Start Up: Amazon can’t Show YouTube, the Nadellas at home, downgrade to 280Twitter!, and more


We have some bad (well, slow) news about Andy Rubin’s Essential phone – you know, the other phone that has a notch. Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. That’s not a baker’s dozen. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon slashes price of new Echo speaker, adds better sound • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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The new speaker has a dedicated woofer and tweeter for improved music playback as well as a new set of far-field microphones to better hear what users are saying, Amazon said at an event in Seattle on Wednesday. The new version comes in six different colors, Amazon said.

The new Echo costs $99, a significant price drop from the current model’s $180 price. It’s available today from Amazon’s website, said Dave Limp, who runs the company’s Alexa and Echo lines. There will also be a two-pack available that saves consumers $50.

The better sound takes on new speakers from companies including Apple Inc. and Alphabet’s Google. Apple will release its HomePod speaker with Siri integration and loud speakers for Apple Music later this year, while Google is expected to unveil a smaller Home speaker in October.

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I wonder how big the market for Echo-style devices is. At one time, it seemed as though Kindles would take over the world; but they stopped dead at about a third of the total addressable market in the west (many given as gifts, and not really used), and are now shrinking. Amazon has definitely done clever work by grabbing the home space while Google and Apple were tying up the smartphone market.
link to this extract


Google pulls YouTube from Amazon’s Echo Show device • Tech Narratives

Jan Dawson:

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Though Amazon says the decision was unilateral and unexplained, Google said the implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violated its terms of service, which makes you wonder whether the companies launched in a hurry and agreed to settle terms later, or whether Amazon simply built the YouTube app without Google’s input and hoped it wouldn’t mind. My guess is that the ToS violation in question here revolves around the lack of options for managing a YouTube account – I sent my Echo Show back after testing it for a review, but if I recall correctly, many of the standard YouTube features on other platforms were not available there, which was reflective of the Echo Show’s broad limitations on interactivity and functionality, something I pointed out in my review. YouTube was in some ways very much behind a platform wall which Amazon erected in front of it, and it seems Google finally decided it had had enough.

It’s worth remembering that Google and Amazon compete directly across several areas and have limited their cooperation in several others as a result: they compete in voice assistants and devices, for starters, but also in cloud services, in product search, in tablets (albeit indirectly), in grocery deliveries, in TV boxes, and so on.

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Google gets very antsy about people not letting YouTube do everything it wants, especially grab data and show tons of ads.
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Essential has sold just 5,000 phones since launch: BayStreet • FierceWireless

Mike Dano:

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Essential Products has sold an estimated 5,000 phones since the gadget made its big retail debut in the United States earlier this month, according to estimates from BayStreet Research. That figure would put Essential well below market heavyweights like Apple and Samsung, which typically sell tens of millions of phones per quarter in the United States.

BayStreet tracks shipments of phones and other devices across the United States. Essential representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment on the BayStreet estimates.

Essential, the first major startup from Android founder Andy Rubin’s venture capital firm Playground, currently sells the $699 Android-powered Essential Phone through Sprint and promises to release the Essential Home smart-home hub later this year. Essential was named as one of FierceWireless’ top 15 startups to watch in 2017.

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And Sprint is the only major carrier selling it. The company is valued at over $1bn – on the basis of getting a $3m investment from Foxconn’s FIH Mobile for 0.25%. Might be a company to watch in 2018 to see if it survives.
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Satya and Anu Nadella open up about their family life • Good Housekeeping

Jane Francisco:

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“My childhood was full of joy,” says Satya, who was raised in India and moved to the United States in 1988 to get his master’s degree in computer science. “My parents created an environment where they let me set my own pace and pursue what I wanted. It’s important to focus on what [our kids] need to thrive.” Take note, Tiger Moms!

“I’m the IT administrator of our family,” says Satya. The Nadellas set limits on screen time for their kids and also on what sites the children can go to. “We get reports on what they’ve been doing on their computers, and they know that,” says Satya. “So it’s very transparent.” Adds Anu,”Technology for entertainment is always going to be a negotiation in our house. How many movies, what kinds of video games.”

“Technology kept Zain [their first child, who was born following in-utero asphyxia and is quadriplegic] alive,” says Anu. “It means more than just something to waste time on.” It also gives him more control in his life now: For instance, with a light tap of his head on a sensor, he can choose his own music. And Microsoft’s new app, Seeing AI, helps people with visual impairment. “They can hold up their phone and it’ll ‘see’ people — interpret their emotions, interpret a menu,” says Satya. “[You can] cook with a recipe, go grocery shopping, read labels or walk into a conference room with confidence.”

“We both think children should have dogs,” says Anu. “There is a different sense of companionship and responsibility that comes with it — that emotional sense that there is a being waiting for you to come back.” Their puppy, Winston, almost a year old, is more than a family pet: He provides important emotional support for Zain. “It was impossible for us to think about getting him before, given everything else going on in our lives,” says Satya. “It’s been such a joy.”

“When Satya steps in the house, Dad’s home,” says Anu. “And Dad does homework with the kids, sits with us at the table. When we go to public places, he’s recognized, and the girls see that, but has it affected their everyday peace? I don’t think so. Our private lives are pretty private.”

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It’s to promote his book “Hit Refresh”, but it’s an interesting interview. (Could have done with slightly less of Ms Francisco’s travel hassles at the start. But it’s probably hard to tell the editor she’s rambling on and you’re going to cut 200 words.)
link to this extract


PSA: Here’s how to get access to 280-character tweets before Twitter rolls it out to all • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

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The simplest approach, as TNW reported, is to run a Snippet in Chrome to instruct Tweetdeck to give you the new limit. Yep, you read that right: the limit is actually controlled on the client side, rather than on Twitter’s own servers.

Here are the site’s instructions:

• Load up Tweetdeck at tweetdeck.twitter.com.
• Head to View, hover over the Developer menu, and select Developer Tools.
• Find Sources and click on the » double chevrons to access Snippets.
• Once you open Snippets, click the ‘New Snippet’ button and copy/paste the following code in the empty window on the right.

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The code is something of a slog. My objections: (a) you have to run Tweetdeck (b) in a browser window c) to produce the hateful 280-character tweets, which are already a blight.
link to this extract


Software is a long con • emptywheel

Quinn Norton:

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I had a conversation with a bridge engineer one evening not long ago. I said, “Bridges, they are nice, and vital, but they fall down a lot.”

He looked at me with a well-worn frustration and replied, “Falling down is what bridges do. It’s the fate of all bridges to fall down, if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand bridges.”

“Ok, I do understand that,” I replied. “But they fall down a lot. Maybe if we stepped back and looked at how we’re building bridges –”

“You can’t build a bridge that doesn’t fall down. That’s just not how bridges work”

I took a deep breath. “What if you could build a bridge that didn’t fall down as often?”

“Not practical — it’s too hard, and besides, people want bridges.” By now, he was starting to look bored with the conversation.

“I bet if you slowed down how you build bridges, you could make ones that lasted decades, even in some cases, centuries. You might have to be thoughtful, set more realistic expectations, do a lot more of the design of a bridge before you start building it, but..”

He interrupted me again. “Look, you’re not a bridge engineer, so you don’t really understand how bridges work, but people want bridges now. So no one is going to build a bridge like that, even if it were possible, and I’m not saying it is.”

“But people get hurt, sometimes die, on these bridges.”

“Bridges fall down. Sometimes people are on them when they do. That’s not my fault as a bridge engineer, that’s literally how gravity works,” he said…

…Just then, a friend of mine, also a writer, also interested in bridges, stopped by.

“Hey guys!” he said. “So it looks like there’s a crew of Russian bridge destroyers with hammers and lighters who are running around in the middle of the night setting fires to bridges and knocking off braces with hammers. They started in Ukraine but they’re spreading around the world now, and we don’t know if our bridges are safe. They’ve studied bridges carefully and they seem to be good at finding where they’re most flammable and which braces to knock off with their hammer.”

We both regarded my friend a long moment, letting it sink in. I turned back to the bridge engineer and said, “Maybe we need to make them out of non-flammable material and rivet them instead of using exposed braces and clamps.”

But he was already red in the face, eyes wide with anger and fear. “GET THE RUSSIANS!” he screamed.

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Of course that’s only the beginning.
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What’s going on With HEIF and Mac OS 10.13 “High Sierra” • The Shape Of Everything

Gus Mueller is author of Acorn, a terrific low-cost image-editing program for the Mac:

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This past summer at WWDC, Apple introduced a new (to iOS and Mac OS) compression format for images named HEIF. HEIF is pretty neat because it allows for better compression compared to JPEG, without sacrificing quality. It’s got some other fun properties as well, but it’s not relevant to this post.

If you have an iPhone with an A10 Fusion processor or later (iPhone 7 and 8), you can turn on support for taking pictures in this format via the Settings app. iOS 11 also obviously adds support for viewing these files and includes APIs for developers which can write new images in that format.

Mac OS 10.13 High Sierra includes support for decoding and viewing HEIF images. There are no OS supplied libraries for writing or converting images to the HEIF format.

And because of this, Acorn currently only allows reading for HEIF files, not writing.

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That’s.. weird. He has filed a Radar (bug report).
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I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets • The Guardian

Judith Duportail:

»

As I flicked through page after page of my data I felt guilty. I was amazed by how much information I was voluntarily disclosing: from locations, interests and jobs, to pictures, music tastes and what I liked to eat. But I quickly realised I wasn’t the only one. A July 2017 study revealed Tinder users are excessively willing to disclose information without realising it.

“You are lured into giving away all this information,” says Luke Stark, a digital technology sociologist at Dartmouth University. “Apps such as Tinder are taking advantage of a simple emotional phenomenon; we can’t feel data. This is why seeing everything printed strikes you. We are physical creatures. We need materiality.”

Reading through the 1,700 Tinder messages I’ve sent since 2013, I took a trip into my hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.

“What you are describing is called secondary implicit disclosed information,” explains Alessandro Acquisti, professor of information technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “Tinder knows much more about you when studying your behaviour on the app. It knows how often you connect and at which times; the percentage of white men, black men, Asian men you have matched; which kinds of people are interested in you; which words you use the most; how much time people spend on your picture before swiping you, and so on. Personal data is the fuel of the economy. Consumers’ data is being traded and transacted for the purpose of advertising”…

…The trouble is these 800 pages of my most intimate data are actually just the tip of the iceberg. “Your personal data affects who you see first on Tinder, yes,” says [privacy activist Paul-Olivier] Dehaye. “But also what job offers you have access to on LinkedIn, how much you will pay for insuring your car, which ad you will see in the tube and if you can subscribe to a loan.”

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link to this extract


Exclusive: Google is cracking down on sketchy rehab ads • The Verge

Cat Ferguson:

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Around the country today, marketers in the $35bn addiction treatment industry woke up to an unpleasant surprise: Many of their Google search ads were gone. Overnight, the search giant has stopped selling ads against a huge number of rehab-related search terms, including “rehab near me,” “alcohol treatment,” and thousands of others. Search ads on some of those keywords would previously have netted Google hundreds of dollars per click.

“We found a number of misleading experiences among rehabilitation treatment centers that led to our decision, in consultation with experts, to restrict ads in this category,” Google told The Verge in a statement. “As always, we constantly review our policies to protect our users and provide good experiences for consumers.”

Google is the biggest source of patients for most treatment centers. Advertisers tell Google how much they want to spend on search ads per month, which keywords they’d like those ads to run against, and then pay Google every time someone clicks on their ad.

While many treatment centers market themselves ethically, there are also significant numbers of bad actors using deceptive and even illegal tactics to get “heads in beds.” [Early in September] The Verge published a story uncovering how marketers use the internet to hook desperate addicts and their families, from hijacking the Google business listings of other treatment centers to deceiving addicts about where a treatment center is located.

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All credit to Ferguson and The Verge for the original, important, story which seems to have grabbed Google’s notice – though now read on for the Bloomberg detail about it.
link to this extract


Why it took Google so long to end shady rehab center ads • Bloomberg

Michael Smith , Jonathan Levin , and Mark Bergen:

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Anti-Google sentiment was palpable at the Austin conference [in May], especially after [Google contractor Josh] Weum [who had advised on the best AdWords to use to attract people seeking opioid addiction treatment] told the crowd that it was hard for Google to cut off shady treatment providers unless someone tipped off the company. 

As the discussion wound down, Jeffrey Lynne, a lawyer in Boca Raton, Fla., had heard enough. Lynne, who specializes in advising addiction treatment centers, stood up and accused Google of not only enabling a dirty business but actively profiting from it. “Google has a fundamental responsibility to stop making money hand over fist by jacking up these ad prices because of an algorithm,” Lynne said, drawing applause from the crowd. “We need you to step up to the plate,” he said. “Because people are using you to human-traffic our children.” 

Weum, who hawked AdWords products for two years at a myriad of industry conferences, including several on addiction treatment, says he was shocked by the sense of outrage from people in the Austin hotel ballroom. “It really felt like I was being blamed for it,” he says. “I felt the full brunt of the anger with patient brokering.” One man sitting next to Weum on the same panel, Dan Gemp, wasn’t surprised. Gemp is chief executive officer of Dreamscape Marketing LLC, a Columbia, Md., company that specializes in running ad campaigns for addiction treatment providers. He’d filed multiple complaints with Google about treatment center operators who did such things as hack his clients’ websites to hijack potential patients.

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The writers estimate that Google could have been pulling in around $1bn annually from these ads. But they also point out that people have been complaining to Google for ages about scams and crooks. The Verge writes a story and next week, poof.

There also seems to be a lesson here about big online advertising companies, self-service ad systems, and the lack of a tight customer feedback loop.
link to this extract


Even this data guru is creeped out by what anonymous location data reveals about us • Fast Company

DJ Pangburn:

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Last fall [Buzzfeed vp of data science, Gilad] Lotan taught a class at New York University on surveillance that kicked off with an assignment like the one I’d given him: link anonymous location data with other data sets–from LinkedIn, Facebook, home registration and mortgage records, and other online data.

“It’s not hard to figure out who this [unnamed] person is,” says Lotan. In class, students found that tracking location data around holidays proved to be the easiest way to determine who, exactly, the data belonged to. “Basically,” he says, “visits to private homes that are owned and publicly registered.”

In 2013, researchers at MIT and the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium published a paper reporting on 15 months of study of human mobility data for over 1.5 million individuals. What they found is that only four spatio-temporal points are required to “uniquely identify 95% of the individuals.” The researchers concluded that there was very little privacy even in raw location data. Four years later, their calls for policies rectifying concerns about location tracking have fallen largely on deaf ears.

Lotan worries about the availability of the data. “I think something that is important to tell in this story is how many services have access to this information.”

“There are so many apps on an iPhone that run in the background and persistently track your location. They tell you that, but most people don’t know.”

Some apps do it even when you’ve specifically denied them access (see Accuweather); some have stopped tracking you when you’re not using them but only after user protest (see, recently, Uber). And see the bottom of the story for tips on how to protect yourself.

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The tips are basically “turn off location tracking”. (Lotan has previously figured here on the topics of fake news, fake claims over Twitter bots, and the strange case of the imaginary Isis attack in Louisiana.)
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Geekbench chief: Android stagnates while iPhone soars • Tom’s Guide

Mark Spoonauer:

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“The thing that I don’t fully understand is why performance has seemed to stagnate on the Android side,” said John Poole, founder of Primate Labs [which developed the Geekbench 4 benchmark for phones]. “Where you don’t see these big leaps forward. I don’t understand what’s happening there.”

On the multicore portion of the Geekbench 4 test, the iPhone 8’s A11 Bionic processor scored 10,170. The fastest Android phone we’ve tested, the Note 8, hit 6,564. That’s 54% slower. The iPhone 8 also blew away the Android competition on the 3DMark graphics test and on our own 4K video-editing test…

If you look at the Geekbench 4 numbers, the iPhone 8 is technically faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 7th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, but is that really the case? Yes and no.

“Everybody looks at the A11 scores and they go, ‘Holy crap, this is . . . what does this mean? Are these even comparable?’ said Poole. “Well, yes, they’re comparable, but at the same time, you’re not going to use your phone to render a huge video because, simply, the form factor doesn’t lend itself to it.”

Poole is referring to the difference between burst performance and sustained performance. Laptops can keep up their speeds for a longer period of time because they have active cooling. With an iPhone or other smartphone, the processor will eventually generate more heat than the case can dissipate.

But that doesn’t diminish what Apple has accomplished with the A11 Bionic chip. Whether it’s for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, the performance gap between iOS and Android has suddenly widened.

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The question many are asking is how relevant this is; if all you’re doing is a bit of light Facebooking, will it make a difference? Except that there’s lots of new processing of photos and, soon, video (in AR) to come. So performance is going to make a difference.

If you don’t believe that, try using the phone you used to use before your last upgrade. It will feel excruciatingly slow. Performance matters.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: On yesterday’s link about apps taking over from the mobile web on smartphones: as Stormyparis noted in a comment, a lot of that “app use” is probably people using Webviews – such as reading articles linked on Twitter or Facebook. That means that “mobile web” use, as in the viewing of sites via mobile devices, is probably higher than App Annie reports. There’s hope yet, web designers.

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