Start Up: Google goes to hospital, Strava reveals all (and too much), Windows XP makes ATM jackpot, and more


After the EU ruling, Google is buying almost all the shopping ads on its site. Is that how it’s meant to work? Photo by Herry Lawford on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Written on an iPad Pro, as my Mac wouldn’t boot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google rivals ask EU to toughen measures in antitrust case • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak on how that “Google Shopping” compliance is going:


New third-party data show that Google’s product ads appear in almost all of the product-ad spots it displays as part of the EU remedy. In a report published Monday, search analytics firm Searchmetrics said that only 2% of product-ad spots in Germany show competitors’ ads. In the U.K. the proportion is 0.4%. The researchers tested by recording product-ad results on Google for 2,500 popular keywords in each country.

The new system [introduced by Google, where it bids alongside other shopping sites for shopping ad slots on search results pages] is “nothing game-changing,” nor is it “meaningful enough to be considered a fair and even playing field,” says Harald Schiffauer, managing director of Nextag Inc.’s, a German site that bids actively in the Google system.

“It’s really hard to compete,” said Philipp Peitsch, managing director of Idealo, a price-comparison engine owned by Axel Springer SE. “I don’t think it’s a fair proposal.”

Google declined to comment on rivals’ individual allegations, but previously said that its remedy gives rivals the same opportunity as Google to show shopping ads to users.


Google says it has set up the Shopping business as if it were a stand-alone, must-make-profit company. It would be great to see how that company is formed. Does it buy its own computers? Hire its own people? Rent its own offices? Or does it have a very cheap room inside Google staffed with Googlers?

I seem to recall that Foundem, which has done many piercing analyses of the proposals, forecast this outcome.
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Google is using 46 billion data points to predict the medical outcomes of hospital patients • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:


Some of Google’s top AI researchers are trying to predict your medical outcome as soon as you’re admitted to the hospital.

A new research paper, published Jan. 24 with 34 co-authors and not peer-reviewed, claims better accuracy than existing software at predicting outcomes like whether a patient will die in the hospital, be discharged and readmitted, and their final diagnosis. To conduct the study, Google obtained de-identified data of 216,221 adults, with more than 46 billion data points between them. The data span 11 combined years at two hospitals, University of California San Francisco Medical Center (from 2012-2016) and University of Chicago Medicine (2009-2016).

While the results have not been independently validated, Google claims vast improvements over traditional models used today for predicting medical outcomes. Its biggest claim is the ability to predict patient deaths 24-48 hours before current methods, which could allow time for doctors to administer life-saving procedures.


You’d hope that the findings would be freely shared with the hospitals and medical profession. In a situation like this, how should the benefits be shared out? Everyone – Google, the patients, the doctors, the hospitals – contributed to the creation of the data, and thus the benefit. Is it right that only those who process it in a specific way get to monetise it?
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Things are getting ‘heated’ on Strava… • Battenhall

Joe Cant:


It’s easy to look at the recent stories and call Strava the bad egg, but does publicly displaying data that’s readily available mean the app is to blame for stories like this week’s where soliders inadvertently exposed military bases?  

It’s easy to forget this data is useful and important to some of the greatest athletes, scientists and coaches in the world. It’s this tracking that also enables Strava’s beacon feature to keep track of people in vulnerable places at vulnerable times (or help find a lost phone).

Since the heatmap news broke, Strava’s CEO James Quaries has released a statement explaining that the company is taking the matter seriously, that it understands the responsibility related to the data shared (as well as outlining steps to respond), and how people can use the app’s privacy settings.

There have long been stories and concerns involving Strava users, in particular cyclists, having their bikes stolen due to thieves targeting their home (logged at the end and beginning of their activity), as well as reading equipment information or photos the user has stored on their phone. Of course, anyone who shares information about their whereabouts online could, in theory, allow thieves to know when to target people’s houses.


Seems to me the thing where thieves could target your house is a clue this wasn’t well set up.
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The latest data privacy debacle • NY Times

Zeynep Tufekci:


the Strava debacle underscores a crucial misconception at the heart of the system of privacy protection in the United States. The privacy of data cannot be managed person-by-person through a system of individualized informed consent.

Data privacy is not like a consumer good, where you click “I accept” and all is well. Data privacy is more like air quality or safe drinking water, a public good that cannot be effectively regulated by trusting in the wisdom of millions of individual choices. A more collective response is needed.

Part of the problem with the ideal of individualized informed consent is that it assumes companies have the ability to inform us about the risks we are consenting to. They don’t. Strava surely did not intend to reveal the GPS coordinates of a possible Central Intelligence Agency annex in Mogadishu, Somalia — but it may have done just that. Even if all technology companies meant well and acted in good faith, they would not be in a position to let you know what exactly you were signing up for.


This is, as always, a smart take: you need data privacy to apply everywhere.
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US military reviewing its rules after fitness trackers exposed sensitive data • Washington Post

Dan Lamothe:


The US military said Monday that it is reviewing its guidelines for the use of wireless devices at military facilities after revelations that popular fitness apps can be used to expose the locations and identities of individuals working in sensitive areas.

The review came after reports by The Washington Post and other outlets that a “heat map” had been posted online by the fitness-tracking company Strava showing where users jog, bike and exercise — and in the process inadvertently highlighting the locations of U.S. military facilities in some of the most dangerous spots in the world.

The concerns raised by the online map went beyond sensitive military sites, with evidence that Strava could help reveal the movements of international aid workers, intelligence operatives and millions of other people in many countries.

In the latest discoveries Monday, Internet sleuths found ways of using the publicly available Strava data to identify individual users of the tracking service by name, along with the jogging routes they use in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

On one of the Strava sites, it is possible to click on a frequently used jogging route and see who runs the route and at what times.

One Strava user demonstrated how to use the map and Google to identify by name a US Army major and his running route at a base in Afghanistan.


Suspect the guidelines will go from “sure, use the things” to “do not use the things under any circumstances”.
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‘Jackpotting’ hackers steal over $1m from atms across US, says Secret Service • Reuters

Dustin Volz:


The heists, which involve hacking ATMs to rapidly shoot out torrents of cash, have been observed across the United States spanning from the Gulf Coast in the southern part of the country to the New England region in the northeast, Matthew O‘Neill, a special agent in the criminal investigations division, told Reuters in an interview.

The spate of attacks represented the first widespread jackpotting activity in the United States, O‘Neill said. Previous campaigns have been spotted in parts of Europe and Latin America in recent years.

“It was just a matter of time until it hit our shores,” O‘Neill said.

Diebold Nixdorf and NCR, two of the world’s largest ATM makers, warned last week that cyber criminals are targeting ATMs with tools needed to carry out jackpotting schemes.

The Diebold Nixdorf alert described steps that criminals had used to compromise ATMs. They include gaining physical access, replacing the hard drive and using an industrial endoscope to depress an internal button required to reset the device.

A confidential U.S. Secret Service alert seen by Reuters and sent to banks on Friday said machines running XP were more vulnerable and encouraged ATM operators to update to Windows 7 to protect against the attack, which appeared to be targeting ATMs typically located in pharmacies, big box retailers and drive-thrus.


As I first read this story I wondered to myself whether Windows XP would turn up.
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Why Apple sells just 2.5% of India’s smartphones • CNBC

Manish Singh:


iPhones have remained beyond the budget for most Indians. The least expensive iPhone X model, for instance, is priced at 92,430 rupees ($1,450) in India, while the least costly iPhone 8 unit ships at Rs 66,120 ($1,040). The devices are so much more expensive in India because the local government imposes a heavy charge on imported electronics items.

The iPhone-maker, for its part, is trying to circumvent the customs duty by manufacturing the iPhone SE model locally in India through a partnership with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Wistron. That’s made the iPhone SE the least costly iPhone model from the recent generations in the country.

But the company ought to do more, analysts told CNBC.

Samsung, and Chinese smartphone makers including Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo, many of which entered the Indian market in the last five years, are increasingly claiming dominance in the nation. Xiaomi and Samsung ship more handsets in India in under two months than Apple does in a year.

Samsung and the Chinese companies now control 80% of the smartphone market in India, while Apple settles for a meager 2.2%, Counterpoint and IDC said, citing data for the quarter that ended in September last year.

As of the quarter ending in December, Apple had 2.5% of India’s overall smartphone market, according to Counterpoint.


This shows Apple’s problem in trying to bring “affordable luxury” to everyone; it aims at the US market initially, but India is just different in so many ways. As a global company, it’s going to find itself in places where its strategy doesn’t give it a huge share.
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Opinion: smartphone market challenges raise major questions • Techspot

Bob O’Donnell:


As dynamic and exciting as the smartphone market has been for many years, it’s hard to imagine a time when it just won’t matter that much to most people. Kind of like how many people now feel about the PC market.

Don’t get me wrong, the smartphone market will still be very large and extremely important to some people for quite a while (just as the PC market still is for many—myself included). But the truth is, we’re rapidly approaching the era of smartphone market maturation, and quite possibly, the end of smartphone market growth.

Along with those changes are likely to come a shift in attention and focus away from smartphones, and towards other more “interesting” product categories—in the press, on people’s minds, and, most importantly, in critical industry technologies and developments.

The signs of this impending change are all around. In fact, you could argue that this is already starting to occur. While total 2017 worldwide smartphone shipment data may end up showing a modest increase over 2016 (final numbers have yet to be released), the fact that China—the world’s largest smartphone market—showed a 4% decline in Q4 2017 is a very telling and concerning indication of where the market is headed.

Essentially, what that data point tells us is that even in rapidly-growing markets, we’ve started to hit saturation. In other words, pretty much everyone who wants a smartphone now has one.


Africa hasn’t really taken part in this explosion in smartphone use, but the hot growth is over. O’Donnell suggests that talk of cuts in iPhone X production just emphasise this – but the smarter view of those “cuts” is that Apple was surprised by the number of iPhone X handsets it was able to make and ship in the just-gone quarter, and so can dial back against its larger expectations (which were built on anticipated low supply).

But saturation is here. I’m a little surprised that news sites still review smartphones. When did they stop for PCs? We’re at the same place now.
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After building new African Union headquarters, China spies on Addis Ababa facility • Morocco News

Amira El Masaiti:


In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

The $200m glass tower complex was gifted to the African Union in 2012. The computer systems were fully equipped by the Chinese, allowing them to open an undocumented portal that gives Chinese administrators access to the AU’s computing system. This “backdoor” is an intentional fault put into code to allow hackers and intelligence agencies to gain illicit access to information.

“Following this discovery, we have taken some steps to strengthen our cybersecurity,” a AU official told Le Monde.


Something something Greeks bearing gifts.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Apologies: the superscript on the post about Graham’s Number in yesterday’s post didn’t come through. (But if you clicked through to the link, it was there.)

1 thought on “Start Up: Google goes to hospital, Strava reveals all (and too much), Windows XP makes ATM jackpot, and more

  1. Strava allows users to specify “privacy zones” of up to 1km radius from a given postcode to help hide their home location. Maybe it could be turned on when registering.
    One downside to the privacy zone is that it can exclude the user from the a leaderboard if a segment – part of a ride or run – enters that zone and some especially keen athletes might not like that.
    There is also an option to not include a user’s anonymised data in the heat map.

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