Start Up: Continuum discontinued, Taboola abused, the fake Facebookers, and more

Zune v iPod: one survived, one failed. What’s the lesson to be drawn? Photo by Jim Thompson on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Where the streets have no name but have got a single letter and four-digit number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

HP Inc exec: Yes, we’ll put a bullet in the X3 device • The Register

Paul Kunert:


The three-in-one PC debuted in February 2016, built around Microsoft’s Continuum. El Reg’s lab vultures tested the kit and were impressed but found constraints caused by the Continuum operating system.

Despite an obvious mobile-shaped hole in a leaked Windows roadmap, HP Inc insisted in August that it was committed to Continuum and so was Microsoft. Until now, that is.

Nick Lazaridis, EMEA boss at HP Inc, told The Register at the Canalys Channels Forum in Venice that Microsoft had confirmed there will be no further development work on the mobile OS.

“Microsoft, as all companies do, decided on a change in strategy and so they are less focused on what they thought they would be focused on today,” he said.

“Given that, we also had decided that without Microsoft’s drive and support there it doesn’t make sense. If the software, if the operating system ecosystem isn’t there then we are not an operating system company.”


Of course, HP used to have so many operating systems it was hard to choose between them; webOS was only the most recent.
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Orthogonal pivots • Asymco

Horace Dediu:


This [closure of Microsoft’s Groove music service by the end of the year] brings to an end a long story of Microsoft in the music distribution business. It started nearly 15 years ago with technologies in Windows that allowed for purchase and playback of various media formats. Microsoft sought to enable a large number of music retailers to market music through its formats and DRM and transaction clearing.

Services such as AOL MusicNow, Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Spiralfrog, MTV URGE, MSN Music, Musicmatch Jukebox, Wal-Mart Music Downloads, Ruckus, PassAlong, Rhapsody, iMesh and BearShare and dozens of hardware players licensed Windows formats. Almost all of these services have shut down and the devices disappeared.

The next stage was to offer an integrated experience through the Microsoft Zune player and Zune Marketplace music service. This too failed and was replaced by the Xbox Music brand in 2012. On July 6, 2015, Microsoft announced the re-branding of Xbox Music as Groove to tie in with the release of Windows 10.

There was a time when Microsoft was thought of as the certain winner in media distribution. Inserting media into the Windows hegemony was classic “control point” strategy: owning the access points was a sure way to collect a tax on what transacted through the network.

Instead we are facing a market where media is consumed through new access points: phones, tablets and TV boxes. Netflix, Spotify, Roku, Google, Amazon and Apple are all offering distribution and some are investing in original programming.


Why? Because – as I found when I wrote “Digital Wars” – the modular approach to music players (someone makes the music player, someone else makes the DRM-enforcing software, someone else again offers the DRM-encoded music) produces an awful customer experience. If a problem arises, you’re never quite sure whose fault it is, and nor are any of those in the chain; they all hand it off to someone else.

The iPod and the iTunes Music Store came straight through the middle of all that confusion:


the long arc of history shows how hard it is to succeed in vertical integration after you build on horizontal foundations. Generations of managers graduated from the modular school of thought, specializing rather than generalizing. Now they are facing an integrated experiential world where progress depends on wrapping the mind around very broad systems problems.

Entire industries are facing this orthogonal pivot: media, computing and transportation come to mind. Huge blind spots exist as we see only what we’ve been trained to see.


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Tech support scammers abuse native ad and content provider Taboola to serve malvertising (updated) • Malwarebytes Labs

Jerome Segura:


A large number of publishers – big and small – are monetizing their sites by selling space for companies that provide so-called native advertising, cited as more effective and engaging than traditional banner ads.

Indeed, on a news or entertainment site, users are more inclined to click on links and articles thinking that they are one and the same, not realizing that those are actually ‘sponsored’ and tied to various third-party providers.

Rogue advertisers have realized this unique opportunity to redirect genuine traffic towards their own infrastructure where they can subject their audience to whatever content they wish.

Case in point, we caught this malvertising incident on, the Microsoft web portal that attracts millions of unique visitors. While clicking on a story promoted by Taboola – a leading global discovery platform which Microsoft signed a deal within 2016 – we were redirected to a tech support scam page. The warning claims that our computer has crashed and that we must call a number for immediate assistance.

The fraudulent page cannot be closed normally because it uses code that repeats the warning indefinitely. Unfortunately, this is enough to scare many folks and trick them into calling what they think is Microsoft support. Instead, they will be dealing with fake technicians whose goal is to extort hundreds of dollars from them.


People think they’re clicking through to a story; instead they hit this crap.
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The Pixel market share chart Google probably won’t be showing at its event today • Recode

Dan Frommer and Rani Molla:


Google insists it has ambitious plans to create “compelling hardware products” and recently announced it would be hiring about 2,000 engineers from Taiwanese phone maker HTC to help achieve them. You can imagine future Pixels and other projects as part of that partnership (today’s is reportedly a partnership with LG).

What’s less clear is whether Google has any significant changes in store to how the Pixel is marketed and sold. Because while its first version was critically acclaimed for both its hardware and software, it has not made much of a dent in the U.S. smartphone market after launching last October.

An average 0.7% of U.S. smartphone subscribers used the Pixel in the three month period ending in August, according to data from measurement company comScore. For context: Apple’s iPhone is used by 45.5% of subscribers, and Samsung phones — the dominant company using Google Android to power its devices — represents 29.5% of U.S. subscriber share. More broadly, 53% of U.S. smartphone subscribers use Android phones.


ComScore stopped giving out detailed data when the smartphone installed base seemed to have levelled off at about 200m total in use. So 0.7% would translate to 1.4m phones in use. (Versus about 91m iPhones and 59m Samsung phones.) There are twice as many Blackberry and Windows Phone devices combined in use than Pixel phones.

So it really is going to be quite the question on how big a commitment it has made to the manufacturing side. Great products are only the beginning of the road.

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News Feed FYI: New Test to Provide Context About Articles • Facebook Newsroom


Today we are starting a new test to give people additional context on the articles they see in News Feed. This new feature is designed to provide people some of the tools they need to make an informed decision about which stories to read, share, and trust. It reflects feedback from our community, including many publishers who collaborated on its development as part of our work through the Facebook Journalism Project.

For links to articles shared in News Feed, we are testing a button that people can tap to easily access additional information without needing to go elsewhere. The additional contextual information is pulled from across Facebook and other sources, such as information from the publisher’s Wikipedia entry, a button to follow their Page, trending articles or related articles about the topic, and information about how the article is being shared by people on Facebook. In some cases, if that information is unavailable, we will let people know, which can also be helpful context.


Key phrase there: “without needing to go elsewhere.” Facebook never wants you to leave. It truly is Hotel California, and makes itself more like that every day.
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Removed Facebook Pages: engagement metrics and posts – dataset by d1gi •

Jonathan Albright:


The data presented here is a catalog of the non-promoted organic reach of the posts on each of the alleged foreign influence ops pages, showing the “total shared to” and sum of interactions (FB “reactions” + “likes” + shares, and comments) for each of the individual posts. Data was obtained directly from Crowdtangle, a Facebook-owned social analytics service.

Along with the complete text archive for each of posts, this data sheds light on the larger potential impact of the use of Facebook’s platform beyond of a single advertising buy. Specifically, the work presented here suggests that there was a much more subtle, if not outright subversive campaign on these five closed pages to:

a) Siphon Facebook users’ data related to their personal views and moral standings about sensitive topics by observing their responses to suggestive statements followed by discussion questions and conversation prompts;
b) Use faux-support, trust-building, and actor deception to test users’ attitudes, core values, religious beliefs, and push the boundaries of social norms (e.g., racism justification through immigration); and
c) Encourage users’ to be tracked through emotional sharing vectors – “likes,” “reactions,” and url shares – to monitor issue “wedges,” further segment audiences, and to identify “hot-button” issues and keywords around current events.


In one case, one of the pages went overnight from 0 followers to between 70,000 and 200,000 followers. Either purchased, or bots. That’s a determined campaign.

And notice this is non-promoted posts – so this isn’t to do with the $100,000 in ads which targeted marginal states. (Albright is research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.)
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Russian hackers stole NSA data on US cyber defense • WSJ

Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris:


Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the US penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said.

The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the US.

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.


Aha. So this is why the US government has tacitly – well, perhaps not so tacitly – declared cyberwar on Kaspersky: they think it is feeding stuff back to the Kremlin. Kaspersky denies it.

And well done NSA on tightening up those safeguards against data exfiltration after Snowden in 2013 👌
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Google admits citing 4chan to spread fake Vegas shooter news • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:


Google News took the unusual step of confirming its use of the imageboard site 4chan as a news source on Monday. The admission followed Google News’ propagation of an incorrect name as a potential shooter in the tragic Las Vegas shooting on Sunday night.

A reporter from tech-news site The Outline posted the full text of an e-mail he received from an unnamed Google representative. Reporter William Turton said that he had not discussed any “attribution terms” before receiving Google’s e-mail, which confirmed that the Google News service was bombed into automatically reposting a false shooter’s name.

The incorrect shooter’s name, which Ars Technica will not repost to reduce any further robo-aggregated hits, began appearing on 4chan’s “pol” board, which is infamous for pushing intentionally inflammatory content. The name appeared on the board when its members began looking through people connected to names that had been mentioned by Las Vegas investigators. One of those people—a sibling of a person of interest who was later cleared by Vegas police of wrongdoing—had social-media attachments to left-leaning subjects such as and MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show. Both 4chan and right-wing misinformation sites like Gateway Pundit began spreading the false name as a suspect while calling the person a “far-left loon.” (GP’s article has since been removed, but a Google Cache of it still exists.)

Google News’ statement claims that these false reports landed on the service’s “Top Stories” feed due to a burst of activity for a name that had never received many search attempts. “When the fresh 4chan story broke, it triggered Top Stories, which unfortunately led to this inaccurate result,” the statement reads.


Twitter, Facebook and Google sort of got on top (mostly) of standard spam. Now they need to consider how to get on top of information spam.
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Wayback Machine Playback… now with timestamps! • Internet Archive Blogs

Mark Graham:


The Wayback Machine has an exciting new feature: it can list the dates and times, the Timestamps, of all page elements compared to the date and time of the base URL of a page.  This means that users can see, for instance, that an image displayed on a page was captured X days before the URL of the page or Y hours after it.  Timestamps are available via the “About this capture” link on the right side of the Wayback Toolbar.  Here is an example:

The Timestamps list includes the URLs and date and time difference compared to the current page for the following page elements: images, scripts, CSS and frames. Elements are presented in a descending order. If you put your cursor over a list element on the page, it will be highlighted and if you click on it you will be shown a playback of just that element.


It’s easy to underestimate how valuable the Internet Archive is. If you’re doing any sort of serious research about events from the recent past – say up to 10 years ago online – it’s essential. Linkrot is real, but the Archive is the perfect preserver.
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If macOS High Sierra shows your password instead of the password hint for an encrypted APFS volume • Apple Support


Your password might be displayed instead of your password hint if you used the Add APFS Volume command in Disk Utility to create an encrypted APFS volume, and you supplied a password hint.
Changing the password on an affected volume clears the hint but doesn’t affect the underlying encryption keys that protect the data. 

Apple recommends that you take these steps to guard the security of your data. Encrypted APFS volumes that you created using any other method are not affected.


This is quite a bug to have slipped through the QA process.
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Iraq claims victory in Hawija, ISIS’s last urban stronghold • The New York Times

David Zucchino and Rod Nordland:


Morale among militants in the Hawija area appears to be deteriorating rapidly. At least 600 men identified by Kurdish forces as Islamic State fighters have surrendered to the Kurds in Dibis, in Kirkuk Province. An additional 400 to 500 are being interrogated on suspicion of being militants. Together, they represent a substantial portion of the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Islamic State fighters who were in the Hawija area before Iraq began military operations there on Sept. 21.

As in other battles over the past three years, Iraqi forces have been supported in Hawija by American military advisers, forward air controllers, special operations troops, airstrikes and artillery.

Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the United States-led coalition in Baghdad, said Thursday that the United States had conducted 16 airstrikes in the past week in support of the Hawija operation. The speed of what seems to have been a two-week Iraqi military sweep through Hawija suggests that the militants are no longer able to sustain effective military operations for long periods.

The battle to drive them from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, lasted nine months before it was liberated in July. But the next city to fall from the Islamic State, Tal Afar in late August, took only 11 days. [Operations against Hawija began on September 21; that’s 14 days ago.]


A brief spasm – three years – approaches its end.
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Bids in 300MW Saudi solar tender breach two cents • PV Tech


Saudi Arabia’s 300MW solar tender has seen opening bids go lower than two US cents [per kWh], setting the tone for a new global solar power tariff record if awarded.

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) bid for 300MW capacity at SAR0.0669736/kWh (US$1.786 cents).

During a webinar showing the bid opening ceremony, Saudi Arabia’s new Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) revealed the eight companies that had made it through to this stage, having had 27 companies shortlisted originally in April.

REPDO then announced that these bids will be evaluated for compliance with the requirements of the RfP and a final shortlist of bidders will be announced on 28 November. The project will be awarded to the winning consortium on 27 January 2018, backed by a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). The financial closing date will be 28 February 2018 and the commissioning date is expected during 2019.


This is a very low LCOE [levelised cost of energy]. Solar already comes pretty low on this cost. It’s getting cheaper.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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