Start Up: the death of Civil Comments, Facebook trusts you!, Twitter’s Russian trouble, hacking the CIA, and more

It’s taken three years, but LG has finally realised what makes it lose money in smartphones. Photo by Janitors on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Saying goodbye to Civil Comments • Medium

Aja Bogdanoff:


Civil Comments used a clever peer-review submission process to mimic face-to-face social interactions, requiring commenters to rate the civility of three randomly-selected comments before their own was, in turn, rated by others. Commenters were willing to pitch in and do the extra work because they were motivated to get their own comments published, and so every single comment came in with human moderation data attached. The more comments submitted, the more “moderators” there were, so it scaled beautifully at times when, say, an article went viral…

…even though the product succeeded beyond our expectations, product alone does not a strong business make. As much as everyone might like to see higher-quality, less-toxic comments on their favorite news sites, the reality is that the number of sites willing and able to pay for comments software of any quality is not large, or growing. Civil the company finds itself in a catch-22: unable to land the largest enterprise customers we need to survive because we aren’t a big enough team, and unable to build a larger team because we don’t have the largest enterprise customers. I believed, really believed, that we could build a solid business by solving problems as we did; I understand now why that wasn’t the case. I’m very glad to know our friends at the Coral Project will be continuing the fight for better comments.

And so we find ourselves at the end of our run with Civil.


The emphasis came from all the people who’ve read the article and picked that out. It’s totally true. Comments, as a genre, are in a dire situation.
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LG to shift strategy on money-losing smartphone • Korea Herald

Shin Ji-hye:


“We will unveil new smartphones when it is needed. But we will not launch it just because other rivals do,” said LG Electronics Vice Chairman Cho Sung-jin on Wednesday during a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He was responding to a question on when the firm would launch its new flagship smartphone LG G7.

“We plan to retain existing models longer by, for instance, unveiling more variant models of the G series or V series,” Cho said. 

As for why the strategy on smartphones will be changed, the chief said, “We found it is important to retain a good platform for a long (time) and concerns rise over the supply of lithium materials.” 

Although he did not mention the smartphone unit’s financial losses, the announcement appears to reflect the firm’s scale-down of its phone business amid slow growth in the global smartphone market in contrast to the firm’s flourishing appliances and other sectors.

LG’s mobile communications unit is estimated to report a financial loss for the 11th straight quarter in the October-December period last year. 

The mobile unit was not able to make a turnaround last year, as the bulk of its earnings came from budget phones, not flagship models although its smartphone business reduced losses by more than 40% last year compared to the previous year, reaching around 700 billion won ($650 million) in losses.

Analyst Park Won-jae of Mirae Asset Daewoo Securities predicted LG’s smartphone business would once again fail to make a turnaround this year, although it would further reduce its losses to 184.7 billion won ($170m) this year.


As I pointed out last week, LG loses money on the top-end “flagship”. Every year it launches one; every year its losses peak that quarter. Shifting towards the budget end is a good idea.
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News Feed FYI: helping ensure news on Facebook is from trusted sources • Facebook Newsroom

Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed:


Starting next week, we will begin tests in the first area: to prioritize news from publications that the community rates as trustworthy.

How? We surveyed a diverse and representative sample of people using Facebook across the US to gauge their familiarity with, and trust in, various different sources of news. This data will help to inform ranking in News Feed.

We’ll start with the US and plan to roll this out internationally in the future.

When we rank and make improvements to News Feed, we rely on a set of core values. These values — which we’ve been using for years — guide our thinking and help us keep the central experience of News Feed intact as it evolves. One of our News Feed values is that the stories in your feed should be informative.

For informative sources, we will continue to improve on the work we first announced in August 2016, where we began asking people to rank the informativeness of updates in their feed on a scale of one to five.

We’re evaluating ways to expand this work to more areas this year.


Can’t see how this ends well. Everyone is biased in their own way, and the US’s level of partisanship is beyond wild. Everyone has pointed out that this idea of “trust” is bound to go wrong. The only question is how long it will take to get another course correction.

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Update on Twitter’s review of the 2016 U.S. election • Twitter public policy blog


As previously announced, we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available.

Examples of IRA Content

Most user engagement was with a very small number of IRA-associated accounts… [a number of examples are provided…]…

…As part of our ongoing review, we have identified both more IRA and automated Russia-based accounts. The results of this supplemental analysis are consistent with the results of our previous work: automated election-related content associated with Russian signals represented a very small fraction of the overall activity on Twitter in the ten-week period preceding the 2016 election.

We have identified an additional 1,062 accounts associated with the IRA. We have suspended all of these accounts for Terms of Service violations, primarily spam, and all but a few accounts, which were restored to legitimate users, remain suspended.


The question is not really whether these bots had an effect – they must have done – but whether it was significant. Removing the content makes that more difficult to find out and evaluate independently.
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OnePlus hack exposed credit cards of up to 40,000 people • CNET

David Katzmaier:


If you bought a OnePlus phone such as the OnePlus 5T between November and January, you’d best check your credit card statement.

The phone maker on Friday confirmed in a statement that its website,, was hacked, potentially exposing the detailed credit card information of up to 40,000 customers. 

The company sent an email to customers saying that card numbers, expiration dates and security codes “may have been compromised.”

A malicious script on the company’s pages was inserted, harvesting the information from web browsers. The company says it has been removed, but customers who entered information into the site between mid-November 2017 and Jan. 11, 2018 could be at risk.


“A malicious script was inserted”? So that’s quite a hack – first into the company web server, and then capturing all those details. This needs quite a lot of explaining by OnePlus.
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Customise My Data – public beta • ONS Digital

Andrew Dudfield:


Allowing you to find data more easily is the sort of fundamental statement that may just sound too generic to mean anything, but it has specific context here. We know, from looking at analytics and user research, that you are all downloading large numbers of excel files from the Office for National Statistics’s (ONS) site. In part, this seems to be because a lot of people are not quickly finding the things they want. So, part of the aim of this project is adding more contextual data to our existing web pages. This might include the dimensions used, the geographic areas covered and so on. The aim being that it becomes easier to understand what is in a dataset before downloading it. We are also working hard to improve the in site search functionality at this stage as well. More on that soon.

Allowing our users to customise data is another key aim. Here we have spent considerable amounts of our time developing a range of (hopefully) simple design patterns to offer a consistent view on our inconsistent data and allow users to take away just the information they need.

Allowing users to browse by geography continues to be a key focus and, whilst you might be able to see hints of this now, you will see an awful lot more of this as the project continues to develop.


Neat. (Via Sophie Warnes.)
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Renewable power generation costs in 2017

International Renewable Energy Agency:


Renewable energy has emerged as an increasingly competitive way to meet new power generation needs. This comprehensive cost report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) highlights the latest trends for each of the main renewable power technologies, based on the latest cost and auction price data from projects around the world.

Download the Executive Summary.

Broadly, the study finds:
• Renewable power generation costs continue to fall and are already very competitive to meet needs for new capacity.
• Competitive procurement – including auctions – accounts for a small fraction of global renewable energy deployment. Yet these mechanisms are very rapidly driving down costs in new markets.
• Global competition is helping to spread the best project development practices, reducing technology and project risk and making renewables more cost-competitive than ever before.
• In developed countries, solar power has become cheaper than new nuclear power.


Those aren’t all the bullet points. And of course the point about nuclear is that it can provide a baseline supply, which solar can’t.
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Snap lays off two dozen employees • The Information

Tom Dotan:


Snap laid off around two dozen people in recent days, mostly in its content team, according to people close to the company. The staff cuts, which also affected people in several other departments, are the latest sign of how Snap is being cost-conscious amid struggles with slow user and revenue growth.

Snap’s content team, which reports to head of content Nick Bell, is consolidating its operations at the company’s Venice, Calif., headquarters. Members of the team were previously based in New York as well as Venice.

The team oversees the production of videos from media companies as well as snaps submitted by users. It has been ramping up the amount of original shows that run on Snap’s Discover section, including with a planned foray into scripted shows.


Getting the feeling that content, especially video, isn’t a big thing for social media companies.
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British 15-year-old gained access to intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iran by pretending to be head of CIA, court hears • Daily Telegraph

Hayley Dixon:


A 15-year-old gained access to plans for intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iran by pretending to be the head of the CIA to gain access to his computers, a court has heard. 

From the bedroom of the Leicestershire home he shared with his mother, Kane Gamble used “social engineering” – where a person builds up a picture of information and uses it manipulate others into handing over more – to access the personal and work accounts of some of America’s most powerful spy chiefs .

The teenager persuaded call handlers at an internet giant that he was John Brennan, the then director of the CIA, to gain access to his computers and an FBI helpdesk that he was Mark Giuliano, then the agency’s Deputy Director, to re-gain access to an intelligence database.

He also targeted the US Secretary of Homeland Security and Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence from his semi-detached council house in Coalville. 

Gamble taunted his victims online, released personal information, bombarded them with calls and messages, downloaded pornography onto their computers and took control of their iPads and TV screens, a court heard.

Mr Justice Haddon-Cave noted: “He got these people in his control and played with them in order to make their lives difficult.

John Lloyd-Jones QC, prosecuting, said that Gamble founded Crackas With Attitude (CWA) in 2015, telling a journalist: “It all started by me getting more and more annoyed about how corrupt and cold blooded the US Government are so I decided to do something about it.”


Impressive. Give him a job. (Thanks multiple readers who sent this.)
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Die With Me


The chat app you can only use when you have less than 5% battery.

Die together in a chatroom on your way to offline peace.


A clever idea: finding a niche in what seems like the utterly known territory of the smartphone. What about “The 1%” where it only works on 99%.. OK, something else? 4G connection? 3G? Edge?
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The BitConnect Ponzi scheme has finally collapsed as exit scam becomes evident • NewsBTC

JP Buntinx:


Thousands of people bought into this scam and some of them may have even made money. Most users, however, probably never got their money out of this program whatsoever. That is only normal, as over 95% of all trades were conducted on the native BCC exchange. When a currency’s developers also run the main exchange, you know things are not always going to end well.

To put this into perspective, the BitConnect price has dropped by a lot. Over the past week, it went from nearly $400 all the way to $27. Such a steep decline seems to confirm the developers finally completed their grand exit scam. It is also possible they used the ‘stolen” Bitcoins to crash the current market. Whether or not that latter part is a conspiracy theory or the sheer reality, remains to be seen. It is evident the BCC exchange had access to a lot of BTC, though. Either way, it seems this Ponzi Scheme is gone for good, which can only be considered to be a good thing.

Furthermore, it seems the project’s subReddit is no longer accessible. Rather than leaving it open to the public, it is now completely private. No one who isn’t “approved” can’t access this subreddit or see what is being posted there. A very worrisome turn of events for the people still waiting to get their money out. They were warned dozens of times about this Ponzi Scheme, though. Anyone who lost money due to BitConnect only has themselves to blame. It is a harsh reality, but that’s what people get for falling for snake oil practices.


Thousands of people. Blaming the victim seems a little extreme here, but bitcoin (and associated) has been the venue for Ponzi schemes almost from the inception; here’s a piece I did back in 2013 about a similar scheme.
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New botnet infects cryptocurrency mining computers, replaces wallet address • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


Satori—the malware family that wrangles routers, security cameras, and other Internet-connected devices into potent botnets—is crashing the cryptocurrency party with a new variant that surreptitiously infects computers dedicated to the mining of digital coins.

A version of Satori that appeared on January 8 exploits one or more weaknesses in the Claymore Miner, researchers from China-based Netlab 360 said in a report published Wednesday. After gaining control of the coin-mining software, the malware replaces the wallet address the computer owner uses to collect newly minted currency with an address controlled by the attacker. From then on, the attacker receives all coins generated, and owners are none the wiser unless they take time to manually inspect their software configuration.

Records show that the attacker-controlled wallet has already cashed out slightly more than 1 Etherium coin. The coin was valued at as much as $1,300 when the transaction was made. At the time this post was being prepared, the records also showed that the attacker had a current balance of slightly more than 1 Etherium coin and was actively mining more, with a calculation power of about 2,100 million hashes per second. That’s roughly equivalent to the output of 85 computers each running a Radeon Rx 480 graphics card or 1,135 computers running a GeForce GTX 560M…


Sneaky, and terrifically clever. Satori is a variant of Mirai, the IoT botnet which its author(s) open-sourced in a desperate – and unsuccessful – attempt to be able to deny their authorship.
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The policy hack • Terence Eden

He’s at it again:


I’ve found a delightfully exploitable social hack which I presented at UK GovCamp.

It applies to any uncooperative bureaucracy.

Here’s how it works. You ask someone to do something and they reply with “I’m sorry sir, that’s against our policy.”

You should say “I’m sorry to hear that. Please can you send me a copy of the policy?”

Turns out, most times, there is no policy!

Shocking, I know. So much of modern life rests on the whim of whichever call-centre worker you happen to get. If they can’t be bothered to do something, they can hide behind a non-existent policy.


There are, as he accepts, occasional exceptions, but it’s quite a way to throw grease in the gears.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: the death of Civil Comments, Facebook trusts you!, Twitter’s Russian trouble, hacking the CIA, and more

  1. Around 2000-2002 I ran the usability testing for the ONS website as it tried to make data more accessible. Searching was so difficult that the ONS’ own advice was ‘if you want to find anything, phone the call centre, they’ll send you a link’. Human search. I see they’ve still not quite cracked it (despite best efforts).

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