Start Up: the WhatsApp split, Apple v Facebook and Google, Manafort’s dire opsec, and more


Hans Rosling’s inspirational thinking will reach this year’s US graduates – via Bill Gates. Photo by mindfieldz on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Behind the messy, expensive split between Facebook and WhatsApp’s founders • WSJ

Kirsten Grind and Deepa Seetharaman:

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With Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg pushing to integrate it into the larger company, WhatsApp moved its offices in January 2017 from Mountain View, Calif., to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters about 20 minutes away. Facebook tried to make it welcoming, decorating the Building 10 office in WhatsApp’s green color scheme.

WhatsApp’s roughly 200 employees at the time remained mostly segregated from the rest of Facebook. Some of the employees were turned off by Facebook’s campus, a bustling collection of restaurants, ice cream shops and services built to mirror Disneyland.

Some Facebook staffers considered the WhatsApp unit a mystery and sometimes poked fun at it. After WhatsApp employees hung up posters over the walls instructing hallway passersby to “please keep noise to a minimum,” some Facebook employees mocked them with chants of “Welcome to WhatsApp—Shut up!” according to people familiar with the matter.

Some employees even took issue with WhatsApp’s desks, which were a holdover from the Mountain View location and larger than the standard desks in the Facebook offices. WhatsApp also negotiated for nicer bathrooms, with doors that reach the floor. WhatsApp conference rooms were off-limits to other Facebook employees.

“These little ticky-tacky things add up in a company that prides itself on egalitarianism,” said one Facebook employee.

[WhatsApp co-founder Jan] Koum chafed at the constraints of working at a big company, sometimes quibbling with Mr. Zuckerberg and other executives over small details such as the chairs Facebook wanted WhatsApp to purchase, a person familiar with the matter said.

In response to the pressure from above to make money, Messrs. Koum and [co-founder Brian] Acton proposed several ideas to bring in more revenue. One, known as “re-engagement messaging,” would let advertisers contact only users who had already been their customers. Last year, WhatsApp said it would charge companies for some future features that connect them with customers over the app.

None of the proposals were as lucrative as Facebook’s ad-based model. “Well, that doesn’t scale,” Ms. Sandberg told the WhatsApp executives of their proposals, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ms. Sandberg wanted the WhatsApp leadership to pursue advertising alongside other revenue models, another person familiar with her thinking said.

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Pretty clear that Koum spoke to the writers. To my reading, he’s really angry about what happened.
link to this extract


Here’s my gift to college graduates • Bill Gates

Yeah, him, the Windows guy:

»

If you’re getting a degree from a U.S. college this spring, I have a present for you.

It’s a book. (No surprise there. Books are my go-to gift.) It’s called Factfulness, by the late global-health expert and noted sword swallower Hans Rosling, and it is packed with advice about how to see the world clearly. Although I think everyone should read it, it has especially useful insights for anyone who’s making the leap out of college and into the next phase of life.

So I am giving Factfulness to everyone who’s getting a degree from a U.S. college or university this spring. If you’re being awarded an associate’s, bachelor’s, or post-graduate degree, download your free copy of the book below. (Unfortunately, because of international publishing rights, it is available only to graduates from U.S. schools.)

I hope you enjoy Factfulness as much as I did. And I hope you take Hans’s advice to heart. “When we have a fact-based worldview,” he writes, “we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems—and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.” I agree. My wish for you at this special time is to learn to think, and act, factfully.

«

What an amazing act. Sure, say that it doesn’t cost him much. The point is thinking of it, organising it, doing it. This is something that other people didn’t do.

I’m not about to graduate, but I think I’ll add it to the family reading list. (A reminder: Rosling died last year. So this isn’t about enriching him.)
link to this extract


Apple escalates war against Facebook, but doesn’t mention it at WWDC • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

If there was one theme running throughout Apple’s presentation, it was that the company is taking on Facebook on all fronts. The new Screen Time app, which aims to help users cut back on their device use, was demonstrated using Facebook’s Instagram as the test case, and Safari’s new anti-tracking tech is positioned squarely against Facebook’s use of Like buttons and comment boxes to track users around the net.

But the specific details of ITP2, the updated version of the anti-tracking technology, are even more aggressively targeted at two of Apple’s biggest rivals, Facebook and Google, than the company let on on stage. ITP works by segregating the cookies dropped by websites so that they can only be read by that specific website, ensuring that an ad provider cannot, for instance, use those cookies to track your browsing across every single website on which it runs ads.

Previously, that segregation had only kicked in 24 hours after a user visited the specific website. That was a handy out for sites such as Facebook, Google and YouTube, which users visit regularly enough to spend a lot of their time in that day-long window. Now, that grace period is gone, and Apple’s tracking prevention kicks in immediately. When ITP1 was launched last year, ad-tech firm Criteo saw an immediate 22% drop in revenue; what will Facebook see?

«

Are Facebook and Google really direct rivals to Apple? Each has a certain symbiotic need for Apple – Facebook wants its users, and so does Google; Apple likes the fact that their services keep them using the iPhone – but Apple really doesn’t like their business model, and does everything it can do stick spokes in it. And they find ways around it.

More generally, this article is a useful roundup of what was shown at WWDC.
link to this extract


WWDC 2018: the customer is always right • Loup Ventures

Gene Munster:

»

Apple Watch Improvements. Apple Watch is running away with the wearable space. Today, Tim Cook announced Apple Watch grew units by 60% last year (2017). While Apple Watch had a slow start in 2015, it appears to be picking up momentum. Apple doesn’t disclose the number of watches sold, but we estimate, in 2015, the company sold 5.7M, compared to 10.2M in 2016, and 16.1M in 2017. We believe that number will increase by 44% in CY18. We expect the Apple Watch business to grow in the mid-to-low 20% range through 2020, which implies Apple Watch will account for 6% of revenue in 2020 compared to 3% in 2017. Apple Watch is gaining momentum because Apple created the computer-on-your-wrist category allowing for significantly more advanced functionality compared to other wearables. For example, today, Apple announced walkie-talkie, new personal and group fitness features, Siri’s accelerometer integration, and a handful of Universities enabling student IDs on Apple Watch. Apple Watch’s measurable utility lead in the wearable space gives us confidence that the product can account for 31M units in 2020, nearly double the units sold in 2017.

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Munster used to be a sell-side analyst – famous for predicting for years that Apple would introduce its own TV set – but now does industry analysis (and investment). This is pretty solid. (And no mentions of TV sets.)
link to this extract


Paul Manafort’s terrible encrypted messaging OPSEC got him additional charges • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

»

President Trump’s former campaign chairman and former lobbyist for dictators Paul Manafort was accused of trying to tamper with witnesses in his own case Monday.

Federal prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller III accused Manafort of attempting to contact witnesses using the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp in an attempt to persuade them to commit perjury, as one of the witnesses put it to the FBI, according to court documents. The evidence obtained by the FBI was a result of Manafort’s awful OPSEC [operational security].

First of all, two witnesses contacted by Manafort provided the messages to the Feds, effectively selling him out. End-to-end encrypted messages are no good if the person you’re sending them to is going to hand them over to the people you’re trying to hide them from.

But Manafort also owned himself in this case.

As it turns out, Manafort was backing up information from his WhatsApp to to Apple’s iCloud, where data is not encrypted and is thus available to police armed with a valid search warrant.

«

Manafort is so fabulously incompetent at this stuff. He has laundered millions, but when it comes to technology he’s a dunce. Don’t forget that the case against him was strengthened by his inability to convert a PDF file to Word. Marcy Wheeler, a national security journalist, reckons Mueller was simply waiting for Manafort to pledge all his remaining properties as bail (on May 18). A week later Mueller sprang the trap, preparing the document referred to above. Manafort had breached his bail conditions and would forfeit all his collateral.

Which would leave him cleaned out and heading for jail. What chance he’s ready to sing like a bird? So don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not important to understand how technology works, or the finer details of encryption.
link to this extract


From Westworld to best world for the Internet of Things • The New York Times

Jonathan Zittrain:

»

A longstanding ethos of internet development lets anyone build and share new code and services, with consequences to be dealt with later. I call this the “procrastination principle,” and I don’t regret supporting it. But it’s hard to feel the same way about the internet of things.

Worries about security for these devices have become widespread, and they fall roughly into two categories.

First, compromised networked things can endanger their users. In 2015, Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles after researchers showed they could hack a Jeep and disable its brakes and transmission. Coffee makers and other appliances with heating elements could have safety features overridden, starting a fire. And an alert was issued on certain pacemakers last year after vulnerabilities were found that could allow attackers to gain unauthorized access and issue commands to the devices.

Second, hacking even a tiny subset of the 10 billion and counting networked things can produce threats larger than any one consumer. Individually these devices may be too small to care about; together they become too big to fail. Security systems in a city could be made to sound an alarm simultaneously. Light bulbs can be organized into bot armies, directed to harm any other internet-connected target. And worse than a single Jeep executing an unexpected sharp left turn is a whole fleet of them doing so.

Short of rejecting internet integration with appliances, dealing with this is not easy. As with home routers, we tend to keep appliances around for years, so vulnerabilities aren’t phased out quickly.

In fact, many vendors might stop issuing firmware updates for physical objects even while they’re still widely in use — abandoning the public to problems lurking in embedded code. And otherwise-valuable “over the air” security updates could also be a gateway to a hack, especially for small vendors of cheap if useful objects like $5 drones.

«

Zittrain is one of the important thinkers out there. If he’s worried about IoT, so should we all be.

Did I mention that one of the chapters in my book looks at a botnet attack via the IoT, and has a surprising discovery about Ikea? It does.
link to this extract


Logistics industry says ‘too late’ to avoid Brexit disruption • FT

Chris Giles:

»

Britain’s logistics industry lost patience with the government on Tuesday, with lorry drivers saying their confidence in a well-managed Brexit is collapsing and the Channel tunnel warning it was “too late” to avoid serious disruption when the UK leaves the EU next March.

With Westminster convulsed by arguments over the future of the UK’s borders the logistics industry hit out at ministers and officials for having no plan for how their operations are supposed to function in the future.

The Freight Transport Association said “the industry’s frustration with the lack of progress is building daily” as logistics companies were unable to price for the period after March 2019 or answer basic questions from customers.

James Hookham, deputy chief executive, complained that some parts of government simply dismissed their concerns as trivial. “This is a reckless attitude to take and is playing chicken with parts of the British economy and the livelihoods of the seven million Britons in the industry.”

John Keefe, public affairs director of Getlink, the company which runs the Channel tunnel, warned against any solution that did not involve smart border technology away from the congested area of Dover, which he said was “essential to ensuring that frictionless trade can be maintained”.

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There’s no good solution to Brexit. It’s a bad idea anyway, but the fact that even those who want it to happen don’t know quite what sort of Brexit they want, and don’t have any versions compatible with what business wants, is indicative of how half-baked the whole idea is.
link to this extract


FCC emails show agency spread lies to bolster dubious DDoS attack claims • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron:

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As it wrestled with accusations about a fake cyberattack last spring, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) purposely misled several news organizations, choosing to feed journalists false information, while at the same time discouraging them from challenging the agency’s official story.

Internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo lay bare the agency’s efforts to counter rife speculation that senior officials manufactured a cyberattack, allegedly to explain away technical problems plaguing the FCC’s comment system amid its high-profile collection of public comments on a controversial and since-passed proposal to overturn federal net neutrality rules.

The FCC has been unwilling or unable to produce any evidence an attack occurred—not to the reporters who’ve requested and even sued over it, and not to U.S. lawmakers who’ve demanded to see it. Instead, the agency conducted a quiet campaign to bolster its cyberattack story with the aid of friendly and easily duped reporters, chiefly by spreading word of an earlier cyberattack that its own security staff say never happened.

The FCC’s system was overwhelmed on the night of May 7, 2017, after comedian John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, directed his audience to flood the agency with comments supporting net neutrality. In the immediate aftermath, the agency claimed the comment system had been deliberately impaired due to a series of distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). Net neutrality supporters, however, accused the agency of fabricating the attack to absolve itself from failing to keep the system online.

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It’s very strange of the FCC to do this. Why not just cop to the problem?

link to this extract


The Lenovo Z5 is official, and it has a screen notch after all • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

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Lenovo’s Chinese phone releases are not usually big international news, but this time was different. The company’s teasers seemed to promise an all-screen design without a notch. That would certainly be refreshing in this day and age. However, the Z5 has been announced, and it looks like every other phone unveiled in the last six months. There’s a notch, a glass back, and a chin.

This device has mid-range specs including a Snapdragon 636, 6GB of RAM, and 64-128GB of storage. The screen is 19:9 and measures 6.2-inches with a resolution of 2264x 1080. Around back, there’s an iPhone-style camera array with a 16MP main sensor and 8MP secondary. It runs Android 8.1 with the ZUI software layer and no Google apps (because China). The phone comes in blue, black, and “aurora,” the latter of which looks a lot like Huawei’s fabulous “Twilight” finish on the P20 Pro.


The teaser and the reality.

The early teasers showed off what is clearly a phone without a screen notch. Now, it seems Lenovo was taking some creative liberties with the render…

[Later:] It looks like even Lenovo’s full device renders are a lie. The real Z5 has substantially larger bezels than you’d think from the official press images above.

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Lenovo hasn’t made a profit in smartphones since it bought Motorola (and it’s hard to think it made much before). The marketing desperation is starting to show.
link to this extract


Family of Stoneman Douglas student advocate David Hogg ‘swatted’ at home • Local10

Jeff Tavss:

»

Swatting is the action of making a prank emergency call to bring about a response of armed law enforcement officers.

Neighbors who spoke to Local 10 News reporter Alex Finnie said the incident put them on edge.

“Today, we’re walking — we’re going for a walk, and we saw some helicopters here, so we’re like, ‘Oh my God. What’s going on?'” Marcia Marques said. “We are still trying to overcome everything because everything is very difficult, but that episode made us feel more attentive.” 

“Two police cars, two motorcycles. We should be doing better,” Courtney Keisen, who lives in the neighborhood and attends Stoneman Douglas, said. “Something like this shouldn’t happen a lot.” 

Since the shootings at Stoneman Douglas, Hogg has been a prominent advocate for gun safety. However, Hogg has been a lightning rod for controversy as some do not approve of his methods, such as holding a “die-in” protest at a Coral Springs Publix last week.

Hogg said the incident is “evidence of the fact of how many people are trying to stop us from what we’re trying to do, which is stop these kids from dying.”

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Last December, someone did die as a result of a “swatting”. The overreaction of US police and the incoherent malice of some people carries huge risks.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: the WhatsApp split, Apple v Facebook and Google, Manafort’s dire opsec, and more

  1. “Are Facebook and Google really direct rivals to Apple?”

    I think Apple’s stance is that they own their users and need to get a cut of any money transacted on their paltform. If you’re not making money for Apple.. you will, eventually.

    And it seems Apple is trying to revive its ad business ( https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/01/apple-expanding-ad-business-reversing-creepy-stance-wsj.html ), so anything that impairs others’ ads helps.

    I’ve been wondering for a while why there’s no OS- / device-based ad system since it sounds much better than the current separate system for each app and each web page on the technical side (no looking for, targeting, downloading ads constantly, better tailoring to the device’s capabilities), even commercially (better targeting, no slowdowns, no ad-blockers). Google was probably concerned with the monopoly and PR issues. Apple has no such qualms: their monopoly is limited to relatively few users and they use it freely; and they’ll be “protecting them against evil FB: our ads are ethical” (same as their phones are… green…) I’m sure.

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