Start Up: mobile web shrinks, TfL v Uber explained, the bitcoin ads, and more

Twitter is looking to double the length of tweets. Is that seriously a good idea? Photo by Daniel Morrison on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Don’t freak out. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

App Annie: App usage doubles in 2 years as mobile web fades • Mobile Marketer

Robert Williams:


Mobile app usage has doubled in the past two years to an average of two hours per day, boosting it to 7x the amount of time users spend on mobile web browsers, according to a study by App Annie made available to Mobile Marketer. The top 20% of people who use apps for the longest periods spend more than four hours a day with mobile apps.

Native mobile apps accounted for 88% of the time and 93% of sessions on Android phones worldwide, with the remainder being spent in mobile browsers, the study found. The preference for apps was seen among all age groups, not just millennials and teens, in every country surveyed during the first half of 2017.


The mobile web has been over for a long time. It just doesn’t know it.
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Google to create shopping service unit to satisfy EU • Bloomberg

Aoife White:


Google will create a standalone unit for its shopping service and require it to bid against rivals for ads shown on the top of its search page, in an effort to satisfy European Union concerns over the display of product results, three people familiar with the investigation said.

Google faces a Thursday deadline to comply with an EU antitrust order for it to give equal treatment in how the search engine shows competitors’ comparison-shopping sites, according to the people, who asked not to be named as the negotiations are private. While the shopping service will remain part of Google, it will operate separately and use its own revenues to bid for ads.

Google was ordered by regulators to stop promoting its own shopping search results over competitors’ and to make changes by Sept. 28 designed to give rivals a better chance to compete, the EU said in June when it fined the company €2.4bn ($2.8bn). The company could be fined up to 5% of daily revenue if it fails to comply…

…While Google Shopping can bid for those slots, it will be run separately to ensure that its bids reflect its own operating costs and aren’t subsidized by Google. Regulators have accepted that the panel is for advertising and slots cannot be given away, the person said. Each slot will be labeled with the name of the service providing the link, such as “By Google,” similar to pages that showed up on French and Dutch versions of Google last week.


Not sure that this is going to satisfy rivals. But it might satisfy the EU.
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James Dyson to build electric car by 2020 • Business Insider

Mohammed Hadi:


James Dyson, the billionaire inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, said his company was building a “radical” all-electric car for launch in 2020, with a commitment to spend £2bn ($2.7bn) on solid-state battery technology and vehicle design.

Dyson said a 400-strong team of engineers had already spent two and a half years working on the secret project in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, developing the batteries that will power the in-house designed electric motor for the car.

He said on Tuesday he had not yet decided where the vehicle would be manufactured, although he had ruled out working with any existing auto companies.


Hmm. Dyson said it was going to have a robot vacuum cleaner for a long time, and it took longer than that to come up with it; and it isn’t available everywhere.

It’s comparatively easy for a well-funded company to make an electric car. The tricky thing is making lots of electric cars, and making a profit from them.
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Understanding Uber: it’s not about the app • London Reconnections

“John Bull”:


One of the primary responsibilities of the taxi regulator in most locations is the consideration of passenger safety. This is very much the case in London – both for individual drivers and for operators.

The expectation of drivers is relatively obvious – that they do not break the law, nor commit a crime of any kind. The expectation of operators is a bit more complex – it is not just about ensuring that drivers are adequately checked before they are hired (and that those checks are processed by a mutually approved company), but also that their activity is effectively monitored while they are working. Just as importantly, the operator is responsible for making sure that any customer complaints are taken seriously and acted upon appropriately.

The nature of that action can vary. The report of a minor offence may warrant only the intervention of the operator themselves or escalation of the incident to TfL via the regular (but slow) reporting channels. It is expected, however, that serious crimes will be dealt with promptly, and reported directly to the police as well.

On 12 April 2017, the Metropolitan Police wrote to TfL expressing a major concern. In the letter, Inspector Neil Bellany claimed that ULL were not reporting serious crimes to the police. They cited three specific incidents by way of example.


This is very long, and very detailed, and explains very well that this is not about “disliking Uber” and wasn’t “decided by Sadiq Khan”. It was a decision by TfL, prompted by the police, and it’s about regulation.

But it’s notable how right-wing reflexive reaction has been that it’s about “stifling innovation” and that it’s a “political decision”. It’s dangerous when companies which are breaking regulations try to get the public to back them in doing so. (Via Alex Hern.)
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Your tweets may not have to be that short anymore • WSJ

Georgia Wells:


Twitter Inc. on Tuesday said it would begin testing a new limit of 280 characters, double its current limit, as a concession to users who have been clamoring for changes to the short-messaging service.

The new longer limit will be tested on a small portion of users–a percentage in the single digits, according to a Twitter spokeswoman–and Twitter will be monitoring the experiment for several weeks before making a decision. A random sample of Twitter users would be included in the experiment, the spokeswoman said, and declined to comment on whether President Donald Trump would be part of the test group.

“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new,” Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen and senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara wrote in a statement.

The 140-character limit was a barrier to some people using Twitter, Ms. Rosen and Mr. Ihara realized, particularly users tweeting in languages like English that use more words to express meaning. Users sometimes abandoned their tweets when they bumped up against the 140-character limit, they said.


Yeah, sure, people abandoned Twitter because they couldn’t say it in the typical length of a sentence. And isn’t it great to know that the problems of bots and sexist dogpiling has been solved?
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Showtime’s websites may have used your CPU to mine cryptocoin while you binged on Twin Peaks • Gizmodo

Rhett Jones:


Over the weekend, a user on Twitter pointed out that two of Showtime’s websites had a script running in the background that’s used to hijack visitors’ CPUs to mine cryptocurrency. Other users and outlets later confirmed that the code was present. Now it’s gone, and Showtime refuses to answer questions.

Cryptocurrency miners have been in the news recently because The Pirate Bay caught some flak about a week ago for testing out a new service called Coinhive without informing users. The Coinhive miner uses the website visitors’ extra CPU power to generate a cryptocurrency called Monero (it’s like bitcoin but more private). This isn’t necessarily a nefarious thing to do. Coinhive is trying to present itself as a novel and legitimate way for websites to make some money from visitors. The company takes 30% of the Monero that’s mined by users’ CPUs and the website keeps the rest. It could be a nice way to avoid advertising—but it’s not cool to do this without getting users’ permission.


“Not cool” is one way of putting it. “Skeevy” is another.
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Do tech companies really need all that user data? • Harvard Business Review

Walter Frick:


To determine whether storage of users’ personal data improves search results, [researchers] Chiou and Tucker looked at how search results from Bing and Yahoo differed before and after changes in the European Commission’s rules on data retention. In 2008 the Commission recommended that search engines reduce the period over which search engines kept user records. In response, Yahoo decided to strengthen its privacy policy by anonymizing user data after 90 days. In 2010 Microsoft changed its policy, and began deleting IP addresses associated with searches on Bing after six months and all data points intended to identify a user across visits after 18 months. In 2011 Yahoo changed its policy again, this time deciding to store personal data longer — for 18 months rather than 90 days — allowing the researchers yet another chance to measure how changes in data storage affected search results. (Google did not change its policies during this period, and so is not included in the study. Some of Tucker’s past research has been funded by Google.)

The researchers then looked at data from UK residents’ web history before and after the changes. To measure search quality, they looked at the number of repeated searches, a signal of dissatisfaction with search results. In all three cases, they found no statistically significant effect on search result quality following changes in data retention policy. In other words, the decision to anonymize or de-identify the data didn’t appear to impair the search experience. “Our results suggest that the costs of privacy may be lower than currently perceived,” the authors write, though they note that previous studies have come to different conclusions.


By using clickstream data, they should be getting enough to be relevant – but the problem is that the size of use is small compared to Google’s. A “private” Google v logged-in Google comparison would really tell us more.
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Is beaming down in Star Trek a death sentence? • Ars Technica UK

Xaq Rzetelny looks at the fine detail of “first you’re here and then you’re there” in the iconic series:


“The way that the description of beaming is written, I would go for ‘you die and you’re reconstructed,'” said Michael Okuda, technical consultant for the various Trek shows and movies beginning with The Next Generation, on the Engage podcast. “I wish we had done some kind of dimensional transfer thing to be less ambiguous.”

Speaking to Ars, Okuda elaborated:


“Star Trek’s transporter has generally been thought of as a 3D version of a television. It is said to scan a person atom-by-atom, convert the atoms to energy, beam the energy to another location, then to convert the energy back to matter in the original pattern.
Some have suggested that this is the equivalent of destroying the person at the atomic level, then creating an identical duplicate at a different location. If this is true, then it seems possible that you have killed the original person and created a duplicate (who probably doesn’t remember dying).

“By the time Rick [Sternbach] and I wrote the TNG Tech Manual, the matter-energy conversion process had already been well-established in Trek lore, so I felt we needed to respect this notion. If we had written the book much earlier in Trek’s history, I think I would have pushed an alternate concept in which the continuity of a person’s existence is unambiguous.”


There it is, right from the horse’s mouth. The way it has been written, the transporter is a suicide box. Case closed.

A video on the subject by YouTuber CGP Grey presents a thought experiment to show viscerally why this is the case. Imagine that you step onto the transporter, only the part of the device that de-materializes you is broken. The transporter scans you and reconstructs you at the target location, only you haven’t been taken apart in the first place. Remember, there’s no need for it to take you apart; it can simply scan and reconstruct like a copying machine, leaving the original intact.

So the pre-transport “you” still exists at the same time as post-transport “you.” Would you then willingly step onto the de-materializer—and be destroyed to make room for your replacement—once Scotty’s fixed it? Probably not.


There’s a film in which David Bowie plays Nikola Tesla which plays with this idea. I won’t spoil it for you by naming it if you haven’t seen it. But if you have, you know what I mean.
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China blocks WhatsApp, broadening online censorship • The New York Times

Keith Bradsher:


WhatsApp now appears to have been broadly disrupted in China, even for text messages, Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research start-up, said on Monday. The blocking of WhatsApp text messages suggests that China’s censors may have developed specialized software to interfere with such messages, which rely on an encryption technology that is used by few services other than WhatsApp, he said.

“This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Mr. Kobeissi said. He added that his company’s automated monitors had begun detecting disruptions of WhatsApp in China on Wednesday, and that by Monday the blocking efforts were comprehensive.

Facebook declined to comment, following past practice when asked about WhatsApp’s difficulties in China.

Lokman Tsui, an internet communications specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that WhatsApp seemed to have been severely disrupted starting on Sunday. But he said that some WhatsApp users might still be able to use the service.


For China’s government (which is trying to tamp down dissent and discussion ahead of a big Communist party rally) it’s enough to make it difficult to use WhatsApp so that people use other services – which let the government see everything. Dictators hate encryption.
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Verizon discontinues the Wear24 smartwatch after just four months • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:


Verizon announced its very own Android Wear smartwatch earlier this year, powered by its LTE network. It started selling the Wear24 in May for $300 on contract and $350 without one. That seemed like an interesting proposition when consumers have shown little interest even in cheap smartwatches. Verizon didn’t let this product languish too long, though. We’ve confirmed with the carrier that Wear24 is dead.

Verizon didn’t actually announce the smartwatch was going away. If you try to visit the former product page, you are redirected to the support page for Wear24. We reached out to Verizon to see if the watch was indeed gone, and here’s the succinct reply we got.


Yes wear24 has been discontinued.


Okay, so that happened. The device was on sale for a little over four months before Verizon killed it.


What’s the betting that in four months from now Verizon will have sold more LTE-connected Apple Watches than it did of this device?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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2 thoughts on “Start Up: mobile web shrinks, TfL v Uber explained, the bitcoin ads, and more

  1. How do they count web time vs app time ? A large portion of my time is spent in some kind of webview within an app: gReader’s reformatted + full-linked RSS feeds, gNow’s news cards…

    I’m probably atypical, but I’m guessing I’m being shown as “in-app” even though it’s Web content I’m viewing.

  2. I will not accept that the transporter room in Star Trek was a death chamber.
    The fact that this notion comes from someone who worked on TNG onwards is telling – it was a pale imitation of TOS.

    People may be temporarily in stasis as their molecules are transmitted – that is all I need to know.

    Out of my cold dead brain!

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