Start Up: Facebook’s fake defence, awaiting Amazon’s TV app, Google get Showy, and more

LG says it has a phone which can repel mosquitoes in India. You’re allowed to be sceptical. Photo by Wellcome Images on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Ain’t no lie. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook • The New York Times

Zeynp Tufekci:


Are you bothered by fake news, systematic misinformation campaigns and Facebook “dark posts” — micro-targeted ads not visible to the public — aimed at African-Americans to discourage them from voting? You must be one of those people “upset about ideas” you disagree with.

Are you troubled when agents of a foreign power pose online as American Muslims and post incendiary content that right-wing commentators can cite as evidence that all American Muslims are sympathizers of terrorist groups like the Islamic State? Sounds like you can’t handle a healthy debate.

Does it bother you that Russian actors bought advertisements aimed at swing states to sow political discord during the 2016 presidential campaign, and that it took eight months after the election to uncover any of this? Well, the marketplace of ideas isn’t for everyone.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.

In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content. Sadly, this business model is also lucrative, especially during elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, called the 2016 election “a big deal in terms of ad spend” for the company, and it was. No wonder there has been increasing scrutiny of the platform.


Tefekci has the rare ability to show how the behaviour and setups that so many companies believe are axiomatic are actually flawed. She’s like a human version of Gödel’s theorem.
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How Apple can push augmented reality and Siri together with iOS 12 • Medium

Albert Choi wants it to be next September already; he’s imagining a “Lens” app from Apple which would activate AR innately:


Once you’re in the app, the camera will enable and a menu bar will appear. There will be three buttons: Explore, Siri, and Apps.

• Explore will show you top apps for Lens and also suggestion of preview apps. Download and quickly preview and demo an app.

• Siri works the same way as always. Use your voice to navigate and command through Lens.

•My Apps will show you all the apps that you’ve loaded onto Lens. If an app that you already have on your iPhone, it will migrate automatically to be compatible with Lens.

So when you activate Siri and ask it a question like “where is some places to eat?’’, in this case Lens will use Maps to help you look for a location. Using augmented reality, restaurant icons are shown at the location. If you prefer the Maps app, it can be accessed clicking the icon on the top right of your screen.

When clicking on any of the restaurant icons, you’ll see the information about the restaurant. With Lens, you’ll be able to receive AR based directions when driving (for passenger) or when walking. Maps will be able to provide you compatible indoor routes.


The maps example isn’t a huge advance on what we already have, to be honest. We’re still waiting for the first proper wave of AR apps to hit. (Perhaps Apple should create a category in the app store?)
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Analysis of Twitter Accounts • Luca Hammer

Hammer has provided a tool for analysing Twitter accounts – how often and when they tweet, who they respond to, what they use, how they tweet (RT, QT, etc) and so on. One for the bookmarks for investigative journalists.
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Pindrop says its AI-based phone fraud detection service is now 20% more accurate • VentureBeat

Blair Hanley Frank:


One of the key updates is a new voiceprinting capability that identifies who’s on the phone and checks the caller against a set of people Pindrop has identified as fraudsters. The company is also offering its customers a new Network capability that will provide real-time predictions about how likely a call is to be fraudulent, based in part on information gleaned from other Pindrop customers.

This feature is based on Pindrop’s Phoneprinting capabilities, which will be upgraded with this release. Phoneprinting works by analyzing call audio and using key factors to determine how likely the person on the other end of the line is to be a fraudster. The updated features should be up to 20% more accurate than their predecessors, according to Pindrop.

Phone-based fraud is a massive problem around the world since scammers can call from anywhere and try to get sensitive data, perform financial transactions, and pull off other nefarious deeds. It’s an attack that preys on the charitable instincts of the person on the other end of the call center phone — people who usually want to help. The company’s software is used to protect major enterprises, including banks like SunTrust.


I’d be interested to see this tested on a double blind test (where neither the person receiving the call in the call centre nor the person monitoring it knows if it’s real or fake, but the test does). Systems like this generally don’t get sufficiently rigorous testing, because people love the idea of identifying fraudsters by a sort of magic.
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The truth about Amazon Prime Video on Apple TV : appletv • Reddit

An anonymous person describing themselves as “AmazonVideoEngineer”:


Wanted to make this throwaway account after yesterday’s debacle. I saw many people get upset so I wanted to issue this warning: do not expect Amazon to launch [its app for Apple TV] before October 26th. The app is done, and has been done for months already. However there are a lot of politics going on beyond my pay grade that are pushing the launch back. And just to clarify, October 26 is the earliest I would expect it. Launch could be pushed well into November.


Further says it will only work on the 4th-generation (released 2015) and the latest 4K model: “Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t support older models since Apple has control over the design of those apps.” (Not sure this is correct; if you can install tvOS 4, the latest one, it should work.)

Take this with a pinch of salt, but it all rings true. If Amazon wants more people to watch Amazon Video, Apple TV is the way to go.
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Envelope tracking ICs: increasing power efficiency and other benefits to the mobile ecosystem • IHS Technology

Brad Shaffer and Wayne Lam:


The battery life of a smartphone is under attack. The Lithium polymer battery in a smartphone simply hasn’t been able to keep up with the growing requirements of demanding users. Increasing screen sizes and use cases such as video consumption, as well as camera and navigation based applications are putting increasing amounts of stress on the battery life of mobile devices. Battery capacity can be increased but the aforementioned changes in smartphone design and usage scenarios could more than offset increases in battery capacity alone. IHS Markit has seen the average battery capacity increase as the typical smartphone screen size has grown larger, in fact; battery capacity has increased at a rate twice as fast as screen size over the same period, highlighting the importance of achieving the longest possible battery life with each device design.

Battery capacity won’t continue to rise perpetually. The average screen size of a smartphone will reach a peak between 5.5 and 6 inches in the future; and as a smartphone’s screen size generally provides a footprint limitation for battery size, battery capacity will also begin to level off and OEM focus will shift to power efficiency.


This is a quite detailed and technical post, but one can get value just from the points about battery capacity. Power efficiency is definitely going to be the thing now.
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What a nerdy debate about p-values shows about science — and how to fix it • Vox

Brian Resnick:


Most casual readers of scientific research know that for results to be declared “statistically significant,” they need to pass a simple test. The answer to this test is called a p-value. And if your p-value is less than .05 — bingo, you got yourself a statistically significant result.

Now a group of 72 prominent statisticians, psychologists, economists, sociologists, political scientists, biomedical researchers, and others want to disrupt the status quo. A forthcoming paper in the journal Nature Human Behavior argues that results should only be deemed “statistically significant” if they pass a higher threshold.

“We propose a change to P < 0.005,” the authors write. “This simple step would immediately improve the reproducibility of scientific research in many fields.”

This may sound nerdy, but it’s important. If the change is accepted, the hope is that fewer false positives will corrupt the scientific literature. It’s become too easy — using shady techniques known as p-hacking and outcome switching — to find some publishable result that reaches the .05 significance level.

“There’s a major problem using p-values the way we have been using them,” says John Ioannidis, a Stanford professor of health research and one of the authors of the paper. “It’s causing a flood of misleading claims in the literature.”


That sort of threshold would put a ton of social scientists out of work, or at least out of research. A colossal move if implemented.
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BHP, world’s largest miner, says 2017 is ‘tipping point’ for electric cars • Reuters

Clara Ferreira-Marques and Gavin Maguire:


[Chief commercial officer at global miner BHP, Arnoud] Balhuizen said he expected the electric vehicle boom would be felt – for producers – first in copper, where supply will struggle to match increased demand. The world’s top mines are aging and there have been no major discoveries in two decades.

The market, he said, may have underestimated the impact on the red metal: fully electric vehicles require four times as much copper as cars that run on combustion engines.

BHP, Balhuizen said, is well-placed, with assets like Escondida and Spence in Chile, and Olympic Dam in Australia. BHP said last month it was spending $2.5bn to extend the life of the Spence mine in northern Chile by more than 50 years.


How fortunate for copper miners that just as demand for the stuff goes away in phone lines – replaced by wireless and fibre – a new opportunity arises.
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LG is releasing a mosquito-repellent phone, but it probably won’t work • Ars Technica UK

Samuel Axon:


LG has launched a new smartphone, the LG K7i, that the company says will repel mosquitoes using ultrasonic waves. The company claims the device addresses a real concern in the phone’s target market—India—but many scientists say the underlying tech does not, in fact, repel mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance in parts of India, and in some cases they carry diseases like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, which have become common in urban centers. Malaria is also a risk in India. LG is selling consumer electronics devices in India, and it has been marketing a technology called “Mosquito Away,” which claims to repel the mosquitos. The tech has previously appeared in air conditioners and other LG products, and now it’s a key part of the LG K7i’s marketing. LG says its tests of the LG K7i repelled “on average 72% of disease-spreading mosquitoes,” according to CNN.

However, the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) and other groups say it won’t work. Texas A&M University entomology professor Dr. Roger Gold spent years running studies that have debunked ultrasonic bug repellant as well. According to the AMCA: “At least 10 studies in the past 15 years have unanimously denounced ultrasonic devices as having no repellency value whatsoever.”


So if someone uses this and develops a mosquito-borne disease LG will presumably say it was one of the 28%? More generally, this steers perilously close to conning people.
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Boy swallows squeaky toy • Boing Boing

Rob Beschizza:


The video embed here depicts exactly what you already suspect it will: a somewhat frustrated young boy, having swallowed part of a squeaky toy, being made to squeak by a person presumably intending to remove it (but not yet).


Best guess at how is that he was taking a really deep inhalation in order to blow out really hard through one of those party toys which makes this noise. And the squeaker got caught up in the intake.

It is like something out of Toy Story 2, though. I’m sure the medics among us will explain that it’s very dangerous, and we won’t be surprised.

But it is still amusing.
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An ex-Google Engineer is founding a religion to worship AI. He’s decades too late • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


The headlines on this one could almost write themselves. Anthony Levandowski, the disgraced former Google engineer whose copying of trade secrets led Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) to file a lawsuit against Uber for $1.86 billion, founded an organization called “Way of the Future” back in 2015. Its purpose, according to state filings, was to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”

At first glance, the idea seems utterly preposterous. But I’d argue Levandowski’s mistake isn’t his dubious attempt to position a digital deity as a substitution for the decidedly more analog versions of conventional religions. It’s in failing to realize that he’s decades too late. People already do so.

Ever since the dawn of modern computing, computers have been viewed and portrayed as offering better-than human capabilities in many respects. The original meaning of the word “computer” dates to 1613 and meant “one who computes.” Human computers were used to create trigonometry and logarithms at the end of the 19th century, as well as to research fluid dynamics and meteorology. As digital computers became more powerful in the mid-20th century, the human definition was supplanted by the idea that a computer was a thing that computed rather than a person. As Betty Jennings, one of the women who worked on ENIAC in the early 1940s, observed, “ENIAC (considered one of the first, if not the first, electronic, general-purpose computers) calculated the trajectory faster than it took the bullet to travel.”


When I saw the headline, I thought he meant that he was late to the game because L. Ron Hubbard cornered the market for made-up sci-fi religions decades ago. (Obviously, all religions are made up. Hubbard’s just happens to be the first post-Jetsons one.)

There’s also a tiny part of me thinking this would be a brilliant ploy to bring up in court as evidence if one were pleading a defence of mental incapability and/or insanity. Not of course that I’m suggesting anything of the sort about Mr Levandowski.
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Google is building a smart screen competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:


Multiple sources tell TechCrunch that Google is building a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show. The device could help Google keep up in the race for the smart home market after Amazon just revealed a slew of new Echos and as Facebook continues to work on its codename “Aloha” video calling screen.

Two sources confirm to TechCrunch that the Google device has been internally codenamed “Manhattan” and will have a similar screen size to the 7in Echo Show. One source received info directly from a Google employee. Both sources say the device will offer YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also act as a smart hub that can control Nest and other smart home devices.

Our sources say that Google previously was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions, but it’s now more focused on the Manhattan device. We’re told that the original target launch date was mid-2018. But due to the Echo Show there’s intense internal pressure to get this launched in 2017, though it may still end up released in 2018. That’s because there are a ton of moving parts to establishing the smart hub partnerships, plus it’s exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation.


Seriously, what is the point of this? Just buy a cheap Android tablet, put it on a stand in the kitchen, you’re done. If Google is this worried by every turn Amazon makes, it needs to do some strategic thinking.

Also, “Google was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions”? Isn’t that Google TV, or Android TV, or whatever it’s called this week? This is nuts.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up: Facebook’s fake defence, awaiting Amazon’s TV app, Google get Showy, and more

  1. Re: batteries, I am under the impression that they’re not getting bigger, and that demands on them are actually getting lighter. The newest iPhones have smaller batteries than last year’s, for better perfs/features and supposedly the same running time. The SoC, RAM and screen are getting ever more efficient.

    Re: Google Echo, the key issue is the microphones. If you want the gizmo to respond from across the room, it needs array mics that no tablet has and can’t have (because cost, power, tech requirements).

  2. Re: Amazon Video on Apple TV. The 4th generation that is mentioned is the first one that supported tvOS and apps. (The 2nd generation is the first puck size one that supported 720p and the 3rd generation one supported 1080p, but was otherwise the same.)

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