Start Up: North Korea’s hacking goes on, YouTube’s garbage fire, 8m Xs?, Google’s podcast plan, and more

The Apple Watch Edition: no longer available in a dedicated store! Photo by Shinya Suzuki on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Plus one trying to sell you something. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

As two Koreas shake hands, Hidden Cobra hackers wage espionage campaign • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


As Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to step into South Korea, his generals continue to oversee teams of increasingly advanced hackers who are actively targeting the financial, health, and entertainment industries in the US and more than a dozen other countries. The so-called GhostSecret data reconnaissance campaign, exposed Tuesday by security firm McAfee, remains ongoing. It is deploying a series of previously unidentified tools designed to stealthily infect targets and gather data or possibly repeat the same type of highly destructive attacks visited upon Sony Pictures in 2014.

Last month, McAfee reported finding Bankshot, a remote-access trojan attributed to Hidden Cobra—a so-called advanced persistent threat group tied to North Korea—infecting Turkish banks. In this week’s report, the security firm said the same malware was infecting organizations all over the world. McAfee researchers also found never-before-seen malware that was infecting the same organizations. One tool included many of the capabilities of Bankshot, including its ability to compromise computers that connect to the SWIFT banking network and permanently wipe data from infected computers. The tool also had digital fingerprints found in Destover, the name given to malware that was used in the Sony Pictures intrusion.

Coinciding with the McAfee discovery, according to a ThaiCERT advisory published Wednesday, Thailand officials seized a server inside the Thammasat University in Bangkok that was being used to communicate with computers infected in the GhostSecret campaign. The server used the same IP address range that was used in the Sony Pictures hack. Thai officials are in the process of analyzing the server now.


North Korea might (though I doubt it) give up its nukes, but it won’t give up its hacking capability, which it has identified as one of the two weapons of the 21st century. Nukes are the other.)

Massive plug: I wrote about North Korea’s attitude to hacking in my upcoming book, Cyber Wars. You can pre-order it!

Aleks Krotoski, who presents the BBC’s Digital Human series, read it and calls it “A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” Can’t argue with that. (Unless you buy it and read it. Then you can argue.)
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YouTube struggles with plan to clean up mess that made it rich • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw and Mark Bergen:


Much like Facebook and Twitter, however, YouTube has long prioritized growth over safety. Hany Farid, senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, which works with internet companies to stamp out child pornography and terrorist messaging, says that of the companies he works with, “Google is the least receptive.” With each safety mishap, he says, YouTube acts freshly shocked. “It’s like a Las Vegas casino saying, ‘Wow, we can’t believe people are spending 36 hours in a casino.’ It’s designed like that.”

That’s not how Google or YouTube see things. Over the past year, YouTube has made the most sweeping changes since its early days, removing videos it deemed inappropriate and stripping away the advertising from others. But to date, both the video-sharing service and its corporate parent have struggled to articulate how their plan will make things better. Only recently, as Washington has edged closer to training its regulatory eye on Silicon Valley, did YouTube executives agree to walk Bloomberg Businessweek through its proposed fixes and explain how the site got to this point. Conversations with more than a dozen people at YouTube, some of whom asked not to be identified while discussing sensitive internal matters, reveal a company still grappling to reach a balance between contributors’ freedom of expression and society’s need to protect itself.

“The whole world has become a lot less stable and more polarized,” says Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer. “Because of that, our responsibility is that much greater.”
In interviews at the San Bruno complex, YouTube executives often resorted to a civic metaphor: YouTube is like a small town that’s grown so large, so fast, that its municipal systems—its zoning laws, courts, and sanitation crews, if you will—have failed to keep pace. “We’ve gone from being a small village to being a city that requires proper infrastructure,” Kyncl says. “That’s what we’ve been building.”

But minimal infrastructure was a conscious choice, according to Hunter Walk, who ran YouTube’s product team from 2007 to 2011. When the markets tanked in 2008, Google tightened YouTube’s budgets and took staffers off community safety efforts—such as patrolling YouTube’s notorious comments section—in favor of projects with better revenue potential. “For me, that’s YouTube’s original sin,” Walk says. “Trust and safety has always been a top priority. This was true 10 years ago and it remains true today,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.


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The facts about a recent counterfeiting case brought by the U.S. government • Microsoft

Frank Shaw is Microsoft’s head of communications:


here are some facts of the case worth noting – all of which are spelled out in detail in the court documents.

Microsoft did not bring this case: U.S. Customs referred the case to federal prosecutors after intercepting shipments of counterfeit software imported from China by Mr. Lundgren.

Lundgren established an elaborate counterfeit supply chain in China: Mr. Lundgren traveled extensively in China to set up a production line and designed counterfeit molds for Microsoft software in order to unlawfully manufacture counterfeit discs in significant volumes.

Lundgren failed to stop after being warned: Mr. Lundgren was even warned by a customs seizure notice that his conduct was illegal and given the opportunity to stop before he was prosecuted.

Lundgren pleaded guilty: The counterfeit discs obtained by Mr. Lundgren were sold to refurbishers in the United States for his personal profit and Mr. Lundgren and his codefendant both pleaded guilty to federal felony crimes.

Lundgren went to great lengths to mislead people: His own emails submitted as evidence in the case show the lengths to which Mr. Lundgren went in an attempt to make his counterfeit software look like genuine software. They also show him directing his co-defendant to find less discerning customers who would be more easily deceived if people objected to the counterfeits.


This relates to the story from last week. Lundgren clearly not quite the innocent that some (including, er, me) made out.
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Source: Apple will produce only 8 million iPhone X units In Q2 • Fast Company

Mark Sullivan:


a supply chain source with direct knowledge of Apple’s plans [says] the company has ordered the production of only 8 million iPhone X units in calendar Q2 of 2018.

This source says Apple ordered the production of too many units of the iPhone X in the last calendar quarter of 2017, and is now trying to “burn off” the inventory that has piled up at its resellers.

Apple sold 77.3 million total iPhones during the 2017 holiday quarter. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the X outsold all other iPhone models every week of the first quarter after the device’s launch on November 3, 2017, launch. And a high average sale price of $796 across all iPhone models suggested that the X, Apple’s most expensive phone, was indeed a heavy seller. Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart says that the X contributed about 35% of total phone sales during the holiday quarter, which works out to about 27 million phones.

But as the global smartphone market has ceased to grow, and as smartphone owners hold on to their current devices longer, consumers may be less apt to part with more than a grand for a phone.

Our source says Apple is disappointed with sales of the iPhone X, and doubts have grown within the company that releasing a $1,000-plus smartphone in the current global smartphone market was a winning idea…

…Cybart also stresses that Apple pundits shouldn’t judge new iPhones on the same scale as the blockbuster iPhone 6.

“We have entered the iPhone’s Goldilocks era,” Cybart said. “Status quo is the new normal when it comes to unit sales. While Apple may still report quarterly iPhone unit sales growth from time to time, especially if year-over-year compares are favorable, the growth would not represent some kind of step increase in sales. As long as Apple is able to expand the iPhone installed base, the company will be able to offset some of the sales pressure from a slowing iPhone upgrade rate.”


That’s it, really: capture a huge chunk of revenues and profits, pull people through to upgrade every other year, incrementally grow the user base. The smartphone wars aren’t hot any more.

I’m also increasingly persuaded that the iPhone X will, like the iPhone 5, be a one-year product, replaced by other OLED models in the autumn. Apple wants to move people onto OLED, and no home button.
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Silicon Valley can’t be trusted with our history • Buzzfeed

Evan Hill:


The internet has slowly unraveled since 2011: image-hosting sites went out of business, link shorteners shut down, tweets got deleted, and YouTube accounts were shuttered. One broken link at a time, one of the most heavily documented historical events of the social media era could fade away before our eyes.

It’s the paradox of the internet age: Smartphones and social media have created an archive of publicly available information unlike any in human history — an ocean of eyewitness testimony. But while we create almost everything on the internet, we control almost none of it.

In the summer of 2017, observers of the Syrian civil war realized that YouTube was removing dozens of channels and tens of thousands of videos documenting the conflict. The deletions occurred after YouTube announced that it had deployed “cutting-edge machine learning technology … to identify and remove violent extremism and terrorism-related content.” But the machines went too far.

“What’s disappearing in front of our eyes is the history of this terrible war,” Chris Woods, the director of the reporting and advocacy organization Airwars, said at the time. Not only were the deleted videos a resource for journalists and a public chronicle of the violence, they were potential evidence for war crimes trials. YouTube restored most of the channels following the outcry but has continued to delete footage at a slower pace — about 200,000 videos of the conflict have been memory-holed, observers estimated in March.

Our access to information is incredibly broad but shockingly fleeting. A tweet that was meant to be forgotten within minutes resurfaces years later to cost someone their job, while a video providing unambiguous evidence of war crimes disappears without a trace.


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The last Apple Watch boutique is closing, and good riddance • Macworld

Leif Johnson:


Far on the other side of the world, an Apple store is dying. It’s not the usual blocky space filled with randos checking their email on carefully arranged display iMacs, but rather the last dedicated Apple Watch boutique in Tokyo’s Isetan Shinjuku department store. Apple probably would prefer you not know about it, and indeed most of the world learned about its May 13 shutdown not through an official announcement but rather from a tweet depicting a simple printout. Only three of these stores ever existed—the last two died back in London’s Selfridges and Paris Galeries Lafayette early last year—and this one’s closure seems to mark the last gasp of Apple’s push into explicit luxury marketing.

Good riddance. May we never see its like again.

Never before was Apple so unintentionally successful at making a mockery of itself than it was in the early days of the Apple Watch. Even The Onion may not have anticipated that a company known for pricey items would slather an Apple Watch in 18-karat gold and slap a $10,000 to $17,000 price tag on it. Apple, a company known for making devices that people seek out of their own volition, found itself practically begging celebrities like Beyoncé and Karl Lagerfeld to slap its lavish new watches on their wrists. It was embarrassing, in a way, as it reeked of the trend of celebrities praising their sponsored non-Apple devices from the comfort of their iPhones, save that this time Apple was on the receiving end.

But more importantly, never before had Apple strayed so far from Steve Jobs’ claim to Fortune in 2008 that “Apple’s DNA has always been to try to democratize technology.”


Indeed – the Edition never fitted into the Apple aim of being like Andy Warhol’s description of Coca-Cola: that everyone could drink it and it would be the same product.
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Exclusive: ‘LG Watch Timepiece’ hybrid coming, all details confirmed •

Dominik Bosnjak:


The analog basis of its setup ensures both accurate time tracking and long battery life, with the wearable capable of lasting up to a hundred days on a single charge while operating in Watch Mode which effectively has Wear OS (almost) completely disabled. Once its 240 mAh battery is depleted, the device will still be able to continue tracking time for close to a hundred hours, i.e. roughly four days. Below the physical watch hands is a circular 1.2-inch LCD panel with a resolution of 360 by 360 pixels amounting to a pixel density of 300 pixels per inch. As this is still a Wear OS-powered offering, its screen can display all watch faces and complications you can install from the Google Play Store. The analog watch hands themselves can relay extra information as well, thus effectively being able to serve as an at-glance compass, barometer, altimeter, timer, or a stopwatch, among other applications…

…The hybrid smartwatch will be equipped with 4GB of eMMC storage, 768MB of LPDDR3 RAM, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 2100, the same 1.1GHz system-on-chip whose four cores have been powering Android Wear (now Wear OS) wearables since 2016, much to the dismay of some industry watchers.

The device won’t have cellular capabilities and will instead only support Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless connectivity, in addition to being equipped with a USB Type-C 2.0 port.


This feels like LG almost being in the analogue watch world. But that two-year-old chip powering it? Indicative of the low demand from OEMs for Android Wear.
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Overcast 4.2: The privacy update •

Marco Arment on the latest update to his podcast playing app, which aims to stymie big-data-hungry advertisers and producers:


In most podcast apps, podcasts are downloaded automatically in the background. The only data sent to a podcast’s publisher about you or your behavior is your IP address and the app’s name. The IP address lets them derive your approximate region, but not much else.

They don’t know exactly who you are, whether you listened, when you listened, how far you listened, or whether you skipped certain parts.

Some large podcast producers are trying very hard to change that.

I’m not.

Big data ruined the web, and I’m not going to help bring it to podcasts. Publishers already get enough from Apple to inform ad rates and make content decisions — they don’t need more data from my customers. Podcasting has thrived, grown, and made tons of money for tons of people under the current model for over a decade. We already have all the data we need.

One of the ways publishers try to get around the limitations of the current model is by embedding remote images or invisible “tracking pixels” in each episode’s HTML show notes. When displayed in most apps, the images are automatically loaded from an analytics server, which can then record and track more information about you.

In Overcast 4.2, much like Mail (and for the same reason), remote images don’t load by default. A tappable placeholder shows you where each image will load from, and you can decide whether to load it or not.

I believe I’ve done this in the most secure way possible — I’m actually displaying the show notes using a strict Content Security Policy — and I would love to hear from anyone who finds a way to inject auto-loading remote images or execute arbitrary JavaScript in show notes.


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Instant translation, lookahead scrubbing, and more: the future of Google Podcasts • Pacific Content

Steve Pratt:


According to Google Podcasts Product Manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen, in the future, Google will have the ability to “transcribe the podcast and use that to understand more details about the podcast, including when they are discussing different topics in the episode.

“It’s important to say that this technology is still improving, and some of our vision here is probably a little more long-term than what we’ve talked about so far. Still, it’s an exciting motivator for us to try to make these experiences possible.”

Imagine this: Google’s AI “listens” to every podcast published, converts all spoken word content into timestamped, searchable text, and indexes the contents of every episode. All the content of all episodes of all podcasts become searchable, sort of like a text article. And not just the entire episode: by analyzing podcast transcripts and/or publisher-created chapter markers, Google could begin to understand specific segments or topics within episodes.

In the future, Google Search and Google Assistant could allow listeners to go beyond finding the right episode of a podcast. It could help them jump straight to the right section that is of interest to them. This could be particularly useful on a smart speaker like Google Home, when a user may want a specific answer to a voice query and might prefer a specific piece of audio content as an answer instead of an entire podcast episode.

Zack gave an example: “There’s this great episode of You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, where [Green Bay Packers’ Quarterback] Aaron Rodgers talks with Pete about all sorts of things, including that he tried ‘The Impossible Burger’ and thought it was very tasty.

“Suppose you’re a Packers fan and you asked a smart speaker, ‘How does The Impossible Burger taste?’ What if you actually got Aaron Rodgers telling you what he thinks of The Impossible Burger?”


What if you did? It’s a daft example. It’s not useful at all. Podcast transcripts would be peculiar; only if they were important interviews would they be in the least bit useful.
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Sonos prepares for IPO as soon as June • WSJ

Maureen Farrell:


Sonos has raised about $110m in primary funding from investors, including Index Ventures and KKR & Co. Last fall, the company’s chief executive, Patrick Spence, told The Wall Street Journal that its 2017 revenue was on track to cross $1bn, helped by sales of its $699 Playbase, a wireless speaker for TVs.

Sonos, which would likely look to raise several hundred million dollars in proceeds from the IPO, would have a market value of about $2.5bn to $3bn, a person familiar with the deal said. Still, pricing can typically change up until the night before an IPO begins trading.

Sonos’s likely near-term offering is expected to take place as the IPO market, particularly for technology companies, is heating up after a streak of weak issuance. For years, U.S. tech companies increasingly sought private capital or sold themselves to competitors or private-equity firms in lieu of trying to raise capital from public investors.

This week, five companies, including electronic-signature technology company DocuSign Inc., are set to debut. Many companies that have gone public this year or are in the planning stages have existed for more than a decade—DocuSign, for example, was started in 2003, and Sonos was founded in 2002.


That’s a long, long path to an IPO. And through it all, Sonos hasn’t truly added anything to what it does. It had multi-room from the start; it has offered more and more streaming services, but that’s because more and more have come online. So why now? Perhaps the appetite for hardware IPOs is greater than it was. Or Sonos is running out of some sort of runway.
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Warning signs for TSB’s IT meltdown were clear a year ago – insider • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:


When Sabadell bought TSB for £1.7bn in March 2015, it put into motion a plan it had successfully executed in the past for several other smaller banks it had acquired: merge the bank’s IT systems with its own Proteo banking software and, in doing so, save millions.

Sabadell was warned in 2015 that its ambitious plan was high risk and that it was likely to cost far more than the £450m Lloyds was contributing to the effort.

“It is not overly generous as a budget for that scale of migration,” John Harvie, a director of the global consultancy firm Protiviti, told the Financial Times in July 2015. But the Proteo system was designed in 2000 specifically to handle mergers such as that of TSB into the Spanish group, and Sabadell pressed ahead.

By the summer of 2016, work on developing the new system was meant to be well under way and December 2017 was set as a hard-and-fast deadline for delivery.

“The time period to develop the new system and migrate TSB over to it was just 18 months,” the insider said. “I thought this was ridiculous. TSB people were saying that Sabadell had done this many times in Spain. But tiny Spanish local banks are not sprawling LBG legacy systems.”

To make matters worse, the Sabadell development team did not have full control – and therefore a full understanding – of the system they were trying to migrate customer data and systems from because Lloyds Banking Group was still the supplier.

“This turned what was a super-hard systems job [into] a clusterfuck in the making,” the insider said.

By March 2017, the nightmare for customers that was going to unfold a year later appeared inevitable. “It was unbelievable – hardly even a prototype or proof of concept, yet it was supposed to be fully tested and working by May before the integration work started,” the insider continued. “Senior staff were furious about the state it was in. Even logging in was problematic.”


Hard-and-fast deadline for delivery. Sprawling systems. Lack of understanding. Hard to think why this project abruptly crashed, so that a week after all the accounts were switched to the new system, it still isn’t working for millions of customers.

That’s what hard-and-fast deadlines get you in the IT world.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Close (Tiny) Encounters, China’s slowing smartphones, WhatsApp’s age puzzle, and more

When an AI was given the task of landing a plane on an aircraft carrier, it found an unexpected solution. Photo by Official U.S. Navy Page on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Something for the weekend. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A ‘Close Encounters’ example of forced perspective • Trailers From Hell

Glenn Erickson:


The most complex miniature was not a full model, but a ‘reflections’ model of an auto toll booth, in which Director of Photography of Special Effects Richard Yuricich was tasked with adding the effects of a glowing saucer flying through. On a shoot in San Pedro, Steven Spielberg suddenly decided he wanted a new shot, and had Yuricich line up his 65mm camera at a bridge toll booth to film the action of the cop cars racing left to right. The shot wasn’t in the schedule or the budget, which didn’t please Columbia production head John Veitch. Yuricich had to brainstorm to figure a way to do the shot for next to nothing, and the solution came to him on his drive home.

All Gregory Jein had to work with was a clip of a 65mm shot of the booths. He painstakingly constructed little panes of glass in depth, aligned so that when double-exposed onto the existing shot, reflections would be added of the passing flying saucer (the glowing red ‘Tinkerbell’ dot) as it chased the highway patrolmen: “Hey, that’s Ohio. It costs a quarter.”

Richard Yuricich lined up the shot, and I assisted Greg in plotting it out – mainly, I held up little pieces of plastic while he directed me through the viewfinder, as if I were a surveyor’s assistant. The ‘model’ ended up being this little set of boxes and windows. It worked amazingly well.

Storyboards called out for a wide shots of the crossroads where Power Company employee Roy Neary runs into his first saucers, glowing hot-rods that are apparently in love with our road system. Spielberg wanted a night-for night look where one could see to the horizon, which meant that the shot couldn’t be made in a real location. Bright lights from the saucers were meant to blast down on the road, throw shadows, etc.


It’s amazing – I’d never have thought, watching the film, that any of it wasn’t real landscape.
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Chinese smartphone market suffers a hard-landing, shipments decline by 21% in Q1 2018 • Canalys


Smartphone shipments in China suffered their biggest ever decline in Q1 2018, down by more than 21% annually to 91m units, a number first passed some four years ago in Q4 2013. Eight of the top 10 smartphone vendors were hit by annual declines, with Gionee, Meizu and Samsung shrinking to less than half of their respective Q1 2017 numbers.

Huawei (including Honor) managed to grow shipments by a modest 2%, maintaining its lead and consolidating its market share to about 24% by shipping over 21m smartphones. Second-placed Oppo and third-placed Vivo bore the brunt of the overall decline, with shipments falling by about 10% to 18m and 15m respectively. Xiaomi was the only company to buck the trend, growing shipments by 37% to 12m units, and overtaking Apple to take fourth place.


That’s quite an ominous downward trend on the right. Counterpoint Research also sees China down (8% year-on-year), though it reckons Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi and Apple all grew; it puts Apple ahead of Xiaomi.
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LG mobile division sees big jump in losses, blames new strategy • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


The [overall] firm reported a 20% increase in operating income, making for the “highest first-quarter profit and revenue in company history.” The performance also translates to the “highest quarterly profitability” since Q2 2009, LG added.

It’s a different tale for the LG mobile division, however, as the unit posted sales of 2.16trn won ($2bn) and an operating loss of 136.1bn won ($126.85m) for the quarter. By comparison, Q1 2017 saw the unit deliver an operating loss of 200m won ($185,000 by today’s conversion rate).

“Sales declined from the same quarter last year due to a revised smartphone launch strategy,” the company explained.

That strategy was first revealed back at CES 2018, when LG Electronics CEO Cho Sung-jin said the company would release new phones “when it is needed.” The executive said it would also reveal more variants of the G and V series flagship phones. We saw the first major variant at MWC 2018 in the form of the V30s ThinQ, packing more RAM/storage, as well as improved AI-related camera features compared to the V30.

The company is forecasting improved sales in the second quarter of the year, citing the upcoming LG G7 ThinQ flagship and its software upgrade center as two major drivers. The new flagship will be officially revealed on May 2, but we already know it’ll pack a notch, a super bright LCD screen, and a dedicated AI button.


The only, tiny chance that LG’s mobile business has of ever coming back to profit is if Huawei and ZTE get banned from the US (and maybe UK) markets. So far it has lost money for 12 straight quarters – a tidy $2.6bn.
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Ray Ozzie’s proposal: not a step forward • Steve Bellovin

Bellovin is well known in the computer security field; if you saw yesterday’s set, it was one of them:


[Ray] Ozzie presented his proposal at a meeting at Columbia—I was there—to a diverse group. Levy wrote that Ozzie felt that he had “taken another baby step in what is now a two-years-and-counting quest” and that “he’d started to change the debate about how best to balance privacy and law enforcement access”. I don’t agree. In fact, I think that one can draw the opposite conclusion.

At the meeting, Eran Tromer found a flaw in Ozzie’s scheme: under certain circumstances, an attacker can get an arbitrary phone unlocked. That in itself is interesting, but to me the important thing is that a flaw was found. Ozzie has been presenting his scheme for quite some time. I first heard it last May, at a meeting with several brand-name cryptographers in the audience. No one spotted the flaw. At the January meeting, though, Eran squinted at it and looked at it sideways—and in real-time he found a problem that everyone else had missed. Are there other problems lurking? I wouldn’t be even slightly surprised. As I keep saying, cryptographic protocols are hard.

The other point is that security is a systems problem. To give just one example, the international problem alone is a killer issue. If the United States adopts this scheme, other countries, including specifically Russia and China, are sure to follow. Would they consent to a scheme that relied on the cooperation of an American company, and with keys stored in the U.S.? Almost certainly not. Now: would the U.S. be content with phones unlockable only with the consent and cooperation of Russian or Chinese companies? I can’t see that, either.


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Here’s what you need to know about the new Gmail • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:


Truth be told, when Google first showed me the redesign, I thought: Who asked for this? It’s like Gmail got a facelift to look cuter. Buttons are rounded and its bubbly new font could have been ripped from a 1992 school yearbook.

But I came around after living with the new Gmail for a week. It’s cleaner and the stuff you rely on hasn’t moved far. What’s more, it has some good ideas to keep you from missing important emails and to make them more secure. Google is getting much more deeply involved with our messages, and the result moves email in the right direction.

My favorite new thing: You can now send emails that self-destruct.

Your Gmail experience won’t change immediately, unless you tap the gear icon (for settings) and turn on the new website look. But it’ll come to you eventually: in the coming months, Google will bring the new design and features to everyone, including people with corporate accounts…

…But the AI isn’t all-knowing (yet). Gmail doesn’t know if you actually replied to a message in real life, on the phone, or in a text. It also doesn’t let you identify certain senders as top priority.

To keep annoyance to a minimum, Google promises to send a max of three nudges per day. It’s on by default, but you can turn it off if you’d like.

The new Gmail applies intelligence to another information-overload problem: notifications. Previously, Gmail apps for smartphones and tablets sent an alert every time you got a new email in your primary inbox. Turning on notifications would cause your phone to buzz all day long. When new Gmail apps for iOS and Android debut in the coming months, they’ll be able to alert you only when you’ve got an email Gmail actually thinks is “high priority.”


Lots more emphasis on AI. Let’s see how that could go.
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Don’t buy the MacBook Pros even on sale, in my opinion • The Outline

Casey Johnston:


Since I wrote about my experience, many have asked me what happened with the new top half of the computer that the Apple Geniuses installed, with its pristine keyboard and maybe-different key switches. The answer is that after a couple of months, I started to get temporarily dead keys for seemingly no reason. Again.

I still had my 2013 MacBook Pro around, so I sold my 2016 MacBook Pro back to Apple’s refurb program, and now I just use the 2013 as my laptop (I used the recovered money to build a PC, lord help me). This old MacBook Pro is still fine, and most importantly, all the keyboard keys work. The new MacBook Pro is gone. When I started working at The Outline, I was offered a choice of a new MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air for my work computer, and I chose the MacBook Air, with its good keyboard that doesn’t break from dust. I’m fully committed to this bit.


I wonder if Apple is keeping the MacBook Air, with its old keyboard model, going because (1) it’s the best-selling laptop (2) there are no significant problems with the keyboard. A lot of people who have heard about the keyboard problems are holding off on buying new machines.

Apple’s fortunate that the wave has moved on from laptops. If this had happened 10 years ago, it would be in trouble. Similarly, if some equivalent to this happened on an iPhone model or iPad, it would take rapid action: look at how quickly it moved when the whole “#bendgate” stuff when the bigger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus came out.
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MOSISO clear keyboard skin cover for Touch Bar Models 2017 & 2016 release newest version macbook pro 13 (A1706) and MacBook Pro 15 (A1707) with Touch ID (EU Layout) •

Ian Fogg had problems with his new Mac keyboard; swears by this. It’s effectively the same thing as the “cloth” cover that the iPad Pro keyboards (which are the same key system) use. And cheap. Except doesn’t it stop air escaping around the keys, so you get a very hot device?
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WhatsApp plans to ban under-16s. The mystery is how • The Guardian

I wrote an op-ed:


WhatsApp didn’t explain in its blogpost how it will enforce its policy. No social network – in fact, no ad-supported service – is keen on truly finding out the age of its users, because then it might have to turn them away, which means less chance to show them adverts, collect data about them, and tie them into longer-term use. Teenagers are the ideal customer: they have long lives ahead of them, can be brand-loyal, and are very susceptible to peer pressure to join. And online age verification really is difficult. Phone companies such as O2 demand photo ID at a shop (effective, but no use for online-only services) or a credit card (easy to defeat by stealing details from parents). Quizzes can be beaten by a search. Perhaps playing the mosquito alarm through the speakers constantly? Or maybe a question asking about a new meme; if you get the answer correct, you’re too young.

Nobody knows, as the government’s 2016 consultation demonstrated. Plans to enforce it for sex sites starting this month were quietly buried in March. Though it insists the scheme will be introduced this year, don’t hold your breath. The subtler, but bigger, problem is that the big social media companies (which includes YouTube) are flattening out the teenage years. To Facebook, YouTube, Google and so on you’re either over 18 or over 13; no other user ages exist.

Yet that period between 13 and 18 is one of enormous intellectual and social development, and you wouldn’t throw such disparate ages together in a youth club and just leave them to it. But in their indifferent rush to corral the world, social networks do, with the results that Ofcom noted: young children coming online are confronted by much older ones who already own the space [and report encountering hateful or sexual content].


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Snapchat to stop retaining location data on under-16s in Europe • FT

Tim Bradshaw:


Snapchat plans to stop retaining certain data about users under the age of 16 in Europe, including precise location history, to comply with new EU privacy regulations.

The move is intended to allow the California-based company to meet the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation without having to cut off millions of younger teenagers from using its app. 

Shares in Snapchat’s parent company Snap fell 7% on Wednesday after WhatsApp, a rival messaging app, said it would raise its minimum age for users in Europe to 16 in response to GDPR. 

The move by Facebook-owned WhatsApp is the most drastic yet by a popular mobile app to mitigate any risks that might arise from GDPR. Any breach can result in fines of as much as 4% of annual global revenue.

Snapchat’s steps might allay fears among some users and investors that it would have to follow WhatsApp’s example and cut off under-16s altogether. Teenagers are among Snapchat’s most loyal and active users.


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UK healthcare startup said to have posted fake reviews online • Bloomberg

Giles Turner:


The two-year-old company [Cera Care] matches patients with in-home health-care professionals capable of providing everything from support for elderly clients to live-in assistance for people with dementia, and has garnered positive press from UK publications. Its website also boasts sky-high ratings on customer-satisfaction sites and partnerships with 10 UK National Health Service organizations.

But according to three people with knowledge of the matter, Cera Care doesn’t in fact have partnerships with at least seven of those groups, and up to a dozen of the reviews on third-party sites were crafted either by Cera Care employees or people close to them, rather than unbiased customers. These people asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.

In a widely publicized announcement in March 2017, Cera said it has partnered with a range of public health groups in London, including St. Barts, one of the U.K.’s largest. It later listed 10 of these groups on its website. However, the startup regularly works with only three of these groups – Lewisham CCG [Clinical Care Group], Haringey CCG, and Tower Hamlets CCG – according to people with knowledge of the matter.

“We note that our website was not fully up to date with these materials and are rectifying it,” Cera said in an emailed statement. The company had previous partnerships with health care groups including Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon and East London Foundation Trust, the company said…

…Patients and their families considering private in-home care often look closely at reviews on sites such as Trustpilot AS, HomeCare UK and Google Reviews before choosing a provider. Of the 104 reviews on Trustpilot, a number were fakes created by Cera Care employees, people with knowledge of the postings said. Of them, 12 have been taken down in recent days. “Good customer service. Great care from care workers as well. Happily continuing to do business with Cera,” one review said.

“We take any allegations of false reviews extremely seriously and these will be investigated thoroughly and dealt with strictly,” the spokeswoman for Cera, said. “We have no tolerance for this.”

Trustpilot said it has been investigating Cera Care and has been removing several reviews.


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Letting neural networks be weird: when algorithms surprise us • Ai Weirdness

Janelle Shane:


machine learning algorithms are widely used for facial recognition, language translation, financial modeling, image recognition, and ad delivery. If you’ve been online today, you’ve probably interacted with a machine learning algorithm.

But it doesn’t always work well. Sometimes the programmer will think the algorithm is doing really well, only to look closer and discover it’s solved an entirely different problem from the one the programmer intended. For example, I looked earlier at an image recognition algorithm that was supposed to recognize sheep but learned to recognize grass instead, and kept labeling empty green fields as containing sheep.

When machine learning algorithms solve problems in unexpected ways, programmers find them, okay yes, annoying sometimes, but often purely delightful.

So delightful, in fact, that in 2018 a group of researchers wrote a fascinating paper that collected dozens of anecdotes that “elicited surprise and wonder from the researchers studying them”. The paper is well worth reading, as are the original references, but here are several of my favorite examples.


There are so many, but I think my favourite is:


In one of the more chilling examples, there was an algorithm that was supposed to figure out how to apply a minimum force to a plane landing on an aircraft carrier. Instead, it discovered that if it applied a *huge* force, it would overflow the program’s memory and would register instead as a very *small* force. The pilot would die but, hey, perfect score.


“OK, engaging machine learning autopilot for landing…” But truly, the paper itself (linked above) is hilarious. Some of the interactions between humans and programs truly are like captors and wild animals.
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Snap’s second-generation Spectacles are more grown up — and more expensive • The Verge

Casey Newton:


Given Snap’s struggles in hardware, it’s fair to ask why the company is trying again. The reason is that hardware has the potential to be a much better business for Snap than software does. It enables new services, it can be sold at healthy profit margins, and it’s harder for competitors to copy. Hardware is extremely difficult to do well — but if Snap can pull it off, hardware could help the company chart a profitable path forward. (It lost $720m last year.)

To build a sequel to Spectacles, Snap talked with customers and drew up a list of employees’ own complaints about the original, a product designer told me this week. The company ultimately made three major refinements.

First, it created a slimmer design. Spectacles should now fit more easily in a pants pocket, or dangling from the front of your T-shirt. The case is smaller, too, and will take up less space in your bag. All those small tweaks added up to a product that feels a bit more like sunglasses and a bit less like a face camera.

Second, Snap improved the transfer speed between Spectacles and your phone. If you owned the first-generation Spectacles, you likely remember this as the worst part of using them. Transferring videos off your device means opening Memories, tapping “import,” accepting a dialog box that switches your phone to the Spectacles Wi-Fi network, and then waiting for several minutes while they download.

The good news is the download speeds are now three to four times faster, Snap says. The bad news is that the rest of the process, down to the awkward connection to a Spectacles Wi-Fi network, remains the same.


Spectacles v1: cost $150, sold 150,000, wrote off $40m.
Spectacles v2: cost $170, but now the excitement of “Snap making SPECTACLES?!” has worn off, it’s hard even to see them hitting the first version’s sales. This reminds me of the WC Fields quote: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No point being a damn fool about it.”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s picture of French Uber icons on the map didn’t show France. It showed Bethnal Green, which has never been French. Thanks, Andrew B.

Start Up: Huawei face Iran questions, Amnesty knocks Google, Ellen Pao speaks, the iCloud storage problem, and more

Uber’s maps (here in France, on Bastille day) are getting more accurate. Photo by tim rich and lesley katon on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not a substitute for percocet. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei under criminal investigation over Iran sanctions • WSJ

Stu Woo and Aruna Viswanatha:


The Justice Department is investigating whether Huawei Technologies Co. violated U.S. sanctions related to Iran, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that opens a new avenue of scrutiny of the Chinese cellular-electronics giant on national security grounds.

It’s unclear how far the Justice Department probe has advanced and what specific allegation federal agents are probing. A Huawei spokesman declined to comment.

Such a probe raises the stakes for Huawei, which is facing a series of actions by Washington to diminish the company’s already limited business dealings in the U.S. It could also have spillover effects for its much larger business overseas, particularly in Europe.

Analysts said a worst-case scenario could entail Huawei suffering the same fate as smaller Chinese rival ZTE Corp, which has lost access to U.S.-made components in a similar probe.


If Huawei falls foul of this, it will have a huge effect on its business – but there will be a knock-on effect too, driving Chinese technology companies to accelerate efforts to build their own chips. ZTE is crippled already by this. But if Huawei is hit, that could feed through to problems in supply for American companies (think: Apple).

Strangely, Iran could end up splitting up the globalised tech system that binds the US and China together, and all without firing a shot.
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Google’s new Chat service shows total contempt for Android users’ privacy • Amnesty International


Responding to Google’s launch of a new messaging service for Android phones, Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights researcher Joe Westby said:

“With its baffling decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption, Google has shown utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, allowing them easy access to the content of Android users’ communications.

“Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognized as an essential safeguard for protecting people’s privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers.

“Not only does this shockingly retrograde step leave Google lagging behind its closest competitors – Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp both have end-to-end encryption in place by default – it is also a step backwards from the company’s previous attempts at online messaging. Google’s own app Allo has an option for end-to-end encryption but the company says it will no longer invest in it. 

“In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google’s decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy…”


Harsh. Google is trying to marshal carriers to use a more modern version of SMS, called RCS; it’s also trying to bring text apps on Android up to date. (Weirdly, Google has never managed to produce a unified message product for Android in the way that Apple has iMessage.) As Ben Thompson puts it, Google’s trying to herd cats. Now it’s getting slagged off by Amnesty too.
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Bitcoin is the greatest scam in history • Recode

Bill Harris is former CEO of Intuit and the founding CEO of Paypal:


I’m tired of saying, “Be careful, it’s speculative.” Then, “Be careful, it’s gambling.” Then, “Be careful, it’s a bubble.” Okay, I’ll say it: Bitcoin is a scam.

In my opinion, it’s a colossal pump-and-dump scheme, the likes of which the world has never seen. In a pump-and-dump game, promoters “pump” up the price of a security creating a speculative frenzy, then “dump” some of their holdings at artificially high prices. And some cryptocurrencies are pure frauds. Ernst & Young estimates that 10% of the money raised for initial coin offerings has been stolen.

The losers are ill-informed buyers caught up in the spiral of greed. The result is a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary families to internet promoters. And “massive” is a massive understatement — 1,500 different cryptocurrencies now register over $300 billion of “value.”

It helps to understand that a bitcoin has no value at all.

Promoters claim cryptocurrency is valuable as (1) a means of payment, (2) a store of value and/or (3) a thing in itself. None of these claims are true.


Shall we put you down as a “undecided voter”, Bill?
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Ellen Pao, ex-Reddit CEO interview • NYMag

Noah Kulwin interviews (as part of a series) Ellen Pao, who was in charge of Reddit in 2014-15:


Q: When you think back to the early 2000s — to the post-dotcom, pre-web 2.0 era — there were a lot of folks who you knew personally, or worked with, who were the vanguard of this new emancipatory movement. I’m curious if you ever saw any ideological or intellectual shift among them.

EP: I think it all goes back to Facebook, where it was successful so quickly and raised so much money, and people got wealthy so fast. And they were so young and they were so admired that it changed the culture, and it went from “I’m going to build this company to change the way people do things and improve people’s lives” to “I’m gonna build this company that builds this product that everybody uses, so I can make a lot of money.”

Google went public, and all of a sudden you have these instant billionaires. No longer did you have to toil for decades. They were able to make billions in a very short amount of time.

And then in 2008, when the markets crashed, all those people who are motivated by money ended up coming out to Silicon Valley and going into tech and starting companies. And that’s when values shifted more.

There was, like, an optimism early around good coming out of the internet that ended up getting completely distorted in the 2000s, when you had these people coming in with a different idea and a different set of goals.

Q: I’m curious, because of your work on increasing diversity and representation of minorities within tech companies, about the ways in which you think that tech’s homogeneity sort of negatively influences its actions and makes it a more destructive force.

EP: I think that with the goal of finding the next Mark Zuckerberg, investors became oriented around finding that young white man who had dropped out of Stanford or Harvard. That became the pattern to match. And that ended up reinforcing some of the exclusion that was already there, and it made it that much harder for women and people of color, and especially women of color, to raise money.


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How Uber is moving the “blue dot” and improving GPS accuracy in big cities • The Verge

Andrew Hawkins:


All at once, satellites went from tracking airplanes to tracking the smartphones of individuals walking through dense cities. Not only did these satellites lose their line-of-sight advantage, they had to contend with a forest of tall buildings acting as mirrors to refract and distort the signals. This phenomenon, commonly referred to as “shadowing,” can create a location error of up to 100 meters or more, especially in high-value markets like New York City and San Francisco. That can wreak havoc on the most sensitive aspect of Uber’s business: the pickup.

“So this obviously presents problems for us because we might think that a driver is on a different road than they actually are,” Iland says. “And that can cause ETAs to be totally off.”

To fix the problem, Iland and Irish [whose company Shadow Maps was bought by Uber in 2016] used a process called occlusion modeling, by which Uber’s algorithm looks at a full 3D rendering of the city and does a probabilistic estimate of where you are based, which satellites you can see, and which you can’t. There are around 30 satellites in the US’s GPS constellation, as well as a constellation of Russian GLONASS satellites. (China and the European Union are in the process of launching their own GPS satellites.) Using public data from the satellites available to software developers, Uber is able to use a process of elimination to get a more accurate read on where you are when you’re trying to hail a ride.

“Pretend there are only three satellites,” Iland says. “So, if I can see satellites C and D with high signal strength, but I can’t see satellite B, then I’m probably on the left side of the street where satellite B is blocked by a building. If I can see B and C, but I can’t see D, then I’m probably on the right side of the street. And so we’re using the satellite visibility information as part of the algorithm, instead of just assuming that all satellites are line of sight.”


Because (as it explains) that means drivers and riders can find each other more accurately.
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Global smartphone shipments reached record 1.55bn units in CY 2017 • Counterpoint Research


smartphone shipments grew 2% annually in CY 2017 but declined 5% in Q4 2017. Top 10 players now capture 77% of the market thereby leaving just below a quarter of segment for over 600+ brands to compete.

Commenting on the findings, Jeff Fieldhack, Research Director at Counterpoint Research said, “For the first time in Q4 2017, shipments of seven out of the top ten brands declined YoY signaling a tough quarter for most of the OEMs. Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo were the only brands among top ten which grew YoY–mostly due to strong performances outside of China. Apple shipped 77.3 million smartphones into the market during the final quarter of 2017, which is down 1% annually. The quarter was a week shorter than last year and the company was able to increase ASP’s by over $100 to $796 with the launch of the X, 8, and 8 Plus—a trade-off the company is content to make. The challenge for Apple going forward will be its ability to continue to grow its base of 1.3 billion devices.”


The regional variation, below, is notable (red line is the end of last year). But howcome nobody ever asks “will Samsung by able to grow its base of [very big number] devices?”

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The real problem with Apple’s iCloud storage options (hint, it’s not price) • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:


As I’ve expressed time and time again, every single paid tier of iCloud storage gets you more bang for your buck than the competition. Despite what I hear from time to time, iCloud is a great deal if you’re looking for some online storage. I think Apple’s free tier (5GB) is totally reasonable for a file backup and sync service, and their paid options are pretty excellent.

But iCloud’s real problem is with how that storage is used.

I have a 64GB iPhone 8 Plus which is Apple’s entry level storage option. My backup, which is stored on iCloud, is 8.9GB. If I was on the free storage tier, I would not be able to back up my iPhone. I also have about 112GB of photos synced with Apple Photos which would also not be possible on the free storage tier.

We can argue about whether Apple should have a free photo sync/backup solution like Google Photos, but the backups are the real killer. Being able to back up one’s phone is not a “premium feature” by any means, it’s basic functionality. There are suggestions out there to do all sorts of crazy things with building up free storage depending on how many Apple devices you own and such, but I think that way lies madness.

I think the solution for Apple’s “iCloud is too expensive” problem is super simple: don’t count iPhone and iPad backups towards your iCloud storage, and offer a free, limited photo backup option.

By doing this, your backups would always work no matter how much storage you have.


Every year as WWDC rolls around, people expect Apple to change this. So far, every year it hasn’t. (It just quietly lowers the prices.)
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‘Beyond belief’: Brexit app for EU nationals won’t work on iPhones • The Guardian

Daniel Boffey and Lisa O’Carroll:


[UK Home Secretary Amber] Rudd had insisted that using the Home Office app would be as easy for the 3 million EU nationals in the UK as setting up an online account at LK Bennett, the clothes retailer. She also said it had been “extensively tested”, but Home Office officials admitted they had not yet begun mass testing of the app. They also said they would be hiring 1,000 caseworkers for a customer service centre for EU citizens, although they had not yet begun this process.

However, the fact that the app does not work on Apple devices has highlighted what many say is the government’s poor record with technology.

EU citizens who have tested the app say it requires just a small amount of information, such as a scan of a passport, address, email address and a selfie to match the passport picture. The system then matches the biographical details with HM Revenue & Customs records to give the applicant an instant answer as to whether their application has been successful.

However, it has emerged that because Apple will not enable its technology to read the chip on modern passports, the registration can only be completed on an Android phone.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said he would be writing to Theresa May this week about a series of wider concerns, including the £72 cost of registering, and the need for every member of a family to individually apply for settled status.


Doesn’t work on Apple devices because their NFC chips won’t talk to the NFC chip in modern passports. That’s not good planning, really.
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How did this advocate of e-waste reuse end up behind bars? • The Washington Post

Tom Jackman:


A California man who built a sizable business out of recycling electronic waste is headed to federal prison for 15 months after a federal appeals court in Miami rejected his claim that the “restore disks” he made to extend the lives of computers had no financial value, instead ruling that he had infringed Microsoft’s products to the tune of $700,000.

The appeals court upheld a federal district judge’s ruling that the disks made by Eric Lundgren to restore Microsoft operating systems had a value of $25 apiece, even though they could be downloaded free and could be used only on computers with a valid Microsoft license. The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit initially granted Lundgren an emergency stay of his prison sentence, shortly before he was to surrender, but then affirmed his original 15-month sentence and $50,000 fine without hearing oral argument in a ruling issued April 11…

…Initially, federal prosecutors valued the disks at $299 each, the cost of a brand-new Windows operating system, and Lundgren’s indictment claimed he had cost Microsoft $8.3m in lost sales. By the time of sentencing, a Microsoft letter to Hurley and a Microsoft expert witness had reduced the value of the disks to $25 apiece, stating that was what Microsoft charged refurbishers for such disks.

But both the letter and the expert were pricing a disk that came with a Microsoft license. “These sales of counterfeit operating systems,” Microsoft lawyer Bonnie MacNaughton wrote to the judge, “displaced Microsoft’s potential sales of genuine operating systems.” But Lundgren’s disks had no licenses and were intended for computers that already had licenses.


Man tries to do good, gets run over by US Customs. (Microsoft’s role in this is unclear; it doesn’t seem to have agitated for a prosecution.)

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Google aims at privacy law after Facebook lobbying failed • Bloomberg

Kartikay Mehrotra:


While Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were publicly apologizing this month for failing to protect users’ information, Google’s lobbyists were drafting measures to de-fang an Illinois law recognized as the most rigorous consumer privacy statute in the country. Their ambition: to strip language from a decade-old policy that regulates the use of fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition technology, and insert a loophole for companies embracing the use of biometrics.

Google is trying to exempt photos from the Illinois law at a time when it’s fighting a lawsuit in the state in which billions of dollars of damages may be at stake. The world’s largest search engine is facing claims that it violated the privacy of millions of users by gathering and storing biometric data without their consent.

Facebook has faced global backlash for failing to secure users’ information, triggered by revelations that a British firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign harvested information from as many as 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge. That breach has put the tech behemoth and its Silicon Valley cohort at the center of a data privacy debate.

Facebook is trying to show it’s taking consumer privacy more seriously, but there’s an inexorable dilemma: The business models and future growth of both Google and the world’s largest social network are tied up with the very data they’re now being asked to lock up – information most users have volunteered in exchange for these companies’ free products and services.

Illinois state senator Bill Cunningham proposed an amendment to the Biometric Information Privacy Act in February then aimed at saving a local nursing home from overly burdensome litigation. Google and lobbyists from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce – of which Facebook is a member – intervened, and on April 4 they offered a new version with Cunningham to embed further caveats in the legislation, including language to exclude photos from regulatory scrutiny.


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Student loan adviser Drew Cloud is everywhere… and doesn’t exist • The Chronicle of Higher Education



Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt.
He’s always got the new data, featuring irresistible twists:

One in five students use extra money from their student loans to buy digital currencies.

Nearly 8% of students would move to North Korea to free themselves of their debt.

Twenty-seven% would contract the Zika virus to live debt-free.

All of those surveys came from Cloud’s website, The Student Loan Report.

Drew Cloud’s story was simple: He founded the website, an “independent, authoritative news outlet” covering all things student loans, “after he had difficulty finding the most recent student loan news and information all in one place.”

He became ubiquitous on that topic. But he’s a fiction, the invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

After The Chronicle spent more than a week trying to verify Cloud’s existence, the company that owns The Student Loan Report confirmed that Cloud was fake.


I looked at that “cryptocurrency” story a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t link to it because something didn’t feel right. And so it turns out. Companies like this, which generate bogus stories for Googlejuice, have always existed; but now they’re damn hard to get rid of once they’re in a database.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s post said “The idea that you could have the Internet Archive itself is a bit fanciful.” It should have been “hack” rather than “have” – clearly we do have the Internet Archive. (Thanks Barry T for the gigantic embarrassment.)

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up: the recommendation engine risk, DNS crypto hack, smartwatches goose Verizon, and more

A symphony orchestra: the apotheosis of synchrony in technology? Photo by Grant Williamson on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The web’s recommendation engines are broken. Can we fix them? • WIRED

Renee DiResta:


Today, recommendation engines are perhaps the biggest threat to societal cohesion on the internet—and, as a result, one of the biggest threats to societal cohesion in the offline world, too. The recommendation engines we engage with are broken in ways that have grave consequences: amplified conspiracy theories, gamified news, nonsense infiltrating mainstream discourse, misinformed voters. Recommendation engines have become The Great Polarizer.

Ironically, the conversation about recommendation engines, and the curatorial power of social giants, is also highly polarized. A creator showed up at YouTube’s offices with a gun last week, outraged that the platform had demonetized and downranked some of the videos on her channel. This, she felt, was censorship. It isn’t, but the Twitter conversation around the shooting clearly illustrated the simmering tensions over how platforms navigate content : there are those who hold an absolutist view on free speech and believe any moderation is censorship, and there are those who believe that moderation is necessary to facilitate norms that respect the experience of the community.

As the consequences of curatorial decisions grow more dire, we need to ask: Can we make the internet’s recommendation engines more ethical? And if so, how?

Finding a solution begins with understanding how these systems work, since they are doing precisely what they’re designed to do. Recommendation engines generally function in two ways. The first is a content-based system. The engine asks, is this content similar to other content that this user has previously liked? If you binge-watched two seasons of, say, Law and Order, Netflix’s reco engine will probably decide that you’ll like the other seventeen, and that procedural crime dramas in general are a good fit. The second kind of filtering is what’s called a collaborative filtering system. That engine asks, what can I determine about this user, and what do similar people like? These systems can be effective even before you’ve given the engine any feedback through your actions.


DiResta is a terrific follow on Twitter. Anyhow, today we’ve got some more recommendation engine stories below. Think of it as accidental ironic commentary.
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The symphony orchestra and the Industrial Revolution • Marginal REVOLUTION

Tyler Cowen:


I heard Mozart’s 39th symphony in concert last night, and it occurred to me (once again) that I also was witnessing one of mankind’s greatest technological achievements.  Think about what went into the activity: each instrument, developed eventually to perfection and coordinated with the other instruments.  The system of tuning and the underlying principles of the music.  The acoustics of the music hall.  The sheet music on paper and the musical notation.  All of those features extremely well coordinated with the kind of compositional talent being produced in Central and Western Europe from say 1710 to 1920.  And by the mid-18th century most of the key features of this system were in place and by the early 19th century they were more or less perfected.

Sometimes I think of the Industrial Revolution as fundamentally a Cultural Revolution.  The first instantiation of this Cultural Revolution maybe was the rise of early Renaissance Art in Italy and in the Low Countries.  That too was based on a series of technological developments, including improved quality tempera paint, the development of oil painting, the resumption of bronze and marble techniques for sculpture, and the reintroduction of paper into Europe, which enabled artists’ sketches and drawings.


So much of this is what Steven Johnson calls “adjacent technology” – that you can’t move wholesale to new tech. You can’t build a nuclear reactor without having special steelmaking techniques (radioactive water does odd things). You can’t build commercial aircraft without special aluminium-forging methods, which implies huge amounts of electricity to make the aluminium, which implies…

Once you start thinking about it, it’s astonishing how far we have come in just a few thousand years.
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Suspicious event hijacks Amazon traffic for two hours, steals cryptocurrency • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


Amazon lost control of a small portion of its cloud services for two hours on Tuesday morning when hackers exploited a known Internet-protocol weakness that allowed them to redirect traffic to rogue destinations. By subverting Amazon’s domain-resolution service, the attackers masqueraded as cryptocurrency website and stole about $150,000 in digital coins from unwitting end users. They may have targeted other Amazon customers as well.

The incident, which started around 6 AM California time, hijacked roughly 1,300 IP addresses, Oracle-owned Internet Intelligence said on Twitter. The malicious redirection was caused by fraudulent routes that were announced by Columbus, Ohio-based eNet, a large Internet service provider that is referred to as autonomous system 10297. Once in place, the eNet announcement caused Hurricane Electric and possibly other peers of eNet to send traffic over the same unauthorized routes. Amazon and eNet officials didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.

The highly suspicious event is the latest to involve Border Gateway Protocol, the technical specification that network operators use to exchange large chunks of Internet traffic. Despite its crucial function in directing wholesale amounts of data, BGP still largely relies on the Internet-equivalent of word of mouth from participants who are presumed to be trustworthy. Organizations such as Amazon whose traffic is hijacked currently have no effective technical means to prevent such attacks.


The internet’s fragility is well-hidden, but plenty of people know how to exploit it.
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Watches, not phones, fuel Verizon’s subscriber growth • Bloomberg

Scott Moritz:


Smartwatches, meanwhile, have helped bring another source of revenue to the industry — even if the devices aren’t as lucrative as phones. The latest wearable devices, such as the Apple Watch Series 3, have their own network connections. That means they don’t need to link up with smartphones to communicate and – good news for carriers – require a separate wireless subscription.

Verizon added about 359,000 subscribers last quarter who are using watches, wearables and other devices. That helped make up for the loss of 24,000 phone customers and 75,000 tablet customers in the period. But watch customers pay $10 a month, compared with the $40 or more that phone customers typically shell out.

That effect was evident in Verizon’s wireless service revenue, which fell 2.4% last quarter.

Verizon’s FiOS landline service, meanwhile, added 66,000 internet customers in the first quarter. But it lost 22,000 TV subscribers.


Wonder how many of those 359,000 subscriber adds were Apple Watch users, compared to Samsung or others. The lost tablet customers is a big number, too.
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Facebook has hosted stolen identities and social security numbers for years • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


Cybercriminals have posted sensitive personal information, such as credit card and social security numbers, of dozens of people on Facebook and have advertised entire databases of private information on the social platform. Some of these posts have been left up on Facebook for years, and the internet giant only acted on these posts after we told it about them.

As of Monday, there were several public posts on Facebook that advertised dozens of people’s Social Security Numbers and other personal data. These weren’t very hard to find. It was as easy as a simple Google search.

A screenshot of the redacted Google search results for social security numbers on Facebook.
Most of the posts appeared to be ads made by criminals who were trying to sell personal information. Some of the ads are several years old, and were posted as “public” on Facebook, meaning anyone can see them, not just the author’s friends.

Independent security researcher Justin Shafer alerted Motherboard to these posts Monday.

“I am surprised how old some of the posts are and that it seems Facebook doesn’t have a system in place for removing these posts on their own,” Shafer told Motherboard in an online chat. “Posts that would have words flagged automatically by their system.”


Comment from editor-in-chief Jason Koebler:


“Sick of a) having journalists have to moderate social media platforms for the giant companies that run them b) getting no response to request for comment on things that are illegal/break TOS but having the companies delete them before we run an article.”


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Facebook and Google: skip the F8 and I/O infomercials; fix your problems • Buzzfeed

John Paczkowski:


If the platforms are serious about healing themselves, you should be able to see it in a show that’s more about fixing what’s broken rather than building something new. And if they aren’t serious? Expect the same shiny, happy-fun wow-fests. If the onstage apology is shorter than the post-show afterparty, it will make clear that the contrition tours of 2017 and 2018 have been little more than lip service, and we can expect more of the same old fuckups and same old promises to do better.

In 2018 spending millions on rah-rah promotional spectacles for platforms like Facebook’s and Google’s is particularly unseemly when set against the conga line of travesties they’ve enabled.

What might 2019 look like if instead of dumping a manure spreader of money to rent out Mountain View, California’s cavernous Shoreline Amphitheatre and trick it out with 1,000-foot earth harps and other Burningmanalia, Google directed those resources towards developing moderation solutions that might have prevented the propagation of exploitative videos aimed at and starring children on YouTube — or prohibited mass shooting conspiracy theories from showing up in Google’s “top stories” search results? Or if instead of hiring Chvrches or Chance the Rapper to serenade developers, Facebook redirected those resources to repairing a massive, global platform that clearly incentivizes users to spread fake news faster than credible, verified reports?

This year instead of promising to “continue to look at ways to improve,” as Google did when it and YouTube spread fake news and propaganda about a Texas mass shooting suspect (just one month after the latter announced reforms intended to prevent such things from happening), just improve.


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YouTube hosted graphic images of bestiality for months • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:


The “Fantastic Girl and Her Horse in My Village” video itself does not feature any bestiality. It’s largely footage of a woman bathing and brushing a horse. But clicking on it triggers YouTube’s recommendation engine which promptly serves up dozens more animal videos — many with thumbnails featuring graphic bestiality. One such thumbnailed video, published by a channel called “ALL ANIMAL,” had amassed 2.3 million views at the time of this writing.

Most of these bestiality-thumbed videos — which appear to originate in South Asian countries like Cambodia — feature women in sundresses playing with or caring for animals like horses and dogs; Some feature up skirt angles and groin shots of women as they bathe or brush horses and dogs. And there are many. Without needing to search, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm pointed BuzzFeed News to dozens of accounts, each with multiple videos featuring explicit bestiality thumbnails.


OK, YouTube, you broke it with your algorithm. Now fix it.
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Addressing recent claims of “manipulated” blog posts in the Wayback Machine • Internet Archive Blogs

Chris Butler:


This past December, [Joy Ann] Reid’s lawyers contacted us, asking to have archives of the blog ( taken down, stating that “fraudulent” posts were “inserted into legitimate content” in our archives of the blog. Her attorneys stated that they didn’t know if the alleged insertion happened on the original site or with our archives (the point at which the manipulation is to have occurred, according to Reid, is still unclear to us).

When we reviewed the archives, we found nothing to indicate tampering or hacking of the Wayback Machine versions. At least some of the examples of allegedly fraudulent posts provided to us had been archived at different dates and by different entities.

We let Reid’s lawyers know that the information provided was not sufficient for us to verify claims of manipulation. Consequently, and due to Reid’s being a journalist (a very high-profile one, at that) and the journalistic nature of the blog archives, we declined to take down the archives. We were clear that we would welcome and consider any further information that they could provide us to support their claims.

At some point after our correspondence, a robots.txt exclusion request specific to the Wayback Machine was placed on the live blog.


The idea that you could have the Internet Archive itself is a bit fanciful. I could just about believe that someone malicious could have hacked an old blog and inserted content (some old blogs were Swiss cheese, security-wise); but then it should be feasible to follow when pages were added and deduce if they were contemporary or post-facto. (Disclaimer: I follow Reid on Twitter, and don’t really care what her views on homosexuality used to be.)
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Alphabet boosts spending as revenues soar • FT

Richard Waters:


Even after deducting so-called TAC — traffic acquisition costs, the fees paid to other companies to carry its search service and adverts — Wall Street expects the company to add $17bn in net revenue this year. That is roughly as much as the entire US newspaper industry earned last year from print advertising.

The company’s net revenues jumped 24% in the first quarter, to $24.9bn, with growth driven by advertising from mobile search and YouTube. That was higher than the 21% most analysts expected.

Revenue from the company’s non-advertising businesses, driven by its cloud computing division, climbed 36%, and now account for 17% of the total.

The latest burst of spending included $7.3bn in capital spending in the first quarter, more than half the $13.2bn the company spent in the whole of last year. Even without the $2.4bn to buy a new office building in New York, that would still have been nearly double what it spent in the first quarter of last year.

Ruth Porat, chief financial officer, said half the capital spending was needed to expand the company’s data centres and network to handle heavier use of its services in future. “The investments we’re making there really support the compute capacity we see in our growth outlook,” she said.


Google seems to have discovered the ability to just keep growing its revenues. Hard not to think that it’s YouTube which is really driving the growth.
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The Presidency: the hardest job in the world • The Atlantic

John Dickerson interviewed multiple people who have worked in the White House to wonder about how the job has arguably become too big:


Eisenhower sorted priorities through a four-quadrant decision matrix that is still a staple of time-management books. It was based on his maxim “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Sage advice, but antique for any president trying to manage the office after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Cold War presidents monitored slow-moving events that had flashes of urgency. Now the stakes are just as high, but the threats are more numerous and fast-moving…

…Presidents now start their day with the President’s Daily Brief, an intelligence assessment of the threats facing America. How the PDB is delivered changes with each president. Early in his term, Trump reportedly requested a verbal digest of the brief. During the Obama years, the PDB was wrapped in a stiff leather binder and looked like the guest book at a country club. Inside was a grim iPad containing all the possible ways the president could fail at his most essential role. Satellite photos tracked terrorists’ movements, and pictures of failed laptop bombs demonstrated the pace of awful innovation. At the end of the briefing with intelligence officials, a president might be asked whether a specific person should be killed, or whether some mother’s son should be sent on a secret raid from which he might not return.

John F. Kennedy requested that his intelligence briefing be small enough to fit in his pocket. Since 2005, the PDB has been produced by an entirely new entity in the executive branch, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which itself includes several intelligence agencies founded since Kennedy’s era, among them the vast Department of Homeland Security.

Monitoring even small threats can take up an entire day. “My definition of a good day was when more than half of the things on my schedule were things I planned versus things that were forced on me,” says Jeh Johnson, who served Obama as homeland-security secretary. An acute example: In June 2016, Johnson planned to travel to China to discuss the long-term threat from cyberattacks. Hours before takeoff, he was forced to cancel the trip so he could monitor developments after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“The urgent should not crowd out the important,” says Lisa Monaco, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “But sometimes you don’t get to the important. Your day is spent just trying to prioritize the urgent. Which urgent first?”


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: China’s selfie madness, better notifications, Russia blocks Telegram (and Google), Facebook’s later smart speaker, and more

Apple’s purchase of music recognition service Shazam has been delayed over data concerns. Photo by on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. None owned by Sean Hannity. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

China’s selfie obsession • The New Yorker

Jiayang Fan visits Chinese phone maker Meitu:


The building’s interior evoked a giant Hello Kitty store. The walls were painted Jordan-almond shades—the color scheme changes every few months—and there were stuffed animals and bobblehead dolls on the desks. Conference rooms were named for aspirational spring-break locations: Hawaii, Bora-Bora, Fiji. (The average age of the employees is twenty-seven.) Stylishly clad men and women pecked at computers that were covered in garish stickers, like high-school lockers.

Chen Xiaojie, a twenty-seven-year-old with caramel-colored contact lenses and waist-length hair, gave me a demonstration of Meitu’s most popular apps, on her Meitu M8 phone. Holding the device at arm’s length, she tucked in her chin (“so the face comes out smaller”), snapped a photo of us, and handed me the result. My complexion looked smoother, my eyes bigger and rounder. I asked if I had been “P”-ed—the Chinese shorthand for Photoshopping. Chen said that the phone had automatically “upgraded” me. “Only when you enjoy taking selfies will you have the confidence to take more,” she explained. “And only when you look pretty will you enjoy taking selfies and ‘P’-ing the photo. It’s all very logical, you see.”

Next, using the BeautyPlus app, she showed me how to select a “beauty level” from 1 to 7—a progressive scale of paleness and freckle deletion. Then we could smooth out, tone, slim, and contour our faces, whiten our teeth, resize our irises, cinch our waists, and add a few inches in height. We could apply a filter—“celestial,” “voodoo,” “edge,” and “vibes” are some of the options. A recently added filter called “personality” attempts to counteract a foreseeable consequence of the technology: the more that people doctor their selfies, the more everyone ends up looking the same. Like everything else in the app, the personalities available—“boho,” “mystique,” and so on—are preset…

…I asked a number of Chinese friends how long it takes them to edit a photo before posting it on social media. The answer for most of them was about forty minutes per face; a selfie taken with a friend would take well over an hour. The work requires several apps, each of which has particular strengths. No one I asked would consider posting or sending a photo that hadn’t been improved.

When I met Meitu’s chairman, Cai Wensheng, later that day, he confirmed that editing your pictures had become a matter of ordinary courtesy. “In the same way that you would point out to your friend if her shirt was misbuttoned, or if her pants were unzipped, you should have the decency to Meitu her face if you are going to share it with your friends,” he said. He took enormous pride in the fact that “Meitu” had entered the Chinese lexicon as a verb.


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YouTube under fire for censoring video exposing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones • The Guardian

Sam Levin:


YouTube’s algorithm has long promoted videos attacking gun violence victims, allowing the rightwing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to build a massive audience. But when a not-for-profit recently exposed Jones’ most offensive viral content in a compilation on YouTube, the site was much less supportive – instead deleting the footage from the platform, accusing it of “harassment and bullying”.

Media Matters, a leftwing watchdog, last week posted a series of clips of Jones spreading falsehoods about the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, a newsworthy video of evidence after the victims’ families filed a defamation lawsuit against the Infowars host. But YouTube, for reasons it has yet to explain, removed the video three days after it was published, a move that once again benefitted Jones, who is now arguing that the defamation suit has defamed him.

The video was censored for several days, but reinstated Monday after the Guardian’s inquiry and backlash on social media. Still, the case offered yet another stark illustration of the way tech companies and social media algorithms have failed to distinguish between fake news and legitimate content – while continuing to provide a powerful platform to the most repugnant views and dangerous propaganda.

“This just shows the capriciousness and arbitrariness by which they are enforcing these standards,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters.


Perhaps it was initially taken down because it was targeted by flying ants on behalf of Jones, reporting it as spam/evil/abusive?
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Apple’s deal for Shazam is delayed in Europe over data concerns • The New York Times

Adam Satariano:


Apple said in December that it would buy Shazam, the song-recognition service that has been a mainstay on people’s smartphones for years with its ability to name a track after listening for a few seconds. The app has also become a valuable source of data, giving music industry executives insight into what songs and artists are performing well and in what regions.

European authorities are raising alarms because Shazam has important data about Apple’s rivals, potentially allowing the company to “directly target its competitors’ customers and encourage them to switch” to Apple’s own streaming service, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, said in a statement.

“Competing music streaming services could be put at a competitive disadvantage,” the commission said. It added that it wanted to prevent Apple from blocking Shazam from referring users to other music services.

The European Commission has until Sept. 4 to make a final decision on whether to block or approve the deal, or seek concessions from Apple.


A friend said to me that we won’t know what Apple’s planning for Shazam until we’ve have a WWDC following the completed acquisition – that’s when you’d see the fruits of its planning. If the decision is delayed past June, that’s probably going to mean quite a long delay on real integration.

But the question that the EC is asking is definitely the correct one to ask.
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Designing better notifications • Martiancraft

Ben Brooks:


We need to start being proactive in designing for the way people live. We should make use of Apple‘s tools for things like threading identifiers to consolidate updates into a single notification. Calendar access lets us determine when people are busy and should not be distracted; we can even determine if a person has enough time between meetings that they should see notifications, or if the app should wait. Notifications were never intended to be the all important and distracting force they’ve become. With a bit of discipline and care, we can craft notifications people will actually appreciate.

We could set notifications to auto-mute during meals, not just sleep, allowing us to focus on the time we spend with others. Notifications can even use geofencing to determine if we actually need notifications from a particular app. Home alarm push notifications are redundant when I’m at home. Nor do I need work-related notifications when I am not at work. In other words, notifications should only come in when they are relevant, important, and when I will want to deal with them. If smartphones are what chains people to their work, then as the creators of apps, we can help to unchain them by restricting work notifications not only to “work hours” but to work locations as well.


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How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg:


an economy of paid reviews has flourished. Merchants pledge to drop reimbursements into a reviewer’s PayPal account within minutes of posting comments for items such as kitchen knives, rain ponchos or shower caddies, often sweetening the deal with a $5 commission or a $10 Amazon gift card. Facebook this month deleted more than a dozen of the groups where sellers and buyers matched after being contacted by The Post. Amazon kicked a five-star seller off its site after an inquiry from The Post.

“These days it is very hard to sell anything on Amazon if you play fairly,” said Tommy Noonan, who operates ReviewMeta, a website that helps consumers spot suspicious Amazon reviews. “If you want your product to be competitive, you have to somehow manufacture reviews.”

Sellers say the flood of inauthentic reviews makes it harder for them to compete legitimately and can crush profits. “It’s devastating, devastating,” said Mark Caldeira, owner of the baby-products company Mayapple Baby.


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Google confirms some of its own services are now getting blocked in Russia over the Telegram ban • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:


currently, nearly 18 million IP addresses are knocked out from being accessed in Russia, all in the name of blocking Telegram.

And in the latest development, Google has now confirmed to us that its own services are now also being impacted. From what we understand, Google Search, Gmail and push notifications for Android apps are among the products being affected.

“We are aware of reports that some users in Russia are unable to access some Google products, and are investigating those reports,” said a Google spokesperson in an emailed response. We’d been trying to contact Google all week about the Telegram blockade, and this is the first time that the company has both replied and acknowledged something related to it.

(Amazon has acknowledged our messages but has yet to reply to them.)

Google’s comments come on the heels of RKN itself also announcing today that it had expanded its IP blocks to Google’s services. At its peak, RKN had blocked nearly 19 million IP addresses, with dozens of third-party services that also use Google Cloud and Amazon’s AWS, such as Twitch and Spotify, also getting caught in the crossfire.

Russia is among the countries in the world that has enforced a kind of digital firewall, blocking periodically or permanently certain online content. Some turn to VPNs to access that content anyway, but it turns out that Telegram hasn’t needed to rely on that workaround to get used.

“RKN is embarrassingly bad at blocking Telegram, so most people keep using it without any intermediaries,” said Ilya Andreev, COO and co-founder of Vee Security, which has been providing a proxy service to bypass the ban.


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Where countries are tinderboxes and Facebook is a match • The New York Times

Amanda Taub and Max Fisher:


Time and again, communal hatreds overrun the newsfeed — the primary portal for news and information for many users — unchecked as local media are displaced by Facebook and governments find themselves with little leverage over the company. Some users, energized by hate speech and misinformation, plot real-world attacks.

A reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s descent into violence, based on interviews with officials, victims and ordinary users caught up in online anger, found that Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing. Facebook officials, they say, ignored repeated warnings of the potential for violence, resisting pressure to hire moderators or establish emergency points of contact.

Facebook declined to respond in detail to questions about its role in Sri Lanka’s violence, but a spokeswoman said in an email that “we remove such content as soon as we’re made aware of it.” She said the company was “building up teams that deal with reported content” and investing in “technology and local language expertise to help us swiftly remove hate content.”

Sri Lankans say they see little evidence of change. And in other countries, as Facebook expands, analysts and activists worry they, too, may see violence.


The question is whether it’s Facebooks’ design itself, or just the fact of easy communication, that enables this sort of explosive behaviour.
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Facebook delays smart speaker launch to October • Digitimes

Aron Lee and Joseph Tsai:


Facebook’s smart speakers reportedly will begin mass production in June as originally scheduled, but the order volumes for 2018 have been cut by around 20% from the original plan, while the product launch is estimated to be delayed to October, according to sources from the upstream supply chain. The order volumes for 2019 remain unchanged.

Facebook originally planned to unveil two smart speakers in May, but the plan has been postponed because the company founder Mark Zuckerberg had been summoned to the US congress to testify on the company’s privacy issues.

Facebook has prepared two smart speakers codenamed Fiona and Aloha, both equipped with a 15in in-cell panel supplied from LG Display. Pegatron is the sole manufacturer of the two devices.


Speakers with 15in screens.. so.. big tablets? Then again, given that FB content is primarily visual, the odd thing is the “speaker” part. Unless it’s for video calls (Messenger) and playing music/video. The video being ads, of course.
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Fake it till you make it: meet the wolves of Instagram • The Guardian

A great long read from Symeon Brown about how scammy financial products are sold to unsuspecting noobs on social media:


This is how it works. [Elijah] Oyefeso posts images of luxury goods he claims to have bought with his winnings. He gives the pictures hashtags such as #richkidsofinstagram and mass-follows young people online. One teenager told me he and his friends were drawn in by the sight of a young black man who grew up on a council estate similar to theirs, driving a Rolls-Royce. As soon as anyone follows Oyefeso back, he slides into their DMs with a message: “I’m offering a great opportunity to earn £100-400 per week from trading, no experience required, all done from home and only requires 15-30 min per day.” If you’re young, poor and want to defy the odds against you, the next question is: where do I sign up?

What wolves like Oyefeso fail to declare is that each of the trading platforms you sign up to (with a minimum deposit of £250) pays him around £40-80 – and that recruitment, rather than betting on these predatory financial products, is the way he makes his risk-free money (Oyefeso maintains he’s making money from trading). Young people join the platforms, make a few trades and can lose anything between £250 and several thousand pounds, then realise they can make it back by repeating the trick: becoming a paid marketing affiliate masquerading as a successful trader. It looks like a vintage pyramid scheme, rebooted for the social media era using a model of e-marketing that has boomed over the last 20 years.

In 2016, one of the wolves shared with me the presentation he was pitched by the leading software provider of binary options, SpotOption. The PowerPoint presentation revealed a system that is rigged against the consumer: the average user would lose 80% of everything he or she put in to “trade”. Later that year, the core of this presentation was published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and SpotOption was banned in its home country, Israel. SpotOption says that since the changes in Israeli law, it has ceased all activities related to binary options, and terminated agreements with clients found to be acting unethically.


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You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Hunt blasts social media companies, EventBrite muscles in, Google gets Chat-ty, climate’s hockey stick 20 years on, and more

The e-SIM would do away with physical ones – but US carriers want to lock it just like physical ones. Photo by tua ulamac on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Very recently declassified. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Safeguards for social media ‘inadequate’, says Jeremy Hunt • The Guardian

Toby Helm:


In an angrily worded letter sent to executives at Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Google, [UK secretary of state for health] Hunt says their failure to come forward with safeguards to control access is both “morally wrong” and “unfair on parents”.

Hunt says their inadequate responses have left him with no option but to consider legislation on internet safety. He has also asked the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, to report on the impact of technology on young people’s mental health, and to recommend healthy limits for screen time.

In the letter, Hunt tells the companies that their work on devising ways to verify the age of children accessing social media platforms, on screen-time limits, and on measures to end cyberbullying has fallen short.

“In particular, progress on age verification is not good enough … I am concerned that your companies seem content with a situation where thousands of users breach your own terms and conditions on the minimum user age.

“I fear that you are collectively turning a blind eye to a whole generation of children being exposed to the harmful emotional side-effects of social media prematurely; this is both morally wrong and deeply unfair on parents, who are faced with the invidious choice of allowing children to use platforms they are too young to access, or excluding them from social interaction that often the majority of their peers are engaging in. It is unacceptable and irresponsible for you to put parents in this position.”


Age verification is, as Hunt points out, appallingly badly carried out. YouTube’s failure to even try to distinguish between what’s appropriate for a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old has irked me for years. There is a feeling that some sort of reckoning is coming around.
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Chat: Google’s big shot at killing Apple’s iMessage • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:


Google has unveiled a new messaging system, Chat, an attempt to replace SMS, unify Android’s various messaging services and beat Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp with the help of mobile phone operators.

Unlike traditional texting, or SMS, most modern messaging services – such as Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Apple’s iMessage – are so-called over-the-top (OTT) services, which circumvent the mobile phone operator by sending messages over the internet.

Google’s Chat is different. Users will not need to download another chat app or set up a new account. Instead of using OTT, it is based on rich communication services (RCS), a successor to SMS (short message standard), which has been used by people all over the world since 1992 and is still the fallback for most.

RCS has been in the works since 2007, steered by the GSMA mobile operator trade body. Various mobile phone operators have offered their own versions, typically called “advanced messaging” or similar, but they haven’t usually worked with the outside world.

With Chat, Google is unifying all the disparate versions of RCS under one interoperable standard that will work across networks, smartphones and operating systems. In doing so it hopes to take the surefire nature of SMS – anyone can send anyone else with a phone a message without them requiring a specific account or app – and bring it up-to-date with all the features modern chat demands.


An obvious thought: if Google even looks as though it is positioning this as a way to “kill iMessage”, Apple will never support it, and if Apple doesn’t support it then operators are going to wonder why they’re letting Google screw up their golden goose, and they won’t support it after all. Google can preload it on Android phones, but that’s not “killing iMessage”; it’s “providing an alternative to iMessage”, which WhatsApp and latterly Facebook Messenger have done for years without “killing” iMessage.

Google, seems to be rewriting the Star Trek episode of The Trouble With Tribbles, but with chat apps taking the part of the tribbles.
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U.S. investigating AT&T and Verizon over wireless collusion claim • The New York Times

Ceclia Kang:


The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into potential coordination by AT&T, Verizon and a telecommunications standards organization to hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers, according to six people with knowledge of the inquiry.

In February, the Justice Department issued demands to AT&T, Verizon and the G.S.M.A., a mobile industry standards-setting group, for information on potential collusion to thwart a technology known as eSIM, said two of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details are confidential.

The technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. AT&T and Verizon face accusations that they colluded with the G.S.M.A. to try to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology.


US carriers hate the idea of people having the ability to choose between them and introduce competition into the whole thing. It might bring down prices or let people choose based on quality, and then where would you be in the land of free enterprise and capitalism?

Meanwhile the GSMA has suspended work on eSIMs.
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Eventbrite Merchant Agreement • Eventbrite Help Center

This has blown up over the weekend on Twitter:


7. Permissions You Grant us to Film and Record Your Events.
You grant permission to Eventbrite and its agents to enter onto and remain on the premises (including real property, fixtures, equipment, or other personal property) where your event is hosted (and any other premises you and Eventbrite mutually approve) (collectively, the “Premises”) with personnel and equipment for the purpose of photographing and recording the Premises, both internally and externally in connection with the production of digital content on the date of your event(s) and any other dates reasonably requested by Eventbrite (for example, during setup and breakdown for the event) (the “Shoot”). You, on behalf of yourself, your employees, independent contractors, invitees, licensees, performers, exhibitors, attendees, and all other individuals present at the Shoot (collectively, the “Subjects”), grant permission to Eventbrite and its agents, successors and assigns to record and use the image, likeness, appearance, movements, performances, and statements of the Subjects in any live or recorded audio, video, or photographic display or other transmission, exhibition, publication or reproduction made of, or at, the event (regardless of whether before, during or after the event) for any purpose (including, without limitation, the advertising, promotion and other exploitation of Eventbrite’s brand, Trademarks, Services, or events hosted on the Sites), in any manner, in any medium or context now known or hereafter developed, without further authorization from, or compensation to, the Subjects or anyone acting on a Subject’s behalf.


Gotta love legal jargon. But what is Eventbrite up to with this?
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ICO fines Kensington & Chelsea £120,000 • UK Authority

Mark Say:


At the end of June the council received three requests for statistical information used in a report in 2015; specifically the addresses of empty properties in the borough.

As the council no longer held the information, different sources were combined to produce an Excel spreadsheet that included named owners against the addresses of empty properties. This was not originally intended to be disclosed, but an oversight led to it being included as hidden data on the spreadsheet made available to the FoI applicants: it could be revealed with a double click.

This led to the publication on newspaper websites of the number of empty properties with details of three high profile owners. In addition, the spreadsheet was published on one journalist’s online blog for an hour.


Excel considered harmful.
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Rising sea levels reshape Miami’s housing market • WSJ

Laura Kusisto and Arian Campo-Flores:


Jesse Keenan, a real-estate professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and author of the paper, said he was initially surprised to see ordinary homeowners already seeming to factor future sea-level rise into their calculations.

Low-elevation properties are becoming Miami’s laggards, he said. “To see them really separate is pretty shocking, because you can infer that this is a pricing signal from climate change.”

Miami is a testing ground for the vulnerability of housing markets in other coastal cities, such as New York and Boston, because its elevation is as little as one foot above sea level and its porous limestone makes it especially vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Another new paper, from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University, shows that the trend in Miami is playing out across the country, with homes that are vulnerable to rising sea levels now selling at a 7% discount compared with similar but less-exposed properties. The paper, which is under peer review, shows that the size of the coastal discount has grown over time.

Ryan Lewis, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, said he and his co-authors noticed the strongest discounting among investors and second-home owners, who have the most choices about where to buy. Increasingly, he said, ordinary home buyers in places such as Miami, where there is strong awareness of the risks, also are starting to discount.


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Earth Day and the Hockey Stick: a singular message • Scientific American Blog Network

Michael Mann published the original “hockey stick” graph with a pair of colleagues in Nature in 1998:


Nothing in my training as a scientist could have prepared me for the very public battles I would soon face. The hockey stick told a simple story: There is something unprecedented about the warming we are experiencing today and, by implication, it has something to do with us and our profligate burning of fossil fuels. The story was a threat to companies that profited from fossil fuels, and government officials doing their bidding, all of whom opposed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the vulnerable junior first author of the article (I was a postdoctoral researcher), I found myself in the crosshairs of industry-funded attack dogs looking to discredit the iconic symbol of the human impact on our climate…by discrediting me personally.

The hockey stick temperature reconstruction from 1999 (blue) along with the data record (red) and the 2013 “PAGES2k” temperature reconstruction (green). ​ ​​Credit: Klaus Bittermann via Wikimedia Commons ​(CC BY-SA 4.0)
In my 2013 book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, I gave a name to this modus operandi of science critics: the Serengeti strategy. The term describes how industry special interests and their facilitators single out individual researchers to attack, in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers there is strength; individuals are far more vulnerable.


The “Serengeti strategy” is pretty widely used for all sorts of topics.
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SmugMug snaps up Flickr photo service from Verizon’s Oath • USA Today

Jessica Guynn:


Flickr has been snapped up by Silicon Valley photo-sharing and storage company SmugMug, USA TODAY has learned.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill told USA TODAY he’s committed to breathing new life into the faded social networking pioneer, which hosted photos and lively interactions long before it became trendy. 

SmugMug, an independent, family-run company, will maintain Flickr as a standalone community of amateur and professional photographers and give the long neglected service the focus and resources it deserves, MacAskill said in an exclusive interview. 

He declined to disclose the terms of the deal, which closed this week.

“Flickr is an amazing community, full of some of the world’s most passionate photographers. It’s a fantastic product and a beloved brand, supplying tens of billions of photos to hundreds of millions of people around the world,” MacAskill said. “Flickr has survived through thick-and-thin and is core to the entire fabric of the Internet.”

The surprise deal ends months of uncertainty for Flickr, whose fate had been up in the air since last year when Yahoo was bought by Verizon for $4.5 billion and joined with AOL in Verizon’s Oath subsidiary.


The FAQ over at SmugMug includes this gem:


What will happen to my Flickr account? What will happen to my Smugmug account?

Absolutely nothing. Flickr and SmugMug will continue to operate separately, just as both have been. Your SmugMug and Flickr accounts will remain separate and independent for the foreseeable future.

Both Flickr and SmugMug users will continue to log in with their current credentials and you will have the same experience you are used to. If things do change in the future for Flickr, we’ll be as transparent as possible about the process and give you as much notice as we can about the issues that will matter to you.


Keep a watch on this one. I use Flickr Creative Commons licence photos on these posts; it would be a tragedy (for me, but more for creators) if SmugMug decides that Flickr just isn’t washing its face sufficiently.
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This awesome illusion turns squares into circles in the mirror • Science Alert

Hi there, welcome to another dimension, where up is down, right is wrong, and squares are circles. Seriously, bring us all your squares and we’ll turn them into circles for you. Just place them in front of this mirror interdimensional portal here, and voilà! You’re welcome.

Meet one of the finalists of the aptly named Best Illusion of the Year Contest 2016 – the ‘ambiguous cylinder illusion’, performed by engineer Kokichi Sugihara from Meiji University in Japan. 

So what’s actually going on here? Like any good optical illusion, it’s a play on perspective – our eyes see something that our brains have a difficult time interpreting and correcting.

Watch it on YouTube, or in the embed below. Guarantee you won’t be able to work out how it works. (It’s a real, single, solid object – no sleight of hand involved.)

(“Privacy-enhanced” mode turned on for the embed.)
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iPhony (August 2002) • Daring Fireball

John Gruber, wayyyyy back in August 2002:


John Markoff’s New York Times article speculating about a vaporware Apple-branded mobile “iPhone” is getting a lot of traction. Go ahead and read it, but remember that it’s all bullshit speculation at this point.

Other than Jobs himself, who confirms nothing about an Apple iPhone, Mr. Markoff’s only sources are “industry analysts”. Industry analysts know nothing about Apple, and given their record in the tech industry in the last few years, it’s a wonder anyone quotes them at all. Even the Daring Fireball could have offered better insight than these bozos…

…The article seems to insinuate that Apple could make Sherlock run on a cell phone; that’s impossible, unless the cell phone were actually running Mac OS X, which definitely is impossible. If Apple were to create an iPhone, and said iPhone were to have a search application called Sherlock, said Sherlock would by definition need to be completely rewritten.


This popped into my feed some time last week; the perspective is fascinating. The NYT article suggest that Apple would try to add phone capabilities to a computer – which is sort of how it worked out, but this was all before Apple had even begun working on a phone. At this point it was considering a tablet, because at a dinner with Jobs, a boastful Microsoftie (not, I think, Gates) had made so much of what the new Windows tablets could do that Jobs went back to the office and determined to crush it.

Then in 2005 the tablet was put off in favour of the phone.
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Someone’s building a Twitter bot army in Thailand • Khao Sod

Todd Ruiz on the creation of 40,000 peculiar Twitter accounts:


Where it gets weird is that all are new accounts with no followers and, in almost all cases, no tweets. Yet each follows a few dozen accounts representing a who’s who list of online influencers including journalists, media companies, scholars and celebs. Some user names are written in Thai script, but all of those have machine-generated strings such as @hjZuotIwLtiSojc and @hIrQMl1B71tIYKF as account names…

…Thai internet transparency activist Arthit Suriyawongkul said that if the bots are specifically targeting media and influential figures, it could be something to watch out for. Because they haven’t done anything yet, he said it’s difficult to predict their intended purpose.

“Because they still haven’t shown activity, it’s not easy to tell what they’re up to,” he said. “I can’t think of any current (political) context in Thailand right now that might be fueling these bots.”

He believes that, when it comes to state surveillance, there are easier methods available. Also, bots are “generally harmless” if they remain inactive and unfollowed.

Pichaya said people should be wary of another possible function: recording online activity.

“If we post something and delete it later, we may think it is gone, but these bots will collect it. It’s not really deleted,” he said. “If you comment on something offensively, and let’s say it could be relevant to a libel case, that might cause you problems, because it will be kept.”


(Thanks JC for the link.)
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National Enquirer parent, staunch Trump backer, faces mounting debt, shrinking sales • WSJ

Lukas Alpert:


The National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., has said the tabloid’s plentiful and positive coverage of President Donald Trump has been good for business.

If so, it hasn’t been enough to boost the company’s overall performance.

Nonpublic AMI financial reports reviewed by The Wall Street Journal reveal a company with ballooning debt, falling revenue and shrinking newsstand sales at its print magazines, including the flagship Enquirer as well as OK! and Star.

Revenue for the fiscal year that ended in March 2017 was $203.8m, down 9% from the prior year and 29% from 2014, when the company completed a substantial restructuring. Its outstanding debt load stood at $920m at the end of December. Acquisitions of Us Weekly and Men’s Journal in 2017 helped increase revenue in the first three quarters of fiscal 2018 to $195.5m, from $154m in the year-earlier period, but they also added more than $100m in debt.

Aggressive cost-cutting has kept AMI hovering around profitability on an operating basis, but the company has routinely booked quarterly and annual losses in the tens of millions of dollars due to amortization costs related to its debt, the financial reports show.


This graphic shows the average sold per week by the National Enquirer when it has/had Trump/Clinton on the cover. (There’s more detail, including specific covers – “Hillary’s Hitman Tells All!” is the highest peak, and “Hillary Gains 103 Lbs!” the second biggest-selling anti-Clinton cover. The biggest-selling Trump cover (over on the left) is “The Donald Trump Nobody Knows!”

But.. $920m of debt. That’s quite some gearing.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the ICO scam that wasn’t, millennial streamers, machine learning and chaos, Intel shutters smart glasses, and more

Mycelia: they could make an impressive leather replacement for vegans. Photo by Amadej Trnkoczy on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Millennial streamers and music on smart speakers • Global Web Index

Olivia Valentine:


Millennials are the most passionate generation when it comes to music streaming, with 68% engaging. But just as the music-streaming business is experiencing continued user growth, the interest in smart voice-controlled devices (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home) is trending quickly upwards, too, pointing at a potential to shake up the music streaming landscape. 

Two-thirds of Millennial Music Streamers say they currently use or are planning to purchase one of these smart devices, putting this group 9 percentage points ahead of the Millennial average for this figure across the globe.


So quite a lot of room for Apple to expand into, if it gets it right. This is in the early stages.

(The definition of “music streamer” is someone who says they stream music daily.)
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Palantir knows everything about you • Bloomberg Businessweek

Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson offer a huge rundown on Peter Thiel’s data-gathering company, which does work mostly for law enforcement and finance (it seems); this little example from Los Angeles where the LAPD is using its “Gotham” system points to the problems:


In 2016, [22-year-old Manuel] Rios was sitting in a parked car with an Eastside 18 [gang] friend when a police car pulled up. His buddy ran, pursued by the cops, but Rios stayed put. “Why should I run? I’m not a gang member,” he says over steak and eggs at the IHOP near his home. The police returned and handcuffed him. One of them took his picture with a cellphone. “Welcome to the gang database!” the officer said.

Since then he’s been stopped more than a dozen times, he says, and told that if he doesn’t like it he should move. He has nowhere to go. His girlfriend just had a baby girl, and he wants to be around for them. “They say you’re in the system, you can’t lie to us,” he says. “I tell them, ‘How can I be in the hood if I haven’t got jumped in? Can’t you guys tell people who bang and who don’t?’ They go by their facts, not the real facts.”

The police, on autopilot with Palantir, are driving Rios toward his gang friends, not away from them, worries Mariella Saba, a neighbor and community organizer who helped him get off meth. When whole communities like East L.A. are algorithmically scraped for pre-crime suspects, data is destiny, says Saba. “These are systemic processes. When people are constantly harassed in a gang context, it pushes them to join. They internalize being told they’re bad.”


You don’t finish this thinking that Palantir are on the up and up.
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Machine learning’s ‘amazing’ ability to predict chaos • Quanta Magazine

Natalie Wolchover:


Half a century ago, the pioneers of chaos theory discovered that the “butterfly effect” makes long-term prediction impossible. Even the smallest perturbation to a complex system (like the weather, the economy or just about anything else) can touch off a concatenation of events that leads to a dramatically divergent future. Unable to pin down the state of these systems precisely enough to predict how they’ll play out, we live under a veil of uncertainty.

But now the robots are here to help.

In a series of results reported in the journals Physical Review Letters and Chaos, scientists have used machine learning — the same computational technique behind recent successes in artificial intelligence — to predict the future evolution of chaotic systems out to stunningly distant horizons. The approach is being lauded by outside experts as groundbreaking and likely to find wide application.

“I find it really amazing how far into the future they predict” a system’s chaotic evolution, said Herbert Jaeger, a professor of computational science at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

The findings come from veteran chaos theorist Edward Ott and four collaborators at the University of Maryland. They employed a machine-learning algorithm called reservoir computing to “learn” the dynamics of an archetypal chaotic system called the Kuramoto-Sivashinsky equation. The evolving solution to this equation behaves like a flame front, flickering as it advances through a combustible medium.


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What’s the length of the shortest bit sequence that’s never been sent over the internet? • Sean Cassidy

Sean Cassidy:


A friend of mine posed this brain teaser to me recently: “What’s the length of shortest bit sequence that’s never been sent over the Internet?”

We can never know for sure because we don’t have a comprehensive list of all the data.

But what can we say probabilistically? Restating it like so: “At what value for X is there a 50% chance there’s a sequence of X-bits in length that hasn’t been transmitted yet?”

What does your intuition say? Obviously every 8-bit sequence has been sent, since there’s only 256 values. By downloading this HTML page over TLS you’ve probably used up every 8-bit value. Has every 100 byte message been sent?

This is how my intuition went: it’s probably less than 128 bits because UUIDs are 128 bits, and they’re universally unique. It’s probably greater than 48 bits because of how common collisions are at that end for hashes and CRCs, and the Internet has generated a lot of traffic.

How would we determine the right value?

I decided to model data as each bit sent is like flipping a coin. This isn’t strictly true, of course, but with encryption becoming more prevalent, it’s getting to be close.


If you’re at all into maths, it’s fun just to pause and try this before you go to his solution.
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The disgraceful dockless drama: what dockless bikes/scooters are exposing •

Have A Go, following cease-and-desist orders sent to three electric scooter companies in San Francisco:


Dockless bikes and scooters are not actually the problem.

For decades now, cars have gotten the royal treatment. Users were able to pick up their cars and drop them off anywhere in the city. Automobile parking is all around. From street parking, to business parking lots, to single family homes with driveways and garages, to large parking structures. Thus, the user experience for drivers is essentially go anywhere, park anywhere.

It was simply expected that anywhere one goes in a city, one could be guaranteed a free, giant space to park one’s private 4000-pound box, no questions asked.

Sure, in some dense areas, payment is now required. Yet private vehicle parking is essentially considered a right. We know this because when we can’t find parking for more than two minutes, we get upset. 5 minutes? We get very upset.

We also know this because it is quite literally law with parking minimums mandates for homes, businesses, and just about every building that is built or remodeled. We’ve mandated that the space that could otherwise be utilized for affordable housing, parks, cafes, or other human uses is legally required to serve as public storage for urban tanks and a free subsidy to oil and car companies.

If a city all of a sudden woke up to find the same amount of parking for cars as there is now for bikes/scooters, there wouldn’t be a few angry tweets (as there is now for new dockless bikes/scooters), but riots in the streets!


Fair point.
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Mylo, a material that looks like leather, made from plants • Bolt Threads


How do you make Mylo™?

We use corn stalks and supplemental nutrients to feed and grow our mycelium. We precisely control growth conditions like temperature and humidity to encourage the mycelium to grow upward and self-assemble into an organized mat of interconnected cells. Their connections give the material strength. We then use a natural tanning process and compress the mat to be as thin or thick as we’d like the final material to be. At this point the mycelium is no longer growing. The final step is to imprint any desired pattern, which gives us the final material.

Is this the same technology you use to make Microsilk™?

No, our Microsilk™ technology involves engineering yeast to produce protein materials. With Mylo™, we grow mycelium, which we process into the final Mylo™ material.

Our friends at Ecovative pioneered this mycelium fabrication technology, which literally grew out of the great work they’ve been doing in creating soft flexible foams. We were blown away, and thrilled when they agreed to allow us to help develop it into a commercially viable new material. We’ve established a long-term partnership with Ecovative to optimize this technology and put processes in place to produce commercial-ready Mylo™ material and bring products to market that consumers will love.

Are these mycelium genetically engineered?

No, instead we carefully control the wild spores’ growth conditions like temperature and humidity to engineer the final material’s properties.


Like to know the tensile strength compared to leather, and how it copes with rain and wear.
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Facebook moves 1.5bn users out of reach of new European privacy law • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


Facebook has moved more than 1.5 billion users out of reach of European privacy law, despite a promise from Mark Zuckerberg to apply the “spirit” of the legislation globally.

In a tweak to its terms and conditions, Facebook is shifting the responsibility for all users outside the US, Canada and the EU from its international HQ in Ireland to its main offices in California. It means that those users will now be on a site governed by US law rather than Irish law.

The move is due to come into effect shortly before General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in Europe on 25 May. Facebook is liable under GDPR for fines of up to 4% of its global turnover – around $1.6bn – if it breaks the new data protection rules.

The shift highlights the cautious phrasing Facebook has applied to its promises around GDPR. Earlier this month, when asked whether his company would promise GDPR protections to its users worldwide, Zuckerberg demurred. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” he said.

A week later, during his hearings in front of the US Congress, Zuckerberg was again asked if he would promise that GDPR’s protections would apply to all Facebook users. His answer was affirmative – but only referred to GDPR “controls”, rather than “protections”. Worldwide, Facebook has rolled out a suite of tools to let users exercise their rights under GDPR, such as downloading and deleting data, and the company’s new consent-gathering controls are similarly universal.

Facebook told Reuters “we apply the same privacy protections everywhere, regardless of whether your agreement is with Facebook Inc or Facebook Ireland”. It said the change was only carried out “because EU law requires specific language” in mandated privacy notices, which US law does not.


In other news, leopards’ spots remain unchanged.
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Intel plans to shut down smart glasses group • The Information

Aaron Tilley:


The division, formed in 2013, made fitness trackers and smart glasses. Despite an investment of several hundred million dollars by Intel, including through acquisitions of other companies, the group never made much of an impact in the wearables market.

The closure is likely to lead to some layoffs. The department reportedly had 200 people earlier this year, down from as many as 800 in 2016, although the current size isn’t known. Employees who can’t find a position in other divisions of Intel will be laid off, the people said.

In February, Bloomberg reported that Intel was looking for outside investment for the smart glasses project. Intel valued the smart glasses division at $350m with around 200 employees, according to Bloomberg. The closure suggests Intel wasn’t able to raise any fresh investment. That same month, The Verge reported on the smart glass project, known internally as Vaunt.

In a statement, Intel said it is “continuously working on new technologies and experiences. Not all of these develop into a product we choose to take to market.” It added that Intel will continue to take a “disciplined approach as we keep inventing and exploring new technologies, which will sometimes require tough choices when market dynamics don’t support further investment.”

The unit’s closure is the latest sign of how Intel has failed to diversify beyond its core chip business. Intel has tried various other steps, including buying security firm McAfee and internet of services business Wind River, without success. Last year it sold a majority stake in McAfee and recently sold Wind River.


Wearables are tricky – look at Nokia giving up on Withings – but it’s hard not to feel that Intel is getting out of this at the wrong time. Unless it has discovered things about AR and similar which tell it that this is an utter dead end.
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Amazon recruits Best Buy to sell Fire TV edition smart TVs • Engadget

Steve Dent:


Best Buy has partnered with Amazon to sell voice-controlled Fire TV Edition branded TVs in its stores and on its website, the companies announced. CEOs Jeff Bezos from Amazon and Best Buy’s Hubert Joly said the retailer will sell 11 Amazon-powered TVs, including 4K and HD models, starting this summer with Toshiba models. At the same time, Best Buy will become a merchant on Amazon’s website and get exclusive rights to sell Amazon Fire TVs.

“Amazon and Best Buy have a long history of working together,” said Bezos, referring to Best Buy sales of Kindle readers. “Today we take our partnership to a new level.”

Amazon unveiled its first Fire TV Edition sets last year with TV maker Element, starting at $449 for a 43-inch model. The TVs expand on what you can do with a Fire TV stick, letting you see live TV alongside streaming options, detect devices connected to your TV, and consult a channel guide, to name a few features.

At the same time, you can use Alexa to control not just your TV, but also Hue lights and other smart home devices. Unlike with an Echo device, you have to hit a button to reach Alexa, as it’s not listening for a wake word.


Two things: first, this is bad news for Roku, which Best Buy used to sell with TVs; second, it increases the pressure on Apple to integrate the Apple TV into a TV set and just sell the all-in-one. Well, it worked for the iMac, right?
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The marriage-saving robot that can assemble Ikea furniture… sort of • New Yorker

Ronan Farrow:


The researchers bought a basic chair from Ikea—the stefan model, made of lacquered pine—and, to simulate the human experience, took the pieces out of the box and put them “randomly within the environment.” First, the robot assessed where everything was; that took three seconds. Then it used an algorithm to plan out what to move where, and how; that took eleven minutes and twenty-one seconds. Actually building the chair took just under nine minutes. The sequence of steps was hard-coded in advance—the robot essentially followed the manual—but everything else was done on the fly. “The challenge is to quickly and consistently find fast, collision-free motions in a highly cluttered environment,” the researchers note, which pretty well describes every Ikea-furniture-building undertaking ever.

The Ikea bot’s arms move in extreme slow motion; it’s like watching two people try to put a chair together while stoned. (My point of reference here is Hikea Productions, a seemingly defunct YouTube channel featuring videos of humans assembling micke desks and nordli dressers while tripping on psychedelics.)


The robots though are kinda.. big? There’s a video. You wouldn’t want them in the living room. But I like the idea of Hikea productions. (Style note: the New Yorker calls it “ikea” but even the store calls itself Ikea, surely, so I’ve changed it. What I also don’t understand is the NYer’s spelling out of numbers like “twenty-one”, which are faster to read as “21”.)
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We tracked down the SaveDroid motherfscker and need your help • Crypto Briefing

Adam Selene on the followup to that “cryptocurrency exit scam” which featured yesterday:


Crypto Briefing tracked Yassin Hankir’s location to an Egyptian resort town.

UPDATE: By now, many of you will know that Savedroid perpetrated what they consider to be a giant prank designed to illustrate that exit scams are a part of the crypto market.

Here’s the deal.

When you take $50m in funds that are raised by investors who believe in your project, you don’t then pretend to disappear with that money.

What happens if you do? People start looking for you.

Yassin Hassir may consider himself a genius for drawing the eyes of millions to his stunt. But to his investors, he caused them anxiety, pain, and distress.


Hassir broke that rule. And while there are those who will criticize Crypto Briefing for trying to help those investors track down their money, and the man who claimed to have stolen it, we are proud of our response.

We took the trouble to search for hours online to match a photo to a location in Egypt. We called the police in Frankfurt. We did what we could to be part of the REAL community – the kind of people you’d want on your side if this had been the real thing.

As to the prank itself? Not so clever. Not so funny. And having dragged his company’s name through the mud, not so good for Hassir’s investors.

We will not be removing the original article, printed below, because we are – as we say – proud to be acting in the best interests of our community.


Hassir posted a photo of a beach and an Egyptian beer online; the community pored over photos of beaches in Egypt, and tracked him down to his hotel. He says it’s a PR stunt. The equivalent of running with scissors while lighting matches in a firework factory.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: another scam ICO?, Amazon’s 100m Primes, Facebook gets chippy, PornHub deepfakes, and more

The US Army has figured out how to do facial recognition in the dark. Photo by gabriella travaline on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Sunshine for all. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Another scam ICO? Savedroid founder exits with $50m to chill on a beach • Cryptovest

Hunain Naseer:


In what is either a joke in very bad taste or another ICO exit scam, the founder of Savedroid ICO Tweeted ‘Over and out’, with a picture of himself at the airport and then chilling on a beach.

It is believed that the ICO raised around 40 million Euros, or $50 million USD via the token sale, claiming that they will build a smart, A.I managed application which would automatically invest user funds into profitable ICO portfolios. There were also claims of a cryptocurrency credit card, but it seems all that is gone now, with the official site displaying a Southpark meme.


Even if this isn’t a scam – just a joke – why would anyone put any money into these ridiculous things? Why why why.
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Amazon annual shareholder letter • SEC

Jeff BEzos:


Prime – 13 years post-launch, we have exceeded 100 million paid Prime members globally. In 2017 Amazon shipped more than five billion items with Prime worldwide, and more new members joined Prime than in any previous year – both worldwide and in the U.S. Members in the U.S. now receive unlimited free two-day shipping on over 100 million different items. We expanded Prime to Mexico, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and introduced Business Prime Shipping in the U.S. and Germany. We keep making Prime shipping faster as well, with Prime Free Same-Day and Prime Free One-Day delivery now in more than 8,000 cities and towns. Prime Now is available in more than 50 cities worldwide across nine countries. Prime Day 2017 was our biggest global shopping event ever (until surpassed by Cyber Monday), with more new Prime members joining Prime than any other day in our history.


Bezos’s decision to release this now, in this way, is fascinating. Estimates suggest that 70-80m of those Prime accounts are in the US; and that the “exceeding 100m” serves many more than that number of people, because of the number of families using the accounts. (I’ll testify to that in my house.) Also helps people to start figuring out the size of Amazon Video and Amazon Music.
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Facebook is forming a team to design its own chips • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Ian King and Sarah Frier:


Facebook is building a team to design its own semiconductors, adding to a trend among technology companies to supply themselves and lower their dependence on chipmakers such as Intel and Qualcomm, according to job listings and people familiar with the matter.

The social media company is seeking to hire a manager to build an “end-to-end SoC/ASIC, firmware and driver development organization,” according to a job listing on its corporate website, indicating the effort is still in its early stages.

The Menlo Park, California-based company would join other technology giants tackling the massive effort to develop chips. In 2010, Apple started shipping its own chips and now uses them across many of its major product lines. Alphabet’s Google has developed its own artificial intelligence chip as well.

Facebook could use such chips to power hardware devices, artificial intelligence software and servers in its data centers. Next month, the company will launch the Oculus Go, a $200 standalone virtual-reality headset that runs on a Qualcomm processor. Facebook is also working on a slew of smart speakers. Future generations of those devices could be improved by custom chipsets. By using its own processors, the company would have finer control over product development and would be able to better tune its software and hardware together.

Facebook declined to comment on the job postings.


Most likely it’s trying to save power in its data centres by going for ARM designs. I’m a tiny bit wary of this story, for no better reason than that it has three authors. In my experience that means different people chucking in different pieces; it’s not the same as a single person tracking down an interesting lead. And it can also mean misinterpretation.

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An elaborate test cheating scheme in Asia involved hidden phones and flesh-coloured earpieces • Gizmodo UK

Melanie Ehrenkranz:


A tutor and several accomplices were recently caught running a complex exam cheating operation in Singapore that one prosecutor called “highly sophisticated.” Unfortunately for them, it apparently wasn’t sophisticated enough to avoid getting busted.

According to prosecutors, 32-year-old Tan Jia Yan ran the operation, which involved surreptitious FaceTime calls, hidden Bluetooth devices, and flesh-coloured earpieces. During the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) exams, students wore Bluetooth devices connected to mobile phones hidden in their clothes as well as flesh-colored earpieces, Channel News Asia reports. Tan reportedly sat in on the exams, using clear tape to stick an iPhone to her shirt, hiding it with a jacket. Authorities say Tan would then FaceTime the exam questions to her accomplices, who would call the students at the exam centre and relay the answers to their earpieces. The ring is accused of helping at six students, all Chinese nationals, cheat at exams in English, Math, Chemistry, and Physics.


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Mentally ill Chinese man ‘lost’ for a year reunited with family thanks to facial recognition technology • South China Morning Post

Zhuang Pinghui:


The shabbily dressed man was found in January last year wandering in a tunnel at Chongqing railway station. He appeared confused, and when officials asked him where he lived he simply mumbled “money”, Chongqing Evening News reported… The man was sent to a hospital for treatment and improved, but still could not say where he came from. Staff read out the names of all the counties in neighbouring Sichuan province as he had a thick local accent, but still could not confirm where his family came from.

Officials later contacted a technology company that was piloting a scheme with a local government to use facial recognition technology.

The man’s picture was sent to the firm and after a scan through public records was found to match a 31-year-old from the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan.

The man was later taken to a shelter in the prefecture to meet his brother.

The relative said he was grateful his brother had returned home safely after going missing for more than a year.


Reading the SCMP on this is fascinating – this is about the only positive story out of China on facial recognition. Others on offer: “Facial recognition tech catches fugitive in huge crowd at Jacky Cheung pop concert in China”; “facial recognition technology used by Shenzhen police to identify jaywalkers”. Try it yourself.
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US Army figures out how to do facial recognition in the dark • Defense One

Patrick Tucker:


Our brains “see” by extrapolating a picture from a relatively small amount of sensory data, filtered through the eye. The brain uses several times more neuronal mass to construct images from visual data than the eye does collecting the data.

The Army researchers saw a parallel with thermal images. Such images show what parts of the face are hotter and cooler, but generally contain fewer data points than a comparable optical image from a camera, making it hard to pick out distinct features. So they set up a convolutional neural network, or CNN, a deep-learning method that uses specific nodes similar to the brain’s, and set it to infer faces from limited data.

The method that the researchers use breaks a thermal picture of a face into specific regions and then compares them to an optical image of the same face. The network estimates where key features are in the thermal image in relation to the conventional image. The network’s final product is something like a police sketch — not a perfect match, but with enough overlap in key points to make a high-certainty match.

In a paper published by the IEEE Winter Conference on Applications of Computer Vision, the researchers write, “We were able to produce highly discriminative representations. Despite the fact that the synthesized imagery does not produce a photo-realistic texture, the verification performance achieved was better than both baseline and recent approaches when matching the synthesized faces with visible face.”


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PornHub banned “deep fake” celebrity sex videos, but the site is still full of them • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:


Last February, PornHub announced that it no longer tolerate machine learning-powered Deepfakes videos on its platform. The site said the videos — which feature realistic celebrity faces swapped onto the bodies of adult actors — were a form of non-consensual content and would be purged from the site, which averages over 100 billion video views a year. But despite the initial pledge, celebrity deepfake porn videos continue to thrive on PornHub.

While banned material frequently slips through the cracks on large sites that allow users to upload content, the deepfake violations on PornHub are especially flagrant. More than 70 deepfake videos were easily searchable from the site’s homepage using the search term “deepfake.” Nearly all the videos — which included graphic and fake depictions of celebrities like Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson, Daisy Ridley, and Jennifer Lawrence — had the word “deepfake” prominently mentioned in the title of the video and many of the names of the videos’ uploaders contained the word “deepfake.” Similarly, a serach for “fake deep” returned over 30 of the non-consensual celebrity videos.


Videos, and adverts. Pornhub has either decided the money’s too good, or it’s much harder to search for “deep fake” than it thought. Hmm.
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Google responds to troubling report of apps tracking kids • Tom’s Guide

Henry Casey:


Shockingly, a total of 57% of the apps studied appeared to be in potential violation of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law that looks to safeguard the privacy of users under the age of 13.

A Google spokesperson provided the following response to Tom’s Guide: “We’re taking the researchers’ report very seriously and looking into their findings. Protecting kids and families is a top priority, and our Designed for Families program requires developers to abide by specific requirements above and beyond our standard Google Play policies. If we determine that an app violates our policies, we will take action. We always appreciate the research community’s work to help make the Android ecosystem safer.”

Part of the potential violations at hand include the nugget that 92% of the 1,280 apps that plug into Facebook’s API may be using it for activities prohibited by COPPA.

Further, 19% of children’s apps collect some kind of identifier “or other personally identifiable information” using software development kits (SDKs) whose terms of service say these programs shouldn’t be used in children’s apps.


And now follow on to the next…
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No boundaries for Facebook data: third-party trackers abuse Facebook Login • Freedom To Tinker


Facebook Login and other social login systems simplify the account creation process for users by decreasing the number of passwords to remember. But social login brings risks: Cambridge Analytica was found misusing user data collected by a Facebook quiz app which used the Login with Facebook feature. We’ve uncovered an additional risk: when a user grants a website access to their social media profile, they are not only trusting that website, but also third parties embedded on that site.

We found seven scripts collecting Facebook user data using the first party’s Facebook access. These scripts are embedded on a total of 434 of the top 1 million sites, including,, and We detail how we discovered these scripts in Appendix 1 below. Most of them grab the user ID, and two grab additional profile information such as email and username. We believe the websites embedding these scripts are likely unaware of this particular data access.

The user ID collected through the Facebook API is specific to the website (or the “application” in Facebook’s terminology), which would limit the potential for cross-site tracking. But these app-scoped user IDs can be used to retrieve the global Facebook ID, user’s profile photo, and other public profile information, which can be used to identify and track users across websites and devices.


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We can stop hacking and trolls, but it would ruin the internet • New Scientist

Sally Adee and Carl Miller, writing in August 2017:


The existing internet was never meant to cope with billions of users and abusers – though its underlying technology, known as TCP/IP, was designed to survive cold war nuclear annihilation.

Rather than sending data across static network paths, which could be destroyed, TCP/IP will do everything it can to get packets of information from point A to point B via any viable route. It doesn’t care who you are, what you’re sending or who you’re sending it to: all that matters is the internet addresses that need connecting.

This attitude was fine in the 1970s when you could map the entire internet on a single sheet of paper. These days, it is a disaster, making it tough to figure out who people on the internet actually are and stop them doing bad things.

But what if you could assign a unique, permanent and traceable identifier to every phone, laptop, identity or document? Robert Kahn, co-developer of TCP/IP, created just such a system in the early 1990s. As the modern internet struggles, it is starting to get attention.

Rather than dealing with anonymous packets of data, Kahn’s system is based on digital objects – each a specific sequence of bits with its own unique identifier, or handle. This “handle system” is already in limited use on today’s internet. Academic journals use a form of handle called a digital object identifier, aka, DOI, to give research papers a citable and unchanging identity, even if it moves to a new website.

“It’s one identifier for the material that gets you to the material, no matter where it is,” says Kahn. Research papers are just one example. “It can be a movie, a book or chapters of a book,” he says. And using handles to identify parts of a digital object, like a chapter, would provide a massive online security update.


Still true. Still can’t really do it.
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Pioneering fingerprint technique helps South Wales Police secure drugs convictions against 11 people • South Wales Police


On top of Morris’ links to the cannabis conspiracy, officers were able to prove he was also responsible for supplying huge amounts of ecstasy, a Class A drug, thanks to the innovative work of the JSIU [Join Scientific Support Unit].

Staff from the unit’s specialist imaging team were able to enhance a picture of a hand holding a number of tablets, which was taken from a mobile phone, before fingerprint experts were able to positively identify that the hand was that of Elliott Morris.

In another first for South Wales Police, they were also able to prove that he had almost £20,000 hidden in bitcoin accounts – the majority of which, Elliott admitted, was gained from his illegal drug sales.

In total, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy worth around £36,000 and around £21,000 in cash, was recovered during the investigation.


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Tougher smartphone market in EMEA in 2017 sees emerging markets slow but Apple gains •IDC


The EMEA [Europe, Mid-East, Africa] mobile phone market saw smartphone volumes fall for a second year in 2017, while there was a relative boom in shipments of lowly feature phones, a reversal of the previous trend.
Smartphone volumes were down modestly at 361m, against 374m in 2016. Feature phone shipments rose by 8.7% to 206m. Smartphone market value was marginally lower in dollar terms at $109bn, though the drop was more pronounced in euros, at €96bn, against €101bn in 2016.

“Looking at the European market of the European Union, Norway, and Switzerland, consumers are spending more money on phones even as they buy them less frequently. This is true of countries in both Western and Central Europe,” said Simon Baker, program director of mobile phone research in IDC CEMA. In a year when the European economy showed shoots of recovery, and the euro rose against the dollar, the drop underlined the pressures as the smartphone business matures.

Apple managed to stand out in a difficult market, commented Susana Santos, senior research analyst at IDC Western Europe. The premium iPhone X was only launched in November but added some $4.3bn to Apple sales in the European market across the year, over a sixth of the annual Apple total. Sales in the more affluent Western European countries were overall flat, though Germany stood out, but overall in EMEA the shipment value of Apple iPhones rose to 37.5% of total smartphone value, on sales of 57m iPhones across the year, up from 34.2% of the market value and 54.8m iPhones in 2016.

The competition to Samsung from Huawei helped to revitalize the top end of the Android market, and in Europe sales of Android phones above $700 (€619 in 2017) were up by a fifth from 2016. But there was a trend to keep older premium models in production at lower prices to keep volumes buoyant as consumers looked for better value in their phone purchases. Samsung continued to dominate Android sales in EMEA and in 2017 held on to a two-fifth share, while Huawei’s challenge slowed, with the Android share only slightly above that of the previous year at 13.4%.


Stagnation; and yet within that, Apple increases sales. The same as we’ve seen in the personal computer market.

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The axes of HomePod evolution: don’t judge what you can’t yet see

The MacBook Air, in an envelope just like it came in. Photo by yasuhisa yanagi on Flickr.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Apple’s HomePod, and the claim from Mark Gurman writing at Bloomberg that it “hasn’t lived up to expectations” in sales terms. Though if you ask analysts in the field, such as Ben Wood of CCS, they thought that 5 million in a year would be impressive. “Clearly my expectations were way lower than others,” commented Ben, which to me has echoes of the vastly inflated numbers that people expected smartwatches, and especially the Apple Watch, to sell, in the first year.

More relevant, I think, is the question of how the HomePod (or just “HomePod” – Apple never uses the definitive for its products, just as a parent wouldn’t for a child) is going to evolve.

And for that, it’s important to bear in mind how every single Apple product tends to evolve: from MVP, aka minimal viable product, to thing that people buy by the million.

Let’s go all the way back to the Bondi Blue iMac, from 1998, since that’s where the story of the modern Apple really begins. This was Apple trying to compete again in the PC market, and choosing to do so in an orthogonal way to pretty much everything else out there. It was all-in-one, it used USB (a new connector at the time), had no floppy drive (this alone was reckoned to spell its doom), and upgrading the RAM and hard drive was difficult.

But the next update showed the trajectory that Apple was on. The Bondi iMac gained colours, and it got more powerful, and added a DVD burner drive if you wanted. It didn’t revert to old connectors, but did add better sound.

iPod, youPod

Next, iPod.

Some of the iPod family – though there were more models and colours than this. Photo by Zengame on Flickr.

The first one was “expensive”, had a black and white and very pixel-y display, used a proprietary connector, had an unusual yet intuitive method for scrolling through songs, held 1,000 songs. As it evolved through the years, it generated variants that were smaller, had bigger and better screens, more memory, flash memory, but broadly the same controller and interface. (The iPod shuffle is like the Galapagos of iPods, but anyway.)

The MacBook Air (as at the top of the post). The first version had a very limited SSD drive, and underpowered processor. But it had those qualities of being thin and light and offering lots of battery power that people who could afford it really loved – especially when you compared to the average Windows laptop, which weighed tons more, had a DVD drive and floppy drive that road warriors in coffee shops didn’t need, and lasted much less long. You’d still recognise the first model today.

A calling for the iPhone

The iPhone X doesn’t look that different from the 6S, which doesn’t look that different from the original. Photo by Lucy Takakura on Flickr.

The iPhone is probably the poster child for MVP-ness. The first version’s software was limited (no MMS; no 3G; no text forwarding; no copy/paste), it was really expensive, its battery lasted a day when rival phones could last a week. But it could do so many things that others couldn’t, because of that touch screen and the concept of being a computer for your pocket, not a phone for your email. Subsequent versions have improved along pretty much every axis possible, apart from that battery life stuff (though the iPhone X is a big advance here).

The iPad. Look at these varieties.

iPad sizes have changed, but you’d still recognise the original if you’d only seen the newest, eight years on. Photo by MakeUseOf on Flickr.

The first version arrived in early 2010 and didn’t have a Retina screen (the iPhone 4, to be released later that year, would; but Retina screens at the size of an iPad were too expensive to contemplate for some time. What it did offer was something that wasn’t a PC trying to be squashed into a tablet form (which Dell and many others had been trying since 2001) and an approach to a big touch-driven screen that harked back to Jeff Haan’s remarkable TED demo of 2005. Since then, its screen has improved (hugely), it has gained an optional keyboard and pencil, and processor power has risen exponentially. But eight years on, the old and new look completely like siblings.

The Apple Watch. The first version could just about take you through a day if you didn’t exercise for too long. There has been plenty of tinkering with how the interface between apps works, but none with the basic concept of how you interact: lift-to-wake, or touches. The addition of GPS and phone data/calling has been welcomed, but if you hold the original Series 0 beside the latest Series 3, it’s essentially still the same thing: a device which hands off tasks from your phone to your wrist.

Bearing all this in mind, what should we expect from the HomePod’s evolution?

Again, look backward first. Look at the axes on which the previous devices evolved.
Evolution: colour, extras, price, screen resolution, interfaces.
No evolution: size, shape.

Evolution: colour, size, shape, control system, price, screen (colour-capable, video display-capable), output (to TV), interface (from proprietary Firewire, to 30-pin-Firewire and 30-pin USB, to Lightning; and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth in the iPod Touch), processor power.
No evolution: actually, pretty much everything about the iPod changed. (You could however argue that the iPod Touch is actually a cut-down iPhone, not an iPod, and that iPod evolution ended with the iPod shuffle of 2010 and iPod nano of 2012 – the latter being what some thought could be a precursor of an Apple wearable.)

MacBook Air:
Evolution: processor speed, screen size (smaller, never bigger than 13in), weight (reduced), disk size, price.
No evolution: screen quality (after all these years still isn’t Retina), shape, colour (there’s never been a black or rose gold MacBook Air; you want one, it’s aluminium).

Evolution: processor speed (duh), thickness, price, weight, colour, screen size, screen quality, login interface (from passcode to TouchID to FaceID), location capability (GPS, added in 2009’s iPhone 3GS), cameras (front-facing camera arrived on 2010’s iPhone 4).
No evolution: number of buttons (until the iPhone X, which removed the Home button), general interface, general portability, battery life

Evolution: size, colour, processor speed, screen resolution, screen capability (Tru-Tone etc), price, functional accessories (Smart Keyboard, Pencil), interface (USB/30-pin to USB/Lightning).
No evolution: screen size ratio, battery life

Apple Watch:
Evolution: battery life, straps, GPS, 4G connectivity, price (by selling older models at lower prices, rather than having differently priced new models, as happened with the iPhone)
No evolution: screen size

All right. Bearing in mind all the above, how should we expect the HomePod hardware to evolve, and not to evolve?

An evolution before your eyes

A “HomePod evolution” concept. Photo by Martin Hajek on Flickr.

Softly spoken, software

Given the way that everything gains software capability, I expect it will gain the capability to play more services than just Apple Music. The ability to play Spotify (which is, don’t forget, the world’s biggest streaming music service) is an obvious piece of low-hanging fruit if you’re looking to tempt people to buy a better-sounding device. Remember, Apple is into hardware sales; Services may be the thing that it talks up, but hardware is the motor that drives the engine.

In which case, why sell HomePod v1 without Spotify capability? Because the v1 is always the MVP – the minimum viable product. Look at the iPhone. Look at the iPad. Look at the MacBook Air. Look at the Apple Watch. They all started out lacking capabilities that seemed obvious (the first iPad didn’t even have alarms, which the iPhone did) and then gained them. Apple has been circling around what the HomePod should do for years – it’s been in development since Siri came on board – and the fact that it took this long to get out of the design labs suggests the usual cautious approach. The people who have bought the first model are obviously, self-definingly, going to be people who like Apple stuff; it can’t, therefore, do any harm to only offer Apple Music as a music service. But putting Spotify on? That’s just a question of an API to Spotify, and an instruction set for Siri so it recognises “play X on Spotify” or “play the X playlist from Spotify”. It can probably be done through a software update.

Other software? Besides playing music, smart speakers’ utility seems to lie in (1) checking the weather forecast (2) setting kitchen timers (3) streaming music (4) setting alarms. Below that, the proportion of people who say they’ve ever done this stuff falls below 50% of smart speaker owners (per Comscore) and it’s hard to know how often people do it.

So – weather, timers, music, alarms. Dig down to the 30% level and there’s also home automation, product ordering (that’s going to be Amazon), calendars, and games/jokes/general questions. (The HomePod can also do iMessage sending and receiving, and FaceTime alls; those don’t come up in the “things people do” listing above 13%, but it’s not something you imagine people wanting to do a great deal.)

These are all things that you can do now. So when people complain about the HomePod’s capability, they’re really complaining that it doesn’t have other music services, and about Siri. The first is a software update, and the second is – well, Apple seems to be working on it.

Hard wearing, but what hardware?

What about hardware? What can we expect there? Is the HomePod more like the portable iPod, which had multiple axes of evolution, or the deskbound iMac? In truth, it might be even closer to a device which I didn’t mention in the list above: the Apple TV.

Like the ATV, the HomePod has a limited interface (via a remote, or by voice), and in general once put somewhere it stays there essentially forever. The ATV has hardly evolved at all – there are a couple of varieties (4K/not 4K) and storage variants, but its onscreen interface is unlike anything else that Apple does. That’s been forced by the limitations of interactions with a TV screen, which one typically views from across a room, and that seems to have limited what it can do.

There has been no evolution of size or colour, and little on price (aside from selling the older model at lower cost). The competition from lower-priced rivals such as Roku, Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire Stick seems to have kept Apple stuck upmarket, and guarding its content (TV and movies bought on iTunes) jealously: you can’t get them on any of those three rivals without some DRM-fighting shenanigans.

There are signs of the HomePod taking up the same position. You can’t stream Apple Music on the Echo (though Amazon says it’s “open” to it) or Google Home. It’s possible Apple is going to treat the smart speaker market as being like the TV set-top box market – one to be fought over rigidly. Possibly that’s what caused the delay in its initial release: big internal fights over its future trajectory, for these things are all mapped out a couple of years ahead before the first product gets out of the door. (For example, iPhones are designed at least two years ahead.)

But I think that to make the HomePod as “closed” as the Apple TV would be a mistake, and given the way that other successful Apple products have evolved – different shapes and sizes and price points (to fit in with the way that people live their lives), greater software capability (to make the product indispensable, not just nice to have) – I’d expect to see more colours of HomePod, and lower-priced ones too.

It took Sonos years to diverge from its high-end music amps down to the Sonos One, but it’s the latter that was the hit because it found the sweet spot on price. The HomePod is more versatile than the Apple TV because it has more functions than just displaying content on a screen. It’s a voice-driven speaker, and that has lots of implications.


So that’s my thinking: adding Spotify is an open goal, HomePod 2 is a certainty, and we could see smaller HomePods in time if Apple decides that this is a market which is worth winning, rather than just taking part in (the latter being its approach with the Apple TV).

But the early sales numbers? They don’t tell us a lot. Because to lean on those as telling the story means to ignore the ironclad rule of Apple products: the first is the MVP. It’s the ones after that which tell you the trajectory of the device.

Start Up: eat that plastic!, Huawei backs out of US, more on Russia and Facebook, Nokia selling Withings, and more

Multiplayer Minesweeper!
Yes, everyone, multiplayer Minesweeper is here. Photo: timewaster’s own.

A selection of 14 links for you. Not the fourth client. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Engineering a plastic-eating enzyme • University of Portsmouth News


Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL solved the crystal structure of PETase—a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET— and used this 3D information to understand how it works. During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is even better at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature.

The researchers are now working on improving the enzyme further to allow it to be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time.

Professor McGeehan, Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth, said: “Few could have predicted that since plastics became popular in the 1960s huge plastic waste patches would be found floating in oceans, or washed up on once pristine beaches all over the world.

“We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these ‘wonder-materials’, must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions.”

The researchers made the breakthrough when they were examining the structure of a natural enzyme which is thought to have evolved in a waste recycling centre in Japan, allowing a bacterium to degrade plastic as a food source.


BRB just writing a screenplay about how humanity subsists on paper bags and wood boats after the enzyme mutates and eats everything plastic everywhere so it eats our TVs and computers and screens and keyboards and
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Apple is planning to launch a news subscription service • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Gerry Smith:


Apple plans to integrate recently acquired magazine app Texture into Apple News and debut its own premium subscription offering, according to people familiar with the matter. The move is part of a broader push by the iPhone maker to generate more revenue from online content and services.

The Cupertino, California company agreed last month to buy Texture, which lets users subscribe to more than 200 magazines for $9.99 a month. Apple cut about 20 Texture staff soon after, according to one of the people.

The world’s largest technology company is integrating Texture technology and the remaining employees into its Apple News team, which is building the premium service. An upgraded Apple News app with the subscription offering is expected to launch within the next year, and a slice of the subscription revenue will go to magazine publishers that are part of the program, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans. Apple declined to comment.


Makes complete sense. Services business, repeat business, content aggregation.
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Huawei, failing to crack US market, signals a change in tactics • The New York Times

Raymond Zhong and Paul Mozur:


Last week, the company laid off five American employees, including William B. Plummer, the executive who was the face of its Sisyphean efforts to win over Washington, according to people familiar with the matter. Huawei has also been dialing back its political outreach in the United States, these people said — which could end a decade of mostly fruitless efforts to dispel Washington’s accusations that the company has ties to the Chinese government.

Huawei’s tactics are changing as its business prospects in the United States have darkened considerably. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to proceed with a new rule that could effectively kill off what little business the company has in the United States. Although the proposed rule does not mention Huawei by name, it would block federally subsidized telecommunications carriers from using suppliers deemed to pose a risk to American national security.

Like other major tech companies, whether American or Chinese, Huawei (pronounced “HWA-way”) has been caught in the crossfire as the Trump administration ratchets up efforts to stop China’s high-tech ambitions. The two countries are waging a new kind of cold war, and with each increasingly suspicious of the other’s technology, winners are chosen based on national allegiances.

Huawei’s latest moves suggest that it has accepted that its political battles in the United States are not ones it is likely to win.


It’s doing OK in Europe, and very well in Asia and elsewhere, but the US now seems to be a closed market.
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Ajit Pai’s ex-broadband advisor arrested on charge of forging fiber contracts • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:


The former head of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) has been arrested on a charge of wire fraud for allegedly tricking investors into pouring money into a fiber-optic network.

Elizabeth Pierce is accused of “forg[ing] guaranteed revenue contracts to fraudulently induce investors to invest more than $250m in a fiber optic cable network in Alaska,” according to a press release issued last week by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Pierce was the first chair of the Federal Communications Commission’s 29-member broadband committee, which has seen defections from municipal officials who say it has prioritized the interests of private Internet providers over those of cities and towns.


Peculiar thing: the Trump-backing Wall Street Journal has the same story about Pierce – except that unlike every other outlet which reported the story, it doesn’t mention that she sat on Pai’s broadband committee.

It’s amazing: Trump’s administration is like a vortex of corruption. If convicted, Pierce could get 20 years.

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OLPC’s $100 laptop was going to change the world — then it all went wrong • The Verge

Adi Robertson:


In late 2005, tech visionary and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte pulled the cloth cover off a small green computer with a bright yellow crank. The device was the first working prototype for Negroponte’s new nonprofit One Laptop Per Child, dubbed “the green machine” or simply “the $100 laptop.” And it was like nothing that Negroponte’s audience — at either his panel at a UN-sponsored tech summit in Tunis, or around the globe — had ever seen.

After UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered a glowing introduction, Negroponte explained exactly why. The $100 laptop would have all the features of an ordinary computer but require so little electricity that a child could power it with a hand crank. It would be rugged enough for children to use anywhere, instead of being limited to schools. Mesh networking would let one laptop extend a single internet connection to many others. A Linux-based operating system would give kids total access to the computer — OLPC had reportedly turned down an offer of free Mac OS X licenses from Steve Jobs. And as its name suggested, the laptop would cost only $100, at a time when its competitors cost $1,000 or more.

“We really believe we can make literally hundreds of millions of these machines available to children around the world,” Negroponte promised. “And it’s not just $100. It’s going to go lower.” He hinted that big manufacturing and purchasing partners were on the horizon, and demonstrated the laptop’s versatile hardware, which could be folded into a chunky e-reader, a simple gaming console, or a tiny television.

Then, Negroponte and Annan rose for a photo-op with two OLPC laptops, and reporters urged them to demonstrate the machines’ distinctive cranks. Annan’s crank handle fell off almost immediately. As he quietly reattached it, Negroponte managed half a turn before hitting the flat surface of the table.


So much went wrong: the design, the software (people didn’t want a desktop Linux their kids would never see again), the price. And the concept: technological determinism would triumph, surely. (As a side note, this is a terrific piece of investigation and writing by Robertson. A timeless piece, because it will always be a reminder against technological hubris.)
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Don’t trust anyone over 70 • Foreign Policy

Gautam Mukunda:


Even beyond the immediate effects of illness, aging can have pronounced effects on personality. Put simply, in general people really don’t mellow with age. Instead, Jerrold Post and Bert Park have shown that they tend to become exaggerated versions — almost caricatures — of themselves, with their normal tendencies and patterns becoming intensified. This tendency is particularly likely to affect foreign policy. The aggressive can become belligerent, the passive, apathetic. Tendencies that would otherwise have fallen within an acceptable range can suddenly become problematic — a shift that, when it happens to a head of government, is particularly likely to upset foreign policy.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, are aging’s effects on cognition. Some of these are well known. The advance of age tends to weaken recall, particularly of recent events, for example. Less commonly acknowledged, but perhaps more important, are aging’s effects on intelligence. Cognitive abilities can be split into two categories: crystallized and fluid. Crystallized intelligence is what we use to accomplish routine tasks. It increases over the course of a person’s life, peaking in the 60s. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to solve new problems. It seems to begin declining at 20. This asymmetric deterioration is perhaps the most worrying feature of aging. The increase in crystallized intelligence can serve to camouflage any real decline that might be occurring. Most situations, after all, are routine, and so a leader may seem entirely unaffected by age. Furthermore, governments are likely to have considerable institutional ability to handle such situations, which will tend to compensate for a leader’s compromised skills.

The most critical and dangerous situations, on the other hand, are novel ones — situations that the normal functioning of governmental institutions is least able to handle and that therefore require peak performance from a leader. This is precisely when an age-related decline in fluid intelligence is likely to have its most severe effects. So age-related decline may be most consequential at the worst possible moment.

Given the potential dangers, the burden of proof should be on aging leaders to justify their continued hold on power, not on those who challenge them.


Donald Trump will be 72 in June. (Vladimir Putin is 66 in October; Xi Jinping is 65 in June; Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor since 2005, is 64 in July; Theresa May is 61; Justin Trudeau turned 46 in December; Kim Jong-un is 34, or 35, or 36.)
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Whois is dead as Europe hands DNS overlord ICANN its arse • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:


In a letter [PDF] sent this week to DNS overseer ICANN, Europe’s data protection authorities have effectively killed off the current service, noting that it breaks the law and so will be illegal come 25 May, when GDPR comes into force.

The letter also has harsh words for ICANN’s proposed interim solution, criticizing its vagueness and noting it needs to include explicit wording about what can be done with registrant data, as well as introduce auditing and compliance functions to make sure the data isn’t being abused.

ICANN now has a little over a month to come up with a replacement to the decades-old service that covers millions of domain names and lists the personal contact details of domain registrants, including their name, email and telephone number.

ICANN has already acknowledged it has no chance of doing so: a blog post by the company in response to the letter warns that without being granted a special temporary exemption from the law, the system will fracture.

“Unless there is a moratorium, we may no longer be able to give instructions to the contracted parties through our agreements to maintain Whois,” it warns. “Without resolution of these issues, the Whois system will become fragmented.”


The GDPR says personal information can’t just be offered publicly. So WHOIS lookups on European individuals who own sites can’t show personal information. But ICANN lets it. Impasse, and big problem.
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Are external GPUs for Macs viable in macOS 10.13.4? We tested to find out • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:


When software support is complete and everything works as intended, the performance gains we’ve seen here paint a rosy picture for the future of this technology as a way to augment laptops for games and creative applications. We recorded more playable frame rates in games and significantly improved benchmark scores over what we got with the internal GPU—and that’s with one of the fastest discrete GPUs in Apple’s laptops.

But even though the potential is vividly clear, the implementation is not yet complete. The experience is hit-and-miss depending on which software you’re using. Further, we experienced several crashes and unexpected behaviors, and while Metal performance is greatly improved, the performance gap isn’t as big for apps built for OpenGL—and unfortunately, many consumer Mac applications still are.

eGPUs might be publicly supported now, but they’re still not ready for primetime. The experience is too unstable, support isn’t robust enough, there are too many caveats and limitations, and Boot Camp support will be necessary for eGPUs to be attractive to many consumers.

That said, I see where Apple is going with this, and I’m convinced that it could be viable if the company expands support in the right ways. Apple clearly intends this to be the upgrade and expansion path for its iMac Pro and MacBook Pro computers, and if the software support falls into place, I believe that can work out as the company and its users hope. After all, video editors are already accustomed to connecting their machines to various other equipment in their edit bays.


Once developers (including Apple, it seems: Final Cut Pro doesn’t yet support eGPUs) update their software, it should get there. It’s hoping for a lot that you could seamlessly add an external GPU. (There’s a good discussion, if you have a couple of hours, about this when Matthew Panzarino appeared on John Gruber’s The Talk Show recently.)

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Nokia’s Health division is up for sale (again) and Nest is interested • Wareable

Hugh Langley:


Nokia is close to finalizing a sale of its Health division, which is made up mostly of the assets of Withings, the company it acquired in 2016.

Among the interested potential bidders is Nest, the Alphabet smart home subsidiary currently being merged back into Google, according to sources familiar with the matter. Two French companies and one other non-European company are also said to be in the running, as reported by French news outlet Les Echos.

However, following the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a political data firm accessed private information of up to 87 million Facebook users, the French government is concerned that a sale to Google in the current climate could be received badly, say sources.


Nokia never quite figured out what to do with Withings, despite spending €170m on it, acquired “to accelerate entry into Digital Health”. Its smartphone project had died, and thus it had no convincing consumer-facing business. Whose bad idea was it? Let’s rewind to that press release:


“We have said consistently that digital health was an area of strategic interest to Nokia, and we are now taking concrete action to tap the opportunity in this large and important market,” said Rajeev Suri, president & CEO of Nokia.


Might not want to count on this year’s bonus, Rajeev. No way Nokia is getting €170m back on this sale.
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Mutliplayer Minesweeper

Yes, it really is. The most timewasting you can all do together. (I couldn’t work out how to flag squares and so played sacrificial lamb, hitting mines instead of marking them.)
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Apple grabs 86% of smartphone profits globally, iPhone X alone seizes 35% • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:


According to a study by Counterpoint Research seen by AppleInsider, Apple gained one percentage point of the profit year-over-year in a static smartphone market. Not only that, but the iPhone X itself generated five times the profit than the combined profits of over 600 Android manufacturers during the fourth quarter of 2017.

“The share of iPhone X is likely to grow as it advances further into its life-cycle,” said Counterpoint Research Analyst Karn Chauhan. “Additionally, the longer shelf life of all iPhones ensured that Apple still has eight out of top 10 smartphones, including its three-year-old models, generating the most profits compared to current competing smartphones from other OEMs.”

Counterpoint expects more stiff competition in the next year —but it has predicted the same for the last two years, and it has not yet materialized.


And you can probably count ZTE out of that after yesterday’s news, and Huawei (as above) might have a bit of a problem too. It’s Apple and Samsung all the way: one has the components business locked down, the other has pricing power in spades.
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Facebook admits tracking users and non-users off-site • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


“When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook,” [Facebook product manager David] Baser wrote.

“Whether it’s information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control – and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used.”

But the company’s transparency has still not extended to telling non-users what it knows about them – an issue Zuckerberg also faced questions over from Congress. Asked by Texas representative Gene Green whether all information Facebook holds about a user is in the file the company offers as part of its “download your data” feature, Zuckerberg had responded he believed that to be the case.

Privacy campaigner Paul-Olivier Dehaye disagreed, noting that, even as a Facebook user, he had been unable to access personal data collected through the company’s off-site tracking systems. Following an official subject access request under EU law, he told MPs last month, Facebook had responded that it was unable to provide the information.

“They’re saying they’re so big the cost would be too large to provide me data,” he said. “They’re really arguing that they’re too big to comply with data protection law, the cost is too high, which is mind-boggling.”


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FCC moves to block wireless carriers from using subsidies to buy Chinese telecom gear • WSJ

John McKinnon:


US regulators adopted a measure on Tuesday aimed at barring wireless carriers from using federal subsidies to buy telecommunications gear made by Chinese manufacturers.

The vote by the Federal Communications Commission was 5-0.

The measure would prohibit US carriers from using federal universal-service subsidies to buy equipment from companies seen as posing a national security threat. Universal-service subsidies total almost $9bn a year. They support service for high-cost rural areas, for schools and libraries and for low-income consumers and residents of tribal lands.

The FCC will receive public comment and gather more information before approving a final rule in the coming months. Several commissioners suggested they would want to weigh national-security benefits against the plan’s potential effects on consumers.

The plan could hit smaller rural phone companies and internet providers that sometimes depend on Chinese-made equipment. Large wireless providers such as AT&T have long steered clear of Chinese companies like Huawei. Huawei has been effectively barred from big US businesses since a 2012 congressional report alleged the Chinese government could force the company to assist in espionage or cyberattacks—an accusation that Huawei has denied.


The squeeze on Chinese technology companies is intensifying abruptly. First ZTE, now this.
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How Russian Facebook ads divided and targeted US voters before the 2016 election • WIRED

Issie Lapowsky:


In the course of her six-week study in 2016, [professor of journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mie] Kim collected mounds of evidence about how the IRA and other suspicious groups sought to divide and target the US electorate in the days leading up to the election. Now, Kim is detailing those findings in a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Political Communication. The researchers couldn’t find any trace, in federal records or online, of half of the 228 groups it tracked that purchased Facebook ads about controversial political issues in that six-week stretch. Of those so-called “suspicious” advertisers, one in six turned out to be associated with the Internet Research Agency, according to the list of accounts Facebook eventually provided to Congress…

…Over the last few months, Kim says she’s spent lots of weekends poring over these ads. “It was pretty depressing,” she says. One ad shared by multiple suspicious groups read: “Veterans before illegals. 300,000 Veterans died waiting to be seen by the VA. Cost of healthcare for illegals 1.1 billion per year.”

…The second part of Kim’s research focused on who exactly these unregulated ads—including both standard dark money ads and Russian ads—targeted. She found that voters in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, all states with tight races, were the most targeted. Specifically, voters in Wisconsin were targeted with gun ads about 72% more often than the national average. She also found that white voters received 87% of all immigration ads.

It makes sense that swing states would be more heavily targeted overall leading up to an election. And Kim didn’t analyze the Russians trolls’ targets independently from the other unregulated ads, given the small sample size of 19 groups.


Facebook somehow didn’t keep this data; fortunately Kim did.
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