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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