Start Up: Google faces Safari suit, Proton’s search query, the guy who killed Trump’s tweets, and more

Best estimates suggest this is the best-selling “stationary smart speaker”. But how big is the upside? Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Brilliant! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

UK class action accuses Google of unlawfully harvesting personal data • The Guardian

Graham Ruddick:


More than 5 million people in the UK could be entitled to compensation from Google if a class action against the internet giant for allegedly harvesting personal data is successful.

A group led by the former executive director of consumer body Which?, Richard Lloyd, and advised by City law firm Mischon de Reya claims Google unlawfully collected personal information by bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone between June 2011 and February 2012.

They have launched a legal action with the aim of securing compensation for those affected. The group, called Google You Owe Us, says that approximately 5.4 million people in Britain used the iPhone during this period and could be entitled to compensation.

Google is accused of breaching principles in the UK’s data protection laws in a “violation of trust” against iPhone users.


Odd. This case was litigated back in 2014, where it was established that there is a tort in law of misuse of private data. That case dribbled away before it could reach the Supreme Court – Google is believed to have settled out of court – but now it’s back again with a new cast. It’s like a musical that never closes. (The establishment of the tort as a precedent means this case is very likely to succeed.)
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Why did ProtonMail vanish from Google search results for months? • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


In 2015, ProtonMail had passed half a million users. Earlier this year it exited beta, and added iOS and Android apps. It now has around two million users, according to founder Andy Yen. Back in March he told TechCrunch that ProtonMail was approaching break even — through donations and paid accounts.

However, in a blog post published on 26 October titled “Search Risk”, the company claims Google nearly killed its product and seriously dented its profitability by disappearing “ProtonMail” from relevant search results.

In November 2015, Yen writes that the company noticed it was no longer appearing in Google search results for related search queries — despite roughly doubling its user base by that fall — whereas all other major search engines were still returning ProtonMail prominently in their results:

ProtonMail tracked this situation through Spring 2016, trying to get in touch with Google to query why it had vanished from search results — and initially having no luck getting a response. It only eventually got an acknowledgment of the complaint in August after it had tweeted at Google staff.

After that public exchange, ProtonMail was apparently informed within a few days that Google had “fixed something” — and after that it was able to see immediately positive results:

A quick test confirms that a search for “secure email” or “encrypted email” in Google now returns ProtonMail as the top or second result.


They say they haven’t heard of other cases like it. Haven’t they heard of Foundem, which was suppressed for ages by Google? They probably will soon – Yelp has asked them to join an antitrust coalition against Google.
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A stationary smart speaker mirage • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart on the Amazon Echo/Dot/etc and Google Home and Sonos One:


The major takeaway from customer surveys regarding smart speakers usage is that there isn’t any clear trend. If anything, smart speakers are being used for rudimentary tasks that can just as easily be done with digital voice assistants found on smartwatches or smartphones. This environment paints a very different picture of the current health of the smart speaker market. The narrative in the press is simply too rosy and optimistic.

Ultimately, smart speakers end up competing with a seemingly unlikely product category: wearables. In fact, stationary smart speakers and wrist wearables share a surprising amount of similarities. Each is ultimately based on handling tasks formerly given to smartphones and tablets. Two examples are delivering both digital voice assistants and sound. If the goal is to rely on a digital voice assistant, an Apple Watch wearer has access to Siri at pretty much every waking  moment. When simply wearing an Apple Watch, Siri is instantly available everywhere in the home. The same kind of access to Alexa would require five, ten, or maybe even 15 Echo speakers spaced strategically throughout the home (another reason why Echo sales are becoming increasingly misleading – some consumers may be buying a handful of $20 speakers at one time). With a cellular Apple Watch, Siri is now available outside the home even when users are away from their iPhones. Meanwhile, Alexa is stuck within four walls – at least until Amazon unveils its Alexa smartwatch. 

Wearables contain a much more attractive long-term value proposition than stationary smart speakers that have to be connected to a wall outlet. In addition, the presence of a screen provides even more value as it has become very clear that voice-first or voice-only interfaces just aren’t that efficient.

The writing is on the wall. The stationary speaker market is a stopgap measure taking advantage of relatively low wearables adoption. My estimate is that Apple Watch adoption stands at 3% of the iPhone user base (10% to 15% of iPhone users in the U.S.). As that percentage increases, my suspicion is we will start to see the stationary smart speaker market begin to experience usage and retention troubles.


I think he’s right that most people buy the cheapest one – ie the Dot – so there’s a race to the bottom. But what if wearables don’t quite take off?
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Arkansas prosecutors drop murder case that hinged on evidence from Amazon Echo • NPR

Colin Dwyer:


Arkansas prosecutors have dropped their case against James Bates, whom they had charged with first-degree murder partly with the help of evidence collected by an Amazon Echo smart speaker. On Wednesday, a circuit court judge granted their request to have the charges of murder and tampering with evidence dismissed.

The prosecutors declared nolle prosequi, stating that the evidence could support more than one reasonable explanation.

The move marks a curious end to a still more curious case, which had revolved around the role played by a personal assistant device that’s supposed to begin recording as soon as someone says its wake word — “Alexa,” in this case — in its presence.


I guess *drum roll* they couldn’t get Alexa to talk.

I’ll get me coat.

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Apple Heart Study launches to identify irregular heart rhythms • Apple


Apple today launched the Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor’s unique optical design gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist, and when combined with powerful software algorithms, Apple Watch isolates heart rhythms from other noise. The Apple Heart Study app uses this technology to identify an irregular heart rhythm.


(You have to be over 17 to download the free app: “Infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco or drug use or references.” Huh?)

Or you can get a $199 Watch band and a $99 annual subscription to a new offering from KardiaBand, which acts as an EKG with a thumb pulse reader attached to the band.
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Google’s new Android app stops other apps from wasting your data • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:


there’s a big button at the top of the app that lets you stop all background data usage, so only the app that’s actively onscreen can use mobile data. A chat-head style bubble will also pop up to let you know how much data your currently running app is using up. And if you don’t want to block every single app from using background data, Datally will let you go in and control data usage on an app by app basis, too.

If you’re a longtime Android user, Datally might not sound all that exciting. Nearly all of the app’s functions are already built into Android directly. But those features are hidden inside the settings menu, and they aren’t spelled out quite as neatly as they appear to be inside Datally. As a standalone app, it’ll also be much easier for people to find and remember to use.

Datally is being released as part of Google’s Next Billion Users initiative, which is focused on making Google products more usable in countries that have limited mobile connections and where lower-end hardware remains widespread.


Um.. wouldn’t it be better just to improve the settings layout? Or make it a marquee feature when people are setting up or updating their phone?

“Background App Refresh” (which this sounds like) is part of, yes, Settings on iOS; so is whether apps can use mobile data. This seems like a strange landgrab.
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Meet the man who deactivated Trump’s Twitter account • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:


His last day at Twitter [working on customer service at the Trust and Safety team] was mostly uneventful, he says. There were many goodbyes, and he worked up until the last hour before his computer access was to be shut off. Near the end of his shift, the fateful alert came in.

This is where Trump’s behavior intersects with Duysak’s work life. Someone reported Trump’s account on Duysak’s last day; as a final, throwaway gesture, he put the wheels in motion to deactivate it. Then he closed his computer and left the building.

Several hours later, the panic began. Duysak tells us that it started when he was approached by a woman whom he didn’t know very well. According to Duysak, the woman said that she had been contacted by someone asking about Duysak in connection with Trump’s Twitter account. After a moment of disbelief, he said he then looked at the news and realized what had happened.


Bahtiyar Duysak. He’s never going to have to buy himself a drunk again in his life.
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Goodbye, Twitter • Rambling Space

Can Duruk likes Twitter; it’s the only social network he’s on. And he’s giving up Twitter. Why?


Would [a Nazi who appeared in his mentions] try to gang up on me? I have been bullied on Twitter before, people have tried to steal my account many times. But here was a Nazi. And then it hit me. Why am I engaging with Nazis? Why is this on me? Because Twitter wants me to.

There’s a perverse belief in American society that corporations exist on a different plane of reality. It’s not just Main Street vs Wall Street. But that corporations do business, and there are people, and sometimes they interact via #brands or whatever, but largely they are separate. But that’s just dumb. Corporations exist in a society. They are made up of people, operate via people. They have people on their boards, their employees are people. Software might be eating the world, but it hasn’t yet.

Corporations have voices. Here in the western world, they largely operate in democratic societies with a strong rule of law. They trust some people cannot come and take their property away. And more importantly, these people that make up these companies trust that their lives won’t be in danger for just being themselves, for being who they are. Yet, here we have people who want to throw it all out, and the strongest reaction from most social networks is “meh”. The profits Twitter (tries to) make are predicated on a set of values that these want to overthrow. Twitter is fine with it.


Read too his thought experiment on what Trump would have to do to be kicked off the service. (Permanently, I mean.)
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We’re all part of Trump’s show • The New York Times

Bret Stephens:


The Trump news is scarier, funnier, more salacious and more relevant than anything else on TV. It’s why the apolitical Jimmy Fallon has floundered in the age of Trump while the hyperpolitical Stephen Colbert has thrived. For a president who cares more about ratings than he does about polls, this is the ultimate vindication. He minds less if you hate him so long as he knows that you’re thinking about him.

The truth about Trump is not that he’s crazy. He’s a narcissist and a neurotic with a feral talent for attracting the attention he craves. In Russia, Putin can compel attention thanks to his complete control over most media and many other aspects of ordinary life. In the United States, citizens can deprive Trump of his political oxygen simply by turning off and tuning out.


It would be terrific if politicians – and the media – would ignore the junk in the tweets and focus on the politics. Trump has actually accomplished very little. But the US TV networks are like cats and his tweets a laser pointer.
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$99/month is a steal for CloudApp for iMobile •

Dan Byler was browsing for an iOS-native cloud service and came across a thing called “CloudApp”:


The Setup Instructions info link goes to Apple’s own iCloud support site. And in case it’s hard to read, the app basically lists iCloud’s services as its list of features.1

But hey, it’s cheap! Only $99/month!

I nearly fell prey to the scam myself: while screenshotting the app, I accidentally subscribed (because of the way TouchID is integrated into the home button – and the home button is part of taking screenshots):

Fortunately, I know how to cancel iTunes subscriptions, but I’m sure a lot of the app’s users don’t.

I reported the app to Apple on November 26, but as of writing this (three days later) the app is still live in the App Store. Perhaps this helpful review of the App Store Review Guidelines will help inform whether this app is legitimate, according to the current rules:

1.1.6 False information and features, including inaccurate device data or trick/joke functionality, such as fake location trackers.


Not available in the UK. Unclear whether it’s still available in the US.

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November 2016: American Airlines pilots upset with holiday bid schedule • Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Andrea Ahles, in November 2016:


American Airlines pilots are upset about their December flight schedules, saying that the carrier’s computer software unfairly assigned high-seniority pilots to fly on Christmas.

In a hotline sent to 15,000 pilots on Thursday evening, the Allied Pilots Association said the problems occurred with the version of preferential bidding system software used to create the December schedules.

“It has been botched,” said Dan Carey, the union’s president, at a news briefing on Wednesday. “We have senior pilots who will be working over the holidays in December and junior pilots who will be off.”

According to the union, a newer version of the software that American received in November could have been used to avoid some of the seniority issues. However, American’s information technology team said the software had not been fully tested and senior management chose to use the older version.


Something tells me that the problems that American announced this week weren’t down to a “computer glitch”. (Via Wendy Grossman.)
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1 thought on “Start Up: Google faces Safari suit, Proton’s search query, the guy who killed Trump’s tweets, and more

  1. re. background data on Android: I’m nto sure what this is about. My last few phones (from Xiaomi and Huawei) have had per-app settings for background data. Maybe it’s not part of AOSP ? But if it isn’t, how many OEMs haven’t backed that in their version years ago, like MIUI and EMUI ?

    Also 8.0 specifically supports that setting as a baseline. I’m really not sure what datally does and where it fits. Reporting tool ? A new UI over old features ? Good’ole Google once again competing with itself ?

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