Start Up: Facebook’s 87m mistake, the cost of correcting Google, 2001+50, the wrong Waze, and more


You know they’re flown by computers. But did you their code is flawless? Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Not as looks as it hard. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook says Cambridge Analytica may have gained 37m more users’ data • The Guardian

Olivia Solon:

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The Facebook data of up to 87 million people – 37 million more than previously reported – may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, the company has revealed.

This larger figure was buried in the penultimate paragraph of a blogpost by the company’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, published on Wednesday, which also provided updates on the changes Facebook was making to better protect user information.

The news comes a week before CEO Mark Zuckerberg is due to face questioning from members of Congress over the data scandal. He will appear before the House energy and commerce committee on Wednesday 11 April.

In his blogpost, Schroepfer outlined sweeping changes to the way third-party developers can interact with Facebook via APIs, the digital interfaces through which third parties can interact with and extract data from the platform.

The company will no longer allow developers to access the guest list or wall posts of an event scheduled on Facebook, while developers seeking to access the data of Facebook group members will first need to get the permission from a group administrator to ensure “they benefit the group”.

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That sound? Stable doors slamming everywhere.
link to this extract


2001: A Space Odyssey’s mystery endures, 50 years on • CNET

Nicholas Tufnell interviewed Michael Benson, who has a new book about the enduringly marvellous film. (I have two posters drawn from the set by the official artist on my walls at home.)

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Q: What surprised you and what did you learn about the film and its creators as you researched and wrote the book?

There’s so much of it, I don’t know where to begin. From the source of Arthur’s financial distress during the four years of production; to stuntman Bill Weston’s ordeal after Stanley refused to allow him to punch air holes in his helmet while dangling 30 feet above the studio’s hard concrete floor; to the intricacies of makeup man Stuart Freeborn’s incredibly elaborate techniques as he worked to create believable man-ape costumes — it goes on and on. Not to mention Dan Richter’s simultaneously dominating the role of a lifetime and holding down a seriously hard-core heroin addiction. 

You know I used to make films myself, and I remember realizing as early as film school in the early 1990s that frequently the story of what’s going down behind the camera is as interesting or more interesting as what’s going on in front of it. Given the scale of what we see on the screen with “2001” I’m not sure I’d make that claim here, but I do feel that I discovered a lot of interesting things.

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Lots of great stuff. The one thing that for me is a constant, tiny delight every time I see the film or a clip is that it knows that what happens in the vacuum of space is silent. So few films are able to bear that. (Gravity, I think, managed it. Which others? Interstellar?)
link to this extract


The man who spent $100k to remove a lie from Google • NPR

Aarti Shahani:

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[Hakan] Yalincak was convicted of fraud, sentenced to 42 months in prison and then deported.

But from Turkey, he wanted to make [former hedge fund manager Jeff] Ervine [who had helped get Yalincak convicted] pay for his actions. The website Con v. Con was designed to destroy Ervine’s reputation.

At first Ervine shrugged it off. But then prospective clients and partners kept bringing it up. “I’d spend the first 15 minutes explaining the story” in every meeting, he says. It had happened right after the financial crisis and the Bernie Madoff scandal — not a great time to try to explain yourself.

Ervine knew he couldn’t talk any sense into his attacker. But he assumed he could get Google on his side. He had lawyers fax and mail a letter to Google’s chief counsel, with a simple request: Please stop highlighting this site in search results. Google ignored the request. Ervine was shocked.

“You are helpless and you’re hopeless. And what can you do? It’s like slut-shaming or anything else that goes on on the Internet today,” he says.

Google holds the position that in the U.S., it’s not obligated to remove defamatory content or lies from search results. It’ll consider it if there is a court finding. Even then, it’s really up to Google’s discretion. So Ervine’s lawyers sued the website creator. It took more than a year — to establish jurisdiction, to serve the papers overseas and to win the case.

The final court hearing was extraordinary. Judge James Holderman, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, apologized to Ervine on behalf of the American justice system. “You, in my opinion, have done everything right — you have been a model citizen, you have assisted your government in exposing and prosecuting fraud on other people — and then you are victimized,” he said for the court record. “I wish I could do more.”

Ervine’s lawyers rushed to Google with the judgment. And then it took a few months for Google to respond that yes, the company would help; then another month to actually do it.

No wonder that winning didn’t feel like victory for Ervine.

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Where’s the right to be forgotten when you need it. Especially when you consider this next chart…
link to this extract


New Jumpshot 2018 data: where searches happen on the web (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and beyond) • SparkToro

Rand Fishkin looks at US search data (desktop and mobile) that goes back to 2015:

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Some of my takeaways:

• Back in November, 2015, Bing & Yahoo combined for ~7% of all searches. In February of 2018, that number was down to 4.6%.
• YouTube, Pinterest, Amazon, and Twitter have remained surprisingly stable, varying less than a half a% each. That’s particularly surprising with Amazon, because I keep reading all these stories about how so much of product search is shifting to their platform. If that’s true, it must only be proportional in keeping up with the broad growth of search on the web as a whole. Perhaps that’s impressive by itself.
• Google Images shrank, but almost entirely because Google web search took that traffic for themselves (dropping the tabs to image search, embedding more image results in the web SERPs, etc)
• Google Maps, similar to Images, only technically lost share, as Google web search gets most of that (and the shift to mobile use has obviously biased that too)
• Google properties own just over 90% of all searches in 2018, up ~1.5% from 2015.

If asked to predict the future, I’d guess that Google’s dominance will continue, and that there’s no clear evidence for a big shakeup anytime in the next two to three years.

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link to this extract


On one of Los Angeles’s steepest streets, an app-driven frenzy of spinouts, confusion and crashes • LA Times

Steve Lopez:

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along Baxter Street, everyone seems to have a story about the ineptitude of drivers — following directions from navigation apps — who can’t seem to handle one of the steepest inclines [32%] in Los Angeles.

“The car came through our garden, went through two fences and ended up backwards hanging over our driveway,” said Jason Luther, who was describing an accident that happened during the last rains.

“A lot of people can’t make it up the hill,” Baxter resident Robbie Adams said.

Why not? I asked.

“Because it’s too steep, and they don’t know how to drive up. So they stop and try to back down, and it’s a mess because people are coming up behind them.”

And that’s in good weather. “Rain is a huge problem,” Adams said. “People start skidding and spinning. We had our garden wall knocked down twice, and my wife’s car got hit in our own driveway. I’ve seen five or six cars smash into other cars, and it’s getting worse.”

Adams said “we sent a letter to Waze” — a GPS navigation service — suggesting removal of Baxter as a shortcut possibility, or at least listing it as hazardous during wet weather.

“They said they couldn’t do that because it involves changing the algorithm of the app in a weird way,” he said.

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I was in Los Angeles last week. All the Uber drivers swore by Waze.
link to this extract


This is what we know about YouTube shooter Nasim Aghdam • Buzzfeed

Michelle Broder van Dyke:

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A 39-year-old woman who alleged that YouTube “discriminated and filtered” her videos was identified as the shooter who opened fire Tuesday at the company’s California headquarters, injuring three people before killing herself.

The shooter, Nasim Najafi Aghdam of San Diego, had multiple YouTube channels where she frequently posted about animal rights and veganism. The channels were terminated Tuesday night after she was identified as the shooter.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

“At this point in the investigation, it is believed the suspect was upset with policies and practices of YouTube,” San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini said during a news conference Wednesday, adding that Aghdam’s motive is still under investigation.

Barberini added that Aghdam visited a local gun range Tuesday morning before the shooting, and that she legally owned the 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun used in the attack.

Aghdam’s father, Ismail, said she had been missing for several days and was located by police in Mountain View, California, early Tuesday morning. He told the Mercury News that he informed authorities his daughter might be going to YouTube because she “hated” the company.

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Plenty more in the story: she felt that YouTube was discriminating against her, stopping her monetising videos, and putting age restrictions on unnecessarily.
link to this extract


BlackBerry goes after Snapchat in saddest patent lawsuit ever • Gizmodo

Rhett Jones:

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BlackBerry is gradually feeling out its new niche as a veritable patent troll. Following a complaint it filed against Facebook last month, the company has filed fresh litigation against Snap, creator of Snapchat, for allegedly infringing its messaging patents.

Bloomberg first reported the lawsuit on Tuesday. It claims that BlackBerry has been trying to resolve Snap’s alleged infringement of six of its patents for the last year. “Various letters, calls and an in-person meeting,” as the lawsuit puts it, have resulted in failure to find an acceptable resolution.

It should come as no surprise that the patents relate to BlackBerry’s BBM messaging service that was considered the crown jewels of the company in the days when it was known as “CrackBerry” due to its popularity. Among the features that BlackBerry claims Snap stole, it lists the display of timestamps in the messaging interface, and “mapping techniques to establish and maintain real-time activity location information.”

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2010 called – it says its patent lawyers are available for hire any time.
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They write the right stuff • Fast Company

Charles Fishman:

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It’s an awesome display of hardware prowess. But no human pushes a button to make it happen, no astronaut jockeys a joy stick to settle the shuttle into orbit.

The right stuff is the software. The software gives the orders to gimbal the main engines, executing the dramatic belly roll the shuttle does soon after it clears the tower. The software throttles the engines to make sure the craft doesn’t accelerate too fast. It keeps track of where the shuttle is, orders the solid rocket boosters to fall away, makes minor course corrections, and after about 10 minutes, directs the shuttle into orbit more than 100 miles up. When the software is satisfied with the shuttle’s position in space, it orders the main engines to shut down — weightlessness begins and everything starts to float.

But how much work the software does is not what makes it remarkable. What makes it remarkable is how well the software works. This software never crashes. It never needs to be re-booted. This software is bug-free. It is perfect, as perfect as human beings have achieved. Consider these stats : the last three versions of the program — each 420,000 lines long-had just one error each. The last 11 versions of this software had a total of 17 errors. Commercial programs of equivalent complexity would have 5,000 errors.

This software is the work of 260 women and men based in an anonymous office building across the street from the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake, Texas, southeast of Houston. They work for the “on-board shuttle group,” a branch of Lockheed Martin Corps space mission systems division, and their prowess is world renowned: the shuttle software group is one of just four outfits in the world to win the coveted Level 5 ranking of the federal governments Software Engineering Institute (SEI) a measure of the sophistication and reliability of the way they do their work. In fact, the SEI based it standards in part from watching the on-board shuttle group do its work.

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This is not a brief article. It is very good.
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The conservative coddling of Scott Pruitt • The New Republic

Emily Atkin:

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Pruitt said that Obama’s EPA heads spent almost ten times as much as he did on international travel—his $120,000 compared with their $1 million. To start, Pruitt’s 2017 international travel costs are actually $160,000. (He declined to include a $40,000 trip to Morocco, perhaps because it’s under investigation for potential impropriety by the EPA inspector general.) Next, the $1m figure he cites represents 14 trips Obama’s EPA heads took over a period of eight years, compared with two international trips Pruitt took in one year. Correlating $160,000 to $1m is thus a plainly false comparison.

To make an intellectually honest comparison, you’d have to average the Obama EPA’s $1m over eight years. Doing so shows that Obama EPA chiefs averaged about $71,000 per international trip. Pruitt is already averaging $80,000 per international trip. Pruitt’s trip to Italy was also more expensive than any individual international trip taken by an Obama-era EPA administrator, with one exception, a $155,764 trip that former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson took to three Chinese provinces: Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.

In any case, the international travel comparison is actually all a red herring. You see, the backlash over Pruitt’s lavish spending is about unnecessarily expensive first-class domestic airfare, which runs afoul of federal regulations. Federal travel rules allow first- and business-class flights to be expensed to the EPA on long, international trips only. (Notably, Obama EPA chief Gina McCarthy flew coach even on international flights.) On other flights, however, federal regulations dictate government employees be “prudent” about travel and book “the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.”

These are the regulations Pruitt is accused of violating. As The Washington Post’s reporting has shown, he routinely books $3,000 to $4,000 first-class flights to places like New York, South Carolina, and Alabama for the purposes of doing local media hits and promoting regulatory rollbacks. At least four times, he spent between $2,000 and $2,600 on first-class flights to meetings near his hometown in Oklahoma. He “frequently opts to fly Delta Air Lines, even though the government has contracts with specific airlines on certain routes,” according to the Post, and he often stays at high-end hotels.

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Atkin also found that the source of those false comparisons was the EPA’s press office. The rot goes deep with Trump’s hires.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s link about the YouTube shooting was picked while information was still coming in, and so was wrong. It would have been better to wait for fuller information. It was a mistake; my apologies.

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