Start Up No.872: WhatsApp pressed by India, is your phone listening?, Samsung S9 sales slow, the bitcoin mining flood, and more


The US Declaration of Independence: banned by Facebook’s algorithm. Photo by Louisville Images on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. RTFM sounds great, until the manual isn’t comprehensible. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook algorithm flags, removes Declaration of Independence text as hate speech • Reason.com

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Since June 24, the Liberty County Vindicator of Liberty County, Texas, has been sharing daily excerpts from the declaration in the run up to July Fourth. The idea was to encourage historical literacy among the Vindicator’s readers.

The first nine such posts of the project went up without incident.

“But part 10,” writes Vindicator managing editor Casey Stinnett, “did not appear. Instead, The Vindicator received a notice from Facebook saying that the post ‘goes against our standards on hate speech.'”

The post in question contained paragraphs 27 through 31 of the Declaration of Independence, the grievance section of the document wherein the put-upon colonists detail all the irreconcilable differences they have with King George III.

Stinnett says that he cannot be sure which exact grievance ran afoul of Facebook’s policy, but he assumes that it’s paragraph 31, which excoriates the King for inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”

The removal of the post was an automated action, and Stinnett sent a “feedback message” to Facebook with the hopes of reaching a human being who could then exempt the Declaration of Independence from its hate speech restrictions.

Fearful that sharing more of the text might trigger the deletion of its Facebook page, The Vindicator has suspended its serialization of the declaration.

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Savage.
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Who will steal Android from Google? • Medium

Steve Yegge on the challenge to Google’s Android frameworks from React Native, built by Facebook:

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[Google is] doubling down on “native” (traditional) Android programming, with official support for the Kotlin language, which was a big step up for native Android programmers. I love Kotlin; it’s the future of Java. But let’s face it: It’s not where the mobile market is headed. People are writing cross-platform frameworks for two big reasons: First, because they want their company’s app to work on two platforms without doing 2x the work. And second, because Android native programming is still so painful, even with Kotlin, many companies feel (justifiably) that they should just throw it all out and start from scratch with something easier.

If you are an Android or iOS developer, and you take some time to try React Native (which Facebook created to help address these problems), you’ll realize within about 30 seconds that it’s WAY better, assuming you’re not writing a game, in which case you’d probably use Unity anyway. For business and productivity apps, React Native offers reasonable performance, cross-platform compatibility, incredible tools (the best being from Microsoft. Hello, relevance! Welcome back!), and vastly improved development speed. Remember I said it could take 20 minutes to see a 1-line code change in the regular Android stack? That can happen in the biggest apps like Nest or Facebook, but even for medium-size apps it can be 2 or 3 minutes. Whereas with React Native it’s instantaneous. You make a change, you see the change.

And that, folks, means you get to launch features 10x faster, which means faster time to market, which means first-mover advantage, which means you win win win.

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Horrified by terrible acts of violence, must work together: WhatsApp tells Modi government • The Wire

Anuj Srivas:

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In the past few months, a string of mob lynching incidents, allegedly prompted by rumours sent over WhatsApp, has turned the Centre’s attention to the issue of fake news and misinformation on the digital platform…

…On the issue of educating Indians on how to stay safe online, WhatsApp has promised the IT ministry that it plans on running “long-term public safety ad campaigns in India” and “news literacy workshops”.

“Already in India, the fact checking organization Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published numerous important reports on the source of the rumors that have contributed to the recent violence,” the letter notes.

“This kind of work gives everyone a better understanding of the problematic fake news circulating on WhatsApp, and how it relates to misinformation being shared on other platforms. In addition, it’s a helpful resource right within WhatsApp where people can get answers about content they’ve been sent. It’s why we’re looking at how best to ramp up these efforts in India going forward,” it added.

The company also points out that its ability to intervene heavily is limited because of the nature of the service’s end-to-end encryption. Also, the company insists that while WhatsApp messages can be “highly viral”, most Indians don’t use it to forward messages.

“Many people (nearly 25% in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than ten people); and nine in ten messages are still sent from just one person to another,” the letter states.

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Is your phone listening to your convos? Research says no, but that’s not all • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:

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A new study conducted by academics at Northeastern University in Massachusetts attempted to answer one of the biggest conspiracy theory questions of our time: are our smartphones listening to our conversations?

The paper’s conclusion is a soft “No” for now, as it didn’t find any hard evidence to support that claim. However, its methodology could have been a lot better (more on that in a minute).

What the research team did find is actually a little more alarming, which is that Android apps can record screenshot photos and screencap videos of your display and then send that data to remote servers. According to the paper associated with the study, users don’t even have to give permission for apps to do this.

This practice creates some serious privacy concerns for smartphone users, as captured images of a device’s display could leak sensitive information including addresses, passwords, or even social security numbers.

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Samsung’s second quarter profit may flag as smartphone innovation dries up • Reuters

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Analysts expect Samsung’s smartphone sales to drop in the April-June quarter, following a more than 2% drop in the previous quarter as consumers flock to cheaper models from Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi Corp.

Samsung’s lead over Apple in the global smartphone market is under pressure after the US firm’s iPhone X exceeded market expectations while a lack of technological innovation dogs Samsung offerings.

“Functions (that) Samsung’s mobile phones have are not attractive enough for customers to spend more money on,” said Song Myung-sup, analyst at HI Investment & Securities.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S9 flagship phone, launched in mid-March, boasts lots of software but little in the way of technological wizardry. It is on track to sell less in its launch year than its predecessor Galaxy S8 series sold in 2017 after its debut, analysts said.

This is expected to drag on profit growth when the Korean conglomerate posts second-quarter earnings on Friday.

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And the S8 sold less than the S7. Quietly, the premium users are getting entrenched and hanging on to their phones longer.
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Ensuring your security and privacy within Gmail • Google Safety and Security

Suzanne Frey is director of security, trust and privacy at Google Cloud:

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A vibrant ecosystem of non-Google apps gives you choice and helps you get the most out of your email. However, before a published, non-Google app can access your Gmail messages, it goes through a multi-step review process that includes automated and manual review of the developer, assessment of the app’s privacy policy and homepage to ensure it is a legitimate app, and in-app testing to ensure the app works as it says it does.

In order to pass our review process, non-Google apps must meet two key requirements:
• Accurately represent themselves: Apps should not misrepresent their identity and must be clear about how they are using your data. Apps cannot pose as one thing and do another, and must have clear and prominent privacy disclosures.

• Only request relevant data: Apps should ask only for the data they need for their specific function—nothing more—and be clear about how they are using it…

…We do not process email content to serve ads, and we are not compensated by developers for API access. Gmail’s primary business model is to sell our paid email service to organizations as a part of G Suite. We do show ads in consumer Gmail, but those ads are not based on the content of your emails. You can adjust your ads settings at any time.

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This is in response to the WSJ story from the other day, but the response doesn’t deal with “what if the companies who look at this are letting humans look at it too?”
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Download bomb trick returns in Chrome — also affects Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi and Brave • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:

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The “download bomb” trick is a technique that involves initiating hundreds or thousands of downloads to freeze a browser on a specific page.

Across the years, there have been multiple variations of download bombs, and they have often been used by tech support scammers to trap users on shady sites that tried to lure victims into calling a tech support number to have their browser unlocked.

Over the winter, security researchers from Malwarebytes noticed a tech support scam campaign that employed a new “download bomb” technique to trap users on its shady sites. That technique used the JavaScript Blob method and the window.navigator.msSaveOrOpenBlob function to initiate thousands of downloads one after the other to freeze Chrome browsers on tech support sites.

Google devs were made aware of this campaign, and they fixed the issue starting in Chrome 65.0.3325.70. But according to a reply in the original bug report of this issue, the problem has returned in Google Chrome 67.0.3396.87, released on June 12.

“This is broken again in 67.0.3396.87,” said the user who spotted the problem. “[I] stumbled upon this issue by a malicious redirect to a scam site that froze my browser,” he added.

Other users confirmed his findings that the recent Chrome releases are now susceptible to download bombs again. But the issue is also more widespread than initially thought. Jérôme Segura, the Malwarebytes security expert who first analyzed this issue in February, points out that Firefox is also affected.

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Amazing how long-lived this tech support scam is. I was writing about it in 2010, and it wasn’t new even then.
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Rumors: flood in Sichuan, China destroyed bitcoin mining centers (but: didn’t?) • Yahoo Finance

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Over the past 24 hours, the hashrate has rebounded to 40 million TH/s after its initial 30% drop, and analysts have attributed to the decline in the hashrate of the Bitcoin network to the Sichuan flood incident.

However, [bitcoin investor Eric] Meltzer, who discussed the Sichuan bitcoin mining facility case with local analysts, said that the theory China-based analysts have on the bitcoin hashrate drop is a combined effect of the flood in Sichuan and increasing heatwave in Eastern Europe causing mining centers with low profit margins to generate even less money.

The majority of bitcoin’s hashrate originates from mining pools like BTC.com, AntPool, and ViaBTC, which outsource computing power from ASIC miners globally. Hence, while a large mining center in Sichuan may have shut down due to poor weather conditions, it is not sufficient to have any real impact on the hashrate of bitcoin.

As of current, the rumors about the situation in Sichuan and the destruction of large-scale mining centers by strong floods and heavy rain are yet to be confirmed by local authorities. But, local analysts have emphasized that even if the flood wiped out a major mining facility in China, it should not be enough to trigger the hashrate of bitcoin to fall by 30% in a short period of time.

More to that, if the flood was the sole cause of the hashrate drop, it would signify that a significant chunk of the computing power that powers the Bitcoin network is based in a single region and a certain mining center. It is highly unlikely that the flooded mining centers in Sichuan caused the drop in the hashrate.

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We already know that a lot of the compute power for bitcoin is in Sichuan (cheap electricity, cool climate); if a particular centre was hit, that could make sense. But the rapid recovery is odd.
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How did Apple Music crush Spotify’s day-one streams of Drake’s new album? • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham, on how Apple claimed over 170m streams on day one of Drake’s new album Scorpion, against Spotify’s 132.4m:

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within the 132.4m Spotify plays of Scorpion which MBW monitored on day one, some 60.8% (80.5m) took place in the US.

Clearly, the US is the prime battleground for Drake’s album – and that’s a fact which will have suited Apple. Multiple label sources tell MBW that Apple is expected to overtake Spotify’s subscriber base in the States later this month (although one source suggested that a recent Spotify promotional trial push may end up delaying this imminent milestone).

Either way, we’re told the two services – in terms of US-based paid users – are pretty neck-and-neck: Spotify has just over 20m paid US subs, while Apple has just over 19m.

Still, the global Drake numbers remain very surprising. For example, on Spotify today (July 2) Drake is officially the service’s biggest artist worldwide with 52.8m monthly listeners. That figure is bigger than Apple’s entire user base at last count (50m), as announced in May.

One other, crucial factor in Apple screeching ahead on Scorpion streams is more elementary, however.

Scorpion was due to land on both Spotify and Apple Music at midnight Eastern Time on Friday (June 29). Apple Music released it bang on time. Spotify, however, suffered some kind of malfunction – because Scorpion didn’t arrive on its service until over two hours later.

That certainly would have badly hurt Spotify’s like-for-like comparison with Apple on day one (particularly as the Spotify chart which that 132m number comes from measures midnight-to-midnight periods).

Some Spotify users even defected to Apple Music for a trial just to listen to Scorpion while waiting for the album to land on their favored platform.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up No.872: WhatsApp pressed by India, is your phone listening?, Samsung S9 sales slow, the bitcoin mining flood, and more

  1. Re. Kottlin, the way I understand it, Kottlin is just icing on the Java cake, Google is pushing Flutter as the future of Android+iOS+Fuchsia Dev, and Flutter uses Dart.
    I’ve been told Google co-opted Kottlin to throw a bone to the community, they’d really REALLY rather you used Flutter.

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