Start Up: Google and Apple hit new highs, solar windows, will you talk to your printer?, Yo nears death, and more


Guess what pirates have found is really in demand in currency-challenged Venezuela. Photo by Paul Keller on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 11 links for you. Picked by hands. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google parent Alphabet’s revenue rises, but profit comes up short • WSJ

Jack Nicas:

»

Excluding the impact of the [$9bn] tax charge, Alphabet reported a 28% increase in profit to $6.84bn compared with the year before. Without the tax charge, its profit of $9.70 a share missed estimates of $9.98 a share, according to analysts polled by FactSet. Shares were down 2% after hours.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney attributed the earnings miss to higher expenses related to so-called traffic acquisition costs, or fees Alphabet pays to such partners as Apple Inc. to put its services front and center on their devices. Those fees rose 33% to $6.45bn from a year ago.

“The negative is expenses came in heavier than expected,” he said. “That raises a question: How much revenue is this company having to give away to maintain these growth rates?”

Still, the three months marked the 32nd consecutive quarter of revenue growth of 20% or more, he said.

Alphabet has been able to sustain such growth because its core Google unit handles nearly 92% of internet searches, according to tech data firm StatCounter. Google also owns the world’s dominant video site, YouTube, which the company said has helped drive growth in recent years.

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The big question is where the TAC (traffic acquisition cost) is going. It’s getting really hefty.
link to this extract


Spectre and Meltdown flaws being exploited by more than 100 strains of malware • Tech Republic

Nick Heath:

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Security researchers are discovering a growing amount of malware that exploits the Spectre and Meltdown CPU flaws.

Spectre and Meltdown are vulnerabilities in modern chip design that could allow attackers to bypass system protections on nearly every recent PC, server and smartphone—allowing hackers to read sensitive information, such as passwords, from memory.

Researchers have gathered more than 130 samples of malware that try to exploit Meltdown and Spectre, although most appear to be proof-of-concept code rather than being used in attacks.

Security firm Fortinet says all of the publicly available samples of malware it analyzed appeared to be test code, although it was unable to analyze some Spectre/Meltdown-exploiting malware, due to it not being released into the public domain.

«

If you’re not updating your systems, hackers will find you out.
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Apple hits record revenues but misses on iPhone sales • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Apple’s iPhone unit sales dropped by 1% in its key holiday quarter, missing Wall Street’s forecasts, as it pointed to lower total revenues than investors had been expecting for the current March quarter.

The report will compound some Apple bears’ fears that the tenth anniversary iPhone X has failed to reignite a growth “super cycle” as many bulls had hoped.

Its report of 77.3m iPhones for the three months to December was below most analysts’ estimates but was counterbalanced by the higher price of the iPhone X, resulting in what was still a record-breaking quarter of $88.3bn revenues and $20.1bn in net profits for the world’s most valuable company.

Luca Maestri, Apple’s finance chief, said in an interview that the quarter ending in December 2017 was a week shorter than the same period a year earlier. Adjusting for that comparison, iPhone revenues would have been 21% higher, instead of the 13% revenue growth Apple reported.

For the current quarter ending in March, Apple said revenues would be between $60bn and $62bn, representing growth of between 13% to 17% but below investors’ expectations of closer to $68bn. Mr Maestri said that the disparity was due to a build-up of iPhone stock in its retail channel during the December quarter and that on a “sell-through” basis the March period would actually see an “acceleration” in sales.

«

iPad sales flat, Mac sales flat. Watch and AirPod sales way up. Tech needs a new paradigm.
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Twitter has been ignoring its fake account problem for years • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:

»

In March of 2017, investor Chris Sacca, an early backer of Twitter, said the bot and fake account problem was one of the biggest challenges facing the company. “Tackling the bot epidemic would hurt Twitter short term because it would depress user numbers,” he said on Twitter. “But it has to get fixed. It’s embarrassing.”

Meanwhile, Twitter has done its best to downplay the size of the problem. For years, the company maintained that only about 5% of its users were fake, the same number that Twitter executives provided when they testified before Congress last fall about Russian interference in the election. A number of researchers, however, believe the real figure could be as high as 15% (at the time of the study, about 48m accounts).

When it first told Congress about Russian troll activity on the platform, Twitter said that just over 35,000 accounts were involved, but then in later testimony it admitted that more than 50,000 accounts were involved.

But independent reports show as many as 400,000 bots posted political messages during the 2016 US presidential election on Twitter, according to research by Emilio Ferrara of the University of Southern California. He told Bloomberg the same group of 1,600 bots that tweeted extremist right-wing posts in the US elections also posted during the French and German elections. And up to 45% of Donald Trump’s follower base could be fake or spam accounts, according to some estimates.

«

link to this extract


Venezuelan pirates rule the most lawless market on earth • Bloomberg

Jonathan Franklin, who surely has cojones of neutronium:

»

On the Cedros waterfront, next to the pier, I found a group of men lounging under palm trees. I asked them about the smuggling business. “I’m Mr. Flour, and this is Mr. Rice,” said Carlos, a burly truck driver, by way of introducing himself and a friend. Within minutes he was unlocking a cargo van to show off sacks of flour ready to be shipped to Venezuela. Five dollars’ worth of flour in Trinidad, Carlos said, was worth $20 across the gulf.

I spent that first morning interviewing Venezuelan fishermen who had just made the two-hour journey across the flat waters to Trinidad. They were bringing in contraband cigarettes, cocaine, even a small zoo of wild animals including agouti—a rodent whose meat appears on local menus—and coiled anacondas. But animals are complicated. They bite, have to be fed, and might die. Thus many smugglers prefer guns, vodka, and especially gasoline. The Venezuelan government so deeply subsidizes gas that even after a 1,300% price hike last year, a gallon costs less than 40¢—about a sixth of the price at the pump in Trinidad.

Once they sell their contraband in Trinidad, these former fishermen bring a new commodity back to their country: diapers. Dozens of smugglers are dealing in boxes of Huggies and piles of Pampers. They say that back home they’ll get three times what they pay in Trinidad, and demand is so high they maintain waiting lists. “I can trade the diapers for medicine,” Karen Cubillan, a Venezuelan woman who shuttles between Trinidad and Venezuela while working the diaper arbitrage via online sales, told me by phone. “Diapers are like bars of gold. People stash food and diapers as if they were money.”

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link to this extract


The dawn of solar windows • IEEE Spectrum

Andy Extance:

»

By 2020, 8.3 billion square meters of flat glass will be installed annually in new buildings worldwide, according to the Freedonia Group. That area, covered in standard solar panels in the ideal orientation, could produce more than a terawatt at peak output, and over one year it could generate some 2,190 terawatt-hours. That’s 9% of what the world’s annual electricity consumption was in 2016. Substituting this source of energy for coal in 2017 would have saved about 1.6% of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, industry, and changes in forestry and land use.

And powerful regulatory forces are now dragging solar windows and their environmental benefits into reality. A European Union directive requires all new buildings to meet a “nearly zero-energy” standard by the end of 2020. Japan, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, has gone further by requiring all new public buildings to be zero energy by 2020.

Solar windows will never be as efficient as conventional solar panels, because windows must of course remain at least partially transparent. But they can create an enormous network of small photovoltaic sources. And developers maintain that the money that the windows save on energy will repay the cost of installing them.

Already, the cost difference is pretty small, says Thomas Brown from the University of Rome, in Italy, who used to develop solar windows. Adding power-generating components to window materials could pay for itself in less than a decade, he says.

«

link to this extract


Say ‘hello’ to voice-activated printing • HP

»

Voice activation also cropped up in unexpected places, such as car dashboards, toilets and mirrors—but there’s one place it’s still largely MIA: the home printer.

HP believes the consumer printer market is ripe for voice integration, making it the first print hardware company to roll out voice support for its web-enabled printers via a skill for and

“Integrating voice into the home printer is an undeniably useful application of the technology,” says Anneliese Olson, general manager and global head of home printing at HP. “For busy families, the virtual assistant ecosystem makes a lot of sense and connecting a printer to it is a natural extension within the smart home.”

«

Er, no it isn’t. What do you tell it to print? “That thing on my computer”? Also, will the printer keep saying “I’m low on ink”, which is all my HP one seems to do? I think most people when they talk to their printer aren’t doing it in a way that Alexa et al would appreciate.
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The iPhone X is Apple’s underrated masterpiece • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»

If you take a cynical view and believe Apple’s business is to peddle extremely high-margin goods to a captive audience of ecosystem-locked suckers, you’re going to have to explain how and why Apple was able to gain market share against Android with this phone. Because the iterative iPhone 8 update — with its big bezels and persistent absence of a headphone jack — hasn’t been any more attractive to Android users than the preceding model. No, the thing that’s attracted outsiders is the iPhone X’s radical new look, capabilities, and, in no small part, the cachet of expensive exclusivity.

But no matter where the iPhone X’s first adopters have come from, the universal thing about them is that they’re all pleased with their purchase. This is the thing that’s different about Apple relative to its competitors in consumer electronics: Apple products consistently receive ridiculously high scores of customer satisfaction, ranking in the high 90s for everything, with the Air Pods setting a new high recently. The data isn’t out yet on the iPhone X, but everything I’ve seen and heard about the experience of owning one has been glowingly positive…

…Everyone I have asked that has purchased an iPhone X has expressed happiness with that decision. No one has been stoked about the price, but after that minor qualifier, all I hear about are the fluid and intuitive gestures to navigate the UI, the gorgeous display, the improved battery life, the futuristic ease of Face ID, and a bunch of other small things that make the user experience a happy one. There’s no getting around this basic fact: the iPhone X is an excellent phone, as judged by the people who use it.

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Once you’ve bought it, the price is a sunk cost (obviously). Then it’s down to the experience. And the iPhone X is a terrific experience – night and day better than its forebears.
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The fate of the Yo app is up to you • Mashable

Kerry Flynn:

»

I Yo’ed, for a few months [in 2014]. But the app is long gone from my phone, and soon that purple app icon may disappear from every device. This week the Yo app alerted the world to its potential future by tweeting not simply “yo” but a link to a Patreon account. A Medium post published on Tuesday reads, 

»If you want to help keep Yo running, 

head over to: https://www.patreon.com/yoapp. 

Love,

Yo«

It’s true. The fate of Yo is up to the people via a crowdfunding campaign on Patreon. When I downloaded Yo four years ago, I thought it was “dumb.” It’s still rather dumb. But at a time when other tech giants are manipulating our elections or spying on our private data and new startups are lying and cheating their way to success, Yo’s simplicity and honesty is something to appreciate, and I say should be kept alive. 

When asked why people should want to save Yo, cofounder Or Arbel told Mashable, “They shouldn’t. Unless they use it and want to keep using it, then they should.”

So the question is, Do people still use Yo? And, do people want to keep using Yo?

«

No. (It got millions in VC funding. Say goodbye.)
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The publisher of Newsweek and the International Business Times has been buying traffic and engaging in ad fraud • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

»

When it comes to IBT’s fraudulent traffic practices, Social Puncher’s findings align with reporting from BuzzFeed News on IBT India, and with separate data gathered by Pixalate, an ad fraud detection company, and DoubleVerify, a digital media measurement company. (Social Puncher and BuzzFeed News previously collaborated on ad fraud investigations, but worked separately in this case.)

Based on what it described as a detailed investigation, DoubleVerify this week classified IBT’s US, UK, India, and Singapore sites as “as having fraud or sophisticated invalid traffic,” according COO Matt McLaughlin. DoubleVerify is now blocking all ad impressions on these sites on behalf of customers.

In response to questions from BuzzFeed News, Newsweek Media Group, the parent company of IBT, acknowledged it purchases audiences from ad networks that sell pop-up and pop-under traffic. It said this traffic represents a “small percentage of traffic on our sites” and denied any fraudulent activity.

“We use third-party platforms to verify and filter this traffic to ensure it is of the highest quality. This verification process prevents poor-quality traffic being redirected to our sites and we consistently score highly on various third-party ad verification platforms,” the company said. It declined to name the third-party verification partners it works with.

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Newsweek’s owner issued a very non-denial denial. This sort of thing is probably happening on a huge scale, but it’s impossible to know.
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The next 25 years of Wired start today • Wired

Wired Editors:

»

By subscribing to WIRED, you can help us continue our legacy of fresh insights, deep reporting, stunning design, and beautiful writing. The details are here, but in a nutshell: If you read four articles in a month, you will be invited to subscribe to read further. If you subscribe, you not only get unlimited access to WIRED.com and a print subscription, you’ll also receive a free Yubikey—a crucial tool for protecting yourself online. You’ll get access to a digital edition of our magazine, delivered fresh to your tablet every month. And when you visit us online, we’ll take out the ads.

But the real benefit of your subscription is that you’ll ensure that we can continue producing great stories and content.

«

Note that point about removing the ads for subscribers. Being shown advertising now marks you out as coming from the low-rent side of the net, the kind who has to put up with occasionally having their machine hijacked to mine cryptocoins or ransomwared or exploited. It’s taken 25 years and here we are. Though the US price – $20 for a year – is very tolerable. It doesn’t though seem to apply to the UK site, which often reuses US content. How will that work?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: I left off the sort-of rebuttal by the man who claimed the world record time (5.51 seconds) on Dragster. It’s here on Pastebin.

One thought on “Start Up: Google and Apple hit new highs, solar windows, will you talk to your printer?, Yo nears death, and more

  1. FYI, this week saw a big push for subscriptions by Ars Technica too, with a 2-tiered ($25/ye and $50/yr IIRC: https://arstechnica.com/staff/2018/01/introducing-ars-pro-the-new-ars-technica-subscription-program/ ) system. It seems all that ad-blocking + tumbling CPM is having an impact.

    I’d rather have a cross-site system though: couldn’t publishers band together to offer a single subscription for several sites (and not bu publisher, but by interest: I’m not into most Condé Nast stuff, I’m into tech stuff). I’d pay a single bill for a handful of sites. But the thought of having to manage 10 separate subscriptions isn’t appealing.

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