Start Up: is Google overcompeting?, the fake celeb porn wave starts, Xiaomi downs Samsung in India, the $1m “space” fight, and more


Stuff like this is clogging up the internet. Let Google’s engineers explain. Photo by Sunciti Sundaram’s Images and Messages on Flickr. (That’s kind of a clue.)

A selection of 11 links for you. Have whatever sort of morning you damn well like. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google engineer Steve Yege calls company ‘100% competitor-focused’

Jillian D’Onfro:

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A Google engineer who just left the company after nearly 13 years criticized it Wednesday for becoming “100% competitor-focused” and said the company “can no longer innovate.”

Steve Yegge, who joined Google from Amazon in 2005, wrote a blog post about his decision to quit the company, saying it has become too focused on competitors instead of customers. He said product launches such as its smart speaker, Home, its chat app Allo and its Android Instant Apps copy Amazon Echo, Facebook-owned WhatsApp and WeChat, respectively.

“Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused,” he wrote. “They’ve made a weak attempt to pivot from this, with their new internal slogan ‘Focus on the user and all else will follow.’ But unfortunately it’s just lip service.”

He said employees don’t set aside enough time to regularly interact with customers, instead relying on competitor activity to guide decisions about what people want.

«

Yegge wrote the blogpost in 2011 criticising Google Plus which went viral too.

Then again, the world is full of people who used to work at X company who think it’s all gone to pot. (For the Apple version, see Bob Burrough, who worked on the iPod, iPhone and iPad; he detests the post-Jobs Apple.)
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Everyone is making AI-generated fake porn now • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:

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In December, Motherboard discovered a redditor named ‘deepfakes’ quietly enjoying his hobby: Face-swapping celebrity faces onto porn performers’ bodies. He made several convincing porn videos of celebrities—including Gal Gadot, Maisie Williams, and Taylor Swift—using a machine learning algorithm, his home computer, publicly available videos, and some spare time.

Since we first wrote about deepfakes, the practice of producing AI-assisted fake porn has exploded. More people are creating fake celebrity porn using machine learning, and the results have become increasingly convincing. Another redditor even created an app specifically designed to allow users without a computer science background to create AI-assisted fake porn. All the tools one needs to make these videos are free, readily available, and accompanied with instructions that walk novices through the process.

These are developments we and the experts we spoke to warned about in our original article. They have arrived with terrifying speed.

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So there are now fakes of celebrities – female celebrities so far I think? – taking showers, etc. (Perhaps someone could do a Windowlicker-style video to stem this. And if you’re wondering whether attitudes like this are just for the youth crowd…
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Men Only: Inside the charity fundraiser where hostesses are put on show • FT

Madison Marriage:

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It is for men only. A black tie evening, Thursday’s event was attended by 360 figures from British business, politics and finance and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses.

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.

The event has been a mainstay of London’s social calendar for 33 years, yet the activities have remained largely unreported — unusual, perhaps, for a fundraiser of its scale.

The questions raised about the event have been thrown into sharp relief by the current business climate, when bastions of sexual harassment and the institutionalised objectification of women are being torn down.

The Financial Times last week sent two people undercover to work as hostesses on the night. Reporters also gained access to the dining hall and surrounding bars.

Over the course of six hours, many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester…

…It was unclear why men, seated at their tables with hostesses standing close by, felt the need to hold the hands of the women, but numerous hostesses discussed instances of it through the night. For some, this was a prelude to pulling the women into their laps. Meanwhile champagne, whisky and vodka were served.

On stage, entertainers came and went. It was soon after a troupe of burlesque dancers — dressed like furry-hatted Coldstream Guards, but with star-shaped stickers hiding nipples — that one 19-year-old hostess, recounted a conversation with a guest nearing his seventies: who had asked her, directly, whether she was a prostitute. She was not. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m never doing it again,” she said later. “It’s f***ing scary.”

«

Ms Marriage (such a wonderfully appropriate name) is usually the FT’s accounting and tax correspondent, but she got onto this story after a tipoff. It has been going for 33 years. The counterargument – “but it’s for charity!” – fails; notorious paedophile Jimmy Savile raised lots of money for charity too. And the President’s Club dinner apparently brought in £694k – but cost £673k to organise. A number of charities said they would return funds raised by the dinner.

On Wednesday evening UK time, the President’s Club said it would be closing after distributing its remaining funds.
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Xiaomi beats Samsung to become top smartphone vendor in India • Canalys

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India’s smartphone market has finally seen a change at the top, with Xiaomi now leading with shipments close to 8.2m units in Q4 2017. Despite annual growth of 17%, Samsung failed to maintain its lead, shipping just over 7.3m smartphones to take second place. The smartphone market in India grew by a modest 6% overall, in line with Canalys forecasts, following the seasonal dip as vendors and channel partners take stock after a busy Q3. Vivo, Oppo and Lenovo rounded out the top five, while total smartphone shipments were just shy of 30m units.

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This seems like a worrying development for Samsung. Look how Xiaomi has grown there, too.
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Global smartphone average sales price sees record year-on-year growth in 4Q17 • GfK Global

»

Global smartphone sales reached 397m units in the fourth quarter of 2017 (4Q17), a 1% increase year-on-year. Demand was primarily driven by Middle East and Africa, which experienced 8% growth, and Central & Eastern Europe, where demand grew 7%. Global smartphone average sales price (ASP) increased by 10% year-on-year to USD 363, its fastest quarterly growth rate to date. 

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There’s a fascinating table to go with it, showing sales and sales value by region. Given a little time you could figure out a regional ASP, but the most important point is that ASPs are going up fast in China, by 17%.
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The internet is filling up because Indians are sending millions of ‘good morning!’ texts • WSJ

Newley Purnell:

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Millions of Indians are getting online for the first time—and they are filling up the internet. Many like nothing better than to begin the day by sending greetings from their phones. Starting before sunrise and reaching a crescendo before 8 a.m., internet newbies post millions of good-morning images to friends, family and strangers.

All that good cheer is driving a 10-fold increase in the number of Google searches for “Good Morning images” over the past five years. Pinterest, the San Francisco visual-search platform, added a new section to display images with quotes. It saw a ninefold increase over the past year in the number of people in India downloading such pictures.

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service—which has 200 million monthly active users in India, making the country its biggest market—added a status message last year so users could say good morning to all of their contacts at once.

Desh Raj Sharma, 71 years old, recently started using a smartphone. At around 6 a.m. every day he searches for and sends good-morning images to more than 50 friends and family using WhatsApp…

…When Google researchers peeked into Indian consumers’ phones, they found thousands of “good morning” images gumming up their storage. One in three smartphone users in India run out of space daily, according to a survey by data-storage firm Western Digital Corp. , compared with one in 10 in the U.S.

Google’s solution: a new app called Files Go that highlights files for possible deletion—with a special feature to search out and delete all good-morning messages at once.

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To be clear – the “peeking” was done by asking people in person to see what was on their phones. But I love the idea of the internet being filled up.

The obvious thing is to cater to the India market by offering phones with LOADS of storage.
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Should we believe the hype about blockchains? • Spectator Coffee House

Jamie Bartlett:

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I worry that a lot of organisations will rush toward blockchain solutions, and grow disillusioned two years later when they realise it wasn’t quite as easy as our dear thought-leaders made out. The current volume of investment, conferences, talks, meet-up groups, consultancies and Twitter experts far exceed what it’s actually achieved. Even bitcoin, the undisputed and highly-priced blockchain prince isn’t getting picked up all that quickly as an actual functioning currency. This sort of thing happened twice already in the field of AI research.

In the early 1970s, and then again in the late 1980s, periods of irrational excitement about the prospects for artificial intelligence led to companies founded, money invested, and promises made about how everything was about to change. When expectations for major advance were not met, there were dramatic cuts in research funding and corporate investment. These become known as the ‘AI winters’ – and set the whole field back several years. A blockchain winter would do the same, and the potential of this new technology would be lost to a sad collection of wild hype, windy promise, overpaid consultants and utopian dreams. 

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Facebook to roll out new tools in response to EU privacy laws • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Facebook will roll out a new set of tools aimed at making it easier for users to make informed choices about their privacy in response to sweeping new European privacy laws, according to the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

“We’re rolling out a new privacy centre globally that will put the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data,” Sandberg said at a Facebook event in Brussels on Tuesday.

She said that the creation of a “privacy centre” was prompted by the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an EU regulation that seeks to give Europeans more control over their information and how companies use it.

“Our apps have long been focused on giving people transparency and control and this gives us a very good foundation to meet all the requirements of the GDPR and to spur us on to continue investing in products and in educational tools to protect privacy,” Sandberg said.

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OK, but will it apply outside the EU? Will it apply in the US?
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6,000 gamers just risked $1M in a massive space fight • VICE News

David Gilbert:

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More than 6,000 gamers logged on to play Eve Online Tuesday for a “million-dollar battle” in which gamers risked real-world money for the chance to gain virtual mastery within the in-game universe.

The interstellar-fighting game, which pitted spaceships worth an estimated $1 million on each side of the two main alliances, ended in victory for the Moneybadger Coalition, who defended their Keepstar space station, defeating for the Imperium alliance, also known as the Clusterfuck Corporation.

The previous sentence might not make much sense to you, so here’s some context.

Eve Online is not Mario Kart. It’s not a game you can pick up and play for an hour or two. It requires a huge amount of time to master. Icelandic developer CCP Games has built a loyal subscriber base that not only spend hundreds of hours playing the game but also spend a lot of money building their fleets.

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Turns out that the cost was way less. By the way, if you’ve seen the “Callister” episode of Series 4 of Black Mirror, this will look totally familiar.
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The ‘Frequent Flier’ program that grounded a hospital’s soaring costs • POLITICO Magazine

Arthur Allen:

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Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (or PCCI) was a joint effort with community partners such as homeless shelters and food pantries to build a network of what was hoped would eventually be hundreds of community-based social services around Dallas County, with Parkland Memorial at the center of it. A sophisticated software platform would enable the hospital to easily refer homeless people discharged from its emergency room to shelters and pantries, and to let social workers at those places see what their clients were doing: whether they were filling their prescriptions, or getting healthy food, or had a place to sleep, or money for the bus. It would be so much cheaper to meet those needs outside the medical system than to pay for the consequences inside it. Two years into the program, evidence is mounting that PCCI is working.

Callies cites the case of a man with hypertension and a stressful situation at home whose hospital bills dropped from $108,500 in December 2016 to zero by April as his health stabilized. Callies says on average hospital visits for some of the highest utilizers have been cut by two-thirds or more, saving an estimated $12 million.

“I had a ‘Wow!’ moment when I saw these charts,” says Callies.

Less than two years after its launch, the PCCI portal contains 150,000-plus names and had been accessed nearly a million times by 98 community groups, including some, like the local community college, that officials never anticipated would participate. And the list is growing.

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That’s the nub of it, but there’s much more to how they implemented it. It’s well-known that a few people tend to generate huge costs; and that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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Here’s the first Animoji Karaoke with Apple’s newest characters • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

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With iOS 11.3–which Apple is seeding as a beta to developers today and expects to ship in final form this spring–the company is upping the Animoji ante with four additional characters: a bear, a lion, a skull, and a particularly fine dragon. Apple gave me early access to the newcomers, which are as uncannily polished and emotive as their predecessors. Naturally, I made them break out in song.

The more Animoji the merrier as far as I’m concerned, but if Apple is serious about giving these beasties their due, there’s an obvious next step: Rather than making Animoji available only in Messages, it should build them into its nifty Clips movie-making app. That could end the need to use iOS 11 screen recording to capture more than 10 seconds at a time, and would give Animoji impresarios the ability to create real extravaganzas entirely on the iPhone X.

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Any bets this happens in iOS 12?
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