Start Up: how Google and Facebook took the web, Edge falls off, Note 8 freezes, and more


You might think it’s a turtle – but what if an AI vision system reckons it’s a rifle? Could happen. Photo by QueenieVonSugarpants on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. But what number base? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The web began dying in 2014; here’s how • André Staltz

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What has changed over the last 4 years is market share of traffic on the Web. It looks like nothing has changed, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic. Mobile internet traffic is now the majority of traffic worldwide and in Latin America alone, GOOG and FB services have had 60% of mobile traffic in 2015, growing to 70% by the end of 2016. The remaining 30% of traffic is shared among all other mobile apps and websites. Mobile devices are primarily used for accessing GOOG and FB networks.

(Source: https://www.sandvine.com/resources/global-internet-phenomena/2016/north-america-and-latin-america.html)

The press, unlike before, depends on GOOG-FB to stay in business.

Another demonstration of GOOG and FB dominance can be seen among media websites. The most popular web properties that don’t belong to GOOG nor FB are usually from the press. For instance, in the USA there are 6 media sites in the top 10 websites; in Brazil there are 6 media sites in the top 10; in UK it is 5 out 10.

From where do media sites get their traffic? Prior to 2014, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was a common practice among Web Developers to improve their site for Google searches, since it accounted for approximately 35% of traffic, while more than 50% of traffic came from various other places on the Web. SEO was important, while Facebook presence was nice-to-have. Over the next 3 years, traffic from Facebook grew to be approximately 45%, surpassing the status that Search traffic had. In 2017, the Media depends on both Google and Facebook for page views, since it’s the majority of their traffic.

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This is reminiscent of Anil Dash’s “the web we lost“, from 2012.
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Russian ads, now publicly released, show sophistication of influence campaign • The Washington Post

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Another ad, from a Russian-controlled group called Heart of Texas, announced a rally for May 21, 2016, under the banner of “Stop Islamization of Texas.” A separate Russian-controlled group, United Muslims of America, publicized a competing rally to “Save Islamic Knowledge” at the same place and time, causing the two groups to face off in competing demonstrations in Houston — a sign of how Russians hoped to turn divisions into open conflict.

Another page, targeting Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr supporters, touted a rally opposing Hillary Clinton in New York City.

This crossover of online influence to real-world consequences was among the issues raised in a contentious Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee repeatedly scolded technology company lawyers for not doing more to thwart Russian disinformation.

“I don’t think you get it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose home state includes the headquarters for Facebook, Google and Twitter, whose lawyers were testifying at the hearing. “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyber-warfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away gentlemen. And this is a very big deal.”

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I’m giving a talk in Cambridge next week about communications technology and democracy. Three states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) swung the election to Trump; if Clinton had won them, she’d be president. Trump won them by a total of just over 77,000 votes, or 0.6% of the votes for those two candidates in those three states.

That’s six votes out of every thousand. The question isn’t how big Facebook’s influence is. It’s how small it would need to be to not make a difference.
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Fooling neural networks in the physical world with 3D adversarial objects • labsix

Anish Athalye, Logan Engstrom, Andrew Ilyas and Kevin Kwok:

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Here is a 3D-printed turtle that is classified at every viewpoint as a “rifle” by Google’s InceptionV3 image classifier, whereas the unperturbed turtle is consistently classified as “turtle”.

We do this using a new algorithm for reliably producing adversarial examples that cause targeted misclassification under transformations like blur, rotation, zoom, or translation, and we use it to generate both 2D printouts and 3D models that fool a standard neural network at any angle.

Our process works for arbitrary 3D models – not just turtles! We also made a baseball that classifies as an espresso at every angle! The examples still fool the neural network when we put them in front of semantically relevant backgrounds; for example, you’d never see a rifle underwater, or an espresso in a baseball mitt.

All the photos above fool the classifier!

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Things like this fascinate me. AI is increasing what security analysts call the “attack surface” of the systems that we use; just as adding databases to websites made SQLi (injection attacks) possible, so these systems will add new ways to subvert the larger parts that they are part of.

If you have automated systems which insist your pet turtle is a rifle and won’t be dissuaded, you can see this might be a problem.
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Microsoft Edge floundered in October, while Google Chrome gained • Computerworld

Gregg Keizer:

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Microsoft’s Edge last month sank to its lowest-ever user share, with less than 16% of Windows 10 users running the browser during October.

According to US analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Edge — an estimate of the world’s personal computer owners who ran that browser — fell by six-tenths of a percentage point, ending October at 4.6%. The decline was the largest ever for Edge, and set the browser back to the user share spot it last occupied in April 2016.

More notable was Edge’s usage when calculated as a percentage of Windows 10. (Edge is the default browser for Microsoft’s OS; likewise, Edge only runs on Windows 10.) Of all Windows 10 users, just 15.7%, a record low, ran Edge in October. As recently as March, Edge’s share of Windows 10 had been around 22%.

Edge’s share of Windows 10, which started off at 36% when the operating system debuted, has steadily fallen since then, wrapping up 2015 at 28% and ending 2016 at 22%.

If every Windows 10 user had stuck with Edge, the browser would now have a user share of 29.3%, or more than six times its mark. Instead, the trend line has shown that the more PCs that run Windows 10, the poorer Edge has performed.

Simply put, Edge never caught on among Windows 10 users. And at this point, it may be in an unrecoverable position.

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So it sounds like either companies, or individuals, or both, are dumping Edge for Chrome. Though there’s some churn with Internet Explorer. Chrome, meanwhile, is at 60% of everything. Another Google monopoly.
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The Theses • 95 Theses about Technology

John Naughton hammers his theses to his.. blog. OK, it’s less dramatic. But these are worth considering:

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Remember that the purpose of a thesis is to start a discussion. A thesis is not a conclusion, or a conviction, but an assertion that’s designed to get people talking. It may be right or wrong. In fact sometimes wrong theses are the most productive.

If a Thesis is a clickable link, then it will open an explanatory page. Eventually all theses will have such pages.

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First ten:
1: Digital technology is significantly different from other technologies
2: Kranzberg’s First Law of technology rules OK
3: Technological progress is not linear, but exponential. That’s why we find it hard to cope with it
4: The Internet is an architecture for ‘permissionless innovation’
5: Facebook is not the Internet. Nor is Google. Nor is the World Wide Web.
6: June 2007 was a pivotal moment in the evolution of the networked world
7: Free software is what keeps the networked world going
8: Cloud computing is heating the planet
9: Winners take all in digital markets
10: Surveillance is the business model of the Internet
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The downfall of Doppler Labs: inside the last days of a hardware startup • WIRED

David Pierce has followed Doppler Labs since it thought it had something special happening in late 2016:

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Suddenly, [Doppler’s Bluetooth earbud offering] Here One was on pace to beat Apple’s AirPods to market. “Not only did we have an inbound offer, but we were ahead of the curve,” [co-founder Noah] Kraft says.

Armed with an awesome demo and what they believed was a real offer from a tech giant, Kraft and his team started to think about selling the company. “Before this revolution happens, maybe somebody’s going to take us out to win the race,” Kraft thought. The team set up shop in the gorgeous offices of the Universal Music Group in downtown San Francisco, a wide-open space with spacious views of the Bay Bridge. Through October and November [2016], they hosted a parade of potential investors and acquirers from all over the Valley, including all of the big five. Kraft, [co-founder Fritz] Lanman, and some high-level Doppler engineers took each group through the company’s technology and vision, and gave them a demo of Here One.

Looking back, both Kraft and Lanman say they should have approached the process differently. “We were definitely irrationally confident,” Lanman says. Kraft is more blunt: “We thought we were the shit.” He won’t share Doppler’s actual asking price, but compares its fortunes to Dropcam, which sold to Google for $555m in 2014. “We were signaling that we’re not desperate at this point, so if you want us, it has to be proactive.” That might be why, at the end of the meetings, everyone responded the same: Investors love your tech, but wanted to see Doppler actually mass-produce and sell a product

By the end of November it was clear the best thing for Doppler to do was prove that Here One could be a success. That presented its own challenges. They’d switched manufacturers, and a longer-than-expected wait for a component pushed mass production back from fall of 2016 to February of 2017. That meant Here One wouldn’t beat AirPods to market, or capitalize on the all-important holiday sales rush. And Doppler had to raise another $10m just to get the product out the door.

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Kraft, when asked what their real mistake was, says it was starting a hardware business. “We shouldn’t have done that.” Now it’s finished. A cautionary tale: hardware is expensive and failure is common.
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Google Drive ate our homework! Doc block blamed on code blunder • The Register

THomas Claburn:

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An indeterminate but supposedly small number of Google Docs users on Tuesday found that their essays, reports, school assignments, tracts, and manifestos had run afoul of Google’s terms of service and had been made inaccessible.

Some users reported being unable to share their documents; others said their documents could not be viewed in Google Drive; and a few claimed their work had been lost, though we’re told what was lost has been found again.

Several hours ago, Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of Jacobin magazine, via Twitter said an article on Eastern Europe’s post-socialist policies had vanished from his Google Drive space due to a terms of service (ToS) violation.

Rachel Bale, a reporter for National Geographic, said a draft of a story about wildlife crime had been frozen for a ToS violation.

And Jason Heppler, an assistant professor of history at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, posted a screenshot showing that a requested file had been deleted from Google Drive.

Similar tales litter the Google Docs Help Forum.

The incident prompted reiterations of longstanding concerns about the downside of cloud-based services, namely that files stored remotely can be swept away at any time for any reason. And it comes at a time when Google and its peers are under scrutiny in the US for not knowing more about those who share content and pay for ads on social platforms.

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Blamed on the “flagging” software for “bad content” having gone haywire. Relax, everything’s in the cloud.
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WikiTribune is already biased • The Outline

Adrianne Jeffries on Jimmy Wales’s attempt to do as a news service what Wikipedia sort-of does for factual things:

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A Guardian op-ed in 2014 noted that the canonical [Wikipedia] article for women porn stars is better maintained than the analogous article on women writers. Another article on systemic bias within Wikipedia noted that those without internet, people with little free time, and people outside of English speakers from Anglophone countries are underrepresented on the site, while factors like the availability of sources can also bias coverage. “[B]oth China and India have populations greater than all native English speakers combined, or greater than all of Europe combined; by this measure, information on Chinese and Indian topics should, at least, equal Anglophone or European topics,” that article reads. “However, Anglophone topics dominate the content of Wikipedia.”

I asked Wales how he planned to protect WikiTribune from replicating Wikipedia’s systemic bias. “It is a tough challenge. Wikimedia takes it very seriously and yet in that context we have hardly moved the needle at all,” he responded. “Very eager for ideas!” This is Wales’s theme today: WikiTribune is a work in progress. Today’s launch is “not the launch of a news service” but rather “the launch of a project to build a news service,” he wrote. In the promotional video for WikiTribune,” he claimed not to have the solution, but to have a process that will lead to a solution: “The news is broken, but we have figured out how to fix it.”

This tack is very Wiki-esque: Let’s solve it, together! That would be fine except that Wales has not identified the correct problem, nor does he acknowledge that he himself may bring some bias to the process, nor does he seem familiar with the current media landscape. Wales believes that climate change deniers can be persuaded by “actually explain[ing] the evidence to people,” as he wrote on Reddit earlier this year, but this is already what climate reporting is, and does. There are endless articles explaining the evidence to people. This is the bulk of climate reporting.

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Wales’s heart is in the right place, but as Jeffries points out, this is a truly quixotic effort. We’re all biased. It’s just some of us are correct in our biases. Me, obviously, and you, of course. The rest of them, though..
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Some Galaxy Note8 phones are freezing when the contacts app is opened, even for texting and speed dial • Android Police

Richard Gao:

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We’ve been informed that many units of Samsung’s Galaxy Note8 are completely freezing when the contacts app is opened, and that includes when other apps like ‘Messaging’ and ‘Phone’ use it as well. Basically, these Note8s are refusing to function as phones.

According to replies on a post entitled ‘Note 8 Freezing and unresponsive‘ in Samsung’s forums, many variants of the Note8 are having this problem. Most of these reports are occurring when the user is doing something concerning calling and texting, leading us to believe that it’s the contacts app that is the culprit. Here’s a list of what is causing Note8s to freeze that we’ve gathered from the forum post and its replies:…

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The list has 14 items, including “charging overnight” and “while making a phone call” and “opening the phone app”. I’m sure there will be an outcry over this functionality problem in a $1,000 phone with face unlocking.
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RIP Camera Button ☠️ – Astro HQ • Medium

Savannah Reising:

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A few weeks back we unveiled the Camera Button — a new iPad interaction that turns the front-facing camera into a button. Tap the camera to reveal workspace shortcuts in our productivity apps Luna Display and Astropad.

We planned to introduce the Camera Button in an update to Astropad Studio going out today. However, we are disappointed to report that the Camera Button was rejected by Apple’s App Store review under Section 2.5.9:

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Apps that alter or disable the functions of standard switches, such as the Volume Up/Down and Ring/Silent switches, or other native user interface elements or behaviors will be rejected. — App Store Review Guidelines.

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The Camera Button might be dead, but our urge to innovate lives on.

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Sadly, this was entirely predictable. Great innovation running full pelt into the rules.
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One thought on “Start Up: how Google and Facebook took the web, Edge falls off, Note 8 freezes, and more

  1. I would say Wales *believes*, subjectively, that his heart is in the right place. Really. He thinks so. But that’s not the same as, err, objectively, being true. After all, the same argument could be made for a large number of executives. Google – we’re organizing the world’s information. Facebook – we’re helping people to connect with one another. And so on. The long term ugly underside of Wales’s project is having people work for free for him to resell their efforts, whether directly or indirectly. I’ve never gotten the impression that he thinks too deeply about the philosophical issues of the projects, beyond the sort of TED-talk marketing level, how can he sell them to everyone he needs to convince (Wikipedia coFounder Larry Sanger does seem to me to do such pondering, and it could be argued that’s part of the reason he’s been less successful as a businessman). Granted, even TED-level could rank him as an intellectual among businesspeople. But that’s damning with faint praise.

    That is, “bias” here is not about “What is truth?”. It’s about “What needs to be said about this issue to get funding and free labor?”. He can not-philosophize all the way to the bank.

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