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.

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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

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