Start Up: The bot army, Samsung’s OLED questions, how hackers will use AI, Spotify hardware?, and more


Twitter has banned automated control of multiple accounts. (Finally?) Photo by untitled exhibitions 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. Will not mark wood. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

After Florida school shooting, Russian ‘bot’ army pounced • NY Times

Sheera Frenkel and Daisuke Wakabayashi:

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When the Russian bots jumped on the hashtag #Parklandshooting — initially created to spread news of the shooting — they quickly stoked tensions. Exploiting the issue of mental illness in the gun control debate, they propagated the notion that Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman, was a mentally ill “lone killer.” They also claimed that he had searched for Arabic phrases on Google before the shooting. Simultaneously, the bots started other hashtags, like #ar15, for the semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting, and #NRA.

The bots’ behavior follows a pattern, said Mr. Morgan, one of the researchers who worked with the German Marshall Fund to create Hamilton 68, the website that monitors Russian bot and fake Twitter activity. The bots target a contentious issue like race relations or guns. They stir the pot, often animating both sides and creating public doubt in institutions like the police or media. Any issue associated with extremist views is a ripe target.

The goal is to push fringe ideas into the “slightly more mainstream,” Mr. Morgan said. If well-known people retweet the bot messages or simply link to a website the bots are promoting, the messages gain an edge of legitimacy.

An indictment made public on Friday by Mr. Mueller as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the election mentioned a Russian Twitter feed, @TEN_GOP, which posed as a Tennessee Republican account and attracted more than 100,000 followers. Messages from this now-deleted account were retweeted by the president’s sons and close advisers including Kellyanne Conway and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser…

By Friday morning, the bots that pushed the original tweets around the Parkland shooting had moved on to the hashtag #falseflag — a term used by conspiracy theorists to refer to a secret government operation that is carried out to look like something else — with a conspiracy theory that the shooting had never happened.

By Monday, the bots had new targets: the Daytona 500 auto race in Daytona Beach, Fla., and news about William Holleeder, a man facing trial in the Netherlands for his suspected role in six gangland killings. It is unclear why.

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Automation and the use of multiple accounts • Twitter Developer blog

Yoel Roth:

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Keeping Twitter safe and free from spam is a top priority for us. One of the most common spam violations we see is the use of multiple accounts and the Twitter developer platform to attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets. To be clear: Twitter prohibits any attempt to use automation for the purposes of posting or disseminating spam, and such behavior may result in enforcement action.

In January, we announced that as part of our Information Quality efforts we would be making changes to TweetDeck and the Twitter API to limit the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts. These changes are an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter — including elections in the United States and around the world.

Today, we’re sharing details about those changes, as well as important guidance for developers on how to comply with these rules…

Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts. For example, your service should not permit a user to select several accounts they control from which to publish a given Tweet.

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Something of a stable door/horse move, but if it prevents amplification by automated accounts as above then it’s welcome. (And as some pointed out, this tells you how the Russians at the Internet Research Agency were doing it.)
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Why we may soon be living in Alexa’s world • NY Times

Farhad Manjoo:

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there are also advantages to Alexa’s model for ubiquity. Imagine if you could gain access to your smartphone on just about any screen you encountered. Move from your phone to your TV to your laptop to your car, and wherever you went, you’d find all your apps, contacts and data just there, accessible through the same interface.

That model isn’t really possible for phones. But because Alexa runs in the cloud, it allows for a wondrously device-agnostic experience. Alexa on my Echo is the same as Alexa on my TV is the same as Alexa on my Sonos speaker.

And it’s the same even on devices not in your home. Ford — the first of several carmakers to offer Alexa integration in its vehicles — lent me an F-150 pickup outfitted with Alexa. The experience was joyously boring: I called up Alexa while barreling down the highway, and although she was slower to respond than at home, she worked just the same. She knew my musical tastes, my shopping list, the apps and smart-home services I had installed, and just about everything else.

It was the best showcase of the possibilities of always-on voice computing. In the future, wherever you go, you can expect to talk to a computer that knows you, one that can get stuff done for you without any hassle.

There’s a lot of money in the voice game. For Amazon, Alexa’s rise could lead to billions of dollars in additional sales to its store, Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, predicted recently. Amazon is thus not the only company chasing the dream of everywhere voice computing.

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You can pretty much have that “all documents/contacts/etc” interface with Google or Apple; the trouble with voice remains that it’s so difficult to know what you can and can’t ask it. Is it “turn up the volume” or will “turn it up” suffice? And so on.
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Artificial intelligence poses risks of misuse by hackers, researchers say • Reuters

Eric Auchard:

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The study, published on Wednesday by 25 technical and public policy researchers from Cambridge, Oxford and Yale universities along with privacy and military experts, sounded the alarm for the potential misuse of AI by rogue states, criminals and lone-wolf attackers.

The researchers said the malicious use of AI poses imminent threats to digital, physical and political security by allowing for large-scale, finely targeted, highly efficient attacks. The study focuses on plausible developments within five years.

“We all agree there are a lot of positive applications of AI,” Miles Brundage, a research fellow at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute. “There was a gap in the literature around the issue of malicious use.”

Artificial intelligence, or AI, involves using computers to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as taking decisions or recognizing text, speech or visual images.

It is considered a powerful force for unlocking all manner of technical possibilities but has become a focus of strident debate over whether the massive automation it enables could result in widespread unemployment and other social dislocations.

The 98-page paper cautions that the cost of attacks may be lowered by the use of AI to complete tasks that would otherwise require human labor and expertise. New attacks may arise that would be impractical for humans alone to develop or which exploit the vulnerabilities of AI systems themselves.

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I deal with this in a chapter in my forthcoming book Cyber Wars. It’s concerning.
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Spotify is ‘on its way’ to creating its first hardware according to job ad • Musically

Stuart Dredge:

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The role? “You will define and manage Distribution, Supply, Logistics, fulfillment and Customer Service for Hardware Products and work with partners to deliver the optimal Spotify experience to millions of users.”

Based in Stockholm, this isn’t a job about managing integrations with third-party devices: among the job’s duties is to “manage the supply chain, demand and forecast & inventory”.

Separate ads for a Senior Project Manager: Hardware Production and Project Manager: Hardware Production & Engineering are also indications that Spotify’s hardware plans are ramping up.

Many people will leap to ‘smart speaker’ as the assumption about what the first Spotify-branded hardware product will be. Which begs the question: if so, where will its voice assistant – its equivalent of Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – come from?

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We last heard about this in April 2017 and still there’s no word of what this might be. Wearable? Smart speaker? Dumb speaker? Wait for production to start in the Far East, then I give it a couple of weeks to a leak.
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Apple’s iPhone X is the instant scapegoat for Samsung’s failure to win OLED orders from Chinese vendors • Patently Apple

Jack Purcher in an effective repudiation of yesterday’s piece on this topic:

»

In late January Patently Apple posted a report titled “Apple to end Samsung’s exclusive OLED contract and Shift to a new L-Shaped Battery with Increased Capacity.” In that report we also noted that China’s BOE and Sharp were vying for Apple’s OLED business.

Yet despite Samsung overestimating OLED display demand, the Nikkei Asian Review’s report adds: “To make matters worse, Chinese OLED panel makers are expanding production capacity, heating up the price competition even more.”

But somehow the blame continually shifts back to Apple being the real problem due to cutting back on orders for OLED display for calendar Q1. Even though iPhone demand annually drops after the holiday quarter, somehow it’s always viewed by the Nikkei that this is a shock and sign of trouble for Apple.

On February 8th we reported that in Q4 Apple surpassed Samsung to become the #1 smartphone brand in the world. I guess Samsung Display didn’t sell as many OLED displays to their own Samsung Electronics division. That very point was echoed by British Research company IHS which stated that “the number of OLED smartphone panels Samsung internally sources for its own smartphones fell year on year in 2017.”

Yet in the end, the Nikkei focuses back on Samsung’s OLED plant failures as being caused by Apple and forgets the reality that Samsung failed to win OLED orders from Chinese vendors like Oppo, Vivo or Xiaomi.

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iPad 2018 rumors: Eurasian Economic Commission approves two new models for sale • Macworld

Michael Simon:

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As first spotted by French site Consomac, the Eurasian Economic Commission has given approval to Apple to sell two new iPad models we’ve never seen before: A1893 and A1954. The EEC approves the sale of any products with encryption sold in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.

We can’t glean too much from the model numbers themselves—the “A” model numbers cannot be directly translated into any particular feature or specification. But iPads of the same size and generation typically only differ in the last two numbers, meaning that A1893 and A1954 are probably different sizes, not just the Wi-Fi and Cellular versions of the same iPad.

Plausible? Apple often holds an event in March to announce new hardware, but it doesn’t do so every year. iPads often feature as part of that announcement. The timing of this certification suggests that Apple will hold a March event again this year and announce two iPads, though that does not preclude the company from also releasing an iPad or two later in the year. The regular lower-cost 9.7in iPad may get an annual refresh, and the iPad Mini is long overdue for an update. Apple is also said to be preparing a new high-end iPad with slim bezels and a TrueDepth camera module, though our guess would be that such a product would be announced later in the year.

While we already heard a rumor that the next round of iPads would support Face ID for unlocking, a report on iOS 12 in Bloomberg contains some some confirmation that Apple’s tablet will be adopting the iPhone X’s unique camera. Mark Gurman reports that Apple is working on a new iPad “that will have the required Face ID camera” to handle Animoji.

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Doubt that the iPad mini will be updated. That part of the market has died.
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Apple in talks to buy cobalt directly from miners • Bloomberg

Jack Farchy:

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The move means Apple will find itself in competition with carmakers and battery producers to lock up cobalt supplies. Companies from BMW AG and Volkswagen AG to Samsung SDI Co. are racing to sign multiyear cobalt contracts to ensure they have sufficient supplies of the metal to meet ambitious targets for electric vehicle production. 

Australian Mines Ltd., developing the Sconi mine in Queensland state, this week agreed a cobalt and nickel supply deal with SK Innovation Co., South Korea’s top oil refiner, that’s worth about A$5bn ($3.9bn) at current prices, the Perth-based company said Wednesday in a presentation.

SK Innovation, which plans to use the raw materials at an EV battery manufacturing plant in Hungary, agreed to buy all of the project’s planned output for up to 13 years, according to the filing.

BMW is also close to securing a 10-year supply deal, the carmaker’s head of procurement told German daily FAZ in early February.

Cobalt is an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for smartphones. While those devices use about eight grams of refined cobalt, the battery for an electric car requires over 1,000 times more. Apple has around 1.3 billion existing devices, while Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has been bullish about the prospects for electric vehicles.

The price of cobalt has more than tripled in the past 18 months to trade above $80,000 a metric ton. Two-thirds of supplies come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has never been a peaceful transition of power and child labor is still used in parts of the mining industry.

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Ethical challenges ahoy for Apple, then, if it does go direct to the DRC. Or could it make a difference to a poor, exploited country?
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Money laundering via author impersonation on Amazon? • Krebs On Security

Brian Krebs:

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Patrick Reames had no idea why Amazon.com sent him a 1099 form saying he’d made almost $24,000 selling books via Createspace, the company’s on-demand publishing arm. That is, until he searched the site for his name and discovered someone has been using it to peddle a $555 book that’s full of nothing but gibberish.

Reames is a credited author on Amazon by way of several commodity industry books, although none of them made anywhere near the amount Amazon is reporting to the Internal Revenue Service. Nor does he have a personal account with Createspace.

But that didn’t stop someone from publishing a “novel” under his name. That word is in quotations because the publication appears to be little more than computer-generated text, almost like the gibberish one might find in a spam email.

“Based on what I could see from the ‘sneak peek’ function, the book was nothing more than a computer generated ‘story’ with no structure, chapters or paragraphs — only lines of text with a carriage return after each sentence,” Reames said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity.

The impersonator priced the book at $555 and it was posted to multiple Amazon sites in different countries. The book — which as been removed from most Amazon country pages as of a few days ago — is titled “Lower Days Ahead,” and was published on Oct 7, 2017.

Reames said he suspects someone has been buying the book using stolen credit and/or debit cards, and pocketing the 60% that Amazon gives to authors. At $555 a pop, it would only take approximately 70 sales over three months to rack up the earnings that Amazon said he made.

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This is the sort of thing that would be really, really hard to eradicate.
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The random walk of cars and their collision probabilities with planets • ArXiv

Hanno Rein, Daniel Tamayo, and David Vokrouhlicky:

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On February 6th, 2018 SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster on a Mars crossing orbit. We perform N-body simulations to determine the fate of the object over the next several million years, under the relevant perturbations acting on the orbit. The orbital evolution is initially dominated by close encounters with the Earth. The first close encounter with the Earth will occur in 2091. The repeated encounters lead to a random walk that eventually causes close encounters with other terrestrial planets and the Sun.

Long-term integrations become highly sensitive to the initial conditions after several such close encounters. By running a large ensemble of simulations with slightly perturbed initial conditions, we estimate the probability of a collision with Earth and Venus over the next one million years to be 6% and 2.5%, respectively. We estimate the dynamical lifetime of the Tesla to be a few tens of millions of years.

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Well, you did ask.
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Swype keyboards for Android & iOS discontinued as company focuses on business market • 9to5Google

Ben Lovejoy:

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Nuance’s Swype keyboard apps for iOS and Android have been discontinued, as the company focuses its efforts on the business market.

The news was revealed when a Reddit user posted a message from Nuance support. Xda-developers did some checking and found that the same was true of the iOS keyboard:

»We are sad to announce that Swype Dragon for Android has faced end of development. Here is a statement from Swype Product Team:

Nuance will no longer be updating the Swype Dragon keyboard for Android. We’re sorry to leave the direct-to-consumer keyboard business, but this change is necessary to allow us to concentrate on developing our AI solutions for sale directly to businesses.«

Swype usage took a hit in 2016, when Google launched its Gboard keyboard. Alongside built-in search, the keyboard also supported Swype-style glide-typing.

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Always difficult when you’re making something that is a feature more than a business.
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Not again: Google Home Max can also damage wood furniture (but…) • Tom’s Guide

Mike Prospero:

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Why hadn’t I noticed the Home Max’s white mark before, when Google’s speaker was sitting on my cabinet? Simple: I wasn’t using it with the silicone pad at the time.
Google ships the pad with the Max, but I had left the pad in the box, figuring it wasn’t that necessary. However, when devising this test, I decided to use the pad to see its effect. So, if you have or plan to purchase the Google Home Max, and want to place it on wood furniture, I would advise against using the silicone pad. We have reached out to Google for comment.

I still think the Sonos One, HomePod and Google Home Max (to a slightly lesser extent) deliver the best sound of all the smart speakers. When we put all three to the test, the Sonos One came out on top, but the Google Home Max was competitive, not only for its sound, but also for what you can do with Google Assistant. But if you purchase or own any of the speakers that can damage furniture, I advise placing it on a non-silicone pad or coaster.

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OMG what a radical idea. I’m starting to get the feeling that applying a weight to a silicone pad on treated wood causes staining.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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