Start Up: Facebook v the fakes, bitcoin hits the bumpers (and bounces), UWP’s enterprise problem, and more

Will Apple’s next iPhone X get smaller, or packed with more stuff? Photo by William Hook on Flickr

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A selection of 11 links for you. That’s 30/30, never to be repeated. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech • WIRED

The always-readable Zeynep Tufekci:


The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.

These tactics usually don’t break any laws or set off any First Amendment alarm bells. But they all serve the same purpose that the old forms of censorship did: They are the best available tools to stop ideas from spreading and gaining purchase. They can also make the big platforms a terrible place to interact with other people.

Even when the big platforms themselves suspend or boot someone off their networks for violating “community standards”—an act that does look to many people like old-fashioned censorship—it’s not technically an infringement on free speech, even if it is a display of immense platform power. Anyone in the world can still read what the far-right troll Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet has to say on the internet. What Twitter has denied him, by kicking him off, is attention.

Many more of the most noble old ideas about free speech simply don’t compute in the age of social media. John Stuart Mill’s notion that a “marketplace of ideas” will elevate the truth is flatly belied by the virality of fake news.


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In some countries, Facebook’s fiddling has magnified fake news • The New York Times

Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Casey and Paul Mozur:


“People usually don’t share boring news with boring facts,” said Filip Struharik, the social media editor of Denník N, a Slovakian subscription news site that saw a 30% drop in Facebook engagement after the changes. Mr. Struharik, who has been cataloging the effects of Facebook Explore through a monthly tally, has noted a steady rise in engagement on sites that publish fake or sensationalist news.

A bogus news story that spread in December illustrates the problem, Mr. Struharik said. The story claimed that a Muslim man had thanked a good Samaritan for returning his lost wallet, and had warned the Samaritan of a terrorist attack that was planned at a Christmas market.

The fabricated story circulated so widely that the local police issued a statement saying it wasn’t true. But when the police went to issue the warning on Facebook, they found that the message — unlike the fake news story they meant to combat — could no longer appear on News Feed because it came from an official account.

Facebook explained its goals for the Explore program in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Serbia in a blog post in October. “The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content,” wrote Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s News Feed. “There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries.”

The company did not respond to a list of questions about the Explore program, but Mr. Mosseri said in a statement on Friday that the company took its role as a “global platform for information” seriously.

“We have a responsibility to the people who read, watch and share news on Facebook, and every test is done with that responsibility in mind,” he said.


Every time Facebook thinks it has it, it slips away.
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Bitcoin plunges—now down 42% from December peak • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


Bitcoin’s value plunged on Tuesday, falling to $11,300—the lowest value the virtual currency has seen in 2018. Bitcoin’s value is down more than 20% over the last 24 hours, and down 42% from December’s all-time high of around $19,500.

Bitcoin’s fall was part of a broader crypto-currency selloff. Every major cryptocurrency has suffered double-digit losses over the last 24 hours, according to CoinMarketCap. Ethereum is down 21%. Bitcoin Cash is down 25%. Litecoin is down 20%, while Dash is down 21%, and Monero is down 25%.

It’s hard to say what causes cryptocurrencies to go up or down on any given day. In recent months, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have exhibited classic signs of a speculative bubble, with millions of ordinary investors flooding into the market in hopes of making an easy buck. That helped to push Bitcoin to new heights, but it also heightened the cryptocurrency’s already significant volatility.


It briefly dipped below $10,000, but made its way up again. Maybe stop calling it crypto-currency? Cryptocommodity? (Though how disheartening, and exhausting, to be the journalist with the task of writing “today’s fall in crypto prices.” There’s a job for AI.)
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Omni raises funding from Ripple execs and Highland Capital • WSJ

Cat Zakrzewski:


The startup Omni has taken an unconventional approach to storage. Rather than holding clients’ camping gear or old strollers in traditional storage units, the company also gives customers the option to rent out their gear to other peers through the platform.

In keeping with its nontraditional business strategy, Omni raised $25m in new funding with a twist. The funding includes a Series B round of venture financing from Highland Capital Partners as well as a partnership and strategic investment made by blockchain financial startup Ripple Inc.’s executives.

Ripple said executives Chris Larsen and Stefan Thomas personally invested in Omni an undisclosed sum using the startup’s cryptocurrency XRP, and Highland Capital Partners invested in traditional dollars.

At the time of the round’s close in December, the round’s value was equivalent to more than $25m. Ripple sees the deal as a strategic investment and did not take equity in the company.


So basically Larsen and Thomas invested some stuff whose value is yo-yoing by huge amounts. Odd thing for Omni to agree to.
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New cyberattack on cryptocurrency investors came from North Korea, report says • WSJ

Jonathan Cheng:


A new hacking offensive against cryptocurrency investors uses malware similar to that deployed in North Korea’s attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment and its WannaCry ransomware assault, cybersecurity researchers said, providing further evidence of Pyongyang’s involvement in crypto heists.

U.S. cybersecurity firm Recorded Future in a report on Tuesday identified the Lazarus group—a hacking operation with links to the North Korean regime—as behind the malware campaign, which began targeting users of a South Korean exchange in the late fall and may still be active. It isn’t known how successful the hackers were, or how much was stolen.


No surprise. The only people in the world who really, really want to cash out of cryptocurrency and ignore the price or “to the moon!” nonsense are the North Koreans who have mined or hacked it, because they’re so constrained for other ways to get foreign currency.
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Microsoft and the UWP For Enterprise delusion • Dean Chalk


So, its 2018 and WPF/WinForms is now a legacy platform.

I don’t remember the WPF technology stack getting any significant updates over the last 12 years, so it dies pretty much how it started. Its apparent replacement is the so-called ‘Universal Windows Platform’ or UWP (previously it was ‘WinRT’ — no ‘Store’ — no ‘Metro’ no……??), however there is one huge and massive issue with UWP on the desktop, and that is it isn’t designed for the desktop.
Nonsense!, you might say — but Its true. UWP will never been an enterprise desktop software development technology stack, and I will tell you exactly why in the next paragraphs.

The ‘Mobile First’ fallacy: the enterprise doesn’t care about mobile — it really doesn’t. Sure there are a small number of enterprises that need delivery guys with handheld devices , and those devices need to have mobile software written for them, but they are in a tiny minority.

The few mobile enterprise apps currently out there are more about productivity triage — a quick glance while your getting a latte — nothing more.

Your email app on your iPhone isn’t designed for you to use 8 hours straight at your desk. The spreadsheet app on your iPad is pretty useless for a whole days work. You NEED a big screen with mouse and keyboard to do an 8 hour shift on the company’s CMS system, and no mobile-first setup is going to be even remotely productive for 99% of enterprise employees.

However, UWP is a mobile-first platform. It’s designed for small devices that are being used by people touching a screen with sausage-shaped fingers. Yes you can have the app adapt to different screen sizes but its still the same issue — powerless and simplified, with low levels of information density — if that’s all you needed, then you’re going to build a web app instead anyway.


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Harvard study shows why Big Telecom is terrified of community-run broadband • Motherboard

Karl Bode:


A new study out of Harvard once again makes it clear why incumbent ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are so terrified by the idea of communities building their own broadband networks.

According to the new study by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, community-owned broadband networks provide consumers with significantly lower rates than their private-sector counterparts.

The study examined data collected from 40 municipal broadband providers and private throughout 2015 and 2016. Pricing data was collected predominately by visiting carrier websites, where pricing is (quite intentionally) often hidden behind prequalification walls, since pricing varies dramatically based on regional competition.

In many markets, analysts couldn’t make direct comparisons with a private ISP, either because the ISP failed to meet the FCC’s 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up standard definition of broadband (a problem for countless telcos who refuse to upgrade aging DSL lines), or because the ISP prequalification website terms of service “deterred or prohibited” data collection.

But out of the 27 markets where they could make direct comparisons, researchers found that in 23 cases, the community-owned ISPs’ pricing was lower when the service costs and fees were averaged over four years.


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Apple might have found a way to make the notch smaller on next year’s iPhones • BGR

Zach Epstein:


The TrueDepth Camera is what enables Face ID, an advanced facial recognition system that is far more secure than similar biometric authentication systems on rival phones. It works by using an infrared dot projector to beam 30,000 invisible dots onto the user’s face, and then a special camera reads the dots and matches the resulting data to the phone’s saved face profile.

Apple is expected to unveil three new iPhone models this September, and all three of them will reportedly feature the iPhone X’s “all-screen” design, complete with the infamous notch. According to a new report from ETNews, however, next year’s new iPhones might not be quite as notchy.

“According to industries, it is heard that Apple is planning to strengthen face sensing function starting from 2019 models,” the report reads. “That is why it is planning to increase number of parts that will be used for iPhones and is looking into combination of a face recognition module with a camera module.” It should be noted that this is a translation of a Chinese-language report.

It’s possible that Apple’s upcoming new iPhones will combine elements of the TrueDepth camera with the standard front-facing camera. Apart from allowing Apple to squeeze a more complex solution into the phone, this might also allow the company to reduce the footprint of the sensor array. In other words, next year’s new iPhones might have a smaller notch.


I would expect the notch to stay the same size – devs have built for it already – and Apple to squeeze more dots into its projector thing, which will take up the same space.

More interesting question: will it be the iPhone XI?
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Google memory loss • ongoing

Tim Bray:


I think Google has stopped in dex ing the old er parts of the We b. I think I can prove it. Google’s com pe ti tion is do ing bet ter.

Ev i dence · This isn’t just a proof, it’s a rock-n-roll proof. Back in 2006, I pub lished a re view of Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll An i mal al bum. Back in 2008, Brent Sim mons pub lished That New Sound, about The Clash’s Lon don Calling. Here’s a chal lenge: Can you find ei ther of these with Google? Even if you read them first and can care ful ly con jure up exact-match strings, and then use the “site:” pre fix? I can’t. ¶

[Up date: Now you can, be cause this piece went a lit tle vi ral. But you sure couldn’t ear li er in the day.]

Why? · Ob vi ous ly, in dex ing the whole Web is crush ing ly ex pen sive, and get ting more so ev ery day. Things like 10+-year-old mu sic re views that are nev er up dat ed, no longer ac cept com ments, are light ly if at all linked-to out side their own site, and rarely if ev er visited… well, let’s face it, Google’s not go ing to be sell ing many ads next to search re sults that turn them up. So from a busi ness point of view, it’s hard to make a case for Google in dex ing ev ery thing, no mat ter how old and how ob scure. ¶

My pain here is pure ly per son al; I freely con fess that I’d been us ing Google’s glob al in fras truc ture as my own per son al search in dex for my own per son al pub li ca tion s. But the pain is re al; I fre quent ly mine my own his to ry to re-use, for ex am ple in con struct ing the cur rent #SongOfTheDay se ries.


Bing and DuckDuckGo can find it, he points out. So?


When I have a ques tion I want an swered, I’ll prob a bly still go to Google. When I want to find a spe cif ic Web page and I think I know some of the words it con tain s, I won’t any more, I’ll pick Bing or Duck Duck Go.


Bray used to work at Google.
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CES 2018: real advances, real progress, real questions • Learning by Shipping

Steve Sinofsky (you know, the skateboarding on a Surface guy) went to Vegas:


I’m confident that a core problem with voice right now are expectations. There’s all sorts of real world problems from home guests to people standing outside a window yelling into your house to deal with, but one does quickly get used to walking into a room and saying “Alexa please turn the lights on” and of course if you can also get questions about the weather and so on answered along with music, this is a net add.

Where voice really disappoints is the same way that almost every new product disappoints—it doesn’t do as much as you’d like or can imagine. Tech enthusiasts have been trying to do home automation scenarios for years—the idea of “programming” your home to lock the doors, arm perimeter security, turn off inside lights (except the bedroom), turn off the TV, turn on the baby monitor and so on all to the command “bedtime”. That’s not going to happen and anyone with that design point will fail. This will fail just like that microwave button “reheat” doesn’t work or voice response systems asking you “state your problem” always take you “please hold while I connect you to an operator”.

I’m optimistic about voice for basic command and control. Beyond that we are at the very early stages with a good deal of frustration ahead…

…[re TV sets]All the major players were showing large (up to 85″) OLED screens all ultra-thin. Here’s a CES thing to notice. The fancy “not yet shipping” OLED TVs all have integrated bases upon which the 5mm screens rest. These bases are speaker bars and use some of the depth gained to enable a rear-firing subwoofer on the back of the panel. Since everyone is showing these it is likely where things are heading after 15 years of over the fireplace wall mounts and 4″ recessed wall nooks that are never the right size for the next display.

Also there were basically no curved TVs and certainly zero 3D. I was trying to think of something that came and went as fast as 3D and all I could come up with might be VR headsets.


Tons more great insight in his post. Set aside some time to read it.
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Holy ****, the iPad Pro • BirchTree

Matt Birchler got a 10.5in iPad Pro:


There is nothing I can throw at this thing that it does not do basically instantly. I was a little apprehensive about getting an iPad with an A10X processor when my iPhone has a newer A11, but those fears are (at least for now) unfounded. The A10X is blazingly fast, and all the apps I throw at it run perfectly. Whether it’s editing a podcast in Ferite, editing RAW image files in Lightroom, or multitasking with up to 3 apps on screen at a time, the iPad Pro keeps up. As many have mentioned before, the bottleneck on the iPad Pro is software right now, not hardware.

Another part of the iPad Pro I love is the Pro Motion display. For many years, we described 60fps animations as the buttery dream all software should strive for. Now with the 2017 iPad Pros, 120fps now feels like the benchmark, and my god is it nice. I mentioned above that the iPad Pro has a one generation older system on a chip than the iPhone 8/X, but the iPad Pro often feels even faster than the iPhone because of the fluidity of the animations. Seriously, it is an absolute joy to use a computer with everything moving with this level of fluidity.

Finally, despite all it’s flaws, iOS 11 is a game changer for the iPad. The dock is a great addition, and the multitasking view is miles better than what we had last year. The split screen options are better than ever, not only because the zippy iPad Pro loads multiple apps with ease, but because you can now more easily manage your multiple apps, and you can even have a third app on screen at a time with a swipe in from the right gesture. I use this all the time and it makes me treat the iPad more like a computer built for getting things done than ever before. I’d love to see Apple continue to move the needle this year with iOS 12, but the advance we got last year is fantastic, and Apple should be credited with making the iPad leaps and bounds better than any other tablet computer.


He also has a post about which apps he retains a Mac for; basically, Final Cut Pro X. For me, it’s just my incompetence at rewriting Applescript in Python (using Pythonista), and/or the lack of an equivalent for the now-discontinued Viewfinder for searching Flickr.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: a couple of things about yesterday’s OnePlus link. First, I’m reliably informed that its revenue was “more than $1.4bn” (ie more than £1bn), not $1bn. Second, OnePlus’s ASP was somewhere between $400 and $500, according to users and analysts.

So that means it sold between 2.8m and 3.5m phones over the whole year – somewhat smaller than my 4m to 8m estimate.

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