Start Up: Facebook’s antiviral, Brexit’s immigration woes, Lenovo’s coming writedown, and more

The Atari 2600 video game Dragster had a world record of 5.51 seconds for completion – until the end of January. (Yes, this is Lego.) Photo by Aaron on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Still no Mac, now also using Apple Pencil. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The leaked Brexit analysis shows how cutting EU immigration will hit the UK economy • Buzzfeed

Alberto Nardelli:


BuzzFeed News revealed on Monday that the [secret] assessment, compiled by officials across Whitehall for the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), said UK economic growth would be lower under all three main Brexit scenarios that were modelled.

The analysis also includes several potential immigration policies to illustrate the impact falling EU migration after Brexit would have on the economy.

It shows that the negative impact of a stricter immigration policy – replacing free movement with arrangements in line with those for non-EU citizens – would be far bigger than the 0.2% boost to economic growth that a US trade deal is calculated to bring.

Even a more flexible immigration policy, which would lead to a smaller drop in migration from the EU, would still be enough by itself to cancel out the benefits of a US deal, the document shows.

The findings starkly illustrate the difficulties Theresa May faces as she attempts to shape a Brexit deal that minimises the long term hit on the economy while satisfying the demands of Leave voters.


The obvious, and severe, impact will be on the NHS, where recruitment will be much more difficult because of the costs involved in moving to the UK compared to the free movement regime now.

What’s odd is how roundabout Buzzfeed’s reporting is. There’s no detail in the story – possibly to protect the person who leaked it to them.
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Twitter followers vanish amid inquiries into fake accounts • NY Times

Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel Dance and Rich Harris:


More than a million followers have disappeared from the accounts of dozens of prominent Twitter users in recent days as the company faces growing criticism over the proliferation of fake accounts and scrutiny from federal and state inquiries into the shadowy firms that sell fake followers.

The people losing followers include an array of entertainers, entrepreneurs, athletes and media figures, many of whom bought Twitter followers or artificial engagement from a company called Devumi. Its business practices were detailed in a New York Times article on Saturday describing a vast trade in fake followers and fraudulent engagement on Twitter and other social media sites, often using personal information taken from real users. Twitter said on Saturday that it would take action against Devumi’s practices. A Twitter spokeswoman on Tuesday declined to comment about whether the company was purging fake accounts.

The singer Clay Aiken, the actor John Leguizamo and the reality TV star Lisa Rinna have each lost a substantial number of followers, according to a review of their accounts. So has Martha Lane Fox, a British businesswoman and Twitter board member. Other well-known users have taken to Twitter in recent days to complain of lost followers, suggesting that a broad swath of people may be affected, not just Devumi customers.


Only a million?
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All followers are fake followers • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:


The investor Mark Cuban called for a real-name policy on services like Twitter, arguing that “there needs to be a single human behind every individual account.” That’s a terrible idea: As the entrepreneur Anil Dash has argued, it would endanger marginalized people without improving trust. But Cuban’s reform does square with the Times’ take on virtue and wickedness at Twitter. Just shine light upon the shadows of the black market to put an end to the corruption. Then ordinary folk can be freed from the lust for fame that would rob them of their true selves.

But this is a fairy-tale story about the internet. Fraud is not the ultimate problem with fake social-media activity. The hustle itself is the blight. It produces the racket that sucks so many into its orbit. Salle Ingle is stuck in the same rat race as Kathy Ireland, and you and me, too. We just encounter it at different scales.

The culprit is the numbers themselves, not the lies that augment them, nor the profits made in doing so. The only reason there can be a market, let alone a black market, for social-media engagement is because these services are marketplaces of attention, not of ideas, products, or services. That’s why Twitter counts followers, likes, retweets, and all the rest so prominently. If the numbers were less visible, or entirely hidden, everyone might live more meaningful, more productive lives online, using posts as means to ends rather than as circulations within the system. It’s hard to imagine such a change taking place while companies like Twitter rely on the aspiration of visible metrics as a compulsion to use their services. That compulsion produces the attention necessary to sell advertisers and satisfy investors.


It can be hard to ignore the numbers – ooh look they’re only a tab away! – but they mean so little, in general, that they’re better ignored.
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Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook changes reduced time spent on site by 50 million hours a day in Q4 • CNBC

John Shinal:


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that the changes the company made to its service last year reduced time spent on the site by 50 million hours per day.

“Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day. By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term,” Zuckerberg wrote.

The company has also begun to make changes to its content-recommendation software amid criticism that Facebook has been used to spread misinformation, hate speech and other violent content.

Last April, a Facebook user recorded and uploaded a video of himself killing an elderly man.

On the company’s previous earnings call in November, Zuckerberg had said: “I want to be clear about what our priority is. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”


50 million hours per day! Divided by, umm, 2.13 billion monthly active users. So that’s 1.5 billion hours per month, or less than an hour per user per month, or less than a couple of minutes per day.
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Smartphone addiction made me restless, anxious and muddled • The Pool

Sali Hughes realised she was addicted.. to her phone:


We spend train journeys not looking out of the window or reading a book, but staring at a screen, cycling aimlessly through apps, chasing another hit. Instead of experiencing boredom, clarity and calm, we’re in a constant state of stimulation, where there’s simply not enough room for new memories, ideas, fantasies or plans (according to the experts, multitasking is a myth. Every time you move from an IM chat to your work, you unavoidably lose concentration and damage productivity). Meanwhile, apps and smartphones are painstakingly designed to keep us on them for as long as possible, in order to gather our data and expose us to targeted advertising, while heavy users are becoming more depressed.

Having spent a whole day shouting, “OH, MY GOD!” and reading passages of the book [How To Break Up With Your Phone, out on 9 February] aloud, I enthusiastically began adopting How To Break Up With Your Phone’s plan to restore sanity to my phone use. Like a smoker throwing their fags in a skip, I deleted my most-used social apps (Facebook and Twitter) so, whenever tempted to use them, I’d have to decide if I could be bothered to log in on the websites (usually not). I disabled notifications on WhatsApp and Messenger, and reorganised these and my dozens of other apps, tiling my home screen with neat folders, like Travel, Work Essentials and Games, so the myriad colourful icons weren’t constantly staring, pleading at me.


It’s a topic that keeps coming up, but there are many ways to discover it. (The Amazon affiliate link is The Pool’s, not mine, so support them. Don’t buy the Kindle version, for I hope obvious reasons.)
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Lenovo heads for a goodwill iceberg • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:


There’s absolutely no doubt, based on management’s previous public statements, that those units [Motorola’s mobile business and IBM’s server business] bought at a cost of $5bn are performing worse than expected. What’s extraordinary is that after four years Lenovo hasn’t recognized such impairment and allows the goodwill to sit on the balance sheet.

Reporting standards only require a test of goodwill to be done annually, so it’s reasonable not to see anything announced in the past few quarters. But the company’s financial year is coming to an end March 31, so the clock is ticking.

You can understand management’s reticence. After a slew of deals in the late 2000s, Acer, a Taiwanese PC maker, clung to inflated goodwill figures despite clear signs that the acquisitions weren’t bearing fruit. In the end, it had to conduct an IAS36 impairment test and recognized a NT$9.4bn ($335m) writedown, enough to plunge Acer into a record annual loss and spur the ousting of its chairman and CEO.

That impairment was equivalent to about 24% of Acer’s total intangible assets at the time.

For Lenovo, I calculate it would take a mere 10.3% writedown to push it into a loss for the current fiscal year – and that’s only for an impairment on goodwill, and only at the mobile and server divisions. A deeper, 20% impairment on those units would bring about a record annual loss.


This is a terrific insight. Lenovo was clearly suffering from hubris when it took on Motorola and the IBM server division. The PC division is the only thing keeping it afloat.
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US probes Apple over updates that slow older iPhones • Bloomberg

Tom Schoenberg, Matt Robinson and Mark Gurman:


The US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating whether Apple violated securities laws concerning its disclosures about a software update that slowed some handsets, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. The US government has requested information from the company, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the probe is private.

The inquiry is in early stages, they cautioned, and it’s too soon to conclude any enforcement will follow. Investigators are looking into public statements made by Apple on the situation, they added. While the slowdown has frustrated consumers, investigators are concerned the company may have misled investors about the performance of older phones. 

“We have received questions from some government agencies and we are responding to them,” an Apple spokeswoman said. She reiterated an earlier statement that the company “never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.”


Prediction: this is going to go nowhere.
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Scoop: Apple delays iOS features to focus on reliability, performance • Axios

Ina Fried:


Software head Craig Federighi announced the revised plan to employees at a meeting earlier this month, shortly before he and some top lieutenants headed to a company offsite.

On the cutting board: Pushed into 2019 are a number of features including a refresh of the home screen and in-car user interfaces, improvements to core apps like mail and updates to the picture-taking, photo editing and sharing experiences.

What made it: There will be some new features, of course, including improvements in augmented reality, digital health and parental controls. In addition, Apple is prioritizing work to make iPhones more responsive and less prone to cause customer support issues.

But, but but: While a renewed focus on quality and performance might ease some outside criticism, some inside the team question whether the approach will actual lead to higher quality. Plus, customers tend to pay for features more than security and reliability, which are tough to assess at the time of purchase.


I don’t think customers pay for software features on phones. They pay for the phones, and the software comes along for the ride; its quality decides whether they pony up when it comes time to replace it, though. (A friend told me today how his Moto G died on him in France. Annoyed, he has replaced it with an iPhone 6S, which he’s delighted with.)

The offsite meeting might be the “top 100” group which sees what it coming up for the rest of the year. New Mac Pro, iPhones.. what else?
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South Korea says no plans to ban cryptocurrency exchanges, uncovers $600m of illegal trades • Reuters

Dahee Kim and Cynthia Kim:


South Korea has been at the forefront of pushing for broad regulatory oversight of cryptocurrency trading as many locals, including students and housewives, jumped into a frenzied market despite warnings from policy makers around the world of a bubble.

Seoul previously said that it is considering shutting down local cryptocurrency exchanges, which threw the market into turmoil and hammered bitcoin prices. Officials later clarified that an outright ban is only one of the steps being considered, and a final decision was yet to be made.

Customs said about 637.5bn won ($596.02m) worth of foreign exchange crimes were detected.

Illegal foreign currency trading of 472.3bn won formed the bulk of the cryptocurrency crimes, it said in a statement, but gave no details on what action authorities were taking against the rule breaches.

In one case, an illegal FX agency collected a total of 1.7bn won ($1.59m) from local residents in a form of “electric wallet” coins to transfer it to a partner agent abroad. The partner agent then cashed them out and distributed the settlement to clients based in that country, according to the statement.


South Korea is going to get hurt when this goes south, as it inevitably must – it’s still on a par with trading cowrie shells, which is fine as long as nobody asks “why are we trading cowrie shells, especially as we keep getting ripped off?”
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A man accused of cheating at video games may lose his Guinness World Record • Washington Post

Amy B Wang:


In 1982, a player named Todd Rogers supposedly recorded a time of 5.51 seconds on Dragster, a driving simulation — in the most rudimentary, early-’80s sense, anyhow — that requires shifting gears at just the right time to maximize the “car’s” speed across the screen.

To prove his feat, as his story goes, Rogers said he took a Polaroid picture of his 5.51-second time and sent it to Activision, the game’s publisher, which confirmed the score.

In 2000, Rogers’s score, as recorded by Activision, would eventually be formally imported into the databases of Twin Galaxies, a group that keeps track of video game records around the world. Through the ensuing years, other game records would rise and fall on the Twin Galaxies scoreboards, but the closest anyone could come to beating Rogers in Dragster was 5.57 seconds.

In 2001, Guinness World Records recognized Rogers as having the longest-standing video game record in the world. His 1982 Dragster time, it seemed, was ironclad.

Until Monday.

Faced with a growing number of complaints that Rogers had falsified his time, as well as an increasing pile of evidence suggesting that a 5.51-second run on Dragster was technically impossible, Twin Galaxies announced Monday that it had thrown out all of Rogers’s records — not simply his 1982 Dragster time — and banned him for life from its scoreboards.


This is an amazing story – reminiscent of the fantastic documentary King Of Kong (which if you haven’t seen, you really should). Read more at the Twin Galaxies site; it’s as though an Olympic winner had been found to be cheating decades later. And there’s also Rogers’s response – which is a long way short of a rebuttal – on Pastebin.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yes, OK, yesterday’s post (and hence email) didn’t have a subject line. Oops.

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