in Pennsylvania records, and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian. But this fictional concoction has earned a small spot in history: The Redick posts that morning were among the first public signs of an unprecedented foreign intervention in American democracy.

A Facebook post, by someone claiming to be Melvin Redick, promoting a website linked to the Russian military intelligence agency G.R.U. Credit The New York Times

The DCLeaks site had gone live a few days earlier, posting the first samples of material, stolen from prominent Americans by Russian hackers, that would reverberate through the presidential election campaign and into the Trump presidency. The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.


This is quite an investigation, done by the NYT with FireEye.
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Screw my iPhone, I just want the new Apple Watch • Fast Co Design

Jesus Diaz:


This is a tiny device that I can wrap around my wrist to connect me to other people beaming signals through space without having to look like too much of a douchebag. I can take it with me at all times without worrying about it getting dropped or stolen. I use it to do everything I do with my iPhone except take photos and videos. I can access all the music I have in the cloud and listen to it in my AirPods. And it has new, enhanced heart monitoring software–the icing on the cake that will alert me when I have a heart attack on my way from the sofa to the fridge to lick the actual icing on the actual cake that is waiting for me right now.

Can I ditch my iPhone and live with an Apple Watch Series 3? Yes, if it truly works as advertised, I think I can. Like me, I suspect millions will look at this watch as an alternative to their phones–if not as a complete replacement, at least as a replacement for a large part of their day. The phone is still better for things that require concentration, like extensive writing, reading, or viewing large photos and videos. But I only do those things for work, and only on very specific occasions.


Alas, US carriers are pricing the data plan for the new Watch at $10/month – which is a ripoff. Consider: when you’re using the Watch, you’re pretty much certainly not using your phone, so you’re not using data on it. And you’d have to be going some to use any appreciable amount of data on the Watch. US carriers are greedy. (Three-month free trials don’t solve anything. Drug dealers do the same.)

One can hope for better in the UK and elsewhere. The first partner will be EE; don’t expect that to be cheap either. Competition is needed from those who realise the marginal benefit of really cheap data plans.

Diaz’s broader point, about the shift to smaller screens, is worth considering.
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Face ID on the iPhone X is probably going to suck • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Face ID on the iPhone X uses a “TrueDepth” camera setup, which blasts your face with more than 30,000 infrared dots and scans your face in 3D. Apple says this can “recognize you in an instant” and log you into your phone.

None of that matters. Face ID is still going to suck.

This is not the first phone we’ve tried with a facial recognition feature, and they all have the same problem. It doesn’t matter how fast or accurate Face ID is, the problem is the ergonomics: you need to aim it at your face. This is slow and awkward, especially when compared to a fingerprint reader, which doesn’t have to be aimed at anything.

Consider the “taking it out of your pocket” use case: If you’re good, you’ll stick your hand in your pocket and grip the phone so your finger lands on the fingerprint reader. Touch ID works as both an “on” button and an “authentication” button. In one touch, you’ve turned on the phone and logged in. You haven’t even fully taken the phone out of your pocket yet, and it’s already on and unlocked. By the time you bring the phone to your face, the unlock process is finished and you’re looking at the home screen.

To use the iPhone X’s Face ID, you have take the phone out of your pocket, lift it up to your face, swipe up to turn it on, and only then can can you start the unlock process. The difference is probably one or two seconds, but for something you do 80 times a day, having the fastest possible unlock system really matters.

Consider authenticating with Apple Pay. With a fingerprint reader, you can slam your iPhone on the credit card terminal while holding your finger on the Touch ID button, and everything will just work. You’re continuously authenticating and beaming credit card data at the same time, which is easy, intuitive, and hard to mess up. According to Craig Federighi’s Face ID demo during the keynote, you now have to open up Apple Pay first, then aim the phone at your face so Face ID can work. Only then can you tap against the credit card terminal. That’s two extra steps.


I’m pretty sure Ron wasn’t at the Apple event, so didn’t get hands-on time with the iPhone X. I was, and did. Apple Pay with facial recognition is a key question I’ve raised myself in the past, so asked for a demo.

The unlocking works at easy arm’s length; it’s not like Samsung’s formal version. It’s quick – probably as fast as the first-generation TouchID. For Apple Pay, you could double-click the side button while it’s in your pocket, pull it out, face unlock as you walk (towards a TfL terminal, say) and hold it to the reader. The pay system remains active for 60 seconds. Plus – an advantage – you don’t have to “end-hold” it, where it’s liable to fall or be knocked out of your hand; you’ll be holding it in your full hand grip.

Anyway, it should be fun to come back to this article in eight months’ time or so.
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Apple’s iOS 11 makes it tougher than ever for cops to grab your data • WIRED UK

Andy Greenberg:


In recent versions of iOS, any iPhone plugged into an unfamiliar computer would ask the user if he or she was willing to trust that new machine before exchanging any data with it. That meant if cops or border agents were able to seize an unlocked iPhone or compel its owner to unlock a locked one with a finger on its TouchID sensor, they could simply plug it into a desktop via a cable in its lightning port, choose to trust the new machine with a tap, and upload its contents using forensic software like Elcomsoft or Cellebrite. (That’s particularly important because courts have found criminal suspects can’t plead the Fifth Amendment and refuse to offer their fingerprints, as they sometimes can with a password or passcode.)

But in iOS 11, iPhones will not only require a tap to trust a new computer, but the phone’s passcode, too. That means even if forensic analysts do seize a phone while it’s unlocked or use its owner’s finger to unlock it, they still need a passcode to offload its data to a program where it can be analysed wholesale. They can still flip through the data on the phone itself. But if the owner refuses to divulge the passcode, they can’t use forensic tools to access its data in the far more digestible format for analysis known as SQLite. “There’s a huge amount of data that can’t be effectively analysed if you have to look at it manually,” says Vladimir Katalov, Elcomsoft’s co-founder. “On my phone, I have more than 100,000 messages and several thousand call logs. The manual review of that data is not possible.”


In retrospect, an obvious move. This makes the iPhone even more secure against law enforcement – of all stripes.
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The best utility apps for iOS • Initial Charge

Michael Rockwell:


On a recent episode of Mac Power Users, Katie Floyd and David Sparks discussed their favorite iOS utilities — simple little apps that do one thing really well. I thought I’d follow in their footsteps and publish a list of, what I consider to be, the best iOS utilities available.


If you use iOS, you’ll probably find something you like here. (Read it on your iPhone/iPad so the links work directly..) The “Unobstruct” content blocker for getting rid of floating social toolbars “and other unnecessary cruft” is probably a must-have.
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Yelp claims Google broke promise to antitrust regulators • WIRED

Nitasha Tiku:


As part of the 2012 agreement, operators of other websites can opt out of having content such as photos or user-generated reviews scraped by Google for its own services, such as Shopping or Google+ Local. Yelp opted out and says that Google agreed to stop scraping Yelp content even before the formal agreement [with the FTC in 2012], in response to a cease-and-desist request to Google in July 2011.

Yelp suspected Google had resumed scraping after the owner of a North Carolina gym told Yelp that an image from a Yelp listing for another gym was showing up as its Google business listing. Yelp set up a test to see if Google was pulling images from its servers. Yelp says it found Google pulled almost 386,000 images from Yelp in an hour, and then used some of the photos in business listings in Google Maps. Yelp says it searched Google for 150 of those businesses and found that a Yelp photo was a lead image in Google’s Local OneBox—which shows a business’s location, phone number, and reviews—in 111 cases.


Google is the scorpion on the fox’s back crossing the river: its behaviour is fixed, even if it’s self-destructive. And the key part of that behaviour is scouring the internet for content. The company said “it did not intend” to use the images. Yelp says that 386,000 isn’t quite an accident.
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There’s blood in the water in Silicon Valley • Buzzfeed

Ben Smith is Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief:


The blinding rise of Donald Trump over the past year has masked another major trend in American politics: the palpable, and perhaps permanent, turn against the tech industry. The new corporate leviathans that used to be seen as bright new avatars of American innovation are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics.

That turn has accelerated in recent days: Steve Bannon and Bernie Sanders both want big tech treated as, in Bannon’s words in Hong Kong this week, “public utilities.” Tucker Carlson and Franklin Foer have found common ground. Even the group No Labels, an exquisitely poll-tested effort to create a safe new center, is on board. Rupert Murdoch, never shy to use his media power to advance his commercial interests, is hard at work.

“Anti-trust is back, baby,” Yelp’s policy chief, Luther Lowe, DM’d me after Fox News gave him several minutes to make the antitrust case against Yelp’s giant rival Google to its audience of millions.

The new spotlight on these companies doesn’t come out of nowhere. They sit, substantively, at the heart of the biggest and most pressing issues facing the United States, and often stand on the less popular side of those: automation and inequality, trust in public life, privacy and security. They make the case that growth and transformation are public goods — but the public may not agree.


The noise about making companies like Google and Facebook into “utilities” simply hasn’t been thought through. How do you enforce that, under what laws? How do you effect it in one country but not others? Would the US government own it? It’s bizarre. But the “New Center”, an idea from Americans who in Europe would be seen as solidly right-wing, proposes some sort of reform of antitrust to “deal” with the dominance particularly of Facebook and Google, but also Amazon. (They’re evidently a bit puzzled by Apple’s lack of obvious dominance in anything.)
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Trump Inc: inside the president’s not-so-blind trust •

Michael Tanglis:


Our current president has two jobs: leader of the free world and the owner of hundreds of business entities worldwide. The combination is toxic for democracy.

More than 70% of Trump’s businesses are incorporated in Delaware — a state known for anonymity and secrecy. There is often very little information on the Delaware business filings. And the ambiguity and imprecision of the federal financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics makes it difficult to discern the detailed financial health of the president or his businesses.

For example, Trump is not required to disclose net income from his businesses (as opposed to gross revenue). This raises the prospect that Trump’s businesses may be hemorrhaging money in years that he reported hundreds of millions of dollars of income. Further, the disclosure guidelines allow Trump to report liabilities totaling just hundreds of millions when the real number may be in the billions.

Trump’s tax returns — which he has refused to release — would provide the detail needed to determine the extent of his conflicts of interest.

Throughout his business career, Trump has been a boom-and-bust businessman — filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection 11 times. If his business approaches another bust moment while he is president, it is hard to imagine Trump — who has exhibited so little restraint both as a businessman and now as president — not succumbing to the temptation to use the powers of his office to benefit his private interests.

In many ways, the Trump presidency is the natural culmination of the decades-long stranglehold of wealthy individuals and corporations over public policy. But Trump has taken the standard model a step further: He has cut out the middleman — the lowly elected official — who by Trump’s own admission typically needed to be greased to make the whole process work. As president, Trump now has immense power to dictate policy and direct funds to his businesses, or to others who in turn can repay him through his businesses.


Delaware’s position as a way to hide business dealings is very peculiar. Trump’s dealings, though, really call into question how robust the US is.
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Cognitive Hollywood, part 1: data shows box office economics in turmoil • Medium

Yves Bergquist on the suggestion that low Rotten Tomatoes scores lead to low box office takings in the cinema:


I collected box office return data through Box Office Mojo for all the 150 titles released in 2017 that grossed more than $1 million, plugged in Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Audience Scores for all titles, and looked at correlation between scores and financial performance through both a basic Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient (PMCC) analysis and some linear modeling to extract r-squares (which measure the strength of the correlation). PMCC measures the linear correlation between two variables x and y. It has a value between + 1 (100% positive correlation) and -1 (100% negative correlation, often called “inverse correlation”). The closer to 0 a PMCC score, the less correlation there is between x and y.

The result? Nope. The math is pretty overwhelming in saying there was no (positive or negative) correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and box office returns.

The data showed a very small statistical relationship between good or bad Rotten Tomatoes Scores and worldwide box office revenue for 2017 so far: 12% PMCC correlation, and a .009 r-square (meaning there is likely no statistical relationship between the two variables).

Even more surprising, the impact of Rotten Tomatoes scores on opening weekend box office seemed even lower: .08 PMCC score (only 8% correlation), and a -0.001 r-square.

That’s for all 2017 titles so far. What about the Summer titles, which the executives quoted by The New York Times complained about?



So it’s not only “nobody knows anything” but also “and they’re wrong about it”. I’ve heard that social media on the first weekend is now a more important indicator of how box office will go.
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Study finds Reddit’s controversial ban of its most toxic subreddits actually worked • TechCrunch

Devin Coldewey:


It’s an example of one of the objections made to the idea of banning troublesome users or communities: they’ll just go elsewhere, so why bother?

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology took this question seriously, as until someone actually investigates whether such bans are helpful, harmful or some mix thereof, it’s all speculation. So they took a major corpus of Reddit data (compiled by and examined exactly what happened to the hate speech and purveyors thereof, with the two aforementioned subreddits as case studies.

Essentially they looked at the thousands of users that made up CT and FPH (as they call them) and quantified their hate speech usage. They then compared this pre-ban data to the same users post-ban: how much hate speech they produced, where they “migrated” to (i.e. duplicate subreddits, related ones, etc.) and whether “invaded” subreddits experienced spikes in hate speech as a result. Control groups were created by observing the activity of similar subreddits that weren’t banned.

What they found was encouraging for this strategy of reducing unwanted activity on a site like Reddit:

• Post-ban, hate speech by the same users was reduced by as much as 80-90 percent.
• Members of banned communities left Reddit at significantly higher rates than control groups.
• Migration was common, both to similar subreddits (i.e. overtly racist ones) and tangentially related ones (r/The_Donald).
• However, within those communities, hate speech did not reliably increase, although there were slight bumps as the invaders encountered and tested new rules and moderators.

All in all, the researchers conclude, the ban was quite effective at what it set out to do…


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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