Start Up: Zuck’s part 2, adblocking politics, how YouTube creates human clickbait, China’s AR challenge, and more


Dots: Netflix can’t see them in email, Gmail can. Bad news. Photo by Leon Lee on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Augment that reality. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Zuckerberg denies knowledge of Facebook shadow profiles • TechCrunch

Taylor Hatmaker:

»

Commerce Committee, New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan cornered Mark Zuckerberg with a question about so-called “shadow profiles” — the term often used to refer to the data that Facebook collects on non-users and other hidden data that Facebook holds but does not offer openly on the site for users to see.

In one of the handful of slightly candid moments of the past few days, Rep. Lujan pressed Zuckerberg on the practice today:

Lujan: Facebook has detailed profiles on people who have never signed up for Facebook, yes or no?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, in general we collect data on people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes to prevent the kind of scraping you were just referring to [reverse searches based on public info like phone numbers].

Lujan: So these are called shadow profiles, is that what they’ve been referred to by some?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not, I’m not familiar with that.

«

Lujan really takes Zuckerberg to task. It’s quite a thing to see. The House of Representatives, despite the funding they get from Facebook, were much tougher than the Senate; partly because they’re younger, but also had wider experience – including one with a computer science degree (which is more than Zuck has).
link to this extract


Bitcoin would be a calamity, not an economy • MIT Technology Review

James Surowiecki:

»

The problem with a world in which there are lots of different private currencies is that it massively increases transaction costs. With a single, government-issued currency that’s legal tender, you don’t have to think about whether or not to accept it in exchange for goods and services. You accept dollars because you know that you will be able to use them to buy whatever you want. Commerce flows more smoothly because everyone has implicitly agreed to use the dollar.

In an economy with lots of competing currencies (particularly cryptocurrencies unbacked by any commodity), it would work very differently. If someone wants to pay you in Litecoin, you have to figure out whether you think Litecoin is a real cryptocurrency or just a scam that could shut down any day now. You have to consider who else might accept Litecoin if you want to spend it, or who would trade you dollars for it (and at what exchange rate and transaction fee). Basically, a proliferation of currencies tosses sand into the gears of commerce, making transactions less efficient and more costly. And any currency that is hard to use is less valuable as a medium of exchange.

This isn’t speculative. we actually have a historical example of how this works. In the United States in the decades before the Civil War, there was no national currency. Instead, it was an era of what was called “free banking.” Individual banks issued bank notes, theoretically backed by gold, that people used as money. The problem was that the farther away from a bank you got, the less recognizable (and therefore the less trustworthy) a bank’s note was to people. And every time you did a deal, you had to vet the note to make sure it was worth what your trading partner said it was worth. So-called wildcat banks sprang up, took people’s money, issued a host of notes, and then shut down, making their notes worthless. To be sure, people came up with workarounds—there were volumes that were a kind of Yelp for banking, displaying the panoply of bank notes and rating them for reliability and value. But the broader consequence was that doing business was simply more complicated and slower than it otherwise would have been. The same will be true in a world where some people use Ethereum, others use Litecoin, and others use Ripple.

«

link to this extract


Tesla issues strongest statement yet blaming driver for deadly crash • abc7news.com

Dan Noyes on the latest regarding Walter Huang, who died when his Tesla, on Autopilot, drove into a crash barrier:

»

Tesla sent [ABC News] a statement Tuesday night that reads in part, “Autopilot requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel… the crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road.”

“We know that he’s not the type who would not have his hands on the steering wheel, he’s always been (a) really careful driver,” said [Walter Huang’s brother] Will.

The family’s lawyer believes Tesla is blaming Huang to distract from the family’s concern about the car’s Autopilot.

“Its sensors misread the painted lane lines on the road and its braking system failed to detect a stationary object ahead,” said lawyer Mike Fong.

You can already see the arguments forming for the lawsuit.

«

If Huang had driven down the road before in the same car in the same way, Tesla will have records. If this happened after a software update, it’s Tesla’s fault: Huang would have had a reasonable expectation that the car would (as previously) avoid the obstacle. (Recall the videos of how this could happen from a few days ago.)
link to this extract


Your Facebook data is only worth $5.20 on the dark web – MarketWatch

Maria LaMagna:

»

Whether or not you were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident, there’s a depressing aspect of many recent privacy violations: The most important parts of your identity can be sold online for just a few dollars.

Consumers have to spend hours of their time — and, sometimes, their own money — when they find out their driver’s license, Facebook “likes” or Social Security number have been exposed to hackers. But those who sell them are making only petty cash.

That’s according to a new report from the content marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces — Dream, Point and Wall Street Market — over several days last month.

The “dark web” is part of the internet that people can only access by using special software. To create this report, Fractl accessed the dark web through the browser Tor. People buy other risky or illegal substances on the dark web, including drugs, pirated content like movies or music and materials that help with scams, including credit-card “skimmers.”

Facebook logins can be sold for $5.20 each because they allow criminals to have access to personal data that could potentially let them hack into more of an individual’s accounts. The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247 on average, the report found.

«

link to this extract


The dots do matter: how to scam a Gmail user • James Fisher

Fisher got a valid email from Netflix saying it was having trouble with his credit card payment. He was going to update it – but the credit card it had didn’t match his own. What gives?

»

I finally realized that this email is to james.hfisher@gmail.com. I normally use jameshfisher@gmail.com, with no dots. You might think this email should have bounced, but instead it reached my inbox, because “dots don’t matter in Gmail addresses”:

If someone accidentally adds dots to your address when emailing you, you’ll still get that email. For example, if your email is johnsmith@gmail.com, you own all dotted versions of your address:

john.smith@gmail.com
jo.hn.sm.ith@gmail.com
j.o.h.n.s.m.i.t.h@gmail.com

Netflix does not know about this Gmail “feature”. Externally, jameshfisher@gmail.com and james.hfisher@gmail.com are different identities, and should have their own Netflix accounts. I signed up for Netflix account N1 backed by jameshfisher@gmail.com in 2013. But in September 2017, someone, let’s call her “Eve”, created a new Netflix account N2, backed by james.hfisher@gmail.com.

Eve has access to account N2 because she set its password when signing up, but I also have access to the account because I own james.hfisher@gmail.com, and so I can follow the password reset process for this account. I did so.

Eve loves her TV! She’s watched 587 titles in six months, all from her “Android Device” in Alabama. She watched three seasons of Trailer Park Boys over a single day in October. She consumed nearly every day until 22nd March, when Netflix put her account “on hold” due to payment failure. Eve had paid for these shows. She paid $13.99 every month for her Premium plan, until February when her card **** 2745 (also billed to Huntsville, Alabama) was declined.

Perhaps this was all a mistake? Perhaps Eve is actually one of the twelve James Fishers in Huntsville, AL, and perhaps he typed his email address in wrong when he signed up months ago. Netflix doesn’t do any email address verification when you sign up; you can start watching shows straight away.

But perhaps this was not a mistake but a scam. I was almost fooled into perpetually paying for Eve’s Netflix access, and only paused because I didn’t recognize the declined card.

«

Google is proud of this “feature”, but like Fisher, I think it’s a bug. I get tons of scam emails like this.
link to this extract


Trump’s company is suing towns across the country to get breaks on taxes • ProPublica

Katherine Sullivan:

»

Since becoming president, Trump’s companies have filed at least nine new lawsuits against municipalities in Florida, New York and Illinois, arguing for lower tax bills, ProPublica has found. Some of those lawsuits have been previously reported. At stake is millions of dollars that communities use to fund roads, schools and police departments.

Real estate owners dispute property taxes frequently, and some even sue. The president has a long track record of doing so himself. But experts are troubled that he’s doing so while in office.

No president in modern times has owned a business involved in legal battles with local governments. “The idea that the president would have these interests and then those companies would sue localities is really a dangerous precedent,” says Larry Noble, of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. The dynamic between local and federal governments is impossible to ignore in these cases, says Noble. Municipalities “rely on resources from the federal government and the federal government can make your life easier or much more difficult.” The concern arises because the president did not fully separate from his businesses, he says.

A spokesman for the Trump Organization said, “Like any other business or property owner when property taxes become inflated it is not uncommon to challenge the process to ensure fair treatment. This is a routine practice and any suggestion otherwise is simply ridiculous.”

«

And also obvious. What happens when the president doesn’t disentangle himself from his companies.
link to this extract


One woman got Facebook to police opioid sales on Instagram • WIRED

Nitasha Tiku:

»

Eileen Carey says she has regularly reported Instagram accounts selling opioids to the company for three years, with few results. Last week, Carey confronted two executives of Facebook, which owns Instagram, about the issue on Twitter. Since then, Instagram removed some accounts, banned one opioid-related hashtag and restricted the results for others.

Searches for the hashtag #oxycontin on Instagram now show no results. Other opioid-related hashtags, such as #opiates, #fentanyl, and #narcos, surface a limited number of results along with a message stating, “Recent posts from [the hashtag] are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.” Some accounts that appeared to be selling opioids on Instagram also were removed.

The moves come amid increased government concern about the role of tech platforms in opioid abuse, and follow years of media reports about the illegal sale of opioids on Instagram and Facebook, from the BBC, Venturebeat, CNBC, Sky News and others. Following the BBC probe in 2013, Instagram blocked searches of terms associated with the sale of illegal drugs.

«

Zuckerberg was asked about opioid adverts on Facebook by the House of Representatives committee; he said (paraphrased) they couldn’t do much and that they’d have to wait for better AI.
link to this extract


Ad blocking as a radical political act • Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden:

»

Aside from unavoidable billboards and the occasional magazine, I just don’t see advertising any more. I’m not sure why any sane person would want to.

Even when I worked in the mobile ad industry, I blocked ads. Everyone did. The first thing that the IT helpdesk said to people who complained that they couldn’t log into their work email was “yeah mate, you need to turn your ad-blocker off…”

I’ve been blocking Facebook adverts since before it was fashionable. As a result, I’m bemused by the claims that my information has been microtargetted and used to manipulate me.

I thought it was common knowledge that you could set your Facebook preferences to block creepy use of your data for advertising purposes. Even if you didn’t want to block adverts, why wouldn’t you do that?

Perhaps Facebook themselves have been subtly manipulating what stories they choose to show me. Perhaps my friends are activated Manchurian Candidates swamping me with fake news. Or perhaps I just block the obviously dodgy news sources and unfriend anyone daft enough to share them.
Perhaps we need a word to describe the people who willingly watch adverts? The technology to block them is simple to use, and information about blocking is widely disseminated.

People who watch adverts are like anti-vaxxers – blissfully unaware of the benefits of herd-immunity.

«

Advertisers (and a lot of publishers) see it quite the other way round, of course.
link to this extract


China is catching up to Apple in AR, says KGI Securities’ Ming-Chi Kuo • Business Insider

Kif Leswing:

»

The most-closely followed Apple analyst warned in a Wednesday note that Chinese smartphone companies are rapidly catching up to Apple in augmented reality technology, which CEO Tim Cook has called “profound” and a “core technology” for the company going forward. 

The example Ming-Chi Kuo provides is a Tencent game called Honour of Kings, which will release an augmented reality version in May. It’s a big game, with over 200 million players worldwide.

It’s also a much more advanced augmented reality experience than Pokemon Go, he writes, and uses algorithms from $3bn artificial intelligence startup SenseTime.

“Apple’s first-mover lead in AR eroded by OPPO,” reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo at KGI Securities wrote.

Apple launched ARKit last summer, which easily allows developers to make rich experiences where computer models interact with surfaces in the real world. Apple was the first major technology company to announce software like that, and had a chance to capture the entire development market. 

“However, since the debut of the ARKit nearly a year ago, there has been no heavyweight AR application on iOS,” Kuo wrote. 

Which is why he believes Apple should be concerned that it’s launching on Oppo phones running Android at the same time as iOS, on less-advanced hardware.

«

SenseTime again. However, I think that AR’s struggles (Pokemon Go aside) are going to remain the same: is it as engaging to have a virtual object in the real world as it is to have a virtual object in a virtual world that you control more precisely?
link to this extract


Your pretty face is going to sell • Open Space at SF MOMA

Joe Veix on the peculiar phenomenon of “YouTube Face” (YTF) – the strange, overplayed expressions that you see people adopting on videos in order to make arresting preview frames for the time when they’re in the “up next” lineup and want to be chosen, oh please choose me, for the next click:

»

Getting attention on social media platforms requires creating content designed to perform well within their ecosystems. Everything must contort to please the almighty Algorithmic Gods. It requires some guesswork, as these algorithms exist at such an ever-increasing scale and complexity that even their creators don’t — can’t — understand them. The Algorithm Gods work in mysterious ways.

This has odd and often unexpected effects on the physical world. Restaurants attempt to create Instagram-friendly environments with nauseatingly kitschy interior designs. Hamburger buns are glazed to make them more aesthetically appealing. Extremist political campaigns are won partially on the strength of their shitposting. Perhaps the emergence of YTF hints at one of the many ways these algorithmic forces might begin to shape our physical appearances.

We’re also witnessing tactics common to the advertising industry, especially those of late-night infomercials, being utilized autonomously by individuals. People simulate the behavior of corporate brands, while corporate brands simulate people, hiring teams of flacks to help make something like, I don’t know, fracking seem “authentic” and “cool.”

So begins the Great Brand Singularity. Corporations, humans, and machines merging in a banal orgy of commerce. The tech is currently primitive, but it’s easy to imagine scrolling through some future feed and seeing the faces of long-deceased relatives digitally grafted onto advertisements for #FappuccinoHappyHour; close friends suddenly revealed to be replicants working for foam mattress startups; augmented reality Pillsbury Doughboys stalking us on late night walks home, their soft footsteps squishing confidently along.

«

Or as he also says, “YouTube Face is clickbait made human”.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.