Start Up: what your kids are watching, BroadQual?, Russia’s early Trumpbots, Apple delights, and more

Art thefts have taken on a new form for the email age. Photo by AV Dezign on Flickr.

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

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Broadcom offers $105bn for Qualcomm in landmark deal • Bloomberg

Ian King:


Broadcom Ltd. offered about $105bn for Qualcomm Inc., kicking off an ambitious attempt at the largest technology takeover ever in a deal that would rock the electronics industry.

Broadcom made an offer of $70 a share in cash and stock for Qualcomm, the world’s largest maker of mobile phone chips. That’s a 28% premium over the stock’s closing price on Nov. 2, before Bloomberg first reported talks of a deal. The proposed transaction is valued at approximately $130bn on a pro forma basis, including $25bn of net debt.

Buying Qualcomm would make Broadcom the third-largest chipmaker, behind Intel Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. The combined business would instantly become the default provider of a set of components needed to build each of the more than a billion smartphones sold every year. The deal would dwarf Dell Inc.’s $67bn acquisition of EMC in 2015 – then the biggest in the technology industry.


Broadcom is so keen to do this that it doesn’t care whether or not Qualcomm’s current $47bn takeover bid for NXP completes or not. It wants Qualcomm anyway. Hard to see this sort of consolidation as good for the industry. But Singapore-based Avago, which reverse-qacuired Broadcom in 2016. is also moving its official headquarters to the US – which would make regulatory approval for the takeover a lot easier.

Trump supporters thought getting Broadcom to relocate was a coup. In fact it’s a way to erode the US’s supremacy in this chip space; the control of the unified company will rest outside the US.

Qualcomm, unsurprisingly, isn’t keen on this deal.
link to this extract

Galleries hit by cyber crime wave • The Art Newspaper

Cristina Ruiz, Anna Brady, Sarah P. Hanson and Julia Michalska:


Hackers are stealing large sums of money from art galleries and their clients using a straightforward email deception. The Art Newspaper has so far identified nine galleries or individuals targeted by this scam. They include Hauser & Wirth, the London-based dealers Simon Lee, Thomas Dane, Rosenfeld Porcini and Laura Bartlett and, in the US, Tony Karman, the president of Expo Chicago.

“We know a number of galleries that have been affected. The sums lost by them or their clients range from £10,000 to £1m,” says the insurance broker Adam Prideaux of Hallett Independent. “I suspect the problem is a lot worse than we imagine.”

The fraud is relatively simple. Criminals hack into an art dealer’s email account and monitor incoming and outgoing correspondence. When the gallery sends a PDF invoice to a client via email following a sale, the conversation is hijacked. Posing as the gallery, hackers send a duplicate, fraudulent invoice from the same gallery email address, with an accompanying message instructing the client to disregard the first invoice and instead wire payment to the account listed in the fraudulent document.


Old scam – many lawyers and their clients have already suffered at this – and it’s all for big money.
link to this extract

Russian Twitter support for Trump began right after he started campaign • WSJ

Mark Maremont and Rob Barry:


Kremlin-backed support for Donald Trump’s candidacy over social media began much earlier than previously known, a new analysis of Twitter data shows.

Russian Twitter accounts posing as Americans began lavishing praise on Mr. Trump and attacking his rivals within weeks after he announced his bid for the presidency in June 2015, according to the analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

A US intelligence assessment released early this year concluded the Kremlin developed a “clear preference” for Mr. Trump over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, but cited December 2015 as the earliest suspected time that Russian social-media accounts advocated for Mr. Trump.

The earlier starting point of pro-Trump tweets highlights the breadth of the Russian effort to manipulate social media during the 2016 election. Kremlin-paid actors sowed division among Americans with fake pages and accounts, inflammatory postings and thousands of paid ads aimed at both liberal and conservative audiences, according to testimony before Congress last week.

The Journal analyzed 159,000 deleted tweets from accounts that Twitter identified to congressional investigators as operated by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency.


I get a feeling that the journalists on the WSJ are trying to send a not-so-subtle message to their editor about his support for Trump.
link to this extract

Apple at its best • Stratechery

Ben Thompson found himself delighted – that’s the word – with the iPhone X, and reflects on where Apple’s sustainable advantage exists in the smartphone world of hardware and services:


smartphones are increasingly replacing PCs, but even then most use is additive, not substitutive. In other words, there is no reason to expect that the arrival of artificial intelligence means that people will no longer care about what smartphone they use. Sure, the latter may “recede into the background” in the minds of pundits, but they will still be in consumers’ pockets for a long time to come.

There’s a second error, though, that flows from this presumption of zero-summedness: it ignores the near-term business imperatives of the various parties. Google is the best example: were the company to restrict its services to its own smartphone platform the company would be financially decimated. The most attractive customers to Google’s advertisers are on the iPhone — just look at how much Google is willing to pay to acquire them — and while Google could in theory convince them to switch by keeping its superior services exclusive, in reality such an approach is untenable. In other words, Google is heavily incentivized to preserve the iPhone as a competitive platform in terms of Google’s own services; granted, Android is still better in terms of easy access and defaults, but the advantage is far smaller than it could be.

Apple, meanwhile, is busy building competing services of its own, and while its easy — and correct — to argue that they aren’t really competitive with Google’s, that doesn’t really matter because competition isn’t happening in a vacuum. Rather, Apple not only enjoys the cost of switching advantage inherent to all incumbents, but also is, as the iPhone X shows, maintaining if not extending the user experience advantage that comes from its integrated model. That, by extension, means that Apple’s services need only be “good enough” — there’s that phrase! — to let the company’s other strengths shine.


Worth it for the GIF he includes of unlocking for notifications. For all the (plentiful) moaning about Apple, In the past year, both AirPods and the iPhone X have really delighted people who begin using them expecting “just another” product. The iPhone X, in particular, has had rave reviews from customers.

What’s the last product you used that utterly delighted you?
link to this extract

Facebook estimates 60 million users may be fake: report • TheHill

Josh Delk:


Facebook estimates that around 60 million, or 2%, of its monthly average users may be fake accounts, according to a report from the company.

Many of the false accounts are used for spam, Facebook CFO Dave Wehner said in a recent investors call.

Separately, Facebook estimates that around 10% of its accounts are “duplicate” accounts, meaning they are accounts run by a user separate from their main account. This would amount to more than 200 million accounts.

Facebook, Twitter and Google testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a three-day session this week, providing investigators information on the efforts of foreign actors to meddle in U.S. politics. 

One of the investigators’ concerns, according to The New York Times, is the widespread use of “fake” social media accounts.

Twitter also reports that nearly 5% of its user base, or more than 16 million accounts, are fake “spam” accounts, Sean Edgett, the social media giant’s acting general counsel, said in testimony.


link to this extract

Something is wrong on the internet • Medium

James Bridle on the weird subculture within YouTube’s “Kids” space of knockoff and randomly-generated videos aimed at children:


A step beyond the simply pirated Peppa Pig videos mentioned previously are the knock-offs. These too seem to teem with violence. In the official Peppa Pig videos, Peppa does indeed go to the dentist, and the episode in which she does so seems to be popular — although, confusingly, what appears to be the real episode is only available on an unofficial channel. In the official timeline, Peppa is appropriately reassured by a kindly dentist. In the version above, she is basically tortured, before turning into a series of Iron Man robots and performing the Learn Colours dance. A search for “peppa pig dentist” returns the above video on the front page, and it only gets worse from here.

Disturbing Peppa Pig videos, which tend towards extreme violence and fear, with Peppa eating her father or drinking bleach, are, it turns out very widespread. They make up an entire YouTube subculture. Many are obviously parodies, or even satires of themselves, in the pretty common style of the internet’s outrageous, deliberately offensive kind…

…Here are a few things which are disturbing me:

The first is the level of horror and violence on display. Some of the times it’s troll-y gross-out stuff; most of the time it seems deeper, and more unconscious than that. The internet has a way of amplifying and enabling many of our latent desires; in fact, it’s what it seems to do best. I spend a lot of time arguing for this tendency, with regards to human sexual freedom, individual identity, and other issues. Here, and overwhelmingly it sometimes feels, that tendency is itself a violent and destructive one.

The second is the levels of exploitation, not of children because they are children but of children because they are powerless. Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.

Many of these latest examples confound any attempt to argue that nobody is actually watching these videos, that these are all bots. There are humans in the loop here, even if only on the production side, and I’m pretty worried about them too.


Something is definitely wrong, and YouTube’s utter laissez-faire attitude is a giant part of the problem. By treating anyone under the age of 18 as essentially the same – the sort of decision that would only be made by someone without children or without morals – it is seeding a deeply weird future. And by chaining videos together – so convenient! Just flag the unsuitable ones, kids, while we show you ads! – it deepens the rabbit hole.
link to this extract

Users exploit Twitter rule, post epic 30,000 character tweet • Daily Dot

Phillip Tracy:


The tweet, written in German, starts by introducing the two users who discovered the trick, “People! @Timrasett and @HackneyYT can override the character limit! You don’t believe us? Here is the approximately 35K character proof,” it reads. The rest is complete gibberish—one string of random numbers and character too long to even be a German word.

Eloquent or not, the post shows that it’s possible to publish a single tweet with more than 280 characters. Note, the tweet is actually “only” 30,396 characters, not 35,000. One of the tweet’s authors apologized, claiming Twitter showed them a different number.

So how did they do it? By exploiting a rule Twitter made in 2016 that links would no longer count in the 140-character limit. Yes, this is just one big web address with a URL code hidden deep in the large block of text. You can find it by opening up the tweet and searching for “.cc/”


And because Twitter de-obfuscates the URLs when you look at them (even though it stores them in its format in its database), you see a gigantic tweet. Personally, I just blocked the tweeters. Life’s too short.
link to this extract

Two popular conservative Twitter personalities were just outed as Russian trolls • Philadelphia Inquirer

Rob Tornoe:


Jenna Abrams was a popular figure in right-wing social media circles. Boasting nearly 70,000 followers, Abrams was featured in numerous news articles during the 2016 election, spotlighted by outlets as varied as USA Today, the Washington Post, the BBC, and Yahoo! Sports. Her tweet about CNN airing porn during Anthony Bourdain’s show (it didn’t) was reported by numerous outlets.

But Abrams never existed.

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities — @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP — were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.

Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.

“To those people, who hate the Confederate flag. Did you know that the flag and the war wasn’t about slavery, it was all about money,” the Abrams account wrote in April of 2016. The tweet quickly went viral, earning rebukes from historian Kevin Kruse and Al Letson, the host of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s popular Reveal podcast.

Those rebukes only allowed Abrams initial message to spread even wider, which was the ultimate intention of Russia’s propaganda campaign — to sow dissension and increase the racial divide among America’s voting populace, revealing the world’s only superpower as a country in decline.


The other troll was a pro-Trump account, indistinguishable in its excitement from real-life American idiots wrongly excited about Trump.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.