Start Up: poisoning neural networks, the quiet smart home, will Article 13 pass?, Cook v Trump, and more

Superglue! Sticks human tissue! Why not in surgery too? Photo by Bill Keaggy on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Why the caged bird sings. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How to stealthily poison neural network chips in the supply chain • The Register

Thomas Claburn:


“Hardware Trojans can be inserted into a device during manufacturing by an untrusted semiconductor foundry or through the integration of an untrusted third-party IP,” [Clemson University researchers Joseph Clements and Yingjie Lao] explain in their paper. “Furthermore, a foundry or even a designer may possibly be pressured by the government to maliciously manipulate the design for overseas products, which can then be weaponized.”

The purpose of such deception, the researchers explain, would be to introduce hidden functionality – a Trojan – in chip circuitry. The malicious code would direct a neural network to classify a selected input trigger in a specific way while remaining undetectable in test data.

“For example, an adversary in a position to profit from excessive or improper sale of specific pharmaceutics could inject hardware Trojans on a device for diagnosing patients using neural network models,” they suggest. “The attacker could cause the device to misdiagnose selected patients to gain additional profit.”

They claim they were able to prototype their scheme by altering only 0.03% of the neurons in one layer of a seven-layer convolutional neural network.

Clements and Lao say they believe adversarial training combined with hardware Trojan detection represent a promising approach to defending against their threat scenario. The adversarial training would increase the number of network network neurons that would have to be altered to inject malicious behavior, thereby making the Trojan large enough potentially to detect.


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Only 6% of smart speaker owners using them to control smart home devices • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:


A new survey of smart speaker owners found that only 6% of them are currently using the device to control smart home devices like lighting and heating.

Interestingly, even for HomePod – which is a very music-focused device – playing music was only the third most common use …

The IHS Markit study found that answering a question and checking the news or weather led the way, with discovering and controlling music in third place. Controlling other smart home devices is currently the least common use of a smart speaker.

However, the company told us this is expected to change rapidly.

“Controlling smart home devices by voice currently represents only a small fraction of total smart-speaker interactions,” said Blake Kozak, principal analyst, smart home, IHS Markit. “However, this category will continue to trend upward as more video-streaming devices come to rely on voice control, as security alarm systems adopt voice control to arm and disarm, and as more builders embed smart devices throughout new homes.”


Survey of 937 owners, so that’s 56 people doing this, across US, UK, Japan, Germany and Brazil. But yes, you’d expect this number to pitch up as the systems they’re linked to get smarter.
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Russian trolls weigh in on Roseanne Barr and Donald Trump Jr • WSJ

Georgia Wells, Rob Barry and Shelby Holliday:


Newly identified Russian trolls posted politically divisive messages on Twitter as recently as last month, hitting on a wide array of hot-button issues, according to a Journal analysis of recently revealed investigative documents and Twitter data.

The new tranche of about 1,100 account names, released Monday by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, brings the total number of publicly known Russian troll farm-operated accounts to more than 3,800. Last month, the Journal reported that the identities of many of the Russian accounts had not been publicly revealed.

The newly identified users posted more than 2.9 million tweets and retweets, bringing the total amount of Russian troll farm content on the platform to more than 8 million tweets and retweets, the Journal’s analysis found.


EIGHT MILLION. Is that a lot? I mean, there are lots of tweets every day. Twitter says it has 330 million monthly active users. And a lot of these accounts are pretty small beer – though they have had a couple of viral tweets. There’s influence, and then there’s “influence”. I wonder if the writers looked at each other when they got the 8m number and went “eh, sounds big enough for the newsdesk if we look outraged – say EIGHT MILLION in a loud voice.”
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On June 20, an EU committee will vote to crown Google and Facebook permanent lords of internet censorship • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:


On June 20, the EU’s legislative committee will vote on the new Copyright directive, and decide whether it will include the controversial “Article 13” (automated censorship of anything an algorithm identifies as a copyright violation) and “Article 11” (no linking to news stories without paid permission from the site).

These proposals will make starting new internet companies effectively impossible — Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and the other US giants will be able to negotiate favourable rates and build out the infrastructure to comply with these proposals, but no one else will. The EU’s regional tech success stories — say, a successful Czech search competitor to Google — don’t have $60-100,000,000 lying around to build out their filters, and lack the leverage to extract favorable linking licenses from news sites.

If Articles 11 and 13 pass, American companies will be in charge of Europe’s conversations, deciding which photos and tweets and videos can be seen by the public, and who may speak.

The MEP Julia Reda has written up the state of play on the vote, and it’s very bad. Both left- and right-wing parties have backed this proposal, including (incredibly) the French Front National, whose Youtube channel was just deleted by a copyright filter of the sort they’re about to vote to universalise.


Wired says that “the EU’s bizarre war on memes is totally unwinnable“, and that sums it up. Copyright allows for “fair dealing” (aka “fair use”) in the UK, and other elements of this will fail because the EU supports “freedom of expression” as part of its human rights law.
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Superglue built planes, nukes and saved soldiers’ lives • War Is Boring

James Simpson:


Throughout the late 1930s and ’40s, aircraft switched from heavy glass canopies to acrylic. By virtue of being readily formed and having increased strength, acyrlic gave pilots better visibility than glass, which had to be mounted into opaque frames.

New jet airplanes also needed new canopies. Flying at higher speeds than propeller-driven planes, the jets’ cockpits needed to be stronger, tougher and more heat-resistant.

Still at Eastman Kodack and now based in Tennessee, Coover was once more on the case. The chemist headed a team that experimented with acylate polymers in the hope of finding an optically-clear plastic that could survive the stresses of jet flight.

Fred Joyner, one of Coover’s teammates, prepared a sample from the long list of compounds, and the team planned to measure its refractive index — the degree to which the material bends light. Joyner put ethyl cyanoacrylate between two $700 prisms called refractometers, noted down the result and then found that he couldn’t pull them apart.

The cyanoacrylate had bonded the two expensive glass prisms together and neither Joyner nor his superiors could figure out how to separate them. Coover then realized the importance of his discovery nine years prior. “I didn’t recognize, at first, that this was not a casting material we were working with but a unique new adhesive,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1986.

His eyes now open, Coover took a sample of Joyner’s monomers and tried sticking together everything he could find in the lab. The glue was instant and strong — stronger than anything available at the time.


A reprint of a 2015 story, and it’s a great one. (Question: what are reprints in the web age?) Plus the struggle to get it used medically must have been exhausting.
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ZTE, US suppliers shares tank after Senate puts Trump reprieve in doubt • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:


The 85-10 bipartisan vote marked one of the few times the Republican-led Senate has veered from White House policy and came on the same day that US President Donald Trump threatened to impose a 10% tariff on $200bn of Chinese goods, escalating tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.

Trump is expected to lobby hard against the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and before it can become law the bill must be reconciled with one passed by the US House of Representatives that does not include the amendment.

Any compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed into law by Trump, a series of hurdles that has Asia-based analysts predicting ZTE will get eventually get its reprieve.

“The NDAA is not really a reversal of the ZTE deal, but will in all probability prolong the ban-lifting process for ZTE,” said Nikhil Batra, a senior research manager with industry consultancy IDC.

ZTE’s Hong Kong-listed shares tumbled as much as 27% to HK$9.56, their lowest level in nearly two years, before ending the day down 25%.


Trump is going to be made to sweat for his promise to lift ZTE out of the grave. Plenty of road left in this tale.
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Apple chief Tim Cook condemns ‘inhumane’ US detention of children • Irish Times

Ciara O’Brien:


Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Cook described the situation as “inhumane” and said Apple would be working with people in the US government to try to be a “constructive voice” on the issue.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop,” Mr Cook told The Irish Times.

We’ve always felt everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. In this case, that’s not happening.”

The Apple chief executive said he had previously spoken with Mr Trump on a number of issues.

“I have spoken with him several times on several issues, and I have found him to listen,” he said. “I haven’t found that he will agree on all things.”

Among the issues Mr Cook has disagreed with the president on are the US decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, and the ongoing issue of the status of so-called Dreamers, who are undocumented people living in the US.

He said Apple would would take a constructive approach to try to deal with the current situation.

“I’m personally a big believer in the way to be a good citizen is to participate, is to try to advocate your point of view, not to just sit on the sideline and yell or complain,” he said.


He may have spoken to Trump several times, but if he thinks Trump is listening beyond the point where he walks out of the room, I think he’s wrong. Trump’s moves in tariffs against China demonstrate that.
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Augmented reality and virtual reality are on the VRge of growth • IDC


Worldwide shipments of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets were down 30.5% year over year, totaling 1.2m units in the first quarter of 2018 (1Q18), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker. Much of the decline occurred due to the unbundling of screenless VR headsets during the quarter. For much of 2017, vendors bundled these headsets free with the purchase of a high-end smartphone, but that practice largely came to an end by the start of 2018. Despite a poor start to 2018, IDC anticipates the overall market will return to growth over the remainder of the year as more vendors target the commercial AR and VR markets and low-cost standalone VR headsets such as the Oculus Go make their way into stores. IDC forecasts the overall AR and VR headset market to grow to 8.9 million units in 2018, up 6% from the prior year. That growth will continue throughout the forecast period, reaching 65.9 million units by 2022.

“On the VR front, devices such as the Oculus Go seem promising not because Facebook has solved all the issues surrounding VR, but rather because they are helping to set customer expectations for VR headsets in the future,” said Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Looking ahead, consumers can expect easier-to-use devices at lower price points. Combine that with a growing lineup of content from game makers, Hollywood studios, and even vocational training institutions, and we see a brighter future for the adoption of virtual reality.”

When it comes to augmented reality headsets, many consumers have already had a taste of the technology through screenless viewers such as the Star Wars: Jedi Challenges product from Lenovo. IDC anticipates these types of headsets will lead the market in shipment volumes in the near term.


So they’re saying the fall is really down to a different way of counting. I’m not so sure. VR either needs more computing power than people are willing to put into it, or better applications.
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China’s social media app WeChat demands more info from users • Radio Free Asia

Qiao Long:


China’s massively popular social media platform WeChat appears to have further tightened requirements for user registration, demanding access to all files and media content, and potentially giving the authorities access to everything on a user’s smartphone, RFA has learned.

A newly registered WeChat account resulted in a pop-up request on Thursday, calling for permission to access the device’s “photos, media library, and file content.”

Pressing “Deny” resulted in a further pop-up asking to turn on “storage space permissions.” Denying such permission resulted in the registration being aborted.

An internet service user in Guangzhou who has technical knowledge of WeChat’s functions told RFA that the app has evolved from a simple chat client to a form of spyware that monitors users’ behavior.

“If you use WeChat, there will be nothing private left on your phone,” Hu said. “Anything on your phone can be read by the app, which can even take control of the phone’s camera and microphone.”

“If the government wants to see what you are doing, or wants to hear what you are talking about, it can monitor you through WeChat, so it’s a very powerful tool,” he said.

Hu said users would be better off keeping at least one phone that didn’t have the app installed.


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Tech giants are starting to line up for a David-versus-Goliath privacy fight in California • AdWeek

Marty Swant:


The initiative is being headed up by a core group of three people, none of whom come from the engineering or venture-capital circles of Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the very area that would be most affected by the passage of the proposal.

Rick Arney, a financial executive and one of the organizers, said the idea started two years ago after he and fellow organizers Alastair Mactaggart and Mary Ross couldn’t get traction in the state’s legislature. (Mactaggart comes from the real estate industry, while Ross spent her career in the CIA.)  

“It is not hard to find someone on a subway train that has been a victim of identity theft,” Arney said. “And when you tell people this will help stop that, they say, ‘Where do I sign up?’”  

The act targets larger businesses, those with annual gross revenue of $50m selling personal information of more than 100,000 consumers or devices, or having at least half of its annual revenue from selling personal information.

“We’ve tried to craft something that’s really common sense. This bill is something that moves the ball forward,” Arney said. “But I’m a businessperson. We’re not here to tear down companies.”

Some of the largest tech companies in the US—and the advertising trade groups that represent them—say the proposal goes much further than existing laws in the US or Europe. 

For example, while the EU allows people to opt out of exchanging data for offers, the California proposal would ban companies from giving preferential economic treatment—discounts or other promotions—to people who willingly provide their data. Some experts say the sweeping measure would also prevent companies like Facebook from having a paid model for those who don’t want their data collected if there’s still a free version for those who don’t mind targeted ads.


As you can imagine, there’s a ton of lobbying against this from the big companies.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: ref yesterday’s post, it is New Zealand, not France, that is the fifth member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing group. Thanks to Jonathan Beeston for the correction.

11 thoughts on “Start Up: poisoning neural networks, the quiet smart home, will Article 13 pass?, Cook v Trump, and more

      • Erm. This fails the basic definition of whataboutism: I’m very much on the same side as Apple on the original issue. Sorry.

        I just think that before handing out free PR, a bit of memory, context, and critical thinking should be applied. Apple is on the wrong side of this issue when it impacts their bottom line. As are all other OEMs, but those at least have the decency to not ride the first ethics/morals coattails that comes along.

      • From Wikipedia: “whataboutism: a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument”. You said “before Apple gets to PR about human rights, they should look to the beam in their own eye.” Emphasis added on “before”. It’s the classic element of whataboutism: *before* you criticise the Trump admin for taking children from their parents, what about this thing where you aren’t perfect? What about that thing where you aren’t perfect? Be perfect yourself, and then you can complain about this thing which is so egregious that it has appalled people in multiple countries. That is whataboutism.

        Apple has been consistent in saying that it wants its suppliers to obey laws, and its own requirements, for how workers are treated. It doesn’t own the suppliers, and so those suppliers do sometimes fail to meet those standards, and CLW has highlighted a number of those cases. This doesn’t mean Apple was doing nothing before CLW came along. (Of course you don’t know how many times Apple spots maltreatment first and prevents them, because neither Apple nor CLW documents those cases.)

        None of that in the least invalidates Apple’s CEO, or anyone else at Apple, speaking out about what they see as cruel and inhuman treatment of complete innocents – the children in these cases. You say “Apple is on the wrong side of this issue when it impacts their bottom line”. If you’re suggesting that Apple forcibly takes children away from parents at suppliers, you’ll need to provide some evidence. Otherwise, retract, or at the very least clarify. I would be saying precisely the same as this if it were Samsung or anyone else making this point. Samsung has, for example, prevaricated over workers who claimed they developed serious illnesses from working on its lines. This doesn’t mean Samsung couldn’t complain about something its president was doing, or anyone else’s president; unless specifically it was about ignoring workers developing illnesses from working on their lines, in which case an accusation of hypocrisy would be justified.

        Whataboutism is pernicious, a really wicked form of the perfect as enemy of the good, and I’ll call it out wherever I see it on matters like this.

        “As for all the other OEMs..” Well, Cisco’s CEO has spoken out. So has Facebook’s, AirBnB’s, YouTube’s, Lyft’s, and Uber’s. That might give you a morning’s work iterating all the housecleaning they need to do before they can speak up about separating three-month-old children from parents seeking asylum.

      • That’s exactly it: I’m not “trying to discredit an opponent’s position”, first because Apple is not an opponent on that topic, second because I’d love their position to be very credible. I’m saying Apple is a very flawed supporter of the issue, and people who really care about the issue should beware of Apple… the French saying is “buying themselves their virginity”.

        As for Apple’s efforts… Apple are 100% successful at ensuring the conformity of delivered iPhones. They certainly could ensure if not ethical, at least legal, treatment of workers at their suppliers, if they set their mind to it. They don’t. Again, everyone else has the same issue. They just don’t PR on adjacent stuff.

        From your list, other IT firms (though not phone OEMs) have jumped on the morals bandwagon. Yet only Apple was mentioned here. Maybe it’s not me being weird for reacting to what was mentioned, but the process by which, of all those companies who could have gotten free PR, only Apple has. I don’t see how I should comment on the article that wasn’t.

      • You’re “not trying to discredit their position”, just saying they aren’t in any position to criticise. That’s inherently contradictory.
        You’re saying Apple is a “very flawed” supporter of the issue of not separating children from parents at borders when they seek asylum. Please cite cases where Apple has enforced the separation of children from parents at borders.

        “They certainly could ensure if not ethical, at least legal, treatment of workers at their suppliers, if they set their mind to it.” Please cite your experience as an overseer of hundreds of suppliers in foreign countries, where the suppliers might have an incentive to hide their failure to comply from you in order to maximise profits. This will help us understand your ability to say with certainty that Apple could “certainly” do this, where it has been trying to do this literally for years and publishes a document on its site about supplier compliance annually. It’s constantly amazing how many self-professed domain experts can be found in the comments sections of websites, yet never manage to make their way to management or other positions where they could effect lasting change.

        If you think separation of children from adults seeking asylum at borders is a moral topic “adjacent” to working conditions for people who are working voluntarily, I’d suggest your moral map is all over the place.
        Re the other tech CEOs – those other articles are on the open web; if this site is your only source of news then of course I’m gratified, but you might benefit from reading more widely. I found those extras (which will be in tomorrow’s list) with a single search on “tech ceos children”. You could have done the same and realised that it wasn’t only Apple making a noise about this, and enhanced your comment with broader context – the thing that you complained was missing in the first place.

      • 1- Yes, I think the message is fine (more than fine !), but that the messenger has no standing. Again, my issue is with Apple getting free PR on this topic, not with Apple’s stance or the original issue. I don’t see how that’s contradictory.
        2- I’m not professing to be a domain expert (and re. the ad hominem I assume is at me, I made it to management, thank you, though not in supply chain). I just read the articles. It seems Apple doesn’t. I was trying to contrast *results* in terms of end product, vs *lip-service* in terms of working conditions. As you say, “Apple publishes…”. I for one think actions speak louder than words.
        3- Yes I do think both topics are adjacent, in the area of human rights, morals, and ethics. I do think kids forcibly separated from parents has similarities with kids and adults being forced to work 10+ hrs/day, exposed to noxious chemicals, in very bad housing (but hey ! anti-suicide nets !). As for the “voluntary” part of it, students were told they needed to, and the poor can’t be picky. I’m not sure much is “voluntary” when you’re in survival mode.
        3- Again, I’m not writing an article, but reacting to one. I can’t react to the article that wasn’t written. Your job is much more complicated than mine, and your talent much higher. Doesn’t mean I can’t react when something makes me jump. I can shut up though if you want.

      • 1) any messenger has standing in this if they are not also forcibly removing children from adults. I do not understand why you cannot grasp this simple fact. Apple getting “free PR on this topic” is a bizarre claim. It’s the biggest listed American company. Its CEO was visiting Ireland. It would be remiss of journalists not to ask about such a hot topic. It would be widely remarked if Cook didn’t comment on it.
        2) you suggest Apple pays lip service to working conditions. Yet it does publish details of how its suppliers do or don’t meet its requirements; and we don’t know how often it finds infringements which it then corrects. This means all we see is the infringements reported by groups like CLW, or by Apple in its report. You don’t know precisely what actions it takes. It has certainly fired suppliers who were found to be using underage labour.
        3) Foxconn pays pretty well, but I think that CLW complaint wasn’t about Foxconn. It is voluntary inasmuch as there are multiple jobs in and around Shenzhen – I’ve been there: there are plentiful factories and other employment. If it were truly intolerable to work in those places, I think China’s labour market is flexible enough to mean people can move on. The huge seasonal hiring implies as much.
        4) you reacted to the article with a classic piece of whataboutism. “Cook says Trump’s policy is bad? What about Apple’s suppliers?” Whataboutism is a really bad reaction because it allows nobody to make commentary about things that are bad, unless they are already such shining moral beings in all they do that nobody passes.
        It’s so pernicious I’m amazed it isn’t a thread in The Good Place.

      • 1- I do not understand how you think Apple has more standing on this issue than any of the numerous other messengers you chose not to include. Companies in general, Apple in particular, aren’t especially qualified on the topic, unless they’re taking specific action and have an above-average record on similar issues. Apple isn’t, and barely has.
        2- The first issues with working conditions were spotted a decade ago. I understand this is a process, but it should be evident by now that episodic if not rare non-surprise audits (that’s what the article describes) aren’t enough. Bending iPhones get fixed in a few months, and QC is continuous if not universal; working conditions don’t get that treatment. Again, other OEMs aren’t any better, except probably Fairphone.
        3- It isn’t the impression you get reading the article.
        4- It would be whataboutism if I didn’t agree on the issue. I do. I’m simply objecting to Apple trying to drape itself in any mantle of virtue it sees passing by, and getting uncritical PR for it.

        That’s it on the topic for me. I’m leaving tomorrow for Canada, they’re chuffed about global warming over there: they hope to get more arable land. /s

  1. re: VRhe of growth. IDC have been very good at…purging the Internet of their slides about Nokia winning the smartphone wars. Oh the fun I’d have with those. So. VR. Shure.

  2. 8M tweets and retweets are less important number than the amount of users they reached. And that is probably a very big number. Every piece of propaganda is like a drip campaign step by step changes a user’s POV. So 8M tweets could result in a pretty impressive amount of influence and reach many dosens of millions of users.

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