Start Up: Facebook’s growing hassles, Siri dumps Bing, the three-way Watch, and more

Look who’s come to save Telstra! Photo by Wired Photostream on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Really, they are. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Obama tried to give Zuckerberg a wake-up call over fake news on Facebook • The Washington Post

Adam Entous, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg:


For months leading up to the [November 2016 presidential] vote, Obama and his top aides quietly agonized over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign without making matters worse. Weeks after Trump’s surprise victory, some of Obama’s aides looked back with regret and wished they had done more.

Now huddled in a private room on the sidelines of a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru, two months before Trump’s inauguration, Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously, though the president did not single out Russia specifically. Unless Facebook and the government did more to address the threat, Obama warned, it would only get worse in the next presidential race…

…This account — based on interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the government’s investigation and Facebook’s response — provides the first detailed backstory of a 16-month journey in which the company came to terms with an unanticipated foreign attack on the U.S. political system and its search for tools to limit the damage.

Among the revelations is how Facebook detected elements of the Russian information operation in June 2016 and then notified the FBI. Yet in the months that followed, the government and the private sector struggled to work together to diagnose and fix the problem.

The growing political drama over these issues has come at a time of broader reckoning for Facebook, as Zuckerberg has wrestled with whether to take a more active role in combatting an emerging dark side on the social network — including fake news and suicides on live video, and allegations that the company was censoring political speech.


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Steve Bannon sought to infiltrate Facebook hiring • Buzzfeed

Joseph Bernstein:


Steve Bannon plotted to plant a mole inside Facebook, according to emails sent days before the Breitbart boss took over Donald Trump’s campaign and obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The email exchange with a conservative Washington operative reveals the importance that the giant tech platform — now reeling from its role in the 2016 election — held for one of the campaign’s central figures. And it also shows the lengths to which the brawling new American right is willing to go to keep tabs on and gain leverage over the Silicon Valley giants it used to help elect Trump — but whose executives it also sees as part of the globalist enemy.

The idea to infiltrate Facebook came to Bannon from Chris Gacek, a former congressional staffer who is now an official at the Family Research Council, which lobbies against abortion and many LGBT rights.

“There is one for a DC-based ‘Public Policy Manager’ at Facebook’s What’s APP [sic] division,” Gacek, the senior fellow for regulatory affairs at the group, wrote on Aug. 1, 2016. “LinkedIn sent me a notice about some job openings.”

“This seems perfect for Breitbart to flood the zone with candidates of all stripe who will report back to you / Milo with INTEL about the job application process over at FB,” he continued.

“Milo” is former Breitbart News Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, to whom Bannon forwarded Gacek’s email the same day.

“Can u get on this,” Bannon instructed his staffer.


Seems to have come to naught. But shows that the culture wars in the US are deeply e,bedded.
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Apple switches from Bing to Google for Siri web search results on iOS and Spotlight on Mac • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:


Apple is switching the default provider of its web searches from Siri, Search inside iOS (formerly called Spotlight) and Spotlight on the Mac. So, for instance, if Siri falls back to a web search on iOS when you ask it a question, you’re now going to get Google results instead of Bing. Updated below with a statement from Microsoft.

Consistency is Apple’s main motivation given for switching the results from Microsoft’s Bing to Google in these cases. Safari on Mac and iOS already currently use Google search as the default provider, thanks to a deal worth billions to Apple (and Google) over the last decade. This change will now mirror those results when Siri, the iOS Search bar or Spotlight is used.

“Switching to Google as the web search provider for Siri, Search within iOS and Spotlight on Mac will allow these services to have a consistent web search experience with the default in Safari,” reads an Apple statement sent this morning. “We have strong relationships with Google and Microsoft and remain committed to delivering the best user experience possible.”

…All of the search results that you see in these different cases will come directly from the search API, which means you’ll be getting the raw, ranked search results that start below all of the ads and Knowledge Graph stuff that appears on a regular Google home page. Worth noting, of course, that once you’ve clicked on a YouTube video, you’re still going to get served ads, so there is a revenue driver here for Google, even if it’s not direct.


Will Google ever push ads into those results? But it makes sense, as Panzarino notes, for the new version of Apple’s MacOS that’s just released. Microsoft is left with image search in Siri – not really a big source of demand. Sayonara, Bing. Hello, bigger TAC (traffic acquisition costs) for Google.

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macOS High Sierra vulnerability allegedly allows malicious third-party apps to access plaintext keychain data • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


macOS High Sierra, released to the public today, could be impacted by a major security flaw that could allow a hacker to steal the usernames and passwords of accounts stored in Keychain.

As it turns out, unsigned apps on macOS High Sierra (and potentially earlier versions of macOS) can allegedly access the Keychain info and display plaintext usernames and passwords without a user’s master password.

Security researcher and ex-NSA analyst Patrick Wardle tweeted about the vulnerability early this morning and shared a video of the exploit in action.


But if it applies “potentially” on earlier versions.. what is the choice? Not much, apart from not running unsigned apps.
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More Windows 10 S PCs, starting at $275, are on the way • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:


Microsoft’s PC maker partners are readying some new low-end devices running Windows 10 S, which they may be marketing as suited for “frontline” service workers.

New Windows 10 S devices are coming from Acer, HP, Lenovo and Fujitsu, starting at $275, and will be available later this year, Microsoft execs said today at the company’s Ignite IT Pro conference in Orlando.

Microsoft and partners will be hawking these devices as “Microsoft 365-powered.” Microsoft 365 is a bundle of Windows 10, Office 365 and Microsoft’s enterprise mobility and security services.


The plan is that these will be deployed in enterprises. Essentially, taking on Chromebooks.
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$12b down and counting, Telstra’s Andy Penn hires Nokia’s burning man Stephen Elop • Sydney Morning Herald

Colin Kruger:


Telstra has lost about $12 billion in market value since Andy Penn stepped up as chief executive in May last year. 

So you can understand he’s looking to pull every lever he can to reverse the slide. 

A billion dollar bet on the Philippines? Sure, if there’s a taker. 

How about a flutter on whatever telco talent is currently floating about on the market? Other than Sol Trujillo, of course. 

So the telco giant announced on Wednesday that it has secured the services of former Nokia boss, Stephen Elop. And the telco industry’s man for all seasons, Kevin Russell, who has stints as Optus CEO, and Hutchison 3’s CEO, on his resume.


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Fossil Group doubles number of doors for its smartwatches and connected hybrids • WatchPro

Rob Corder:


By the end of 2017, Fossil Group will have launched more than 300 connected watch styles across 14 brands. The devices are now also active in 50 countries and 21 languages.

“Today our wearables segment is the fastest-growing part of our business,” says Greg McKelvey, chief strategy and digital officer at Fossil Group.

“Customer demand is strong and getting stronger, and we’re just on the front end of this business evolution. Clearly, this distinct combination of the best design and the best tech is winning with fashion-conscious consumers, especially our female customers who were long neglected by other wearables brands,” he adds.

In the last 12 months, Fossil Group says it has doubled its points of distribution for its connected devices and more than doubled its sales of wearables.

Instead of battling with technology giants that want a chunk of the wearables market, Fossil Group is working with them. Google continues to be a key strategic partner for the company, supporting the expansion of products powered by Android Wear 2.0.


The key point here (as Benjamin Clymer pointed out) that whereas the watch companies have always been proud in the past of making their own internals, now they’re farming it out in this new segment – while Apple goes the opposite way. How’s that going to work out, long-term?
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German election predictions • Dataswarm


We have been tracking the German election using social media since February, and 6.8 million tweets later we have some predictions. Our Data Analytics Engine (which had correctly predicted Brexit, the US Election and the latest British one against the polls’ opinions) is now predicting for Germany….well, pretty much what the German polls are saying – except for the AfD.


Dataswarm’s prediction: CDU+CSU 34%; SPD 27%; AFD 16% (but variable from 12%-20%); FDP 7%; Linke 9%; Greens 7%. All +/-2% apart from AFD.

Actual: CDU+CSU 33%; SPD 20.5%; AFD 12.6%; FDP 10.7%; Linke 9.2%; Greens 8.9%.

Low bot activity (languages defeat English speakers, it seems). Will be interested to see what they think of this; the miss was pretty much all about the SPD.
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New theory cracks open the black box of deep learning • Quanta Magazine

Natalie Wolchover:


Last month, a YouTube video of a conference talk in Berlin, shared widely among artificial-intelligence researchers, offered a possible answer. In the talk, Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works. Tishby argues that deep neural networks learn according to a procedure called the “information bottleneck,” which he and two collaborators first described in purely theoretical terms in 1999…

…One immediate insight that can be gleaned from the theory is a better understanding of which kinds of problems can be solved by real and artificial neural networks. “It gives a complete characterization of the problems that can be learned,” Tishby said. These are “problems where I can wipe out noise in the input without hurting my ability to classify. This is natural vision problems, speech recognition. These are also precisely the problems our brain can cope with.”

Meanwhile, both real and artificial neural networks stumble on problems in which every detail matters and minute differences can throw off the whole result. Most people can’t quickly multiply two large numbers in their heads, for instance. “We have a long class of problems like this, logical problems that are very sensitive to changes in one variable,” Tishby said. “Classifiability, discrete problems, cryptographic problems. I don’t think deep learning will ever help me break cryptographic codes.”


This isn’t a trivial read; but the conclusion is useful in thinking about what deep learning will and won’t do.
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A small-screen iPod, an internet communicator and a phone • Asymco

Horace Dediu:


the Watch is effectively stealing usage from the iPhone. At first it took alerts, timekeeping, and basic messaging away. Now it’s taking basic phone calls and music and maybe maps.

It’s fitting therefore to remember how the iPhone was launched; as a tentpole troika: a wide-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone. Today the new Watch is a small-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone.

So not only is the Series 3 Watch more powerful than the original iPhone but it is also poetically capable of the same tentpole jobs. But it’s not just a miniature iPhone. It has a new, completely orthogonal attack on non-consumption and market creation: fitness and health. This is a key point. The iPhone was born a phone but grew up to be something completely unprecedented, unforeseen by its creators and, frankly, undescribable in the language of 2007.

The Watch was born a timepiece but it is traversing through the early iPhone and pulling in a new direction all of its own. The fact that we are talking about “Resting Rate”, “Arrhythmia” and “Atrial fibrillation” at a timekeeping launch event indicates that new behaviors will follow and so will the language we’ll use to describe this child-like product once it grows up.


Notable how the link in “tentpole troika” goes back to a piece he wrote in 2014, with the introduction of the Watch, and its symmetry to how the iPhone has changed. I think there will be plenty of people who will miss the point of the Watch (and smartwatches) on the basis that “the screen’s really small – how can you work on that?” Remember, much the same used to be said of the iPhone.
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Fujitsu to sell its handset business – will there be more to follow? • Counterpoint Research

Jene Park:


Rumors are spreading that Japan’s Fujitsu has decided to sell its subsidiary operating the mobile phone business. The bidding process may start next month. Fujitsu already categorized its mobile phone business as non-core and spun-off the division into a subsidiary in February 2016. Fujitsu has now decided to sell-off the entire handset business.

In early 2000, there were about 11 Japanese companies involved in the handset sector, including Fujitsu. Japanese handset makers grew to almost 20% of the global handset market at its peak. The domestic market was dominated by these local brands. Japanese brands ruled the local market with more than 80% for a long time. Since 2009, however, Japanese makers began to struggle due to the rapid growth of Apple. Japanese makers slowly exited the global market and their share declined. This happened even in the Japanese market to around 30%.

Japan handset market share by OEM origin
Macroeconomic factors of the Japanese economy seem to have influenced the Japanese mobile phone companies to some extent. The aging of the Japanese society progressed rapidly and Japanese companies showed a tendency to avoid big changes. Japanese makers focused more on feature phones, despite the fact that smart phones were already attracting attention. And this tendency of Japanese companies continued until 2016…

…Analysis of the handset market share in the Japanese market [now] clearly shows that the market is changing. In 2016, Fujitsu’s market share in Japan was about 7%, ranking fourth, and Fujitsu’s main products were targeting the >$400 price band. Customers belonging to the >$400 price band will likely be absorbed by Apple, Sony and Samsung.


I suspect the struggle since 2009 has been more to do with the rapid rise of Android than Apple. Though who can forget Wired’s fabulously wrong insight from February 2009 about “Why the Japanese hate the iPhone“? (Since updated with a note about, well, OK, some Japanese might like it, but not many. OK, quite a few. Oh, really, nearly half of all buyers?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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