Start Up: deepfake cryptomining, jumping skyscrapers, India fines Google, and more


A hedge fund is shorting Kodak for all it’s worth, saying its cryptocoins won’t save it. Photo by Miwok on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Kinda bitcoin-y. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A deepfakes spinoff website is quietly mining cryptocurrency under the guise of fake porn • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:

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“Deepfakes” are videos created using a machine learning algorithm that swaps one person’s face onto another person’s body. Most frequently, this is used to put a celebrity’s face on a video of a porn performer.

Some deepfakes fans are attempting to avoid watchful admin eyes by setting up their own websites, independent of other platforms. But at least one of these websites, called Deepfakes.cc, contains malware that hijacks visitors’ computing power to mine cryptocurrency without alerting the user. Deepfakes enthusiasts may make particularly good miners: The profitability of cryptocurrency mining depends on a computer’s power, and people running machine learning programs may have more powerful CPUs than the average consumer.

A member of the r/fakeapp subreddit (which was not banned because it does not allow porn) first pointed out the surreptitious mining on deepfakes.cc, in an attempt to alert other members of the issue. Motherboard ran the site through an online antivirus program; it showed that deepfakes.cc is running code from Coinhive’s in-browser miner.

This appears to be a Coinhive browser miner. Motherboard viewed the site’s source code and confirmed that mining is taking place…

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Kodak pt 4: Kerrisdale Capital’s blistering crypto pre-mortem for Kodak • David Gerard

David Gerard on hedge fund Kerrisdale Capital’s excoriating preview of Kodak’s cryptocoin effort; the hedge fund is shorting Kodak hard:

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Like all good cryptocurrency entrepreneurs, the KodakCoin team turn out to have an extensive track record in scams and fraud — in this case, securities fraud. Cameron Chell, leader of the team, has been banned from a Canadian exchange for securities fraud, and has formed several businesses with people also convicted of securities fraud.

KashMiner is dismissed forthwith — one heading states straight-up that “Kodak KashMiner is a scam” and another that it’s a “racket.” The scam is detailed much as I set out previously — you are startlingly unlikely to come out ahead on this thing, and there’s no way they couldn’t have known this when they promoted it.

These deals are desperation on the part of Eastman Kodak — their financial position hasn’t improved any since their last bankruptcy, they’re middling at best in the few profitable businesses they’re still in, they have cash on the balance sheet but half of it is stuck outside the US, and they can’t possibly avoid tripping debt covenants before the middle of next year, if not sooner. The numbers are set out in detail.

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How many times can Kodak die, exactly?
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People notice there’s something wrong with the rock’s new movie poster, and things escalate quickly • Bored Panda

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People are calling Dwayne Johnson ‘The Rock-et’ after he shared a poster of his upcoming movie. The action thriller is set in the not-so-distant future, where his character, Will Ford, is called in to inspect the security at the tallest building in the world, called The Pearl. And yes, films like these don’t always rely on the laws of physics, but the internet believes this one is stretching it a wee bit too much.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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This is simply wonderful.
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India’s antitrust watchdog fines Google for abusing dominant position • Reuters

Aditya Kalra and Aditi Shah:

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The Competition Commission of India (CCI) said Google, the core unit of US firm Alphabet, was abusing its dominance in online web search and online search advertising markets.

“Google was found to be indulging in practices of search bias and by doing so, it causes harm to its competitors as well as to users,” the CCI said in a 190-page order.

“Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search, to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services,” the CCI said.

However, the CCI said it did not find any contravention in respect of Google’s specialized search design, AdWords and online distribution agreements.

A Google spokesman said the company was reviewing the “narrow concerns” identified by the Commission and will assess its next steps.

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A fine of $21.7m. Google might be able to handle it. But is anyone keeping count of how many countries Google has been found guilty of antitrust in? Russia, Europe, South Korea, now India..
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Don’t get too excited about Twitter’s turnaround • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

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if Twitter’s audience doesn’t grow, that puts more pressure on Twitter’s advertising department to squeeze more revenue from existing users. That’s not an easy task for Twitter, which competes for some of the same business that’s going to Facebook, Google and Snapchat. Ideally, Twitter wants to increase the number of users, how much time they’re spending on Twitter and the ad sales per user. Admittedly, that’s a lot of balls in the air at once, and Twitter hasn’t been a skillful juggler. 

Investors’ feelings about Twitter have also turned from bitterness to overly optimistic. Shares have climbed 65% in the last six months, and the stock price hit a two-year high last week. Wall Street has been anticipating Twitter’s financial recovery, and a return of Twitter takeover rumors likely have lifted shares as well. Pre-market trading Thursday indicates shares may open 23% higher. 

The anticipation of a Twitter rebound means shares have become overheated. The company’s enterprise value now stands about nearly 7 times expected revenue in the next year, according to Bloomberg data. That’s the richest valuation for Twitter in at least two years.

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Twitter says the flat user number was because it was getting rid of bots and other unwanted accounts. The feeling is that advertisers like that: it means they can trust who they’re dealing with. Simply measuring “active users” has been the wrong metric. Time spent could be better.
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Leaked AI-powered game revenue model paper foretells a dystopian nightmare • Tech Powerup

“Btarunr”:

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An artificial intelligence (AI) will deliberately tamper with your online gameplay as you scramble for more in-game items to win. The same AI will manipulate your state of mind at every step of your game to guide you towards more micro-transactions. Nothing in-game is truly fixed-rate. The game maps out your home, and cross-references it with your online footprint, to have a socio-economic picture of you, so the best possible revenue model, and anti buyer’s remorse strategy can be implemented on you. These, and more, are part of the dystopian nightmare that takes flight if a new AI-powered online game revenue model is implemented in MMO games of the near future.

The paper’s slide-deck and signed papers (with corrections) were leaked to the web by an unknown source, with bits of information (names, brands) redacted. It has too much information to be dismissed off hand for being a prank. It proposes leveraging AI to gather and build a socio-economic profile of a player to implement the best revenue-generation strategy. It also proposes using an AI to consistently “alter” the player’s gameplay, such that the player’s actions don’t have the desired result leading toward beating the game, but towards an “unfair” consequence that motivates more in-game spending. The presentation spans a little over 50 slides, and is rich in text that requires little further explanation.

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Samsung and Roku smart TVs vulnerable to hacking, consumer reports finds • Consumer Reports

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The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV smart-TV platform, as well as streaming devices such as the Roku Ultra.

We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume, which might be deeply unsettling to someone who didn’t understand what was happening. This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles away. (These vulnerabilities would not allow a hacker to spy on the user or steal information.)

The findings were part of a broad privacy and security evaluation, led by Consumer Reports, of smart TVs from top brands that also included LG, Sony, and Vizio.

The testing also found that all these TVs raised privacy concerns by collecting very detailed information on their users. Consumers can limit the data collection. But they have to give up a lot of the TVs’ functionality—and know the right buttons to click and settings to look for.

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Tested for the first time against the ”Digital Standard” (a new cybersecurity and privacy standard developed with third-party companies).

Just me, or does it feel like it would be easier to list the smart TVs which aren’t privacy-invading hacker-vulnerable nightmares?
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Transcript: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks with CNBC’s Josh Lipton and Jim Cramer • CNBC

Chloe Aiello had the slog of transcribing what is mostly a big nothing-burger, where Cook retreads the themes you’d have heard from the earnings call (for a moment at the start I thought it was the earnings call):

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LIPTON: I want to stick with China for one moment, because it was interesting these Chinese smartphone manufacturers recently said they’re going to offer 5G, maybe as soon as 2019. And they are doing that by partnering with Qualcomm. If you didn’t have Qualcomm as a partner, Tim, would it be harder to compete in that market going forward?

COOK: Harder to compete in China?

LIPTON: Yeah, the fact that Chinese manufacturers are saying, “Listen, we are going to be able to offer this super fast 5G by 2019 by partnering with Qualcomm.”

COOK: Obviously 5G is something that is on everybody’s roadmap. I don’t want to talk about timing, obviously, it’s different in different countries. I believe China’s plan is a very limited offering in 2019. And I think it is a full, commercial offering in 2020. But regardless of what it is, we moved the iPhone from 2.5G to 3G, and from 3G to LTE, and it will eventually move to 5G, as well.

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I get the feeling that means Apple is going to have 5G later than others. Hard to know at this point whether that’s really a competitive gap: 4G is plenty fast for so many things (better than Wi-Fi in many situations).
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Google and Facebook make up less than 5% of publishers’ digital revenue • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

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In the first half of 2017, publishers took in $10m from third-party platforms, representing 16% of their total digital revenue. That’s nearly flat with the first half of 2016, when third-party revenue was 14%. That’s pocket change for Google and Facebook, which together took in more than $52bn in digital ad revenue just in the US in 2017.

“The biggest surprise is how little has changed,” DCN CEO Jason Kint said. “You’re still looking at a situation where the best in class in news and entertainment isn’t being supported in a way it should be.”

The report was based on numbers reported by 20 members of DCN, which represents 75 digital content publishers including The New York Times, ESPN and PBS. (About two-thirds of that 20 are the same as the comparative group of the earlier report, so the comparison isn’t perfect.)

The report also shows that video revenue continues to drive monetization for publishers. Video represented about 85% of all third-party revenue. That might seem like a vindication for publishers that have organized their businesses around video, but the reality is that most of the video dollars went to companies that were established video producers. TV/cable companies reaping a disproportionate share of third-party platform monetization and growth through OTT and syndication partners including YouTube.

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Pivot to vide—oh.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

3 thoughts on “Start Up: deepfake cryptomining, jumping skyscrapers, India fines Google, and more

  1. I’d be interested in stuff on UI and UX. My interactions with normals point at that being by far THE limiting factor in IT use outside of the techies bubble. Most people use their smartphones at around 10% of their capabilities, partly because they don’t need more, but also a lot because they’re unaware of what they can do and reticent to get lost in the UI.
    For example, seniors have difficulty typing so voice dictation is nice. Except it doesn’t handle hesitations and erm-ing at all, nor the very noticeable change of intonation in “SEND A TEXT TO OLIVIER no wait I meant PHILIPPE, SEND THAT TEXT TO PHILIPPE”.
    Also, a stray touch on the home button during a call sends to phone UI to Notifications. And you need a special launcher to lock down a home screen. Etc etc. There’s heads that need banging, I’m assuming someone somewhere is aware of that ? Or is the motto “let’s make $30 smartphones, that’ll take care of the rest of the market” ?

    On a related note, I’m fascinated by and worried about Fuchsia. Is it just me, or is it starting to feel like Google, under no pressure, is using the leeway to dork up an unusable geek conceptual orgy ? Maybe Android being a rush job actually helped it not get Wave’d ?

    • The point about Fuchsia is a good one. Google has only slowly had to realise the encompassing requirements of a desktop system (though it has its own internal one) that will be used by millions of people who aren’t super-smart. Microsoft learnt with Windows as it went. Maybe Fuchsia is at the Windows 2.0 stage.

  2. Also, the AI-powered game revenue thing feels fake, not because it is illogical, but because it is way too blunt.
    I think even NDA’d trade/client pitches would dress things up (French for that is “langue de bois” = wooden tongue, à la politician-speak).
    I’m not saying it’s not happening and not on the radar, just that this specific piece feels like parody/caricature.

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