Start Up: Twitch v TV, Google Chrome v (some) ads, iPhone Xx3?, HomePod crop circles, and more


North Korea’s hacker army probably isn’t as easy to spot as this. But might be just as numerous. Photo by (stephan) 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 12 links for you. Not facilitated by lawyers. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitch just passed MSNBC and CNN for January viewers • Dotesports

Ana Valens:

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It’s no secret that Twitch is one of the internet’s most popular streaming services. But now, its numbers are challenging traditional cable television. New statistics reveal that Twitch’s January viewership was higher than both CNN and MSNBC’s figures.

Last month, Twitch clocked in 962,000 average concurrent viewers throughout the month, which amounts to a 22% increase from January 2017 and a 26% increase since December, StreetInsider.com reports. The site also revealed that Twitch’s January viewership beat out both MSNBC and CNN, who reportedly featured 885,000 and 783,000 watchers for their total day viewership during Jan. 2018, respectively.

While Twitch performed well for January, it didn’t necessarily beat out the U.S.’s biggest cable networks. Fox News Channel and ESPN both reported 1.5 million viewers for total day viewership, beating out Twitch by over 500,000 viewers. But with Twitch close to reaching over 1 million viewers on average, its January 2018 figure isn’t something to scoff at by any means. Cable television has a hefty competitor.

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Something is wayyyy off about those numbers for CNN and MSNBC – and Fox. Pretty sure they net loads more viewers than that. Is this just measuring concurrent viewers?
link to this extract


Google will block spammy ads (just not many of its own) • WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:

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The Coalition [For Better Ads]worked with [coalition member] Google to improve the research, including deciding on a number of additional ad formats to test, said one person involved in the process. Google tested 55 desktop ad formats and 49 mobile formats and presented the findings to the group.

The coalition ultimately deemed 12 ad formats unacceptable.

Google’s leading role in the standard-setting process troubled some of the coalition’s members, who observed that the blacklisted ad formats generally don’t apply to Google’s own business, according to people who were part of the process. Google generates most of its revenue from text search ads and rectangular display ads, rather than the visually rich media ads that will be banned by the coalition.

“They are creating a standard that doesn’t apply to them,” said Ryan McConville, president of mobile-ad startup Kargo, one of 17 members on the coalition’s board.

Some of the members lobbied the coalition to make exceptions, including Facebook, which argued that the social network should be excluded from a rule banning videos that automatically play with sound. Bounce Exchange Inc., a pop-up ad maker, argued the pop-up ad rule should be changed to exclude ads that appear when a user is idle for more than 30 seconds. Both efforts were successful.

Google didn’t test one of its own most prominent ad formats, the ads that run on YouTube videos for several seconds before users can skip them.

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Surprrriiiise! The blocking will begin today (Feb 15) on the updated version of Google Chrome, the world’s most widely-used browser on desktop and mobile.
link to this extract


Barclays says second-generation iPhone X could have smaller notch • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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Apple will launch a trio of new iPhone models later this year with a second-generation TrueDepth camera system, which will potentially be reduced in size, according to a research note issued today by analysts Andrew Gardiner, Hiral Patel, Joseph Wolf, and Blayne Curtis at investment bank Barclays.

While the analysts believe the new TrueDepth system will only “evolve slightly,” they predict it could allow for a “smaller notch” on the 2018 range of iPhones with Face ID, which is rumored to include a second-generation iPhone X, a larger iPhone X Plus, and an all-new mid-range 6.1-inch LCD model.

MacRumors obtained a copy of the research note, which also corroborates rumors about Apple extending Face ID to the iPad Pro this year…

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Second generation and smaller and faster makes sense – that was the path with TouchID after all.
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Silicon Valley’s tax-avoiding, job-killing, soul-sucking machine • The Atlantic

Scott Galloway:

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If you want to manufacture and sell a Popsicle to children, you must undergo numerous expensive FDA tests and provide thorough labeling that outlines the ingredients, calories, and sugar content of the treat. But what warning labels are included in Instagram’s user agreement? We’ve now seen abundant research indicating that social- media platforms are making teens more depressed. Ask yourself: If ice cream were making teens more prone to suicide, would we shrug and seat the CEO of Dreyer’s next to the president at dinners in Silicon Valley?

Anyone who doesn’t believe these products are the delivery systems for tobacco- like addiction has never separated a seven- year-old from an iPad in exchange for a look that communicates a plot to kill you. If you don’t believe in the addictive aspects of these platforms, ask yourself why American teenagers are spending an average of five hours a day glued to their Internet- connected screens. The variable rewards of social media keep us checking our notifications as though they were slot machines, and research has shown that children and teens are particularly sensitive to the dopamine cravings these platforms foster. It’s no accident that many tech companies’ execs are on the record saying they don’t give their kids access to these devices.

All of these are valid concerns. But none of them alone, or together, is enough to justify breaking up big tech. The following are reasons I believe the Four should be broken up.

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It’s quite the wild ride – and was quoted on Wednesday on the US Senate.
link to this extract


Youtube CEO to Facebook: ‘get back to baby pictures’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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YouTube’s chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, joined a lineup of tech and media executives lambasting Facebook at a conference in California.

Wojcicki, whose own company is facing intense criticism over its handling of shock-jock vlogger Logan Paul, suggested Facebook should head further down the path it started on when it announced plans in January to de-prioritise news content.

“They should get back to baby pictures and sharing,” Wojcicki told Code Media in Los Angeles.

But the CEO said Facebook’s increasing attempts to establish itself as a video platform do not keep her awake at night: “[Y]ou always have to take your competitors seriously, but you don’t win by looking backwards and looking around.”

She wasn’t the only one using the stage to attack Facebook, which has become one of the industry’s favourite punching bags in recent months. BuzzFeed co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti joined in, arguing that Facebook should extend its revenue sharing practices to the news feed itself. “Most of Facebook’s revenue is in News Feed, and that’s where they’ve not shared revenue,” Peretti told the conference.

The social network does split advertising revenue from instant articles, or videos posted to the site, but Peretti argued that that isn’t enough. “These are places with a lot less distribution so there’s a lot less revenue.”

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Not a great look for Wojicki, to be honest. YouTube’s problems look just as bad as Facebook’s, if not worse.
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Black people in tech are still paid less than white people, according to Hired • Techcrunch

Megan Rose Dickey:

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Pay discrimination and discrepancies based on gender and race are nothing new. Unfortunately, it seems that little has changed over the years.

In the tech industry, white people on average make $136,000 a year, which is about $6,000 more than black people with the same level of expertise. It also turns out white tech workers ask for more money, according to Hired’s data. Hired’s data is based on its marketplace of over 69,000 people and 10,000 companies.

“The racial gap may be partially a result of black and hispanic tech workers undervaluing their skills, which is symptom of being underpaid in previous roles,” Hired CEO Mehul Patel said in a blog post. “Black and hispanic candidates on the Hired platform set their preferred salaries lowest ($124K). Ultimately though, Hispanic candidates are offered $1K more than their black counterparts. For comparison, white tech workers ask for an average of $130K and Asian tech workers ask for an average of $127K.”

It also turns out people who identify as multiracial receive less than people who identify as one race.

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link to this extract


Inside North Korea’s hacker army • Bloomberg

Sam Kim talks to three people who defected from North Korea’s program – which as they describe it seems to be about earning foreign currency by any means possible:

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Lim Jong In, head of the department of cyberdefense at Korea University in Seoul and a former special adviser to South Korea’s president, says that North Korea’s hacking strategy has evolved since Jong defected. At the program’s height, he says, well over a hundred businesses believed to be fronts for North Korean hacking were working in the Chinese border cities of Shenyang and Dandong alone. China has since cracked down on these operations in an effort to comply with United Nations sanctions, but they’ve simply been moved elsewhere, to countries such as Russia and Malaysia. Their value to the regime—and to the hackers themselves—is simply too high to forgo. “North Korea kills two birds with one stone by hacking: It shores up its security posture and generates hard currency,” Lim says. “For hackers it offers a fast track to a better life at home.”

[Ex-North Korean state hacker] Jong is doing well for himself in Seoul. He blushes when congratulated for a promotion he recently received at a local software security company, saying he had to work especially hard for it. “I feel like my value as a programmer is discounted by half when I tell people I’m from North Korea,” he says. Others in the 30,000-odd defector community express similar frustrations about their outsider status; some display contempt for their adopted country’s concerns about appearances and money, and recall with pride their homeland’s penchant for bluntness.

Still, there’s no going back.

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link to this extract


The hotlines between North and South Korea • Electrospaces

The unnamed author on the modern version of the formal communications link between north and south, which was first opened in 1971:

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On the South Korean side, the hotline equipment is located in the communication office on the second floor of the Freedom House, which was built in 1998. On the North side, the line ends at a desk in the Panmungak building, which is less than 100 meters (328 feet) away.

The current equipment, which is seen in the most recent photos, was installed in 2009 and consists of a large, wood-panelled console on a desk. On top is a sign that says “South-North Direct Telephone”. The system features disk drives, USB ports and a computer screen, which shows the Windows XP user interface. It’s not clear what the function of the screen is, as there’s no keyboard visible.


Equipment of the Red Cross or border hotline on the South Korean side
(photo: YTN News)

The most important parts are however two telephone handsets, one red and one green. The red one is for incoming calls from North Korea, while the South uses the green handset to make outgoing calls to the North. However, both phone sets are capable of sending and receiving, but there have been installed two of them just in case one fails.

Since 2015, the console has two digital clocks on top, as in that year North Korea shifted to UTC 08:30 or Pyongyang Time (PYT), while South Korea stayed in the UTC 09:00 or Korea Standard Time (KST) zone. The green clock shows 3:34 for South Korea and the orange/red one 3:04 for North-Korea.

Next to the hotline console there’s a fax machine through which North Korea sometimes sends messages about topics that range from logistics to threats.

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Ah yes, we used to have a fax machine like that connected to head office.
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The house that spied on me • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill and Surya Matta:

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Matta: Yes, I am basically Kashmir’s sentient home. Kashmir wanted to know what it would be like to live in a smart home and I wanted to find out what the digital emissions from that home would reveal about her. Cybersecurity wasn’t my focus. (I wasn’t interested in hacking her sex toy or any of her other belongings.) Privacy was. What could I tell about the patterns of her and her family’s life by passively gathering the data trails from her belongings? How often were the devices talking? Could I tell what the people inside were doing on an hourly basis based on what I saw?

Using a Raspberry Pi computer, I built a router with a Wi-Fi network called “iotea” (I’m not very good at naming things) to which Kashmir connected all of her devices, so that I could capture the smart home’s network activity. In other words, I could see every time the devices were talking to servers outside the home.

I had the same view of Kashmir’s house that her Internet Service Provider (ISP) has. After Congress voted last year to allow ISPs to spy on and sell their customers’ internet usage data, we were all warned that the ISPs could now sell our browsing activity, or records of what we do on our computers and smartphones. But in fact, they have access to more than that. If you have any smart devices in your home—a TV that connects to the internet, an Echo, a Withings scale—your ISP can see and sell information about that activity too. With my “iotea” router I was seeing the information about Kashmir and her family that Comcast, her ISP, could monitor and sell.

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All very scary, really. And inconvenient: she needed 14 different apps (and accounts) to control it all, and the lights wouldn’t listen to the Alexa, and “smart coffee was also a world of hell”. (The dream of making-coffee-at-a-distance just won’t go away.)
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Does Injong Rhee’s departure spell doom for Bixby? • Medium

Philip Berne:

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The scale and effort to create Bixby cannot be undersold. It was a massive undertaking of talent and brute force that few companies could muster. According to the company’s own Newsroom, Samsung spent over $13.6bn (14.8trn KRW) on R&D in 2016. In the same year, Apple spent about $10.4bn. Samsung has the resources to tackle massive projects like Bixby, but does it have the will?

Injong [who is going to Google to work on its Internet of Things projects] provided the will. This was a point we hammered to media repeatedly, especially when Milk Music, or the TouchWiz interface, or any other Samsung software failures came up. What’s different here is Injong. Injong has a track record of success. He has proven that he would not quit until the project is successful.

Well, Injong just quit. Of course Samsung won’t be giving up on Bixby right away. In one of the most boneheaded design decisions ever, the company put a dedicated button on their flagship phones. In another boneheaded move, they KEPT putting the Bixby button on phones, and it seems the upcoming Galaxy S9 flagship will feature that button. Feature. Thankfully, they positioned the button opposite the power button, so users will be able to squeeze it accidentally and will get to experience Bixby for themselves.

I actually liked using Bixby, and I loved Bixby’s ambition. Like Samsung Pay’s magnetic stripe compatibility, Bixby was truly filling a gap in the smartphone market, helping users navigate archaic interface designs. Also like Samsung Pay, it was a gap that persisted from the past, and would likely be filled by future innovations…

The question is whether Samsung can hold onto this ambition, as the chief architect and cheerleader for not giving up has himself moved on to something better.

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link to this extract


Apple’s HomePod speakers leave white marks on wood • BBC

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Apple’s new smart speakers can discolour wooden surfaces, leaving a white mark where they are placed, the firm has acknowledged.

The US company has suggested that owners may have to re-oil furniture if the HomePod is moved.

The device went on sale last week after having been delayed from its original 2017 release date.

Apple told Pocket-lint that it was “not unusual” for speakers with silicone bases to leave a “mild mark”.

But the gadget review site told the BBC it had never seen anything like this problem.

The website’s founder, Stuart Miles, told the BBC that a speaker left a mark on his kitchen worktop within 20 minutes.

“To clear it, I had to sand the wood down and then re-oil it,” Mr Miles said.

“It wasn’t the end of the world for us. But if you’ve bought an expensive Scandinavian sideboard or some beautiful piece of wooden furniture and then got a mark on it from the speaker, you can imagine the horror,” he added.

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“Siri, show me something that should have been spotted during testing in Jony Ive’s lab with its big wooden tables.”
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Audiophile HomePod reviewer turns out to not know much about measuring audio • Kirkville

Kirk:

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The much touted review of the HomePod posted by an “audiophile” on Reddit last week – and gleefully tweeted by Apple’s Phil Schiller – turns out to be a long mess of uninformed and poorly made measurements.

This reply on Reddit highlights many of the problems, notably the fact that the HomePod wasn’t measure in an anechoic room, but mainly the fact that the “reviewer” fudged the display of his graphs, making them look better than they were.

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Oh lordy, this process is never going to end, is it.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

2 thoughts on “Start Up: Twitch v TV, Google Chrome v (some) ads, iPhone Xx3?, HomePod crop circles, and more

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