Start Up: explaining bitcoin’s price fall, an AI winter?, Meeker’s latest trends, ultrasonic attack!, and more

Don’t just sit there, look at the geotargeted ads on your phone. Photo by adm 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. Deja vu again? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

AI winter is well on its way • Piekniewski’s blog

Filip Piekniewski is sceptical on the AI/ML front:


One of the key slogans repeated about deep learning is that it scales almost effortlessly. We had the AlexNet in 2012 which had ~60M parameters, we probably now have models with at least 1000x that number right? Well probably we do, the question however is – are these things 1000x as capable? Or even 100x as capable? A study by openAI comes in handy:

So in terms of applications for vision we see that VGG and Resnets saturated somewhat around one order of magnitude of compute resources applied (in terms of number of parameters it is actually less). Xception is a variation of google inception architecture and actually only slightly outperforms inception on ImageNet, arguably actually slightly outperforms everyone else, because essentially AlexNet solved ImageNet. So at 100 times more compute than AlexNet we pretty much saturated architectures in terms of vision, or image classification to be precise. Neural machine translation is a big effort by all the big web search players and no wonder it takes all the compute it can take (and yet google translate still sucks, though has gotten arguably better). The latest three points on that graph, interestingly show reinforcement learning related projects, applied to games by Deepmind and OpenAI. Particularly AlphaGo Zero and slightly more general AlphaZero take ridiculous amount of compute, but are not applicable in the real world applications because much of that compute is needed to simulate and generate the data these data hungry models need. OK, so we can now train AlexNet in minutes rather than days, but can we train a 1000x bigger AlexNet in days and get qualitatively better results? Apparently not…


I’m not sure I agree with him on all of this, but refuting it isn’t trivial. The point is, Google/DeepMind tends to go a long time in submarine mode, then pop up with something big. Just because you can’t see the submarine doesn’t mean it isn’t making progress – perhaps a lot.
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Worldwide smartphone volumes will remain down in 2018 before returning to growth in 2019 • IDC


After declining 0.3% in 2017, the worldwide smartphone market is expected to contract again in 2018 before returning to growth in 2019 and beyond. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone shipments are forecast to drop 0.2% in 2018 to 1.462bn units, which is down from 1.465bn in 2017 and 1.469bn in 2016. Looking further out, IDC expects the market is to grow roughly 3% annually from 2019 onwards with worldwide shipment volume reaching 1.654bn in 2022 and a five year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.5%.

The biggest driver of the 2017 downturn was China, which saw its smartphone market decline 4.9% year over year. Tough times are expected to continue in 2018 as IDC forecasts consumption in China to decline another 7.1% before flattening out in 2019. The biggest upside in Asia/Pacific continues to be India with volumes expected to grow 14% and 16% in 2018 and 2019. Chinese OEMs will continue their strategy of selling large volumes of low-end devices by shifting their focus from China to India. So far most have been able to get around the recently introduced India import tariffs by doing final device assembly at local India manufacturing plants. As for components, almost everything is still being sourced from China.


Europe and the US have had their rapid growth; now it’s going to be the slow slide to saturation.

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Google spinoff Dandelion uses ground energy to heat, cool homes • CNET

Sean Keane:


Google spinoff Dandelion unveiled on Wednesday a smart heating and air conditioning system that uses energy from the ground to regulate your home’s temperature.

The business, which originated in the semi-secret X research and development lab run by Google parent company Alphabet, was founded last year to sell geothermal energy systems to consumers. Its first commercial product is dubbed Dandelion Air.

Dandelion Air is a geothermal system that moves heat between the house and the ground using plastic pipes and a pump, bringing heat to the building in winter and pushing heat into the ground in summer.

The system is nearly twice as efficient as typical air conditioning systems and four times more efficient than traditional furnaces, the New York-based energy company said.


Er, to my eyes this is a completely standard ground source heat pump, and they all have that typical comparative efficiency. They’ve been around for decades. Work like a fridge in reverse. This came out of Google X? What next, a film camera?
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How futures trading changed bitcoin prices • Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Galina Hale, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Marianna Kudlyak, and Patrick Shultz:


The peak bitcoin price coincided with the day bitcoin futures started trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). In this Economic Letter, we argue that these price dynamics are consistent with the rise and collapse of the home financing market in the 2000s, as explained in Fostel and Geanakoplos (2012). They suggested that the mortgage boom was driven by financial innovations in securitization and groupings of bonds that attracted optimistic investors; the subsequent bust was driven by the creation of instruments that allowed pessimistic investors to bet against the housing market. Similarly, the advent of blockchain introduced a new financial instrument, bitcoin, which optimistic investors bid up, until the launch of bitcoin futures allowed pessimists to enter the market, which contributed to the reversal of the bitcoin price dynamics…

…Given that there is no actual asset that backs the value of bitcoin and it doesn’t provide a natural hedge as insurance against sharp moves in any other asset’s value, what will eventually determine the “fundamental” price of bitcoin is transactional demand relative to supply. We know that bitcoin is used as a means of exchange in a number of markets. The amount of bitcoins needed for these markets to function constitutes transactional demand. The supply growth of bitcoin is becoming more limited as the mining price increases. If transactional demand grows faster than supply, we would expect the price to grow.


The “if” in “if transactional demand grows” is doing a lot of heavy lifting – and as they also point out, as these are winner-takes-all markets, if something is able to do the transactional job better than bitcoin, all the value could migrate there. Someone said on a panel on Wednesday that bitcoin will be seen in the future as the Napster of cryptocurrencies. Could be correct.
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Lawyers send mobile ads to phones in ER waiting rooms • NPR

Bobby Allyn:


Patients sitting in emergency rooms, at chiropractors’ offices and at pain clinics in the Philadelphia area may start noticing on their phones the kind of messages typically seen along highway billboards and public transit: personal injury law firms looking for business by casting mobile online ads at patients.

The potentially creepy part? They’re only getting fed the ad because somebody knows they are in an emergency room.

The technology behind the ads, known as geofencing, or placing a digital perimeter around a specific location, has been deployed by retailers for years to offer coupons and special offers to customers as they shop. Bringing it into health care spaces, however, is raising alarm among privacy experts.

“It’s really, I think, the closest thing an attorney can do to putting a digital kiosk inside of an emergency room,” says digital marketer Bill Kakis, who runs the Long Island, N.Y.-based firm Tell All Digital. Kakis says he recently inked deals with personal injury law firms in the Philadelphia area to target patients.


“Potentially” creepy? All-around creepy, unwarranted, unwelcome. I’m constantly amazed at Americans’ ability to monetise the smallest moments of life, as though it were an insult that any moment should be left without commerce.
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Software is eating the world, Tesla edition • Marginal REVOLUTION

Alex Tabarrok:


Last week Consumer Reports refused to recommend Tesla’s Model 3 because it discovered lengthy braking distances. This week Consumer Reports changed their review to recommend after Tesla improved braking distance by nearly 20 feet with an over the air software update!

…The larger economic issue is that every durable good is becoming a service. When you buy a car, a refrigerator, a house you will be buying a stream of future services, updates, corrections, improvements. That is going to change the industrial organization of firms and potentially increase monopoly power for two reasons. First, reputation will increase in importance as consumers will want to buy from firms they perceive as being well-backed and long-lasting and second durable goods will be rented more than bought which makes it easier for durable goods producers not to compete with themselves thus solving Coase’s durable good monopoly problem.


Coase’s durable monopoly problem (in case you don’t have a JSTOR login) is explained on Wikipedia: essentially, it’s that in a market where you can’t resell a particular product, a monopoly provider will have to go for the lowest, rather than highest, possible price.

Tabarrok is saying that over-the-air updates make items more desirable over time, which keeps pricing higher. Makes sense. There’s also some fun discussion in the comments about how Tesla improved its braking distance so much and so quickly.
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This AI knows who you are by the way you walk • Gizmodo

George Dvorsky:


Neural networks can find telltale patterns in a person’s gait that can be used to recognize and identify them with almost perfect accuracy, according to new research published in IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence. The new system, called SfootBD, is nearly 380 times more accurate than previous methods, and it doesn’t require a person to go barefoot in order to work. It’s less invasive than other behavioral biometric verification systems, such as retinal scanners or fingerprinting, but its passive nature could make it a bigger privacy concern, since it could be used covertly.

“Each human has approximately 24 different factors and movements when walking, resulting in every individual person having a unique, singular walking pattern,” Omar Costilla Reyes, the lead author of the new study and a computer scientist at the University of Manchester, said in a statement.

To create the system, Reyes compiled a database consisting of 20,000 footstep signals from more than 120 individuals. It’s now the largest footsteps database in existence. Each gait was measured using pressure pads on the floor and a high-resolution camera. An artificially intelligent system called a deep residual neural network scoured through the data, analyzing weight distribution, gait speed, and three-dimensional measures of each walking style. Importantly, the system considers aspects of the gait, rather than the shape of the footprint.


I certainly recall writing stories about systems that could recognise whether you were up to no good in, say, a car park by how you walked: did you head purposefully in one direction or amble around (sizing up cars)? Identification by gait has also been a thing for a while – it’s a plot strand in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. When that opened in 2015, Gizmodo asked “why does this [gait analysis] even exist??” (Though as it points out, there are many more difficult questions you could ask about MI:RN.)

And actually.. what are the circumstances where you’d use this?
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Mary Meeker’s 2018 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis • Recode

Rani Molla pulls some highlights from the full presentation; these are a few of the higher highlights:


• Despite the high-profile releases of $1,000 iPhones and Samsung Galaxy Notes, the global average selling price of smartphones is continuing to decline. Lower costs help drive smartphone adoption in less-developed markets.
• Mobile payments are becoming easier to complete. China continues to lead the rest of the world in mobile payment adoption, with over 500 million active mobile payment users in 2017.
• Voice-controlled products like Amazon Echo are taking off. The Echo’s installed base in the US grew from 20 million in the third quarter of 2017 to more than 30 million in the fourth quarter.
• Tech companies are facing a “privacy paradox.” They’re caught between using data to provide better consumer experiences and violating consumer privacy.
• Tech companies are becoming a larger part of U.S. business. In April, they accounted for 25% of US market capitalization. They are also responsible for a growing share of corporate R&D and capital spending.
• E-commerce sales growth is continuing to accelerate. It grew 16% in the US in 2017, up from 14% in 2016. Amazon is taking a bigger share of those sales at 28% last year. Conversely, physical retail sales are continuing to decline.


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How spies can use your cellphone to find you – and eavesdrop on your calls and texts too • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg on the creaking, insecure SS7 system that helps track phones for carriers, and so is exploited to track individuals:


[US Senator Ron] Wyden said the risks posed by SS7 surveillance go beyond privacy to affect national security. American, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies are the most active users of SS7 surveillance, experts say, and private-sector vendors have put systems within the reach of dozens of other governments worldwide. Sophisticated criminals and private providers of business intelligence also use the surveillance technology.

“America is the Number One target, far and away. Everyone wants to know what’s happening in America,” said Brian Collins, chief executive of AdaptiveMobile Security, a cellular security firm based in Dublin. “You will always be a target, whether at home or away.”

Other experts said SS7 surveillance techniques are widely used worldwide, especially in less developed regions where cellular networks are less sophisticated and may not have any protection against tracking and interception. But the experts agreed that Americans are significant targets, especially of rival governments eager to collect intelligence in the United States and other nations where Americans use their cellphones.

Collins said his firm detected a surge in SS7 queries in US networks in late 2014 that it thinks was related to the Office of Personnel Management hack in which intruders — widely reported to be Chinese — gained access to the files of millions of federal workers, including in some cases their phone numbers. (Although publicly reported in 2015, the hack began at least a year earlier.)

AdaptiveMobile Security also detected an uptick in malicious SS7 queries this month in the Middle East, in the days after President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, Collins said. This surveillance probably was the work of intelligence agencies studying how the US move would affect oil prices and production, Collins said.


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Sonic and ultrasonic attacks damage hard drives and crash OSes • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


Attackers can cause potentially harmful hard drive and operating system crashes by playing sounds over low-cost speakers embedded in computers or sold in stores, a team of researchers demonstrated last week.

The attacks use sonic and ultrasonic sounds to disrupt magnetic HDDs as they read or write data. The researchers showed how the technique could stop some video-surveillance systems from recording live streams. Just 12 seconds of specially designed acoustic interference was all it took to cause video loss in a 720p system made by Ezviz. Sounds that lasted for 105 seconds or more caused the stock Western Digital 3.5 HDD in the device to stop recording altogether until it was rebooted.

The device uses flash storage to house its firmware, but by default it uses a magnetic HDD to store the large quantities of video it records. The attack used a speaker hanging from a ceiling that rested about four inches above the surveillance system’s HDD. The researchers didn’t remove the casing or otherwise tamper with the surveillance system.

“For such systems, the integrity of the recorded data is vital to the usefulness of the system, which makes them susceptible to acoustic interference or vibration attacks,” the researchers wrote in a paper titled “Blue Note: How Intentional Acoustic Interference Damages Availability and Integrity in Hard Disk Drives and Operating Systems.”

The technique was also able to disrupt HDDs in desktop and laptop computers running both Windows and Linux. In some cases, it even required a reboot before the PCs worked properly.


Yet another reason to use SSDs.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: TSB thefts continue, selfish economists, AirPlay 2!, spot the drowning child, and more

If this ticket wins, the neighbours are more likely to go bust. Photo by Sean MacEntee 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 14 links for you. Not available on ABC. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TSB left man on hold as his wedding savings were stolen • BBC News

Jon Douglas:


Ben Alford from Weymouth in Dorset said it took more than four and a half hours to get through to TSB, by which time most of the money had gone. He is one of many affected by fraud who have struggled to contact the bank.

TSB says it has put in “additional resources” to support customers.

Ben called TSB after he noticed a £9,000 loan with another company had been taken out in his name without his knowledge. The money had been paid into the TSB joint bank account he shares with his girlfriend, Francesca Cuff.

Ben said a £1,000 overdraft had also been set up without their permission. He says he was logged into internet banking, and waiting for someone at TSB to answer his telephone call, when he noticed that money had begun to be stolen.

“There was initially £5,000 taken out of that account followed by another amount of £4,000, he told BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme. “Had they answered their fraud line promptly, none of this money would have been taken because it could have been stopped. I literally watched the money go out of our account”.


Thousands of people are suffering because TSB has not just screwed up the upgrade, but let its security down calamitously. It’s disgraceful.
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Reproducibility in machine learning: why it matters and how to achieve it •

JEnnifer Villa and Yoav Zimmerman:


You’ve been handed your first project at your new job. The inference time on the existing ML model is too slow, so the team wants you to analyze the performance tradeoffs of a few different architectures. Can you shrink the network and still maintain acceptable accuracy?

The engineer who developed the original model is on leave for a few months, but not to worry, you’ve got the model source code and a pointer to the dataset. You’ve been told the model currently reports 30.3% error on the validation set and that the company isn’t willing to let that number creep above 33.0%.

You start by training a model from the existing architecture so you’ll have a baseline to compare against. After reading through the source, you launch your coworker’s training script and head home for the day, leaving it to run overnight.

The next day you return to a bizarre surprise: the model is reporting 52.8% validation error after 10,000 batches of training. Looking at the plot of your model’s validation error alongside that of your teammate leaves you scratching your head. How did the error rate increase before you even made any changes?


Via Pete Warden, who is one of Google’s people working on AI. A topic that one would imagine is close to his heart.
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The rapid evolution of Homo Economicus: brief exposure to neoclassical assumptions increases self-interested behavior • Science Direct

John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee:


Economics students have been shown to exhibit more selfishness than other students. Because the literature identifies the impact of long-term exposure to economics instruction (e.g., taking a course), it cannot isolate the specific course content responsible; nor can selection, peer effects, or other confounds be properly controlled for. In a laboratory experiment, we use a within- and across-subject design to identify the impact of brief, randomly-assigned economics lessons on behavior in the ultimatum game (UG), dictator game (DG), prisoner’s dilemma (PD), and public-goods game (PGG). We find that a brief lesson that includes the assumptions of self-interest and strategic considerations moves behavior toward traditional economic rationality in UG, PD, and DG. Despite entering the study with higher levels of selfishness than others, subjects with prior exposure to economics instruction have similar training effects.


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Shutting down facebook in PNG is a reality • Papua New Guinea Post Courier

Benny Geteng:


Facebook users in the country can expect a month’s shutdown access to the site in PNG [Papua New Guinea] in order for the Communications and Information Technology Department to carry out research and analysis of its use.

Communications Minister Sam Basil said that the shutdown would enable the department and National Research Institute to conduct further research on how the social network was being used by users.

“The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed.

“This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly,” Mr Basil said.

The Minister said that the department could better analyse the positive impact it would have on the population during the month-long shutdown and weigh the impact of progress without or with its use.

Mr Basil said that his Ministry was trying to enforce the Cyber Crime Act which was legislated in 2016.

“The Act has already been passed, so what I’m trying to do is to ensure the law is enforced accordingly where perpetrators can be identified and charged accordingly. We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”


PNG population: about 8 million. Facebook users there: about 600-700,000.
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Keeping up with the Joneses: neighbors of lottery winners are more likely to go bankrupt • Bloomberg

Peter Coy:


As if you needed proof that trying to keep up with the Joneses isn’t a good idea, here it is: close neighbors of lottery winners in Canada tended to spend more on conspicuous goods, put more money into speculative investments such as stocks, borrow more money—and eventually declare bankruptcy.

“The larger the dollar magnitude of a lottery prize of one individual in a very small neighborhood, the more subsequent bankruptcies there will be from other individuals in that neighborhood,” says the latest version of a working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia by Sumit Agarwal of Georgetown University, Vyacheslav Mikhed of the Philadelphia Fed, and Barry Scholnick of the University of Alberta. It’s titled: “Does the Relative Income of Peers Cause Financial Distress? Evidence from Lottery Winners and Neighboring Bankruptcies”…

…A telltale sign was that they raised spending on things that everyone in the neighborhood could see, such as cars, but not on indoor items like furniture.

The new version adds some important insights, co-author Mikhed explained in an email. One is that neighbors who filed for bankruptcy tended to have more of their assets in high-risk investments such as stocks vs. low-risk ones like insurance and cash. That’s consistent with the theory that they were hoping to make a killing in the market and even things up with the lottery winner.


Keep the neighbourhood safe from lottery winners!

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China prosecutes 98 over alleged $2bn OneCoin pyramid scheme • CoinDesk

Wolfie Zhao:


the legal process launched in September 2017 and has been conducted in three phases that have seen 98 people prosecuted for allegedly deceiving investors across over 20 provinces in China. A number of those have already been sentenced with up to four years in prison and/or fines ranging from 10,000–5 million yuan ($1,565–$783,000).

The prosecutor said that the scheme involved up to 2 million victims, while the amount of capital received from investors totals as much as 15 billion yuan (around $2 billion). Nearly 1.7 billion yuan ($266 million) has been recovered, the report states.

As previously reported by CoinDesk, the OneCoin scheme, which was founded by an individual called Ruja Ignatova, has been scrutinized by police in a number of countries over suspicions that it is fraudulent.

Promoters in Italy have been fined millions of euros, while authorities in India also moved to arrest suspects associated with OneCoin in April of last year and subsequently brought charges against Ignatova in July.


Pyramid schemes never die, they just look for new formats to exist in.
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Morgan Stanley: Apple’s App Store clobbers Google Play • Philip Elmer‑DeWitt

Analyst Katy Huberty put together a presentation about “The Emerging Power of Apple Services”. The telling graphics are these two, I think:


That widening delta between the App Store and Google Play is not what had been expected. Possibly it understates advertising revenue because those figures are hard to extract, but most of the revenue will come from games, and those can be easily estimated. (Note too that Google hasn’t said much about Google Play revenue.)

But it’s clear that iOS customers are really valuable. Android has conquered the world in terms of penetration; Apple has conquered it in terms of getting wallets open.
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Microsoft is now more valuable than Alphabet — by about $10bn • CNBC

Jordan Novet:


When Google first passed Microsoft in terms of stock market value six years ago, it looked like the companies were headed in opposite directions.

But over the past 12 months, Microsoft has surged 40%, more than five times Alphabet’s gain, and has again become the more valuable of the two. As of mid-day Tuesday, Microsoft was worth $749bn and Alphabet’s market capitalization stood at $739bn.

Microsoft’s latest rally has been sparked by growth in its cloud-computing business, which is bigger than Google’s though it still trails Amazon Web Services. In March, Microsoft reorganized its Windows and Devices Group and moved its engineering resources into other units, including one focusing on cloud and artificial intelligence.

Both Microsoft and Alphabet beat analysts’ expectations in the first quarter.

Google went public in 2004 and spent the next eight years closing the gap with Microsoft, which debuted on the stock market in 1986. Even after Google first passed Microsoft in 2012, the companies flip-flopped several times over the next few years.


The growing confidence in Microsoft is all down to Nadella tearing it away from its past obsessions – mobile and, most recently, the fixation on Windows as the centre of everything. (There’s a good recent episode of the Exponent podcast with Ben Thompson and James Allworth on this.) Google’s growing, but slower. Where’s its second act?
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iOS 11.4 brings stereo pairs and multi-room audio with AirPlay 2 • Apple


HomePod, the breakthrough wireless speaker from Apple, now delivers an even more immersive listening experience throughout the home with support for HomePod stereo pairs and a new multi-room audio system in iOS 11.4. This free software update introduces the most advanced, easy to use, wireless multi-room audio system using AirPlay 2 to play music in any room from any room, move music from one room to another or play the same song everywhere using an iOS device, HomePod, Apple TV or by asking Siri. HomePod is available in the US, UK and Australia and arrives in Canada, France and Germany starting June 18.


So AirPlay 2 – the long-awaited, better-than-v1 flavour – arrives. Now my question is: will the tvOS update that comes with it allow you to set a HomePod as the default output for an Apple TV?

I ask because the HomePod makes a great output speaker for the Apple TV – far better than the reedy speakers of most flat-screen TVs – but although you can set the HomePod as an output, as soon as the Apple TV goes to sleep it forgets about the HomePod, and you have to tangle through the settings to get to the Audio/Video outputs again, and once more set the HomePod as output. It’s as boring to do as it is to read.

Defaults matter; being able to default to this would be huge.
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Trump’s right-hand troll • The Atlantic

McKay Coppins speaks to, and profiles, Stephen Miller, the thirtysomething who writes many of Trump’s speeches and has been a right-wing outrageist for decades:


When president Trump needs to learn about an issue, he likes to stage his own cable-news-style shout-fests in the Oval Office. In lieu of primped pundits, he has to make due with White House staffers, but the basic concept is the same: two people with conflicting points of view whacking away at each other as forcefully—and entertainingly—as possible. Trump seems to process information best in this format, according to people who have worked in the administration. Often, when the debate lacks a voice for a position the president wants to hear articulated, he will call Miller into the room and have him make the case.

Miller “can play both sides for the sake of the argument,” Gidley told me. “He can come in and play the staunch conservative or the Democrat, because he understands both.” What’s more, he often wins. “You can pull a debate-club argument out of a hat and Stephen can argue it convincingly,” a former administration official said. “It’s not that he knows everything in the world—it’s that he understands Trump. He’s been dealing with him a long time, and he understands how he inputs information.”

Miller told me that while there is sometimes a need for a devil’s advocate, he spends most of his time pushing for positions that he believes in. Indeed, a review of his record thus far leaves little doubt about the agenda he’s trying to advance, from more aggressive law enforcement to a conservative-nationalist economic policy. Notably, he’s emerged as one of the most strident immigration restrictionists in an administration known for such draconian measures as forcibly separating children from their parents at the border.

But Miller’s work in the White House has also borne the same trollish hallmark that defined his campus activism.


The article doesn’t get to the heart of whether Miller has a cohesive political theory. But maybe he doesn’t need to. He just likes provoking.
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What it’s like when Elon Musk’s Twitter mob comes after you • Daily Beast

Erin Biba:


look, you don’t have to take my word for it. Maybe a bunch of men calling me a cunt doesn’t strike you as harassment. The thing is, many, many other female journalists have experienced the same pile-on from MuskBros every time they tweet criticism of him. Shannon Stirone, a freelance journalist who covers space for publications like Popular Science, Wired, and The Atlantic, told me: “Sadly there is a pattern to what happens after criticizing Elon. There is a reason I don’t do it very often because I don’t enjoy dealing with the backlash from the army of men who come out to defend him. I’ve gotten replies calling me a ‘stupid bitch’ and names along the same vein. They are so deeply angry and instead of using their words they lash out in the only way they seem to know how which is to be abusive and demeaning.

“It is as though they’ve invested their own identity as males into Elon and his work that when anyone (especially women) dares to say anything that isn’t ‘praise for Elon’ it’s only a matter of minutes before the nasty messages come flowing in,” Stirone said. “That ‘bro’ culture is aggressive and deeply misogynistic. It’s exhausting and painful to watch my female colleagues get threats and hurtful messages sent to them all because we called him out.”

Mika McKinnon, a geophysicist and freelance science journalist who writes for Gizmodo, Racked, New Scientist, and others, has said she has stopped tagging Elon, SpaceX, or Tesla in any of her tweets in an attempt to protect herself from the onslaught of abuse.

“The cost of joining a larger conversation is too high. I’m good at handling barrages of hate mail—I was working for Gawker during Gamergate—but it takes energy and it’s easy to miss opportunities when I need to heavily filter my email and social media mentions,” McKinnon said. “This is the only person and company I deliberately avoid tagging out of a desire to not get swamped. It makes me sad that engaging in conversation is so painful, and it took me too long to realize it wasn’t worth the cost.”


The price of being female and having an opinion, especially about a man in the public eye, on Twitter seems calamitously high. The price of being an anonymous male and being rude about a woman in the public eye seems calamitously low. Biba received hate on Twitter, on Instagram, via email.

The “MuskBros” go after male writers too, but the implied threat is lower. The problem is the cultish behaviour, which we see again and again.
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Apple’s Star project could be an ARM-based touchscreen hybrid with LTE • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:


Apple is now working on a new device, codenamed Star. With an interesting model name N84, it could be the first Mac with an ARM processor, or the first iOS notebook…or something completely different.

Macs have been using Intel processors since 2006 and Apple mobile devices have been using Apple-designed processors since 2010. It was recently reported that Apple was going to move Macs to their own processors by 2020.

We have been following information about the Star project for a few months, with sources in the supply chain. It is currently in prototype stage, with prototypes being manufactured by Pegatron, Apple’s partner in China which also manufactures other Apple iOS devices.  A small number of units have been shipped to Cupertino for testing by Apple employees. These prototypes have been in production since at least January 2018.

There’s not much information on what the device could possibly be, but we do know that it has a touch screen, a sim card slot, GPS, compass, is water resistant and it also runs EFI. EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs, which leads us to believe that the Star project could potentially be the first ARM-based Mac, with a ship date as soon as 2020.


Also: tweet from Longhorn, a hardware hacker, saying it’s part of a “new device family” which runs an “iOS derivative”. And Digitimes saying Pegatron (which makes laptops) is “likely to get” the order; Pegatron wouldn’t comment.

But then with a bucket of ice-cold water, Mark Gurman “is told” (doesn’t say by whom) that it’s the low-cost LCD-screen iPhone for this year which looks like the iPhone X.

So, pick your rumour.
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Smartphone AI: separating hype and reality • CCS Insight Research

Geoff Blaber:


With artificial intelligence firmly at the peak of the hype curve, the industry must be collectively conscious that technologies deliver tangible benefits rather than an empty claim of intelligence. This should be easy given that artificial intelligence isn’t a new phenomenon. What is new is the way solutions are being marketed expressly under the banner of artificial intelligence.

The advent of dedicated accelerators for artificial intelligence workloads is a mixed blessing. Even defining these is difficult because of architectural similarities to digital signal processors (DSPs). Artificial intelligence is becoming pervasive in smartphones, spanning everything from power management to predictive user interface, natural language processing, object detection, facial recognition… the list is endless. For these tasks to be entirely efficient, it’s not realistic that they run exclusively on the CPU or even the graphics processing unit (GPU). Equally, developers need to have the tools to fully maximize the resources available.

This is highly reminiscent of the early days of the smartphone CPU core wars. Adding more cores created little impact beyond marketing hype until developers began writing to those cores to create multithreaded apps.

The approach taken by Qualcomm is noteworthy as it contrasts with that of Apple, HiSilicon and MediaTek, all of which are positioning a single, dedicated accelerator for artificial intelligence. Instead, Qualcomm is emphasizing its heterogeneous approach that comprises its Hexagon DSP, Adreno GPU and Kryo CPU. The Qualcomm AI Engine consists of these cores alongside software frameworks and tools to accelerate artificial intelligence app development using the platform.


The idea that AI-on-your-phone would be the “next big thing” is, I’m happy to point out, what I forecast in my TedX talk in Hilversum back in November 2015. (I was explaining how “selfies” became so big and peaked in 2014.)
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Spot the drowning child • Lifeguard Rescue

For those who didn’t get enough of “drowning doesn’t look like drowning”, or who just missed it, here’s a lifeguard training video where you have to spot the drowning child. (As embedded below.)

And – bonus! – a Hacker News discussion on the topic from 2010, which points out that trying to rescue someone who is drowning can be incredibly dangerous to you. Suggestion: take a long stick.

(Because it’s summer, and people are going to be on unfamiliar beaches for holidays soon…)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: California considers data privacy, nuclear’s fading light, Fortnite’s heady boost, Apple v Valve, and more

How crowded is your favourite station compared to others at rush hour? Photo by Andreas Kollmorgen 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. So there. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Do not sell my personal information: California eyes data privacy measure • All Tech Considered (NPR)

Laura Sydell:


If voters approve the measure, businesses will be required to have a “clear and conspicuous link” on their website’s homepage titled “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.” The link would take users to a page where they can opt out of having their data sold or shared.

[San Francisco real estate developer Alastair] Mactaggart says the proposed law would not prevent Facebook, Google or a local newspaper from collecting users’ data and using it to target ads to them. But users will have a right to stop companies from sharing or selling their data. And businesses would be required to disclose the categories of information they have on users — including home addresses, employment information and characteristics such as race and gender.

The measure has the backing of consumer advocacy groups, such as Consumers Union. Justin Brookman, Consumers Union’s director of privacy and technology policy, says Europe’s new law is stricter. “This ballot initiative is actually pretty modest,” he says. “In some ways, I wish it would go further.”

Still, if the California act passes, it will be one of the broadest privacy laws in the U.S. because it will affect anyone who goes on the Internet in California. And because California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, Brookman predicts many companies will implement the same standards nationally.


Quite the pincer movement, between the West Coast and Europe. Given how clueless many American sites have been about GDPR – acting as though it appeared from nowhere last Friday – this might have a better chance of getting obeyed in a useful way.

Though of course the problem is always proving who sold your data.
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What is a 51% attack? • 51Crypto


This website is intended to bring light to the risk of 51% attacks on smaller cryptocurrencies. It is not intended to encourage or help in completing an attack, but instead to get people talking about the problem and potential solutions.

In Proof of Work (PoW) cryptocurrencies, nodes typically are set up to recognize the blockchain with the most blocks (and therefore the most hashing power) as the correct version of history. Miners with > 50% of the network hashing power can take advantage of this by sending funds to one address on the main chain, while sending the same funds to another address on a forked copy of the blockchain that they are silently mining with more hashing power than the main chain.

Since other nodes only know about the main chain, they will see the first transaction as valid, and exchanges, etc will accept this transaction as valid. This malicious node can later release these silently mined blocks, and other nodes will accept this as the new ‘correct chain’ since it is longer. This will cause the original transaction to effectively dissappear, and nodes will recognize the funds as being sent to the address from the new chain instead. This is known as a ‘double spend’ attack.


It’s pretty cheap, comparatively, to do this even against bitcoin (well, ok, it would cost half a million dollars, but you could do something big). It’s very cheap, if you can organise it, to do it against tons of smaller cryptocurrencies. And as recorded previously here, it has recently happened against some others.
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After 60 years of nuclear power, what about the cleanup? • The Atlantic

Fred Pearce:


Hanford has not produced plutonium for three decades. Nobody is making new material for bombs anymore. President Trump’s plans for more weapons can be met by recycling existing plutonium stocks. And even the civil nuclear industry, which still generates a fifth of America’s electricity, is in what looks like terminal decline. With cheap natural gas and renewable solar and wind energy increasingly available, the numbers no longer add up. Nuclear power plants across the nation are being closed with years of licensed operation unused.

No new nuclear power stations have come on line in the past two decades. The only new build underway, two additional reactors at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, is five years behind schedule and has seen its costs double. Its planned completion in 2022 remains uncertain.

America’s 99 remaining operational nuclear power reactors, which still deliver power to the grid, are too important to be closed overnight. But nearly half are over 40 years old. The only question is how long the regulators and accountants will allow them to keep going.


Nuclear power’s failure is essentially an economic one. It works OK, but the cleanup costs are so horrendous that they make it impossible. Renewable energy is filling in the gap.
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Why frames tilt forward • The 100 Billionth Person

Craig Collins observed that when you hang a picture from a single wire attached to the sides, the picture leans forward. How do you prevent that, or minimise it?


So what have we learned and what do I recommend?  If you want to use hooks and wires and you want to hang pictures close to the wall without undue stress on the wire or frame, I suggest using two hooks and  45° wire angles, as illustrated in the diagram at right. This may look a little complicated but it is do-able.

In the original version of this post, I provided a formula to help you with the installation, but in practice, it didn’t go far enough.  So I programmed a two-hook frame hanging calculator and posted it in a companion article titled (what else) The “Hang It with Two Hooks” Calculator.  This online calculator suggests where to fasten the D-rings, how to install the wall hooks, and the length of wire to cut.  This makes the task much easier.

Yes, two hooks present the added challenge of ensuring they are level, but this post is all about reducing forward tilt without stressing the wire or frame.  If you are up to the task of carefully positioning two hooks, you might consider eliminating the wire altogether and hang the frame directly onto the D-rings.  One drawback to this method is the visibility of the hardware; the other is the extra precision that is needed in mounting the hardware.


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‘Fortnite,’ ‘PUBG’ led to rocketing headset sales • Variety

Brian Crecente:


While battle royale games like “Fortnite” and “PUBG” continue to court their own successes, it appears the sheer magnitude of players they draw is having a halo effect on headphone sales. Or at least that’s what the head of Turtle Beach tells Variety.

“The business is doing really, really well and what’s driving that — beyond our strategy and being a good quality product — is the ‘Fortnite,’ ‘PUBG,’ and battle royale craze, which has introduced a bunch of new people into games,” said Turtle Beach CEO Juergen Stark.

Turtle Beach, which accounts for nearly 46% of the gaming headset market share, saw a 185% increase in net revenue over the same period last year, according to its first-quarter earnings report released this week. The company was selling so many headsets, Stark said, that it will be spending more than $4m this quarter on air-freighting new stock into the country.

“We have pulled out all of the stops to catch up our supply,” he said.

The spike in second-quarter sales led the company to increase its forecast for both the next quarter and the year significantly. The news also more than doubled the company’s stock on Wednesday.


Biggest player seeing rocketing demand. No sign of Fortnite slowing down in popularity. Key quote:


Stark’s theory is that the games’ ability to attract a broader, new audience, their reliance on audio, and the fact that they are free to play combine to create an increased desire to purchase headphones.

“Because ‘Fortnite’ is free, there’s this opportunity to buy peripherals,” he said. “Instead of spending $60 on a game, they can spend $60 on a headset.”


Makes perfect sense.
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Apple’s Phil Schiller explains why Valve’s Steam Link app was rejected • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller explained the reason behind the rejection to a MacStories reader and other Apple customers on Reddit who emailed to ask Apple to reconsider. In the email, Schiller says the Valve app violates a number of guidelines and that Apple is working with the Valve team to rectify the issue.


We care deeply about bringing great games to all of our users on the App Store. We would love for Valve’s games and services to be on iOS and AppleTV. Unfortunately, the review team found that Valve’s Steam iOS app, as currently submitted, violates a number of guidelines around user generated content, in-app purchases, content codes, etc.

We’ve discussed these issues with Valve and will continue to work with them to help bring the Steam experience to iOS and AppleTV in a way that complies with the store’s guidelines. We put great effort into creating an App Store that provides the very best experience for everyone.

We have clear guidelines that all developers must follow in order to ensure the App Store is a safe place for all users and a fair opportunity for all developers.


The Steam Link app is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac. As our sister site TouchArcade said in a review of the app, it allows for “real” PC-like game experiences on Apple devices.

“I could see a very real situation where many people just straight up stop buying things from the App Store and exclusively purchase Steam games through Valve instead,” wrote TouchArcade editor-in-chief Eli Hodapp.


That’s not an explanation. It’s a reiteration of what we knew must be the case – that it violated some guidelines. But which ones, how? Especially since Apple approved it on May 7 and then un-approved it on May 9. Big suspicion that it would allow an end-run around the purchase of Valve content via the App Store. But that already happens on MacOS.
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JioPhone takes the top spot in the global feature phone market in Q1 2018 • Counterpoint Research


There are still around half a billion feature phones sold every year and these continue to serve the needs of the roughly two billion feature phones users globally. This is still a huge market catering to a diverse user base, many of whom still prefer feature phones over smartphones. The reasons for this loyalty to feature phones are as diverse as the user base, but include reasons like:

• Preference for simplicity
• Lighter, robust form-factors
• Longer battery life
• Lower cost

Some feature phone users also suffer from digital, economic or literacy divides and face barriers to adopt relatively expensive smartphones and data plans. In addition, this preference also stems from the fact that low-cost smartphones tend to offer poor performance and poor quality. Feature phone segment still has huge opportunity that remains to be exploited by the mobile industry.


Coming next: 4G featurephones.
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London underground commuting patterns through the day • Tube Heartbeat


People made 1.35 billion journeys on London’s iconic tube network last year.
Every weekday, London sees 2 million people commuting in on the tube… and 2 million commuting back.

This is London’s pulse.


This is wonderful. (Bet you this will be in Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning newsletter on Sunday.) Watch the tube stations get busier and quieter, and which lines are the busiest. The Central Line looks really busy.

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The hidden power of Stack Overflow • NY Mag

Brian Feldman on how much developers – well, “developers” – rely on SO for code solutions:


Critics of the site’s dominance are not too hard to find. In a 2015 blog post, Christian Heileman outlined the appeal of, and aimed a critical eye, at Stack Overflow’s forums. It’s a great tool for experts to discuss solutions with each other, but it’s not necessarily the right place to learn how to code. The joke you hear occasionally is that rather than being a full-stack developer, you become a full-stack-overflow developer.

Over the phone, he explained that the site is great for experts talking to each other, but its Reddit-like gamification has hazards. “When you try to learn something and these are the first results that you find,” he explained, “you get two impressions. First of all, that there’s one way of doing it. You don’t even need to think about it you just copy and paste the thing and put it live.” The second impression a user gets is simply one of unfriendliness. “‘If you do this you’re not a professional developer’ is a very common answer in that one. That can be very discouraging for someone who is just starting.”

But there are obvious downsides to relying on the internet to do your work for you, even if it offers up solutions voluntarily and with glee. Heileman — who has spent decades working at companies including Yahoo, Mozilla, and now Microsoft — believes that for novice developers, cutting corners hurts them in the long run. It’s important that they understand the code they write at a high level, rather than just relying on all-in-one solutions and packages to do the heavy lifting. This is an ongoing discussion within the developer community, most recently after an incident last year when a developer, breaking every other solution that relied on it [which amounted to

“I think it’s beautiful that we have those resources nowadays,” Heileman said, “but there is a danger of students just copying and pasting to get the homework out of the way rather than understanding it.”


The link to the npm problem shows the incredible (worrying) interdependency of lots of code systems; they even needed a particular package version number. There’s reinventing the wheel, and then there’s reusing bald tyres. Stack Overflow seems to encourage something a bit too close to the latter at times. That’s not a criticism of the site; it’s a criticism of the users, rather as it’s not Wikipedia’s fault if people over-rely on it.
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How to see everything Amazon Echo has recorded on you • CNBC

Todd Haselton:


If you’re curious what Amazon Echo smart devices have recorded while in your home — as I was — you can use the Alexa app to find out.

How to see what Alexa has recorded in your home:

• Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
• Tap the menu button on the top-left side of the screen.
• Scroll down and select ‘Settings.’
• Scroll down the page and tap ‘History.’

You’ll see something like this:

(Photo: Todd Haselton | CNBC)

You’ll be able to see all of the commands Alexa has heard. In my case, I saw all of the commands I’ve issued, including asking Alexa to turn off the living room lights, to play classical music and more. If you select a recording, you can choose the option to delete it.

I didn’t see any suspicious activity where Alexa recorded a conversation in the room without my permission. But, as my screenshot shows, it does seem to hear “Alexa” an awful lot — and that’s the word that it listens to in order to wake up and begin recording.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: how Prime began, Lightning v lint, iPhone NFC expanding?, Peterson the ‘social order warrior’, and more

Unread notifications drive some peoples’ partners mad – but not the owner. Photo by Kodee Shane-Channon 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 16 links for you. To fill the remains of the day. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Invisible asymptotes • Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei joined Amazon in its early years, and was given the task of figuring out what might limit its growth – that is, what would determine its asymptotic point:


Fortunately for Amazon, and perhaps critical to much of its growth over the years, perhaps the single most important asymptote was one we identified very early on. Where our growth would flatten if we did not change our path was, in large part, due to this single factor.

We had two ways we were able to flush out this enemy. For people who did shop with us, we had, for some time, a pop-up survey that would appear right after you’d placed your order, at the end of the shopping cart process. It was a single question, asking why you didn’t purchase more often from Amazon. For people who’d never shopped with Amazon, we had a third party firm conduct a market research survey where we’d ask those people why they did not shop from Amazon.

Both converged, without any ambiguity, on one factor. You don’t even need to rewind to that time to remember what that factor is because I suspect it’s the same asymptote governing e-commerce and many other related businesses today.

Shipping fees.

People hate paying for shipping. They despise it. It may sound banal, even self-evident, but understanding that was, I’m convinced, so critical to much of how we unlocked growth at Amazon over the years.

People don’t just hate paying for shipping, they hate it to literally an irrational degree. We know this because our first attempt to address this was to show, in the shopping cart and checkout process, that even after paying shipping, customers were saving money over driving to their local bookstore to buy a book because, at the time, most Amazon customers did not have to pay sales tax. That wasn’t even factoring in the cost of getting to the store, the depreciation costs on the car, and the value of their time.

People didn’t care about this rational math. People, in general, are terrible at valuing their time, perhaps because for most people monetary compensation for one’s time is so detached from the event of spending one’s time. Most time we spend isn’t like deliberate practice, with immediate feedback.


You may be able to think how they did this. But consider what you’d do if you didn’t know how they solved it.
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Those red alert bubbles on your phone are driving your loved one crazy • WSJ

Katherine Bindley:


In an era of nonstop notifications—reminders, app updates, endless text chains—electronic-alert management is starting to become a dividing line in American relationships. On one side are the compulsive clearers, who can’t abide the banners and bubbles designed to prod us into maximum smartphone hygiene. The clutter and the sense of tasks unfinished drives them to distraction.

On the other side are spouses and partners who are affected differently—which is to say not at all. Messages collect. Unread emails accumulate. Software upgrades are ignored. Apps requesting updates sit in a digital purgatory.

“I understand every couple of days you get some back up, no big deal,” says Mr. Ambrose of his wife’s phone. “This was four years’ worth of stuff.”

“I guarantee you it’s unimportant stuff,” Eve Ambrose, 35, says she told her husband at the time. She wasn’t bothered by the surreptitious phone-cleaning. She also points out that she never misses an email: “If it said 97 emails, I’m going to notice if it says 98.”

Mr. Ambrose now periodically goes into her phone to manage her notifications once she has nodded off.

Members of the laissez-faire contingent often point out that, however it looks, they have things under control.

“If it strikes my fancy, I’ll read it and if it doesn’t, I’ll swipe it off the screen,” says Graeme Farley, 35, of Cork, Ireland, who maintains an unread email count that his wife finds appalling. The couple got together about a decade ago before people were on their phones all the time.

“It wasn’t apparent when we first met each other that this would be a problem,” says Philipa Jane Farley, 36, a data-protection specialist. “I should have looked at the state of his car.”

Mrs. Farley says she lasted five minutes in her husband’s inbox while doing his taxes two years ago before she deleted 2,500 unread emails. Had there been anything important, it would be in the trash folder for 30 days before disappearing for good: “There was a safety net,” she says.

“I wasn’t fazed by it,” says Mr. Farley. Still, he says he’s planning to get better about keeping his inbox in better condition.


What. I mean just What. The. Whatting. What. Do they tidy their partners’ cupboards too? Their clothes drawers? That’s quite strange behaviour. Though underneath all this is a broader cause: we get too many notifications, and most of them are crap.
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Apple to expand secure wireless chip beyond payments • The Information


Apple is making a significant change to a wireless chip in the iPhone that will allow users to more securely unlock doors enabled with the same technology, a person familiar with the matter said.

The change to the near-field communication, or NFC, chip, which is expected to be announced next month, could pave the way for people to use iPhones for other security-sensitive interactions, from paying transit fares and opening car doors to verifying their identity in other ways.

Already, employees at Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, Calif., are using their iPhones to gain access to buildings and offices, suggesting that the technology has been deployed there, people familiar with the matter said. The campus uses an access control system made by HID Global, a leader in the industry that is owned by Swedish lock giant Assa Abloy. Apple has been talking to HID about enabling such access control on the iPhone using NFC since at least 2014, as The Information previously reported.

HID and Apple declined to comment.


It’s a software upgrade, so it would work back to the iPhone 6. That would be a lot of phones that would abruptly be capable of unlocking doors and so on.

Smart locks are an interesting space: the ones which work with a passcode mean that you don’t have to carry a phone with you. But if you can also connect to them online then you can do a lot – such as letting people in when you’re not. No more leaving your keys; no more locking yourself out. (Unless you’re forgetful, but that’s a problem with keys too.)
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Apple’s $539m in damages is a ‘big win’ over Samsung • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


Apple sought about $1bn in a retrial of a case that originally produced a verdict of that amount in 2012, while Samsung argued it should pay only $28m this time.

Jurors in federal court in San Jose, California, decided only on damages Thursday. It was already established that the South Korean company infringed three of Apple’s design patents – covering the rounded corners of its phones, the rim that surrounds the front face, and the grid of icons that users view – and two utility patents, which protect the way something works and is used.

“Today’s decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages,” Samsung said in a statement after the verdict. “We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers.”

John Quinn, a lawyer for Samsung, told the judge the verdict isn’t “supported by the evidence,” and that the company would raise its objections in court filings.

Apple said in a statement that the case “has always been about more than money.”

“We believe deeply in the value of design, and our teams work tirelessly to create innovative products that delight our customers,” the company said.

The basic question for the jury was: should Samsung have to pay damages based on sales of its smartphones or just their components that infringed the iPhone maker’s patents?

A $1.05bn jury verdict in 2012 was whittled down by a previous retrial in 2013, along with appeals and adjustments. After Samsung agreed to pay some damages, the case went to the US Supreme Court in 2016 and was returned to US District Judge Lucy Koh with an order to revisit $399m of that award. Now Samsung has to pay an additional $140m.

The verdict is a “big win” for Apple, said Michael Risch, a law professor at Villanova University School of Law in Pennsylvania. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, “Apple’s upside should have been capped at what it won before,” he said. “Beating that number at trial is a huge victory given that the Supreme Court has theoretically ruled against it.”

That also makes it a “huge loss” for Samsung, “and shows the risk it took by continuing to fight,” he said. “Samsung’s luck with the jury ran out this time, and Apple received a bigger proportion of what it sought.”


It feels like this case and its spinoffs have been going on forever. Samsung overplayed its hand, though. The benefit it got from its copying have been far bigger, though.
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Apple rejects Valve’s Steam Link app due to ‘business conflicts’ • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


In a statement, Valve said that Apple initially approved Steam Link for release on May 7, but ultimately decided to reject the app because of conflicts that had not been recognized by the original review team:


On Monday, May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team.

Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release. The team here spent many hours on this project and the approval process, so we’re clearly disappointed. But we hope Apple will reconsider in the future.


Valve’s appeals have not been successful at the current point in time, and the company is now hoping that media attention may spur Apple to change its mind.

The Steam Link app for iOS, which was announced on May 9, is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac.


Michael Gartenberg points out that the likeliest explanation is that Apple’s coming up with something of its own that does the same which will be shown off at WWDC, and an internal screwup meant they only realised this would clash once Valve had made the announcement.

Sucks, though. Valve won’t be pleased, Valve users won’t be pleased, app developers will be wondering what the hell is going on, and if Apple really has something for WWDC it’s going to have to be amazing. And if it has nothing – what?
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Lint • All this

Dr Drang:


About a month ago, I started having trouble charging my iPhone 6S. I’m not talking about the need to charge my phone more often because the battery isn’t what it used to be, although that’s definitely happening and I need to cough up the $30 to get the battery replaced. No, I’m talking about the Lightning plug on the charger cable not seating well in the port on the bottom of the phone. The plug would wiggle and often lose contact, leaving me with a phone that was still draining when I thought it was charging.

My first thought was that lint had built up in the port and needed to be cleaned out. I was at home without good lighting or good magnification, but I got a toothpick and dug around in the port, figuring that if anything was in there, that would loosen it and pull it out. When nothing emerged, I started thinking there was a problem with either the port itself or with the third-party cables I was using.

Yesterday afternoon I learned the truth.


It’s not quite in the league of “spiders crawled into my ear and laid eggs”, but it is pretty remarkable. And a little reminder of why wireless (inductive) charging isn’t such a bad idea.
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Max Schrems files first cases under GDPR against Facebook and Google • Irish Times

Derek Scally:


[Max] Schrems, head of a new privacy lobby group noyb (None of Your Business), accused Facebook of “blackmail” for giving users only two options: accept the new rules – and hand over more data than needed to operate the service – or deactivate their account. In addition, noyb claims Facebook used “tricks” to keep its customers using the service. It claims Facebook created fake red dots suggesting new messages, which the user could only see if they agreed to the new terms of service.

“This is nothing more than an aggressive and absurd attempt to deprive data subjects of their rights,” the complaint adds.

The noyb complaints will test its entitlement under GDPR to run test cases for users, as well as new co-operation rules between national data protection bodies around Europe.

The Facebook case was filed by noyb with the Austrian data protection body DSB, which will now liaise with Ireland’s data protection commissioner (DPC). The same applies for the Instagram complaint, filed via Belgium’s DPA and the WhatsApp case, filed by noyb with Hamburg’s data commissioner (HmbBfDI) Prof Johannes Caspar.

“Nowhere else in European law was there, until now, such a wide gap between theory and practice as in data protection,” said Prof Caspar. “We have to decide quickly how to work best with our Irish colleagues on this.”


The “take it or leave it” approach is unlike that you find on so many other sites, where you can allow or disallow adtech ads. So Schrems, who demonstrated how flawed the “safe harbour” idea was, has a point: why can’t you use Facebook and Google with ads but without targeting?
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Tencent chairman pledges to advance China chip industry after ZTE ‘wake-up’ call: reports • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:


Tencent is looking into ways it could help advance China’s domestic chip industry, which could include leveraging its huge data demand to urge domestic chip suppliers to come up with better solutions, or using its WeChat platform to support application developments based on Chinese chips, [Pony] Ma said.

“It would probably be better if we could get in to support semiconductor R&D, but that is perhaps admittedly not our strong suit and may need the help of others in the supply chain.”

China has been looking to accelerate plans to develop its semiconductor market to reduce its heavy reliance on imports and has invited overseas investors to invest in the country’s top state-backed chip fund.


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GDPR mayhem: Programmatic ad buying plummets in Europe • Digiday

Jessica Davies:


“Revenues and [ad demand] volumes [are] expected to fall dramatically across the board,” said one publishing executive, under condition of anonymity.

The flow of inventory supply from publishers has also dropped in many exchanges, and several sources attributed that to the volume of US publishers that have pulled their programmatic ads in Europe. Titles like the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune have shut down their European sites; others like USA Today have kept their site accessible to European site visitors. USA Today has kept its site up in Europe but stripped them of ads. The New York Times’ pages do not appear to carry any programmatic ads in Europe; most are running house ads. One ad tech source said the Times is now not available on open ad exchanges. The Times has not yet responded for comment; we’ll update when it does.

The frustration for many has been directed at Google. The day before the deadline, buyers were warned also to not buy any inventory via Google on third-party exchanges, especially those using tracking and ad-verification pixels, as Google couldn’t verify whether those partners were compliant or not, according to sources. Some agency groups were alerted to this late on May 24, while others felt Google’s guidance had been nonexistent, according to agency sources.


Wowow. That’s quite a thing. Programmatic ad exchanges are going to struggle.
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IBM’s Watson Health wing left looking poorly after ‘massive’ layoffs • The Register

Iain Thomson:


IBM has laid off approximately 50 and 70% of staff this week in its Watson Health division, according to inside sources.

The axe, we’re told, is largely falling on IBMers within companies the IT goliath has taken over in the past few years to augment Watson’s credentials in the health industry. These include medical data biz Truven, which was acquired in 2016 for $2.6bn, medical imaging firm Merge, bought in 2015 for $1bn, and healthcare management business Phytel, also snapped up in 2015.

Yesterday and today, staff were let go at IBM’s offices in Dallas, Texas, as well as in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado, in the US, and elsewhere, it is claimed. A spokesperson for Big Blue was not available for comment.

“Wanted to share anonymously a massive layoff in Watson Health, potentially limited to provider acquisitions – Phytel, Explorys, Truven,” a source claimed in a message passed to The Register by Lee Conrad, a former employee and union coordinator who today runs the Watching IBM Facebook page.


So this could be rationalisation after a ton of takeovers; that isn’t unusual. If Watson is really failing to get traction, though, that’s a different thing.
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I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous • The Star

Bernard Schiff is emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and a longtime friend of Peterson:


Jordan has a complex relationship to freedom of speech. He wants to effectively silence those left-wing professors by keeping students away from their courses because the students may one day become “anarchical social revolutionaries” who may bring upon us disruption and violence. At the same time he was advocating cutting funds to universities that did not protect free speech on their campuses. He defended the rights of “alt right” voices to speak at universities even though their presence has given rise to disruption and violence. For Jordan, it appears, not all speech is equal, and not all disruption and violence are equal, either.

If Jordan is not a true free speech warrior, then what is he? The email sent through his wife’s account described Bill 28, the parenting bill, as part of the “transgender agenda” and claimed it was “misleadingly” called “All Families are Equal.” Misleading? What same-sex families and transgender people have in common is their upset of the social order. In Maps of Meaning, Jordan’s first book, he is exercised by the breakdown of the social order and the chaos that he believes would result. Jordan is fighting to maintain the status quo to keep chaos at bay, or so he believes. He is not a free speech warrior. He is a social order warrior.

In the end, Jordan postponed his plan to blacklist courses after many of his colleagues signed a petition objecting to it. He said it was too polarizing. Curiously, that had never stopped him before. He appears to thrive on polarization. I have no idea why he did that.

I have been asked by some if I regret my role in bringing Jordan to the University of Toronto. I did not for many years, but I do now.


This is, I think, the best piece I’ve read about Peterson, rather than the phenomenon around him: the phrase “social order warrior” captures it perfectly. It’s also instructive to listen to his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week from May 14, with three other guests and Tom Sutcliffe as the interlocutor.

At 12 minutes in, Sutcliffe suggests that 120 years ago, before women had the vote, the idea of women voting would have been radical and disruptive; isn’t his opposition to modern social movements just as reactionary, and in time might look just as wrong? The answer never comes because Peterson picks on a tiny other element and the discussion spreads out. But it’s a key question. If you want a way to think of Peterson in future, “[existing] social order warrior” seems the best way.
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VPNFilter EXIF to C2 mechanism analysed • Securelist

“GReAT” on the Russian malware that had taken over thousands of routers, but whose command system the FBI grabbed last week:


Some of the things which stand out about VPNFilter are:

• It has a redundant, multi-stage command and control mechanism which uses three different channels to receive information
• It has a multi-stage architecture, in which some of the more complex functionality runs only in the memory of the infected devices
• It contains a destructive payload which is capable of rendering the infected devices unbootable
• It uses a broken (or incorrect) RC4 implementation which has been observed before with the BlackEnergy malware
• Stage 2 command and control can be executed over TOR, meaning it will be hard to notice for someone checking the network traffic.


It then headed off to Photobucket for instructions, taken from EXIF data – but the way that Photobucket has shut down many pages has made it impossible. So it would head to a hard-coded domain. That’s what the FBI took over.
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Tablets and PCs set for modest 2.1% decline in 2018 as the industry finally starts to stabilize • Canalys


“Consumer demand will remain weak overall,” said Dutt. “Components such as DRAM will remain constrained in the short-term, and vendors will pass most of the increased costs onto customers, driving up ASPs. But dedicated gaming PCs have emerged as a genuine hotspot in large markets, such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, where eSports has helped to generate an appetite among younger consumers with disposable incomes who are willing to spend top prices for high performance. The consumer market is also more likely to see new brands challenging the likes of HP, Lenovo and Dell. Despite the sector’s weak performance, there are lower barriers to entry from a channel perspective compared with the commercial sector. Huawei and Xiaomi are already attempting to disrupt selected markets, but nether yet has a range of products or channel partners to trouble the incumbents.”

Despite a recent rise in iPad shipments, the tablet category remains in decline as consumers show a preference for smartphones as their primary mobile devices and rely on traditional PCs for more compute-intensive tasks. The category is expected to contract by almost 3% per year on average from 2017 to 2022, down almost 150m units from the market peak in 2014.


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UK watchdog running dozens of probes into cryptocurrency firms • FT

Chloe Cornish and Hannah Murphy:


The UK’s top financial watchdog is running enquiries into 24 businesses dealing with cryptocurrencies, and has opened seven whistleblower reports related to the nascent asset class this year alone.

The move comes as regulators close in on the free-wheeling cryptocurrency industry, which raised billions of dollars last year through a novel fundraising method called initial coin offerings — crowdfunding with little, if any, protection for investors. US regulators have brought fraud charges against a number of ICOs.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Financial Conduct Authority said it was making enquiries into the activities of 24 unauthorised firms involved in cryptocurrencies to determine whether they might “be carrying on regulated activities that require FCA authorisation”.

It added that said it had opened seven whistleblower reports involving cryptocurrencies in 2018. Moore Stephens, an accountancy and consulting firm, made the FOI request.


A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand.
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US launches criminal probe into bitcoin price manipulation • Bloomberg

Matt Robinson and Tom Schoenberg:


The illicit tactics that the Justice Department is looking into include spoofing and wash trading – forms of cheating that regulators have spent years trying to root out of futures and equities markets, the people said. In spoofing, a trader submits a spate of orders and then cancels them once prices move in a desired direction. Wash trades involve a cheater trading with herself to give a false impression of market demand that lures other to dive in too. Coins prosecutors are examining include Bitcoin and Ether, the people said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment and CFTC officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The investigation, which the people said is in its early stages, is the US’s latest effort to crack down on an industry that was initially embraced by those who were distrustful of banks and government control over monetary policy.

But Bitcoin’s meteoric rise – it surged to almost $20,000 in 2017 after starting the year below $1,000 – has been a lure for mom-and-pop investors. That’s prompted regulators to grow concerned that people are jumping into cryptocurrencies without knowing the risks. For instance, the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened dozens of investigations into initial coin offerings, in which companies sell digital tokens that can be redeemed for goods and services, due to suspicions that many are scams.


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Bitcoin backlash as ‘miners’ suck up electricity, stress power grids in Central Washington • The Seattle Times

Paul Roberts:


Chelan County, for example, created a special rate for miners and other so-called “high density loads,” or HDLs, back in 2015, that was effectively twice the residential rate.

Douglas County, meanwhile, began requiring miners to pay up front for any new infrastructure. Grant County PUD is establishing special rates applied to companies “whose primary revenue stream is evolving and unproven” and whose product is “vulnerable to extreme value fluctuations.”

The utilities are attempting to strike a delicate balance. By creating policies that reflect the full costs and risks of cryptocurrency mining, the utilities believe they can protect regular ratepayers while weeding out prospective miners who are unable or unwilling to make a long-term commitment to the Basin — and whose power requests are swamping utilities’ normal operations.

As Wright put it, by the end of the moratorium, the utility expects to be able to tell miners exactly what it will cost to mine in Chelan County. If miners can accept those terms, Wright says, the PUD will move forward with investments needed to handle crypto-mining’s much larger next phase. But, says Wright, “if it’s not of interest, then we can stop and go back to doing our day jobs.”

How the three utilities decide to treat this new industry will have impacts that go well beyond the Mid-Columbia Basin. Prospective miners elsewhere will be tracking the decisions intently to see whether the Basin is still worth coming to, or whether they should go instead to other cheap-power places, such as Iceland or Quebec.

And, in all likelihood, utility officials in those cheap power regions will be paying attention, too.


In essence, the followup to this article in Politico from March.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: FBI zaps Russian botnet, don’t listen Alexa!, the quiet location scandal, a fresh dating site hell, and more

An Uber self-driving car: its emergency response isn’t ideal. Photo by zombieite 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. Non-negotiable, but call me to check. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cyberwars small A reminder: you can buy my book Cyber Wars, published in the UK and due out in the US later this week. It investigates hacking incidents such as the Sony Pictures hack, the TalkTalk hack, ransomware, the Mirai IoT botnet, the TJX hack, and more. It looks at how the people in those organisations responded to the hacks – and takes a look at what future hacks might look like.

“A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” – Aleks Krotoski

Buy it via Amazon UK (Kindle or paperback)

Buy it via Amazon US (Kindle or paperback)

Exclusive: FBI seizes control of Russian botnet • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:


FBI agents armed with a court order have seized control of a key server in the Kremlin’s global botnet of 500,000 hacked routers, The Daily Beast has learned. The move positions the bureau to build a comprehensive list of victims of the attack, and short-circuits Moscow’s ability to reinfect its targets.

The FBI counter-operation goes after  “VPN Filter,” a piece of sophisticated malware linked to the same Russian hacking group, known as Fancy Bear, that breached the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign during the 2016 election. On Wednesday security researchers at Cisco and Symantec separately provided new details on the malware, which has turned up in 54 countries including the United States.

VPN Filter uses known vulnerabilities to infect home office routers made by Linksys, MikroTik, NETGEAR, and TP-Link. Once in place, the malware reports back to a command-and-control infrastructure that can install purpose-built plug-ins, according to the researchers. One plug-in lets the hackers eavesdrop on the victim’s Internet traffic to steal website credentials; another targets a protocol used in industrial control networks, such as those in the electric grid. A third lets the attacker cripple any or all of the infected devices at will.

The FBI has been investigating the botnet since at least August, according to court records, when agents in Pittsburgh interviewed a local resident whose home router had been infected with the Russian malware. “She voluntarily relinquished her router to the agents,” wrote FBI agent Michael McKeown, in an affidavit filed in federal court. “In addition, the victim allowed the FBI to utilize a network tap on her home network that allowed the FBI to observe the network traffic leaving the home router.”


That was quick.
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The LocationSmart scandal is bigger than Cambridge Analytica. Here’s why no one is talking about it • Slate

Will Oremus:


Motherboard reported last week that Securus had been hacked, with the credentials of 2,800 authorized users stolen, most or all of them presumably working in law enforcement or at prisons. (Securus’ main business involves helping prisons crack down on inmates’ cellphone use.) It’s a safe bet that some of those users had access to the same location-tracking tools that the Missouri sheriff abused.

So how was Securus getting all that data on the locations of mobile-phone users across the country? We learned more last week, when ZDNet confirmed that one key intermediary was a firm called LocationSmart. The big U.S. wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile—were all working with LocationSmart, sending their users’ location data to the firm so that it could triangulate their whereabouts more precisely using multiple providers’ cell towers. It seems no one can opt out of this form of tracking, because the carriers rely on it to provide their service.

It gets worse. A Carnegie Mellon researcher poking around on LocationSmart’s website found that he could use a free trial service to instantly pinpoint the location of, well, just about anyone with a mobile phone and wireless service from one of those major carriers. He did this without any permission or credentials, let alone a warrant.


And why is it not a big story? Oremus thinks because it’s not about Trump getting elected, unlike the Cambridge Analytica story. I disagree: I think it’s because we’re so used to tracking each other that it has become ordinary. What isn’t ordinary – with the Cambridge Analytica story – is foreign interference and dark media aimed at changing peoples’ minds.
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Pray for the souls of the people sucked into this dating site hell • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill:


Earlier this year, the media got very excited about, a site for the pro-Donald set that promised to “make dating great again.” Much of the media coverage was critical: The site only allowed users to conduct heterosexual searches; the male-half of the couple originally featured on the homepage had a child sex conviction; and its creator didn’t seem to actually exist.

Despite all this, the site attracted over 250,000 members, according to its media liaison, Sean McGrossler. He told me over email that 15% of those members paid for accounts, starting at $24.99 per month, which would mean the site has made a not immodest $1m over the last few months.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that launched weeks later. It got its own round of news articles, despite being founded by a “political startup” called the “American Liberal Council” that only seems to exist on Facebook, where it mostly posts liberal memes in the style of a Russian misinformation account. (The account hasn’t posted since March and did not respond to messages.)

Intrigued by the attention these sites were getting, Alexandra Mateescu, a researcher at Data & Society Research Institute, decided to sign up, not to date a political partisan but to see who was actually on the sites. When she began looking for single men in New York City, where she lives, the results immediately struck her as odd. According to the site, there were lots of Trump supporters in her liberal hometown, and they were racially and ethnically diverse, which surprised her. Few of them referred to Trump in their profiles, though, which seemed strange given the site they’d joined. She wanted to find out more about these people, but she couldn’t message them without purchasing a membership, which she didn’t want to do, so she and a few friends tried to find the members elsewhere on the web, by using a tried-and-true method of many an online dater: reverse image-searching profile photos to see where else they appeared.

This led Mateescu to people who were not the ones described in the profiles.


It turns out both sites used a “turnkey dating solution” which claims to do dating sites for “almost any niche”. (She tried but was blocked from doing one for journalists.) It all looks reaallly sketchy.
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What happened to Velib, Paris’s glitchy bikeshare system? • CityLab

Feargus O’Sullivan:


The problems started last May, when management for the Velib system was taken over by a new contractor that, in a classic burst of nonsensical Franglais, goes by the name Smovengo. As part of an ambitious new upgrade, Smovengo promised that a third of the 14,000-plus fleet of bikes would be battery assisted e-bikes, forming part of a new more online-and-app-friendly fleet that would make managing and using the system more streamlined. This move required a complete overhaul of the network’s 1,200-plus docking stations. That’s where things went pear shaped. By the end of last summer, only half the replacement docks had been created, with those left unfinished creating ramshackle mini-eyesores across the French capital.

Those that have actually come into service, meanwhile, have been glitchy in the extreme. Some have electricity supply problems that have required contractors to temporarily wire up the stations to batteries. These not uncommonly run out of juice, meaning that many bikes are blocked for use by afternoon. To cap it all, Velib employees went on strike last month, frustrated by a decline in working conditions and benefits since Smovengo took over the Velib concession from previous operator JCDecaux.

With functioning docks scarce, the number of Velib subscribers plummeted from 290,000 to 190,000. The number of daily shares dropped by April to just 10,000 daily—from an all-time high of 100,000 daily. For the world’s first large-scale bikeshare service, this was quite a tumble. The free bike plan is thus less a bold move to fully liberate the system than an effort to mollify frustrated customers. If the problems continue into June, the free bike offer will continue into the summer.


A sign of the times that a bike sharing scheme going wrong becomes important.
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Look (what you made me do): I illustrated 10 of my professional sins • Medium

Xaquín González Veira:


The #distractedBoyfriend meme was such a low hanging fruit. I wasn’t expecting the 3.5K likes. I can’t handle the fame.

So, I decided to really exhaust the meme by doing enough infographic-related variations that nobody in their right mind would want to be this silly again. I’m doing the industry a favor.


Such as this splendid one:
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Preliminary report released for crash involving pedestrian, Uber Technologies test vehicle • NTSB


The report states data obtained from the self-driving system shows the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about six seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that emergency braking was needed to mitigate a collision. According to Uber emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.

In the report the NTSB said the self-driving system data showed the vehicle operator engaged the steering wheel less than a second before impact and began braking less than a second after impact. The vehicle operator said in an NTSB interview that she had been monitoring the self-driving interface and that while her personal and business phones were in the vehicle neither were in use until after the crash.

All aspects of the self-driving system were operating normally at the time of the crash, and there were no faults or diagnostic messages.


It doesn’t do emergency braking when it’s under computer control, but it doesn’t alert the “driver” either. That’s all sorts of wrong. It’s a pity that someone had to die for this huge error to become apparent.
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Four serious questions about Elon Musk’s silly credibility score • Poynter

Alexios Mantzarlis:


Musk’s suggestion of a “credibility score” is worth discussing because building one is actually a pretty popular idea — especially among Silicon Valley types.

Some, like the Credibility Coalition, are trying to frame the problem thoughtfully, but most are imbued with the same techno-utopianism that has defined Musk’s public persona. In the past few months alone I received at least four different pitches for a system that uses artificial intelligence (of course) to rate the credibility of the entire internet.

The vision that one easy hack can fix media bias and massive online misinformation is pervasive among certain quarters. But it’s fatally flawed.

Other well-heeled journalism projects have promised to upend fact-checking by either injecting the crowd in it (WikiTribune) or developing a universal credibility score (NewsGuard). In WikiTribune’s case, the jury is still out, but the fact-checking work to date hardly seems paradigm-shifting. NewsGuard has raised $6m but has yet to launch.

Still, it’s clear that the status quo needs reform. Fact-checking might need to be blown up and reinvented. So rather than dunk on Musk, we should debate the underlying challenges of a genuine credibility score for the internet.


He goes through this effectively. There’s no way of doing this.
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Woman says her Amazon device recorded private conversation, sent it out to random contact • KIRO-TV

Gary Horcher:


Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home’s heat, lights and security system.

But Danielle [who declined to give her last name] said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. “The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,'” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.'”

That person was one of her husband’s employees, calling from Seattle.

“We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'” Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn’t believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

“I felt invaded,” she said. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.'” Danielle says she unplugged all the devices, and she repeatedly called Amazon. She says an Alexa engineer investigated.

“They said ‘our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we’re sorry.’ He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!”


Amazon later confirmed that this happened. But how? Unclear.
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Wearables market up 35% in Q1 2018 as Apple and Xiaomi maintain lead • Canalys


Apple Watch shipments stabilized after a record quarter for the company and it matched its Q1 2017 number. “Key to Apple’s success with its latest Apple Watch Series 3 is the number of LTE-enabled watches it has been able to push into the hands of consumers,” said Canalys Senior Analyst Jason Low. “Operators welcome the additional revenue from device sales and the added subscription revenue for data on the Apple Watch, and the list of operators that sell the LTE Apple Watch worldwide is increasing each month.” Apple represents 59% of the total cellular-enabled smartwatch market. “While the Apple ecosystem has a strong LTE watch offering, the lack of a similar product in the Android ecosystem is glaring. If Google decides to pursue the opportunity with a rumored Pixel Watch, it would jump-start much needed competition in this space.”

Garmin is now the second largest smartwatch vendor after Apple, with 1 million smartwatches shipped in the last quarter. “Garmin’s transition to smartwatches has been swift as it focuses its GPS expertise on catering to endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Vincent Thielke, Research Analyst at Canalys. “It brought much needed improvements by adding features such as Garmin Pay to the Forerunner and vívoactive series, and now offers onboard music storage on the latest Forerunner 645.


Very weird to still be mixing fitness bands with smartwatches. They’re really not comparable. And the WearOS space looks more and more anaemic.
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StumbleUpon is calling it quits after 16 years • The Next Web

Abhimanyu Ghoshal:


I fondly remember the StumbleUpon browser button: one click, and you were instantly transported to a randomly selected webpage from its vast database, with an almost certain guarantee of spotting something of interest. The company, which was once owned by eBay, gave birth to (and eventually sunsetted) an excellent video discovery tool called 5by, and had once surpassed Facebook as the #1 source of social media traffic in the US back in 2011.

But that was then, and this is now, when ‘random’ isn’t good enough, and even our ‘serendipitous’ content discoveries are closely connected to our interests, thanks to cookies that follow us around, platforms that task us with tagging all the things online, and clever algorithms that learn what we’re into.

Garrett Camp, the founder of StumbleUpon, wants fans to transition over to his other project, Mix, which he began building back in October 2015, as something like Pinterest for content.

It works well enough when you tell the site what you like – but after spending several minutes on there, I can tell you that it doesn’t quite recreate the magic of the SU button.


I never used StumbleUpon, though the death of a little bit of serendipity is always sad. Garrett Camp, who devised it, writes on Medium that “we’ve learned from SU that while simplicity and serendipity is important, so is enabling contextual curation (ie. ‘cool space photos’) instead of just clicking ‘I like it’.”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: ZTE counts the cost, cutting the wrong red tape, the Apple news ecosystem, Uber drives out of Arizona, and more

Hey mum, why is your smartphone more interesting than me? Photo by Marco Djallo on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not in binary. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome. But first this message!

Cyberwars small A reminder: you can buy my book Cyber Wars, published in the UK and due out in the US later this week. It investigates hacking incidents such as the Sony Pictures hack, the TalkTalk hack, ransomware, the Mirai IoT botnet, the TJX hack, and more. It looks at how the people in those organisations responded to the hacks – and takes a look at what future hacks might look like.

“A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” – Aleks Krotoski

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.

ZTE estimates at least $3bn in losses from US ban • Bloomberg


ZTE Corp. is estimating losses of at least 20bn yuan ($3.1bn) from a US technology ban that’s halted major operations as clients pull out of deals and expenses mount, people familiar with the matter said.

The telecoms gear and smartphone maker however is hopeful of striking a deal soon and already has a plan in place – dubbed “T0” – to swing idled factories into action within hours once Washington agrees to lift its seven-year moratorium on purchases of American chips and components, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about private negotiations. The company declined to comment.

Shenzhen, China-based ZTE depends on US components, such as chips from Qualcomm, to build its smartphones and networking gear. The ban, for breaching terms of a settlement over sanction-breaking sales to Iran, has all but mothballed China’s second-largest telecoms gear maker and become entangled in a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he’s reconsidering US penalties as a favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping and may instead fine the company more than $1bn.

The US action has spooked potential clients during the crucial first-half IT spending season and even prompted some to renege on agreed deals, the people said. ZTE’s shelling out an estimated 80m to 100m yuan in daily operational expenses alone while most of its 75,000 employees sit idle, the people said.


Meanwhile, the US Congress has blocked any move to let ZTE back in. The limbo continues; the losses so far wipe out ZTE’s net income over the past 12 years.

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Republicans can’t even cut red tape correctly • The New York Times

Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles:


there are huge opportunities for growth that are being hamstrung by rules that protect existing companies at the expense of new ones. A bonfire of regulations like this would be entirely wholesome for the American economy and also help to eat away at some of the hyper-inequality that is generated by these forms of crony capitalism.

Unfortunately, this is not the kind of regulation that the Trump administration has been attacking. Instead, it has been sharpening its knives for precisely the kinds of regulation that, far from distorting markets, help to improve them. In particular, regulation is often necessary to a properly functioning market when, in its absence, businesses can make a profit by pushing costs onto others, in effect forcing others to subsidize their bottom line. In two areas, the environment and finance, these are exactly the sorts of market-improving regulation that the administration has put in its cross hairs, with the effect of increasing profits via freeloading.

The classical justification for environmental regulation is that without properly designed rules, businesses do not have to pay the true costs of their economic activity (what economists call “externalities”). If a company was making money by parking vehicles in all our driveways without paying, it would be obvious, and individuals would have a remedy in the form of trespass laws. But the costs that companies generate through pollution are widespread and hard to trace. Environmental regulations, by making companies absorb the costs they would otherwise impose on the rest of us, reduce market-distorting subsidies to polluters.

One recent example of wrongheaded deregulation is the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed loosening of Obama-era rules on methane leaks from oil pipelines. Methane is a particularly nasty contributor to global warming, but pipeline companies have insufficient incentives to prevent leaks adequately. Without regulation, their profitable move is to pad their bottom lines at the expense of the global climate. In this case, deregulation is just another word for the protection of ill-gotten gains.


This has been the Trump admin all over: protect existing companies and strip the wrong regulations away. Coal, environment, solar – the moves have all been retrograde.
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I wish mum’s phone was never invented • BBC News

Georgina Rannard:


What if children told you exactly how your WhatsApping, Instagramming, emailing and news-reading makes them feel?

“I hate my mum’s phone and I wish she never had one,” is what one primary school child wrote in a class assignment.

American school teacher Jen Adams Beason posted the comment on Facebook, and revealed that four out of 21 of her students said they wished mobile phones had never been invented…

…”I would say that I don’t like the phone,” one child wrote.

“I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day. A phone is sometimes a really bad habit.” The student completed the work with a drawing of a mobile phone with a cross through it and a large sad face saying “I hate it”.


I often wonder what babies think of their mothers’ indifference as they are being walked around in prams or in shops or anywhere. There’s a whole generation growing up being ignored.
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‘A fun adventure, not a business’: The Weather Channel stopped publishing video on Facebook • Digiday

Sahil Patel:


The Weather Channel is no longer publishing videos to Facebook.

“[Facebook video] hasn’t been beneficial,” said Neil Katz, global head of content and engagement at The Weather Channel, during a speech at the Digiday Video Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It has been good for Facebook, but it hasn’t been good for us.”

Over the past few years, The Weather Channel built up a network of six pages on Facebook that grew to 500 million video views per month by last May, according to Katz. (For comparison, The Weather Channel’s main page was down to 1.8 million views on Facebook in April, according to Tubular Labs.) The Weather Channel’s Facebook presence included its main page as well as “weather-adjacent” science, nature and travel verticals such as Rockets Are Cool, Crazimals and United States of Awesome.

“We went along for the ride every single step of the way,” Katz said. “But we noticed, over the course of two years, that we were being paid in all types of currencies — followers, shares, views — that did not feel like money.”


Such old thinking. Then again, looks like it’s time for the pivot away from video. Where now?
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Hackers infect over 500,000 routers with potential to cut off internet • CNET

Alfred Ng:


More than half a million routers and network devices in 54 countries have been infected with sophisticated malware, researchers from Cisco’s Talos Intelligence Group warn.

The malware, which the security researchers are calling VPNFilter, contains a killswitch for routers, can steal logins and passwords and can monitor industrial control systems. 

An attack would have the potential to cut off internet access for all the devices, William Largent, a researcher with Talos, said Wednesday in a blog post

Attacks on routers hit a sensitive spot not only because they can halt internet access, but because hackers can use the malware to monitor web activity, including password use. In April, US and UK officials warned about Russian hackers targeting millions of routers around the world, with plans to carry out massive attacks leveraging the devices. In that announcement, the FBI called routers a “tremendous weapon in the hands of an adversary.”

“Quite anything is possible, this attack basically sets up a hidden network to allow an actor to attack the world from a stance that makes attribution quite difficult,” Craig Williams, Talos’ director, said in an email.  


At any given time, there are huge botnets built around devices which people don’t normally interact with directly. Routers sometimes, video recorders others. Even heat pumps.
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The Apple Watch has found a surprisingly useful home with everyone that works on their feet • Quartz

Mike Murphy:


You might’ve noticed that the person who took your order at the bar, brought you the shoes you wanted to try on, or perhaps even patted you down at the airport security line, is sporting an Apple Watch, which starts at $329 for the newest Series 3 watch. And there’s a pretty simple explanation: Many service-industry jobs where employees have to be on their feet all day don’t allow workers to check their phones while they’re on the clock. But that rule doesn’t necessarily apply to a piece of unobtrusive jewelry that happens to let you text your friends and check the weather.

Quartz spoke with airline attendants, bartenders, waiters, baristas, shop owners, and (very politely) TSA employees who all said the same thing: The Apple Watch keeps them in touch when they can’t be on their phones at work. Apple has increasingly been pushing the watch as a health device, and seems to have moved away from marketing it as one that offers more basic utility, as Apple continues do with the iPhone. But given that roughly 23% of the US labor force works in wholesale or retail operations, perhaps it’s a market Apple should reconsider.


I don’t think Apple is “not considering” the market of people who aren’t meant to be standing around looking at their phones. Though it might consider some adverts targeting them.
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Uber to close self-driving operations in Arizona after fatal crash • AZ Central

Ryan Randazzo:


Uber is shutting down its self-driving car tests in Arizona, where one of the cars was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian in March, the company said Wednesday.

The company notified about 300 Arizona workers in the self-driving program that they were being terminated just before 9a.m. Wednesday. The shutdown should take several weeks.

Test drivers for the autonomous cars have not worked since the accident in Tempe, but Uber said they continued to be paid. The company’s self-driving trucks have also been shelved since the accident.

Uber plans to restart testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh once federal investigators conclude their inquiry into the Tempe crash. The company also said it is having discussions with California leaders to restart testing.

Uber has engineering hubs in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and the company said it is easier to test vehicles near those workers. Engineers from those hubs frequently traveled to Arizona to work on the testing project here.


That’s pretty harsh on the 300 workers. Here one day, gone the next.
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Above Avalon subscriptions turn three • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart, whose $100/year 4x/week newsletter is entering its fourth year, looks at what is changing in the Apple coverage space:


Apple rumor / scoop industry has dried up and consolidated. Ten years ago, there were a number of news publications that were in a legitimate position to break the next Apple scoop (some of which were likely controlled leaks from Apple). Today, there are only two or three sites that even publish Apple scoops. The consolidation in Apple scoops has been driven by Apple ramping up the amount of secrecy regarding unannounced projects. In addition, Apple “scoops” have increasingly come from research firms paying for confidential information coming out of Apple’s supply chain. One byproduct of this rumor consolidation has been a relatively high degree of turnover among Apple reporters.

Ad-supported business models are struggling. It is becoming more difficult to find ad-supported business models on the web. While there are likely a few reasons for this change, one includes ad dollars being funneled away from blogs and into podcasts and videos. This explains what appears to be an exodus of resources away from written blogs and into podcasts and video-focused efforts. Unfortunately, my suspicion is this won’t end well for many as increased competition in the podcast and video space will tend to push sponsors to those with the largest followings. Such an environment would make it increasingly difficult for independent ventures to find sustainability by chasing scale.

Paid news sites boost independents. Most news publications have embraced paid subscriptions as another way of boosting revenues. While a paid subscription to a multinational news organization may make sense for many readers, the value / price tradeoff becomes murky for readers interested in specific topics and niches. For example, the average news publications will only write about Apple once a week (if that much). This environment provides an even greater amount of oxygen to independent sites that can give the time and attention to niche subjects.

Donation / support route isn’t promising. The transition from ad-supported business models to subscription-based models hasn’t been easy for many independent sites. Going from a scenario in which all content was public to one in which only a fraction of content is public can be jarring. Most sites have handled this transition by keeping content free and instead giving paid subscribers a very marginal amount of exclusive content. In essence, sites are treating subscriptions and memberships like donations. This is not sustainable for, or attractive to, subscription-based models.


That point about ad-supported models is one to note. If GDPR does scare away ad-tech companies in Europe, that is going to lead to some substantial concentration.
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YouTube Music is great for record labels, but bad for music lovers • WIRED UK

Katia Moskvitch:


Facebook doesn’t have a good enforcement technology yet, he adds, but “is about to become a major player”. Apple Music and Spotify together count 125 million subscribers – although they are mere bit players considering the success of YouTube. Google’s baby now sports more than 1.8 billion users every month, not least thanks to the fact that it is free – not just for consumers, but also the artists themselves. “It’s the number one place where artists get discovered and hits are made,” says [MIDiA Research analyst Mark] Mulligan, and “that’s true for every single market”.

The success, however, does not translate into massive payments to the music industry. YouTube labels itself as a platform, not a music distributor, and as a result gets away with sharing less of its profits. Because of its dominance, YouTube pushes down the profits for the music industry as a whole, claims a recent study commissioned by the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC), a body representing royalty-collecting societies around the world.

The launch of YouTube Music will not be a game changer, though. Mulligan believes that the subscription-based service is “not quite a sop to the record labels, but it’s not far off”. Google simply wants to show “that it’s a good partner to the record labels… rather than needing to be in the premium business”.

Profit margins are further under pressure because of the deep fragmentation of the distribution end of the music industry. Spotify, YouTube and Apple may be digital giants, but they are jostling for space with many smaller local music streaming services around the world, plus thousands of terrestrial and digital radio and TV networks.


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Google beats Amazon to first place in smart speaker market • Canalys


Smart speakers continue to be the world’s fastest-growing consumer technology segment, with year-on-year growth in Q1 2018 of 210% as shipments reached 9m units. Google took the top spot, beating Amazon for the first time, shipping 3.2m of its Google Home and Home Mini devices, against the 2.5m Echo devices shipped by Amazon. The US market share fell below 50% for the first time, partly due to Google and Amazon’s focus on expanding beyond their home markets, but also because of the increased traction that the technology is seeing with new vendors in markets such as China and South Korea.

Vendors shipped 1.8m smart speakers into the channel in Q1 2018 in China, while Korea overtook the UK to become the third largest market with 730,000 shipments.

Alibaba finished third overall and retained its number one position in China with 1.1 million Tmall Genie speaker shipments in Q1 2018… China’s smart speaker market is growing, with shipments up sequentially by more than 60%. Xiaomi, whose main business is selling smartphones, shipped over 600,000 of its Xiao AI speakers to China in Q1, coming a distant second after Alibaba’s Tmall Genie. “Awareness of smart speakers and their uses is growing steadily among Chinese consumers. But competition is building quickly for Alibaba, as IPO-hopeful Xiaomi takes to the smart speaker segment with much vigor in 2018.”


Apple’s HomePod went on sale in February; doesn’t make the top five on Canalys’s reckoning. Strategy Analytics, another research company, has its own analysis which gives Amazon 4m, Google. 2.4m, Alibaba 0.7m and Apple 0.6m. Neil Cybart, of Above Avalon, reckons Apple sold between 0.5m and 1.0m HomePods.

So one has Google on top and Apple nowhere, another has Amazon on top and Apple somewhere. Be lovely if these companies provided some clear figures sometime.
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Environmentalists criticize Xiaomi ahead of billion-dollar IPO • Sixth Tone

Sixth Tone:


Two environmental groups are accusing Xiaomi of poor oversight of its supply chain after the Chinese tech giant earlier this month filed for an IPO with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, according to a joint report released Tuesday.

On May 12, the environmentalists found that a Jiangsu factory which manufactures components for Xiaomi was discharging copper-contaminated wastewater into a nearby river. According to the report, coauthored by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and the Lüse Jiangnan Public Environment Concerned Center (PECC), tests conducted on May 12 confirmed the contamination.

The factory, owned by Taiwan-headquartered Ichia Technologies, had previously been fined 117,000 yuan ($18,000) by the provincial environmental bureau in March for the same offense. Sixth Tone’s calls to the factory went unanswered on Tuesday.

The report also accuses four other companies said to manufacture screens, casings, and other parts for Xiaomi cellphones of having past environmental violations.

On May 3, Xiaomi filed for an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, aiming for a $100 billion valuation that would make it the largest listing of the year. But the environmental groups say that the tech company did not disclose the supply chain environmental lapses in its prospectus — contravening the exchange’s full disclosure requirement.

When reached by phone on Tuesday, a Xiaomi PR representative told Sixth Tone that he was not at liberty to comment, as the company was still ascertaining the situation.


By “still ascertaining the situation” the spokesman meant “still ignoring the situation, which has been brought to Xiaomi’s notice multiple times over multiple suppliers in the past four years”.

But nobody much cares about environmental responsibility, unless it offers a chance to bash Apple.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: US phone slump, make a faster MacBook, Trump’s phone (in)security, Yelp v Google (again), and more

If you wanted headphones, why get them on a crowdfunding site? Photo by Lubomir Panak on Flickr.

Cyberwars small A reminder: you can buy my book Cyber Wars, published in the UK and due out in the US later this week. It investigates hacking incidents such as the Sony Pictures hack, the TalkTalk hack, ransomware, the Mirai IoT botnet, the TJX hack, and more. It looks at how the people in those organisations responded to the hacks – and takes a look at what future hacks might look like.

“A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” – Aleks Krotoski

A selection of 11 links for you. A real news source! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘Too inconvenient’: Trump goes rogue on phone security • POLITICO

Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson and Daniel Lippman:


The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

President Barack Obama handed over his White House phones every 30 days to be examined by telecommunications staffers for hacking and other suspicious activity, according to an Obama administration official.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but a senior West Wing official said the call-capable phones “are seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis through routine support operations. Because of the security controls of the Twitter phone and the Twitter account, it does not necessitate regular change-out.”


Security experts reckon that for sure those are hacked by now. Trump’s number is not secret to those who want to know it. The model of phone is known. There are exploits. What’s stopping them?
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North Korea targeting defectors with Android malware attacks • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:


North Korea has been caught tinkering with Android malware again, but this time it’s using both Facebook and Google Play to target North Korean defectors living in South Korea.

According to McAfee, North Korea’s Sun Team hackers perpetrated the attack over the last several months. They likely infected around 100 targets, which isn’t a huge number compared with most malware campaigns. However, these were all highly targeted infiltrations to gather intelligence on political opponents. There are currently around 30,000 North Korean defectors living in the south. 

The hackers used Facebook to distribute links to the malicious apps, focusing on populations and individuals who would have information about defectors. They created convincing fake profiles, often using images stolen from South Korean users as profile photos. Their posts asked the targets to download and test some Android apps hosted in the Play Store. These apps, however, were not what they appeared.

McAfee researchers found three apps uploaded by Sun Team hackers: 음식궁합 (Food Ingredients Info), Fast AppLock, and AppLockFree. All three were listed as “unreleased” in the Play Store, which kept them from garnering unwanted attention. The hackers only wanted to send specific targets to the listings. Upon installation, the apps would ask for access to contacts, SMS data, and local files before sending it all to the malware operators. This data could lead to more targets for future malware attacks, including both defectors and those who help them escape North Korea. McAfee tied the apps together as part of a single attack from the use of identical developer accounts, emails, and IP addresses.


A bit amateurish, that last bit.
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Trump denies reaching deal with China on ZTE • The New York Times

Ana Swanson, Jim Tankersley and Raymond Zhong:


The fate of ZTE has quickly become a key sticking point in negotiations with China, with lawmakers and others concerned that the administration would ease restrictions on the company after Mr. Trump’s suggestion in a Twitter message on May 13 that he was working with China’s president, Xi Jinping, to give ZTE “a way to get back into business, fast.”

“Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Mr. Trump added in the tweet.

That statement, and reports that the administration had discussed easing the penalties during a visit by Chinese trade negotiators last week, have sparked a backlash from lawmakers across the political spectrum. On Tuesday, senators took steps to limit Mr. Trump’s ability to ease restrictions on ZTE, voting to approve an amendment to pending legislation that would block the president from pardoning the company without first confirming to Congress that it was no longer violating the law.

In a 23-2 vote, lawmakers approved the amendment, which will now be included in a bill related to foreign investment controls that was offered by Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. The amendment would require the president to certify that the company was no longer violating United States law, had not done so for a year and was fully cooperating with investigators before changing its penalties. The bill is expected to come to a vote this summer.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, blasted the idea of a deal with ZTE, saying on Twitter: “Here is #ZTE timeline: Violated U.S. sanction laws & got caught lying & covering up. Paid $1billion fine & agreed to discipline employees. But then lied again & instead of discipline gave those employees bonuses. Now we are offering same deal of fine & employee discipline?”


Thought exercise: same situation, but Obama (or Clinton) is president, and is negotiating with China about trade, including ZTE. What would s/he do differently? I suspect much would be the same – except for the tweets, which undermine the US’s position. Even so, it’s contradictory: ZTE broke sanctions on Iran. Which Trump doesn’t like.
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Amazon teams up with law enforcement to deploy dangerous new face recognition technology • ACLU of Northern CA


Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states reveal a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights. Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon.

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance. According to its marketing materials, it views deployment by law enforcement agencies as a “common use case” for this technology. Among other features, the company’s materials describe “person tracking” as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor people. Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify “people of interest” raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments — such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists — will be seen as fair game for Rekognition surveillance. It also says Rekognition can monitor “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports” — at a time when Americans are joining public protests at unprecedented levels.

Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns. Today, the ACLU and a coalition of civil rights organizations demanded that Amazon stop allowing governments to use Rekognition.


I think this horse has long since left the stable. If not Amazon, then it will be Facebook; or a Chinese company; or someone else. We’re already in the age of facial recognition; it’s just going to get better.
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10,200 people gave this Kickstarter start-up for 3-D headphones nearly $3m. They have nothing to show for it. • The Washington Post

Rachel Siegel:


In a letter to backers on its Kickstarter page, the tech company Ossic wrote that it was shutting down and would not deliver any remaining orders for Ossic X headphones. The company said it had explored other financing options over the past 18 months but would still need more than $2 million more to complete mass production.

Ossic’s flameout also highlighted the challenges faced by tech companies in mass producing innovative products — from robots to smartwatches to 3-D printers — through crowdfunding sources, even as experts say platforms such as Kickstarter can be effective tools for getting a company off the ground.

“Hardware is particularly seductive in a lot of ways,” said Ethan Mollick, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “[Backers] see an example of the thing, and it feels safer preordering. Those all come together to make these things seem easier than they might be.”

A video on Ossic’s Kickstarter page showed people testing out prototypes of what the company dubbed the “first 3D audio headphones.” The company told backers on Saturday that it had completed 250 of them and began deliveries to some Kickstarter backers. But as of Saturday, Ossic was out of money and shutting down “effective immediately.” It was unclear whether backers would be refunded.


Ossic said “OSSIC X is the world’s first headphone that instantly calibrates to your anatomy for the most accurate and immersive 3D audio”. This stuff is overplayed. (I got some nura headphones via Kickstarter. They’re ok, but too heavy to wear for any length of time, which is a drawback in headphones.) And honestly? You can buy good headphones anywhere. Avoid “stuff you can get elsewhere” on crowdfunding sites.
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Yelp files new EU complaint against Google over search dominance

Rochelle Toplensky and Hannah Kuchler:


Yelp has filed a complaint with the EU’s antitrust watchdog against Google, arguing that the search company has abused its dominance in local search and pressuring Brussels to launch new charges against the tech giant.

European antitrust authorities fined Google €2.4bn in June 2017 for favouring its own shopping service over rival offerings in its search results. Google denied wrongdoing and has appealed that decision.

Now Yelp, which provides user ratings, reviews and other information about local businesses, wants Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition Commissioner, to take action against Google for similar alleged abuse in the local search market, according to a copy of the complaint seen by the Financial Times…

…Yelp wrote the new complaint to make the case for local search services, arguing that Google is harming both competitors and consumers by giving preferred placement to its own offerings over rivals’. It said the search giant displays Google Local Search information at the top of the results page, while links to Yelp, TripAdvisor and other services are displayed further down, where they are rarely clicked.

The company is requesting quick action to remove the alleged favouritism, which could enable it to reopen its division in Europe.

Local search services were originally covered by a European antitrust probe launched in 2010, over how Google treated its own services in search results versus links to rivals. That investigation covered a number of specialist search services, including travel, local business and price comparison. But in 2015, Ms Vestager focused her charge sheet on price comparison services culminating in last summer’s fine.

Google declined to comment on the most recent complaint.


I don’t have much confidence that Vestager will act quickly on this. Not because she won’t think that it’s important or merited, but because her office is astonishingly slow to act. The fine over shopping was a start, but Google’s response has been to do exactly what complainants said would harm them, and Vestager hasn’t done a thing.
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News Lit Quiz • News Literacy Project


Which is Legit?

Test your ability to recognize and distinguish “fake news” sites from those of legitimate, standards-based news organizations.


10 pairs of fake and real sources; a turn-based quiz. Dive in. As much as anything, reveals how important it is to be able to parse a URL.
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Overall Q1 US smartphone sales dip 11% YoY, Apple grows a record 16% YoY • Counterpoint Research


Research Director Jeff Fieldhack said, “Dips in sales coming off a holiday period are to be expected, however there are several other factors that make this the weakest Q1 in recent years. For one, postpaid device promotions were not as enticing in the first quarter—most requiring a new line.  In addition, prepaid did not receive its usual February and Q1 bump as prepaid service promos cooled. The ramp-down of government subsidized ‘Lifeline’ programs have cut into prepaid device volumes. BYOD and refurbished devices also continue to impact new device sales.”

Exhibit 1: Monthly market pulse – OEM & market sales growth (YoY %) Trends

• Apple growth percentage is declining during launch periods. However, it has gained overall US market share because of its increasing installed base and B2B and prepaid channel improvements
• Samsung growth curve is slipping. There is increased difficulty maintaining momentum through product lifecycles
• During periods of prepaid [PAYG] weakness, ‘others’ performance declines. “Others” saw a drastic dip during the first quarter.
• The overall US market growth is on a downward slope outside of Apple launch periods.


Down to 38.7m in the first quarter; the first time it has been below 40m for three years. The peak has passed.
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The Verge [cryptocurrency] hack, explained • The Abacus

Daniel Goldman on a cryptocurrency hack where a hacker began spoofing the time on “blocks”, suggesting they’d happened earlier than they had:


The algorithm that Verge [the crryptocurrency, unrelated to the tech news website] uses to calculate the current difficulty [of mining] is known as Dark Gravity Wave; it involves taking a weighted average of the rate of block confirmations over a moving two-hour window. It’s a bit complex, and the details don’t really matter here — what matters is this: mining difficulty is a function of recent block frequency, and running calculations on block frequency naturally involves looking at blocks’ timestamps.

And hence the problem: if enough faulty timestamps are getting created, all bets are off. And this is what the hacker did — examining the blockchain data reveals that throughout the duration of the hack(s), every other block was submitted with a timestamp roughly one hour before the present time, tragically confusing the protocol’s mining adjustment algorithm. If the protocol were sentient and fluent in English, it would be saying something like “Oh no! Not enough blocks have been submitted recently! Mining must be too difficult — let’s make it easier!” Since timestamps were continuously being spoofed, the protocol continuously lowered the difficulty, until mining got laughably easy. To give a general idea, the average difficulty in the hours before the initial attack was 1393093.39131, while during the attack, it got as low as 0.00024414, a decrease in difficulty of over 99.999999%. Lower difficulty in submitting a block means more blocks get submitted— in this case, roughly a block every second.
The cleverness of this attack is in how it circumvents the barrier of mining difficulty instead of attempting to burst through it. If the security provided by mining power is a gate surrounding the network — a gate that’s far too strong to break through and too high to climb over — this hack gets past it by finding a way to lower it so close to the ground that it can be stepped over.

If it isn’t already obvious, this is, in and of itself, bad news.


Yeah, it was obvious. It’s also obvious that there’s no obvious way to fix this (though it’s more complicated just than this; there’s also an algorithmic attack). Anyone determined enough can do the exact same hack again – though the hacker here clearly got a lot of ducks in a row.
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The $299 Razer Core X is the cheapest way to give your MacBook the graphics card it deserves • BGR

Chris Mills:


The obvious solution [to the MacBook’s lack of graphics power] is to use an external graphics card, which is now feasible thanks to software changes in recent versions of macOS, and the magic of the Thunderbolt 3 connectors that are fast and flexible enough to allow for external graphics. Razer’s Core (and the newly updated Core V2) are some of the most popular enclosures around, but they don’t come cheap: the Core V2 is $499, and you still have to supply your own graphics card, which can be hundreds of dollars more. Luckily, there is now a cheaper way.

The Razer Core X is exactly the same concept as the Core V2 — a big box into which you can stuff your graphics card — but with a few key differences. Mostly, it’s $299 rather than $499, which makes it a much more palatable option as an accessory. There’s also a slightly more powerful 650W power supply and space for a bigger graphics card. Best of all, the Core X can supply 100W of power over the USB-C cable to a connected laptop, meaning one cable charges your laptop and connects you to the external graphics. The Core V2 supplied power as well, but that maxed out at 65W, below the 80-85W that some laptops require.

That said, you do lose something, specifically the USB-A and Ethernet ports that the Core V2 had.


That’s a graphics card which has a SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY WATT power adapter. Run it for two hours and you’ve used more than a kilowatt. That’s crazy, given that the MacBook adapter is around 80W max. The tail is wagging the dog, power-wise. Although if you needed to edit video in specific locations, yet also wanted something light to take around, it could fit the bill.
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A new look inside Theranos’ dysfunctional corporate culture • WIRED

John Carreyrou, with another extract from his book Bad Blood:


The biggest problem of all was the dysfunctional corporate culture in which it was being developed. [CEO and founder Elizabeth] Holmes and [COO Sunny] Balwani regarded anyone who raised a concern or an objection as a cynic and a nay-sayer. Employees who persisted in doing so were usually marginalized or fired, while sycophants were promoted.

Employees were Balwani’s minions. He expected them to be at his disposal at all hours of the day or night and on weekends. He checked the security logs every morning to see when they badged in and out. Every evening, around 7:30, he made a flyby of the engineering department to make sure people were still at their desks working.

With time, some employees grew less afraid of him and devised ways to manage him, as it dawned on them that they were dealing with an erratic man-child of limited intellect and an even more limited attention span. Arnav Khannah, a young mechanical engineer who worked on the miniLab, figured out a surefire way to get Balwani off his back: answer his emails with a reply longer than 500 words. That usually bought him several weeks of peace because Balwani simply didn’t have the patience to read long emails. Another strategy was to convene a biweekly meeting of his team and invite Balwani to attend. He might come to the first few, but he would eventually lose interest or forget to show up.

While Holmes was fast to catch on to engineering concepts, Balwani was often out of his depth during engineering discussions. To hide it, he had a habit of repeating technical terms he heard others using. During a meeting with Khannah’s team, he latched onto the term “end effector,” which signifies the claws at the end of a robotic arm. Except Balwani didn’t hear “end effector,” he heard “endofactor.” For the rest of the meeting, he kept referring to the fictional endofactors. At their next meeting with Balwani two weeks later, Khannah’s team brought a PowerPoint presentation titled “Endofactors Update.” As Khannah flashed it on a screen with a projector, the five members of his team stole furtive glances at one another, nervous that Balwani might become wise to the prank. But he didn’t bat an eye and the meeting proceeded without incident. After he left the room, they burst out laughing.


This is just the light relief, though; there’s plenty of refusal to engage with basic reality too.
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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: OnePlus 6 reviewed, Google used on Safari (again), getting the internet inside, MoviePass’s fatal flaw, and more

An octopus: visitor from an alien race? Photo by damn_unique 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 9 links for you. Should have been eight, right? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A controversial scientific study suggests octopuses came from outer space • Quartz

Ephrat Livni on a bizarre speculative paper published in “Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology”:


The octopus, for example, is traditionally considered to come from the nautiloid, having evolved about 500 million years ago. But that relationship doesn’t explain how these odd cephalopods got all their awesome characteristics or why octopuses are so very different, genetically speaking, from their alleged nautiloid ancestors. The paper states:


The genetic divergence of Octopus from its ancestral coleoid sub-class is very great … Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene.


The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral nautilus to the common cuttlefish to squid to the common octopus can’t be found in any pre-existing life form, the authors say.

So far, so good. But then the paper gets highly speculative. The researchers continue, “It is plausible then to suggest they [octopuses] seem to be borrowed from a far distant ‘future’ in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large.”


Nope. Nope nope nope. Though the signatories might be prestigious, this is not a “scientific study”; it’s a bit of handwaving. Just because you don’t know how the genes came to be present doesn’t mean that they’re alien, because they’re not. Or else everyone is alien, which gets us back to square one.
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OnePlus 6 Review—A series of downgrades is saved by the low price • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


The OnePlus 6 is a worse phone than the OnePlus 5T. The new SoC is nice, but other than that we get downgrades in the form of a higher price, a switch from metal to glass, and a smaller, harder-to-use fingerprint reader. I guess it speaks to just how good of a phone the OnePlus 5T was, then, that OnePlus can throw a round of downgrades at the design and still end up with a phone that can stand up to the competition. I feel like the company could have done a much better job than this, but at the end of the day the phone is still $300 cheaper than the competition for similar specs.

OnePlus is hesitant to stand behind its products with a solid support policy, which makes me just as hesitant to recommend them. The company won’t commit to a support timeframe for major OS updates, and it doesn’t provide consistent, stable monthly security updates. This is something you’d get from almost any other flagship phone manufacturer and something Nokia/HMD provides even on lower-end phones. If you’re the type that doesn’t mind getting your hands dirty and flashing OS upgrades yourself from a third-party, then OnePlus’ shaky support isn’t as much of a concern.

If the 6 was $800, it would be a completely forgettable, generic device, like the LG G7. It’s not $800, though; it’s way cheaper than that.


A weird idea: the new phone is a downgrade from the older, but cheaper. If OnePlus can make a profit this way, good luck to it.
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Google sued for ‘clandestine tracking’ of 4.4m UK iPhone users’ browsing data • The Guardian


Google is being sued in the high court for as much as £3.2bn for the alleged “clandestine tracking and collation” of personal information from 4.4 million iPhone users in the UK.

The collective action is being led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd over claims Google bypassed the privacy settings of Apple’s Safari browser on iPhones between August 2011 and February 2012 in order to divide people into categories for advertisers.

At the opening of an expected two-day hearing in London on Monday, lawyers for Lloyd’s campaign group Google You Owe Us told the court information collected by Google included race, physical and mental heath, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits and location data.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Lloyd, said information was then “aggregated” and users were put into groups such as “football lovers” or “current affairs enthusiasts” for the targeting of advertising.

Tomlinson said the data was gathered through “clandestine tracking and collation” of browsing on the iPhone, known as the “Safari Workaround” – an activity he said was exposed by a PhD researcher in 2012.


OK, this is quite weird. It’s exactly the same incident that I wrote about back in 2012/3 (here’s a Josh Halliday article on it). Yet no reference in this to that? Or by anyone? Whatever happened to institutional memory?
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Free app brings iPhone X gesture navigation to Android phones without Android P • BGR

Zach Epstein:


Google announced during its Google I/O 2018 keynote presentation that gesture controls will be coming to the Android platform later this year when Android P is released. There’s already a public beta of Android P available for people with certain smartphones, but everyone else will have to wait until sometime later this year or in 2019 when Android P updates finally start rolling out to phones. Some smartphone makers don’t want to wait for Android P, so they’re adding their own take on the iPhone X’s gesture navigation. OnePlus is a good example, though gesture navigation on the OnePlus 6 is kind of terrible.

There are already a few different apps out there that let you add gesture-based navigation to an Android phone. The problem with these apps is they require you to root your Android device. Not everyone wants to bother rooting their phones, and there are also security implications that many people aren’t comfortable with. Don’t worry though, because we have some good news: There’s a new free app that brings the iPhone X’s gestures to Android without the need for root access.

The app is called Navigation Gestures, and it was built by an admin from xda-developers. It’s currently available for free in the Play store. The app can be installed on any modern Android phone, and it doesn’t require users to first root their devices. There is one small caveat though. Navigation Gestures uses an API that is only accessible by granting a special permission, and you’ll need to connect your Android device to a Windows or Mac computer in order to grant that permission. It’s quite easy, and XDA provides a video that walks you through the process.


Seems fairly clear that in four years or so, the majority of phones will be working on gestures and have no bezels.
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Teen phone monitoring app leaked thousands of user passwords • ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:


The mobile app, TeenSafe, bills itself as a “secure” monitoring app for iOS and Android, which lets parents view their child’s text messages and location, monitor who they’re calling and when, access their web browsing history, and find out which apps they have installed.

Although teen monitoring apps are controversial and privacy-invasive, the company says it doesn’t require parents to obtain the consent of their children.

But the Los Angeles, Calif.-based company left its servers, hosted on Amazon’s cloud, unprotected and accessible by anyone without a password.

Robert Wiggins, a UK-based security researcher who searches for public and exposed data, found two leaky servers.

Both of the servers was pulled offline after ZDNet alerted the company, including another that contains what appears to be only test data.

“We have taken action to close one of our servers to the public and begun alerting customers that could potentially be impacted,” said a TeenSafe spokesperson told ZDNet on Sunday.


Yet there’s never any comeback on companies which behave in such an amazingly sloppy manner. No fines, and of course no way to retrieve the data.
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How the internet gets inside us • The New Yorker

Terrific essay by Adam Gopnik:


things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment—above all, our interactions with other people—are now easily internalized, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own. (I’ve felt this myself, writing anonymously on hockey forums: it is easy to say vile things about Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the N.H.L., with a feeling of glee rather than with a sober sense that what you’re saying should be tempered by a little truth and reflection.) Thus the limitless malice of Internet commenting: it’s not newly unleashed anger but what we all think in the first order, and have always in the past socially restrained if only thanks to the look on the listener’s face—the monstrous music that runs through our minds is now played out loud.

A social network is crucially different from a social circle, since the function of a social circle is to curb our appetites and of a network to extend them. Everything once inside is outside, a click away; much that used to be outside is inside, experienced in solitude. And so the peacefulness, the serenity that we feel away from the Internet, and which all the Better-Nevers [ie people who say things have never been better than now, with the internet] rightly testify to, has less to do with being no longer harried by others than with being less oppressed by the force of your own inner life. Shut off your computer, and your self stops raging quite as much or quite as loud.

It is the wraparound presence, not the specific evils, of the machine that oppresses us. Simply reducing the machine’s presence will go a long way toward alleviating the disorder. Which points, in turn, to a dog-not-barking-in-the-nighttime detail that may be significant. In the Better-Never books, television isn’t scanted or ignored; it’s celebrated. When William Powers, in “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” describes the deal his family makes to have an Unplugged Sunday, he tells us that the No Screens agreement doesn’t include television: “For us, television had always been a mostly communal experience, a way of coming together rather than pulling apart.” (“Can you please turn off your damn computer and come watch television with the rest of the family,” the dad now cries to the teen-ager.)

Yet everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly.


This is from 2011, but could have been written yesterday. Absorb it at length. (Also worth reading for one paragraph’s punchline: “next thing you knew there wasn’t a hot bath or a good book for another thousand years.”)
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Team Trump’s ‘deep state’ paranoia fans conspiracy theories • FT

Gideon Rachman:


The US president rages about the “greatest witch-hunt in American history”. He has also frequently accused members of his own government of conspiring against him, tweeting darkly that this is “Big stuff. Deep State ”.

This accusation — that there is a “deep state” of government employees and agencies determined to destroy the Trump presidency — has become standard stuff among the president’s most ardent supporters. Two recent best-selling books have popularised the idea and the phrase: The Plot to Destroy Trump by Ted Malloch and Roger Stone; and Killing the Deep State by Jerome Corsi. The president’s closest supporters and relatives have also embraced this notion. His son, Donald Jr, tweeted: “The Deep State is real, illegal and endangers national security.”

The Trump world’s accusations about a “deep state” plot to destroy the president are now increasing in volume, with the revelation that the FBI used an informant to probe connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr Trump himself has greeted this news as further confirmation of an establishment plot to undermine him.

But the fact that a theory is popular does not make it true. There is no evidence that the FBI, nor the “deep state”, was intent on destroying the Trump campaign. On the contrary, the FBI director, James Comey, did Mr Trump a favour by publicly re-opening an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of official emails — while keeping quiet about FBI suspicions of links between the Russian state and the Trump campaign. The fact that an FBI informant was probing evidence of these links is not, as Mr Trump would have it, the “all time biggest political scandal”. It is exactly what an intelligence service should be doing.

The “deep state” controversy may be phoney. But it is still significant. For it reveals the extent to which paranoid fantasy has now entered the mainstream of American political discourse — fanned by the president himself.


The Trump campaign was shot through with people who were working for outside states, or interested in doing so – Paul Manafort being only the most prominent. But all this gonzo noise will keep eroding Americans’ trust in their systems. This will take a lot of fixing, after Trump.
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These 299 MacOS apps are so buggy, Apple had to fix them in AppKit • Worth Doing Badly

Zhuowei Zhang:


Looking through the list of apps tells a lot about what apps Apple considers essential to the Mac platform: after all, they put special effort to make them work on newer system versions. So what apps do Apple consider important?

• Productivity apps from large companies:
most of the Adobe suite; the Microsoft Office suite; Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Maya; Matlab; Ableton Live; Intuit Quicken/QuickBooks; TurboCAD; VMWare Fusion

• Communication apps:
Google Chrome; Opera Browser; Twitter for Mac; Tencent QQ, WeChat; AOL Messenger; Citrix GoToMeeting; Cisco Spark; HipChat; Sketch; Spotify; Evernote; Dropbox

• A surprisingly high number of games. I suspect there are even more IDs in game-specific libraries such as OpenGL.

Blizzard’s games: installer, Diablo 3, Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft 2, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Battle.NET; Grid 2 Reloaded; Dragon Age 2 (of course)

• Open-source apps:
Firefox; VLC; Blender; Eclipse; AquaMacs (an Emacs port); OpenJDK; Textual IRC…


It’s a remarkable list – in many cases, Apple puts in fixes so that the apps (older or newer versions) won’t crash immediately, or at some random point. (See? All those feedback notes you send when the apps crash do have some effect.)

Now try to guess how many of these patches there are for UIKit, Apple’s iOS foundation to which first- and third-party apps are written.
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How two million people loved MoviePass nearly to death • Bloomberg

Kyle Stock:


Since paying the $9.95 monthly fee for the movie-a-day service in January, Hannah Wolfe has seen Black Panther and most of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Best Picture nominees. Twelve films in total, at no additional cost to her. “It seemed a little too good to be true, especially in New York where movies cost like $16 each,” she says. “It feels like I haven’t paid for the ticket.”

In a way, she hasn’t. Wolfe has paid MoviePass about $50, and in turn the company would have likely shelled out almost $200 to theaters to cover the full ticket prices. To make matters worse, Wolfe has been recruiting everyone she knows—and some are getting even more out of the service. Her roommate rarely went to movies before and recently saw five in a week. Her father, a retired teacher, is on pace to see 40 films this year.

Eight months after slashing its price and expanding membership past two million users, MoviePass is now at risk of going bust. The parent company, Helios & Matheson Analytics Inc., which now owns 92% of MoviePass, said last week that it had just $15.5m in cash at the end of April and $27.9m on deposit with merchant processors. MoviePass has been burning through $21.7m per month. A US Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month revealed that the company’s auditor has “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay solvent. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., warns that MoviePass may not survive the summertime run of blockbusters.

On Tuesday, Helios reported the performance of MoviePass for the three months ending on March 31. The company lost $107m, earning just over $1m from marketing deals and $47m from subscriptions. Helios shares have fallen to decade lows of less than $1 after peaking at $32.90 in October, alongside the MoviePass hype.


There’s disruption, and then there’s stupid. This is the latter one. The wonderful irony is that Helios is owned by Ted Farnsworth, former owner of a psychic hotline. Don’t need one to know how this story ends.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: smart luggage drops out, a Pixel Watch?, two Steve Jobs questions, Gates on Trump, and more

Landsat photo showing the plume from Hawaii’s Kilauea. Free – but for how long? Photo by Stuart Rankin 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. Isn’t that how it’s meant to work? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

US government considers charging for popular Earth-observing data • Nature

Gabriel Popkin:


The ongoing melt of Alaska’s Columbia glacier is revealed in these images captured by the US government’s Landsat satellites in 1986, 1999 and 2017.Credit: Landsat/EO/NASA

The US government is considering whether to charge for access to two widely used sources of remote-sensing imagery: the Landsat satellites operated by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and an aerial-survey programme run by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Officials at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the USGS, have asked a federal advisory committee to explore how putting a price on Landsat data might affect scientists and other users; the panel’s analysis is due later this year. And the USDA is contemplating a plan to institute fees for its data as early as 2019.

Some scientists who work with the data sets fear that changes in access could impair a wide range of research on the environment, conservation, agriculture and public health. “It would be just a huge setback,” says Thomas Loveland, a remote-sensing scientist who recently retired from the USGS in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


There were charges until 2008; then the USGS made the data available for free, and use increased 100-fold, and there have been dramatic discoveries.

The free data principle applies: the government collects it, people pay for the government, the government should make it free to the people. The benefits to the people and the economy are far greater than revenues minus the cost of administration.

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Raden is the second startup to bite the dust after airlines ban some smart luggage • The Verge

Sean O’Kane:


Smart luggage startup Raden announced today that it has shut down and can no longer handle “returns, exchanges or repairs.” It’s the second dedicated smart luggage company to go under this month (following Bluesmart, which ceased operations May 1st) after major US airlines imposed strict rules on suitcases with batteries earlier this year.

The policies that airlines like Delta and American put in place earlier this year most aggressively targeted luggage with non-removable batteries, like the kinds Bluesmart sold. (Bluesmart shut down, but it sold its intellectual property to luggage giant TravelPro.) Raden, meanwhile, sold suitcases with removable batteries, which are still fine to check on most airlines as long as fliers carry the battery in the cabin with them. The company says the companion app — which lets users check the weight of their bag and was supposedly going to enable an ambitious mesh-network style tracking system — will continue to work, too. But the ban, and perhaps the change in sentiment toward smart luggage, will still hit Raden hard, according to the company.


It’s the lithium-ion batteries; these companies were living on borrowed time (for check-in luggage) as soon as there were problems with Li-ion overheating in luggage. The rest of the story details problems that people who bought Away bags (another brand) have been having.

It was a great idea, sadly screwed by chemistry.
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Pixel Watch investigation: everything we know, and what it needs to succeed • Wareable

Husain Sumra:


Multiple reports have said Google is prepping a Pixel-branded smartwatch for this year, but what will it look like and what features will it host? That much is still up in the air, but we can certainly start the speculation. Here’s what we know so far, and what we’re hoping to see…

A smartwatch with a better Google Assistant means a more proactive assistant. Dennis Troper, head of product for Wear OS, told Wareable that Google wants Assistant on Wear OS to anticipate how it can help before a command is issued. Think of this like the Pixel’s song identification feature. If there’s a song playing in the background, the song and artist will pop up automatically on your homescreen – no need to Shazam it.

You can likely expect a Pixel Watch to show off how helpful Assistant can be on the wrist, setting an example for the rest of the Wear OS partners. It’d be nice if Google could use Assistant, Google Maps and a new health focus to do things like track runs, or recommend running spots or food places or whatever else from your wrist.

The other thing Google really wants to improve is how Wear OS handles fitness. Troper says we can expect more on this from the Wear OS team this year, and we’re willing to bet a Pixel Watch is where these features will get their big debut.

One of the things Google is working on is proactive coaching, helping with wellbeing and motivating users to stay more active. You can likely expect a Pixel Watch to have at least a heart rate sensor.


I’d have thought Google would want to pack everything it could in – LTE, GPS, heart rate sensor, any thing it can.
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Google’s Selfish Ledger is an unsettling vision of Silicon Valley social engineering • The Verge

Vlad Savov, who got hold of an internal Google concept video from 2016 which builds on the “selfish gene” concept to offer the “selfish ledger” idea of huge amounts of data collection about you:


Building on the ledger idea, the middle section of the video presents a conceptual Resolutions by Google system, in which Google prompts users to select a life goal and then guides them toward it in every interaction they have with their phone. The examples, which would “reflect Google’s values as an organization,” include urging you to try a more environmentally friendly option when hailing an Uber or directing you to buy locally grown produce from Safeway.

An example of a Google Resolution superimposing itself atop a grocery store’s shopping app, suggesting a choice that aligns with the user’s expressed goal.

Of course, the concept is premised on Google having access to a huge amount of user data and decisions. Privacy concerns or potential negative externalities are never mentioned in the video. The ledger’s demand for ever more data might be the most unnerving aspect of the presentation.

Foster envisions a future where “the notion of a goal-driven ledger becomes more palatable” and “suggestions may be converted not by the user but by the ledger itself.” This is where the Black Mirror undertones come to the fore, with the ledger actively seeking to fill gaps in its knowledge and even selecting data-harvesting products to buy that it thinks may appeal to the user. The example given in the video is a bathroom scale because the ledger doesn’t yet know how much its user weighs. The video then takes a further turn toward anxiety-inducing sci-fi, imagining that the ledger may become so astute as to propose and 3D-print its own designs. Welcome home, Dave, I built you a scale.

Foster’s vision of the ledger goes beyond a tool for self-improvement. The system would be able to “plug gaps in its knowledge and refine its model of human behavior” — not just your particular behavior or mine, but that of the entire human species. “By thinking of user data as multigenerational,” explains Foster, “it becomes possible for emerging users to benefit from the preceding generation’s behaviors and decisions.” Foster imagines mining the database of human behavior for patterns, “sequencing” it like the human genome, and making “increasingly accurate predictions about decisions and future behaviours.”


Soooper creepy. Only a concept, of course.
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What is the most sophisticated piece of software/code ever written? • Quora

Answer from John Byrd, CEO of Gigantic Software, formerly at Sega and Electronic Arts:


Buckle in.

The most sophisticated software in history was written by a team of people whose names we do not know.

It’s a computer worm. The worm was written, probably, between 2005 and 2010.

Because the worm is so complex and sophisticated, I can only give the most superficial outline of what it does.

This worm exists first on a USB drive. Someone could just find that USB drive laying around, or get it in the mail, and wonder what was on it. When that USB drive is inserted into a Windows PC, without the user knowing it, that worm will quietly run itself, and copy itself to that PC. It has at least three ways of trying to get itself to run. If one way doesn’t work, it tries another. At least two of these methods to launch itself were completely new then, and both of them used two independent, secret bugs in Windows that no one else knew about, until this worm came along.

Once the worm runs itself on a PC, it tries to get administrator access on that PC. It doesn’t mind if there’s antivirus software installed — the worm can sneak around most antivirus software. Then, based on the version of Windows it’s running on, the worm will try one of two previously unknown methods of getting that administrator access on that PC. Until this worm was released, no one knew about these secret bugs in Windows either.

At this point, the worm is now able to cover its tracks by getting underneath the operating system, so that no antivirus software can detect that it exists. It binds itself secretly to that PC, so that even if you look on the disk for where the worm should be, you will see nothing. This worm hides so well, that the worm ran around the Internet for over a year without any security company in the world recognizing that it even existed.


I hope you’ve figured out what it is, but it’s still worth reading the rest of his answer just for the jawdropping details of what this software did – or does.
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GDPR emails highlight variable advice ahead of new data regime • FT

Barney Thompson:


the thousands of organisations emailing customers asking them to click a box for permission to keep sending them messages are wasting their time — and could inadvertently be damaging their businesses.

Email marketing is covered by a separate piece of legislation — derived from a 16-year-old EU directive on electronic privacy — rather than GDPR. Provided regular messages include an “unsubscribe” option there is unlikely to be any need to contact customers at all.

“In the majority of cases there is no need to send an email to people on your database,” said Eduardo Ustaran, co-director of privacy and cyber security at Hogan Lovells, the law firm. “If they are your customers and you have collected their data in order to provide services, you are entitled to keep sending them emails . . . Some marketing departments are going to be pretty unhappy when they find out that they didn’t need to massively reduce their marketing databases after all.”

This problem is particularly acute for some small and medium-sized enterprises. Matthew Howett, founder of Assembly Research, a telecoms and digital sector analyst, said the advice from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office was “not easy to understand”.

Assembly had emailed clients, he added, but only if they had supplied email addresses on business cards, rather than filling in an online form. Less than one-third of about 700 people had responded so far, which he called “disappointing”.

By asking regular customers for their consent to send more emails, businesses may also have actually made it technically illegal for them to keep in regular contact with those who have not replied.

“If you say ‘we need your consent’ and you don’t get it, the argument must be that you can no longer contact that individual,” said Rohan Massey, a data protection and privacy lawyer at Ropes & Gray.


I’m fine with that.

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Steve Jobs’ secret for eliciting questions, overheard at a San Francisco cafe • Medium

Andy Raskin overheard a “famous CEO” (from a famous-brand internet company) talking to a Young CEO who was puzzled by why people said he wasn’t open to being questioned, when he insisted he was. Turns out that saying “Any questions?” is the wrong question:


“In the early 2000s,” Famous CEO said, “Jobs was splitting his time between Apple and Pixar. He would spend most days at Apple, but then he would parachute into Pixar. He would have to figure out where his attention was needed really fast, so he would arrange sessions with all the different teams—the Cars team, the technology team, whatever—so there were a dozen or so people in each one. Then he would point to one person in each session and say:

Tell me what’s not working at Pixar.

Famous CEO continued: “That person might offer something like, ‘The design team isn’t open to new technology we’re building.’ Jobs would ask others if they agreed. He would then choose someone else and say:

Tell me what’s working at Pixar.

According to Famous CEO, Jobs would alternate between the two questions until he felt like he had a handle on what was going on.

Famous CEO said he ran sessions like these with his own teams every few months. He advised Young CEO to “never invite VPs” (i.e., team leaders) to the sessions, since subordinates might feel intimidated and share less freely. Instead, Famous CEO would commit, after collecting issues, to discussing them with the VP in charge, who would be responsible for following up.


I’ve also heard that Bill Gates would insist that everyone who came to him should bring at least some bad news. He didn’t want to hear just about what was going well; he wanted to know the trouble too.
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Bill Gates: Trump twice asked me the difference between HIV and HPV • The Guardian

David Smith:


Gates himself met Trump for the first time in New York in December 2016, he recalled: “So when I first talked to him it was actually kind of scary how much he knew about my daughter’s appearance. Melinda [Gates’s wife] didn’t like that too well.”

They met again in March last year at the White House. Gates continued: “In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren’t a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines and somebody – I think it was Robert Kennedy Jr – was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things. And I said no, that’s a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don’t do that.

“Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other.”


So perhaps we have Gates to thank that Trump didn’t start an ill-advised anti-vaccination investigation that would have led to the death and/or disability of children as a result of credulous parents.

As to the HIV/HPV thing – the first time is understandable; the second time, with the same person, suggests someone with poor retention.
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I don’t know how to waste time on the internet anymore • NY Mag

Dan Nosowitz:


After college, when I had a real job, with health insurance and a Keurig machine, I would read blogs, funny people talking about nothing in particular with no goal besides being entertaining for a three- to eight-minute block. These were evolutions of the Seanbaby type of writers. Their websites were comparatively elegant, set up for ease of reading. Gawker, Videogum, the Awl, the A.V. Club, Wonkette, various blogs even less commercial than those. There was one that just made fun of Saved by the Bell episodes. I never even watched Saved by the Bell, but I loved that one.

I started a Twitter account, and fell into a world of good, dumb, weird jokes, links to new sites and interesting ideas. It was such an excellent place to waste time that I almost didn’t notice that the blogs and link-sharing sites I’d once spent hours on had become less and less viable. Where once we’d had a rich ecosystem of extremely stupid and funny sites on which we might procrastinate, we now had only Twitter and Facebook.

And then, one day, I think in 2013, Twitter and Facebook were not really very fun anymore. And worse, the fun things they had supplanted were never coming back. Forums were depopulated; blogs were shut down. Twitter, one agent of their death, became completely worthless: a water-drop-torture feed of performative outrage, self-promotion, and discussion of Twitter itself. Facebook had become, well … you’ve been on Facebook.

In the decade since I took that computer class, the web browser has taken over the entire computing experience. There is nothing to “learn” about computers, really, except how to use a browser; everything you might want to do is done from that stupid empty address bar.


This piece could have been called “Requiem for Wasted Time”.
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The gun-law loophole that entices tycoons and criminals to play cop • Bloomberg Businessweek

Zachary Mider, with an amazing piece about a loophole that lets people sign up as police for tiny places – and then carry concealed weapons all around the US:


In Oakley, a village of about 300, the police department charged $1,200 to become a cop. It tried to keep the names of some 150 volunteers confidential by saying they could be targeted by Islamic State jihadis. When a list of applicants became public a few years ago, it included out-of-town lawyers and businessmen, a pro football player and the musician Kid Rock.

Action-movie star Steven Seagal got a badge from Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West. So did at least five people linked to a civilian Navy unit in Virginia that became the focus of an unrelated corruption investigation, the Washington Post reported. According to 2016 testimony in the case, members of the Navy unit helped direct $14,000 worth of radio equipment to the sheriff’s office and used their shields to travel the country armed, including on commercial airlines. 

Neither West nor the former Oakley police chief responded to requests for comment.

To qualify for the concealed-carry perk, known as H.R. 218 after the House version of the bill, officers must be authorized to make arrests and carry a gun on duty. An unarmed dispatcher or records clerk doesn’t meet that standard. But in some states, volunteers can carry weapons and make arrests without completing the rigorous certification process required of most full-time cops. In these states, police chiefs and sheriffs can award the privileges to pretty much anyone they want.

That’s partly why nobody knows how big the badge market is. There’s little state or federal oversight, and some localities keep their volunteer rosters secret. 

“This is widespread and widely abused,” said David LaMontaine, a retired deputy sheriff and union official who pushed for state oversight of volunteers in Michigan. Now federal lawmakers, he said, should “close that loophole.”

The risks of policing with volunteers became national news in 2015, when a 73-year-old reservist and donor to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, sheriff’s office accidentally shot and killed an unarmed suspect during an arrest. The reservist was convicted of manslaughter, and the sheriff later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor for covering up an internal report alleging preferential treatment for the donor.

Lake Arthur points to a different problem: men with badges who aren’t doing much police work at all.


If you have a system, it will be abused. If the system lets you carry deadly weapons, its abuse will kill people.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: bitcoin v renewables, porn boost for UK newsagents?, Chinese phone OEM settles with FTC, and more

Google says its Duplex assistant called a real hair salon. Did it, though? Photo by Saffy 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What Google isn’t telling us about its AI demo • Axios

Dan Primack:


What’s suspicious?

When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn’t happen when the Google assistant called these “real” businesses:

When the hair salon picks up, a woman says: “Hello, how can I help you?”

When the restaurant picks up, a woman says: “Hi, may I help you?”

Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants — including some in Google’s hometown of Mountain View — and every one immediately gave the business name.

There also does not seem to be ambient noise in either recording, such as hair dryers or plates clattering. We heard that in most of the businesses we called, but not in all.

Finally, neither the hair salon nor the restaurant ask for the customer’s phone number or any other contact information.

Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant, in order to verify both that the businesses exist and that the calls were not pre-planned. We also said that we’d guarantee, in writing, not to publicly identify either establishment (so as to prevent them from receiving unwanted attention).

A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

We also asked if either call was edited, even perhaps just cutting the second or two when the business identifies itself. And, if so, were there other edits? The spokeswoman declined comment, but said she’d check and get back to us. She didn’t.

So we sent a new message, this time also copying another member of Google’s communications team. The spokeswoman replied by saying she’d get right back to us.

That was more than a day ago.


I didn’t link to stuff about Google Duplex previously, because demos– well, you can do anything with a demo. But Google claimed that it was calling local businesses. Primack is doing the essential work of saying “can we just check this?”. And suddenly Google clams up. Pichai said “What you’re going to hear is the Google assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment for you.”

Some more to come on this, I think. That’s probably a Google employee or similar answering the phone, and we’ll learn that Pichai’s script shouldn’t have said “real businesses”.
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Youtube is going to charge more to see ad-free shows like ‘Cobra Kai’ • Recode

Peter Kafka:


Two years ago, YouTube launched YouTube Red, a service that gave subscribers an on-demand music service, more or less similar to Spotify or Apple Music — as well as access to original programming created just for the service. YouTube Red also removed ads from the world’s largest video service.

All of that cost $10. But now that’s changing.

Next week, YouTube is launching YouTube Music — a revamped version of its existing music service that is functionally the same, but comes with extra bells and whistles like personalized playlists based on your YouTube history and other usage patterns.

That service, which is supposed to soft-launch on Tuesday, will cost $10 a month after a trial period. (That same service will eventually also replace Google Play Music, a rival music service Google has inexplicably operated at the same time it was trying to get YouTube Music off the ground.)

Now YouTube intends to charge $2 more for the other parts of YouTube Red, which will be renamed YouTube Premium — but will require you to also pay for YouTube Music.

That is: If you want to watch ad-free, YouTube original shows like “Cobra Kai,” which appears to have a bit of buzz and four million views, you’re now going to have to pay $12 a month instead of $10 a month.


Google launches subscription music/video services in the way it launches chat services – they get thrown out there under different names with no obvious differentiation. Rather than putting more things under a single name (Apple with iTunes: was music, added music videos, then video and TV) it throws the same thing out. Confusing as hell, and suggestive of warring product teams with nobody coordinating them all.
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Bitcoin’s energy use got studied, and you libertarian nerds look even worse than usual • Grist

Eric Holthaus:


Bitcoin’s energy footprint has more than doubled since Grist first wrote about it six months ago.

It’s expected to double again by the end of the year, according to a new peer-reviewed study out Wednesday. And if that happens, bitcoin would be gobbling up 0.5% of the world’s electricity, about as much as the Netherlands.

That’s a troubling trajectory, especially for a world that should be working overtime to root out energy waste and fight climate change.

By late next year, bitcoin could be consuming more electricity than all the world’s solar panels currently produce — about 1.8% of global electricity, according to a simple extrapolation of the study’s predictions. That would effectively erase decades of progress on renewable energy.

Although the author of the study, Alex de Vries, an economist and data consultant based in the Netherlands, has shared these calculations publicly before, this is the first time that an analysis of bitcoin’s energy appetite has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.

Bitcoin continues to soar in popularity — mostly as a speculative investment. And like any supercharged speculative investment, it swings wildly. Within the past 18 months, the price of bitcoin has soared ten-fold, crashed by 75%, only to double again, all while hedge funds and wealthy libertarians debate the future of the virtual currency.


Jeez, this is depressing. Libertarian idiots will literally be the death of us all.
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Newsagents to sell ‘porn passes’ to visit X-rated websites anonymously under new government plans • The Independent

Colin Drury:


High street newsagents are to sell so-called “porn passes” that will allow adults to visit over-18 websites anonymously.

The 16-digit cards will allow browsers to avoid giving personal details online when asked to prove their age.

Instead, they would show shopkeepers a passport or driving licence when buying the pass.

The UK’s film censor, the British Board of Film Classification, carried out a public consultation ahead of age-verification laws that are to be introduced this year that will require viewers to prove they are over 18 when viewing certain sites.

The legislation is designed to stop children accessing online pornography.

But there are concerns that asking adults to hand over passport or driving licence details to view adult material could leave them open to data-hacking and blackmail.

Some 56% of British adults admitted to watching pornography in a 2014 study carried out by The Observer.

David Austin, chief executive with the BBFC, told The Daily Telegraph that such a process would be “simpler than people think” to create.


Well, that’s one way to keep local newsagents alive, I guess, and would return them to their traditional role in British society as the gatekeeper to young boys’ first experiences with scantily clad ladies.
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ICE just abandoned its dream of ‘extreme vetting’ software that could predict whether a foreign visitor would become a terrorist • Washington Post

Drew Harwell:


Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told tech-industry contractors last summer they wanted a system for their “Extreme Vetting Initiative” that could automatically mine Facebook, Twitter and the broader Internet to determine whether a visitor might commit criminal or terrorist acts or was a “positively contributing member of society.”

But ICE dropped the machine-learning requirement from its request in recent months, opting instead to hire a contractor that can provide training, management and human personnel who can do the job. Federal documents say the contract is expected to cost more than $100m and be awarded by the end of the year.

After gathering “information from industry professionals and other government agencies on current technological capabilities,” ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell said, the focus of what the agency now calls its Visa Lifecycle Vetting program “shifted from a technology-based contract to a labor contract.”


Crouching ovation for this one. You know they’re going to do much the same, but with humans. The reality is that predicting how (a tiny number of) people will become radical or dangerous is difficult; the best indicator, at present, seems to be a record of domestic violence. But that doesn’t fit narratives.
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Blu phone maker settles with FTC over data privacy • CNet

Jessica Dolcourt:


The company behind low-priced, top-selling phones on Amazon has reached a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission over privacy practices.

After security researchers discovered in 2016 that Blu’s phones were sending personal data — including text messages, contact lists and locations — to servers in China, the Florida-based company said it would update the software to fix the “mistake.” Eight months later, the same security researchers found that Blu phones were still siphoning off the same data to Chinese servers.  

The issue is tied to preinstalled software from a company called Shanghai Adups Technology. The software, which Blu uses to help update phones, mined data and couldn’t be removed. Blu didn’t tell consumers their phones were sending that data to Chinese servers, according to the FTC.

On Monday, the FTC announced that it has reached a settlement with Blu, in which the company agrees to a security plan regarding security risks with all its devices, both new and old. Blu will also be required to undergo third-party checks every two years for the next 20 years. Blu and its president, Samuel Ohev-Zion, will also be prohibited from misleading the public about how it protects people’s privacy. 

Blu didn’t respond to a request for comment.


Low price always comes with a price.
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Trump can’t afford to admit his failures with North Korea • The Atlantic

David Frum:


Throughout his career, Trump has coped with failure by brazenly misrepresenting failure as success.

In 1995, for example, Trump presided over the sale of the Plaza Hotel for $75m less than he had paid for it in 1988. His ownership stake had long since been extinguished, and by then he was little more than a front for the syndicate of creditors who actually controlled what remained of Trump’s portfolio after 1990, when he faced bankruptcy in all but name. Yet Trump insisted of the Plaza purchaser, “I put him through the wringer and made a great deal.”

We should probably expect the Plaza Hotel treatment for the coming Kim-Trump summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” or CVID in the argot of the negotiators. That will not be forthcoming. But perhaps something else will: a testing pause, maybe, or some other interim measure that can somehow be upgraded into the promised “great deal.”

The administration may have little choice by now but to carry on the pretense that it is scoring a great success in its Korea negotiations, and for two reasons.

First, US options in the Korean peninsula depend heavily on the cooperation of South Korea. Trump has now thoroughly frightened and alienated South Korean opinion. South Korea’s dovish president, Moon Jae In, was elected with only 41% of the vote. Polls now show his approval rating in the mid-70s, because of his success in drawing Trump away from “fire and fury” and toward negotiations. As Robert Kelly of Pusan National University in South Korea observes, revulsion against Trump has consolidated a dovish consensus in South Korea.

Much of the work of snookering Trump into the Kim summit has actually been done by South Koreans, not North Koreans. It was President Moon who slyly insinuated that Trump deserved a Nobel Prize for the summit—bait that Trump swallowed like a credulous guppy. In fact, it was a South Korean delegation that first put the summit idea into Trump’s head back in March. It was the South Koreans who immediately announced Trump’s impulsive “yes” answer at the very entrance to the West Wing, thus effectively locking the door behind the president before he understood the full implications of what he had done—and before he could be dissuaded by his staff and secretary of state.


Frum, in common with many professional politicians, is signally unimpressed by Trump’s “dealmaking” skills.
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Trump administration wants to end Nasa funding for the International Space Station by 2025 • The Verge

Loren Grush:


The Trump administration is preparing to end support for the International Space Station program by 2025, according to a draft budget proposal reviewed by The Verge. Without the ISS, American astronauts could be grounded on Earth for years with no destination in space until NASA develops new vehicles for its deep space travel plans.

The draft may change before an official budget request is released on February 12th. However, two people familiar with the matter have confirmed to The Verge that the directive will be in the final proposal. NASA says it won’t comment on the request until it’s released. “NASA and the International Space Station partnership is committed to full scientific and technical research on the orbiting laboratory, as it is the foundation on which we will extend human presence deeper into space,” a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. “We will not comment on any leaked or pre-decisional documents prior to the release of the President’s FY19 budget, which is scheduled for February 12.”

Any budget proposal from the Trump administration will also be subject to scrutiny and approval by Congress. But even announcing the intention to cancel ISS funding could send a signal to NASA’s international partners that the US is no longer interested in continuing the program. Many of NASA’s partners still have yet to decide if they’d like to continue working on the station beyond 2024.

The International Space Station has been an ongoing program for more than two decades. It costs NASA between $3 to $4bn each year, and represents a more than $87bn investment from the US government. It’s become a major hub for conducting both government and commercial experiments in microgravity, as well as testing out how the human body responds to weightlessness.


If the US really is interested in going to Mars – though talking about it might be different from “really interested” – then not having the space station seems remiss. It can’t all be funded by dot-com billionaires. It makes everything feel like the opening scenes of a not particularly good dystopian sci-fi film.
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How Ireland’s abortion referendum became a battleground in the dark digital culture war • The i

Karl McDonald:


Facebook is grappling with its political influence problems already and prepping transparency tools for US midterm elections – but they weren’t ready for Ireland. “I don’t want Ireland to be the last case study in bad practices,” says Senator Higgins.

Liz Carolan, one of the founders of the volunteer Transparent Referendum Initiative, says part of the problem is that we don’t know why the big tech companies, both of which have European HQs in Dublin, have made the decisions.

On the question of whether the dark money has been favouring one side over the other, she told i: “We don’t know. Facebook has this information, and not just in the sense of booking ads from a company in New York. They’ve got their own information on whether a page that’s buying an ad has overseas connections.”

This vote in particular is on a moral issue that comes with its own very motivated constituencies around the world, she says, and that leads to different challenges. “This referendum is symbolically important to folks outside of Ireland,” says Carolan.

“This is very different to the allegations about the US election where a foreign power, Russia, was trying to influence the result. This is a proxy war. Private companies and individuals in other countries are trying to influence the outcome.”

Young voters also back [the Yes side] strongly: a recent poll showed 67% support among 18- to 24-year-olds.

The No side didn’t take kindly to the changes, calling a press conference to cry foul.

“Anything that has to be done to get this thing passed, clearly will be done,” communications director John McGuirk tweeted after the restrictions on Facebook and Google advertising were announced. “This is rigged.”


The latter reaction gives a clue about which side has been supported by foreign money funding dark ad spending.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified