Start Up No.877: the BBC v Facebook, the phone camera question, AirBnB’s mixed benefits, towards Zero Waste, and more

Why did Bozoma Saint John leave Uber? A recent departure may be a clue. Photo by Fortune Conferences 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 11 links for you. It lost its ticket at the bus station, and is now going to the Continent. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How fracking companies use Facebook surveillance to ban protest • Motherboard

Nafeez Ahmed:


Revelations about how Facebook data has been used to target individuals for political ends continue to emerge. But after the Cambridge Analytica scandal of earlier this year, the story has taken an unexpected twist: Facebook is being used by oil and gas companies to clamp-down on protest.

Three companies are currently seeking injunctions against protesters: British chemical giant INEOS, which has the largest number of shale gas drilling licenses in the UK; and small UK outfits UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), and Europa Oil and Gas.

Among the thousands of pages of documents submitted to British courts by these companies are hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from anti-fracking protesters and campaign groups, uncovered by Motherboard in partnership with investigative journalists at DeSmog UK. They show how fracking companies are using social media surveillance carried out by a private firm to strengthen their cases in court by discrediting activists using personal information to justify banning their protests.

The material was submitted to support the companies’ case that campaigners intended to illegally disrupt their activities or trespass on their land. The companies all stress they do not seek to restrict lawful forms of protest, but argue that activists should not be allowed to unduly disrupt their lawful business activity.


link to this extract

Magic Leap is shipping its first headset this summer • The Verge

Adi Robertson:


Magic Leap’s first “spatial computing” mixed reality headset, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, is shipping this summer. The company announced the news in a live stream today, narrowing down a previous statement that it would ship this year. It’s following up on an announcement from this morning, when AT&T revealed that it would be the exclusive US carrier partner for Magic Leap. However, Magic Leap still hasn’t confirmed an exact date or a price, although the company has previously said it would cost at least as much as a high-end smartphone.

Magic Leap has been slowly pulling back the veil on its headset. On its stream today, it revealed a few specifications on the headset, like the fact that it will use an Nvidia Tegra X2 processor. The stream also showed an an actual experience: a tech demo known as Dodge, where users have to dodge or block shots from a rock-throwing golem.


Ah, so not quite the world-changing experience that people have been building it up as. In other news, Magic Leap has had two billion dollars of venture capital.
link to this extract

Uber executive Hornsey resigns in email to staff following discrimination probe • Reuters

Salvador Rodriguez:


The allegations raise questions about chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi’s efforts to change the toxic culture of the firm after he took over in August last year from former CEO Travis Kalanick following a series of scandals.

Khosrowshahi praised [“chief people officer” Liane] Hornsey in an email to employees, which was seen by Reuters, as “incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working.” He gave no reason for her departure.

Hornsey acknowledged in a separate email to her team at Uber, also seen by Reuters, that her exit “comes a little out of the blue for some of you, but I have been thinking about this for a while.”

She also gave no reason for her resignation and has not responded to requests for comment about the investigation.

The allegations against her and Uber’s human resources department more broadly were made by an anonymous group that claims to be Uber employees of color, members of the group told Reuters.

They alleged Hornsey had used discriminatory language and made derogatory comments about Uber Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Bernard Coleman, and had denigrated and threatened former Uber executive Bozoma Saint John, who left the company in June.

“This person ultimately was the reason behind (Saint John’s) departure from Uber,” the anonymous employees said in an email, referring to Hornsey.


I’d been thinking that St John’s departure seemed remarkably soon after she had joined; she’s a woman who seemed to be on an upward path.
link to this extract

Solar just hit a record low price in the US • Earther

Brian Kahn:


The project in question is the Eagle Shadow Mountain Solar Farm, which will begin operating in 2021. The farm will have a generating capacity of 300 megawatts, enough to power about 210,000 American homes. But it’s the price part that’s eye-popping. It will operate at a flat rate of $23.76 per megawatt-hour over the course of a 25-year power purchasing agreement (the term for a contract between an electricity generator and utility who buys it). On the surface, that price may not mean a lot to you if you’re not an energy nerd, but it’s a huge deal.

“On their face, they’re less than a third the price of building a new coal or natural gas power plant,” Ramez Naam, an energy expert and lecturer at Singularity University, told Earther in an email. “In fact, building these plants is cheaper than just operating an existing coal or natural gas plant.”


Even without federal subsidies, it’s cheaper than coal or gas plants. Nowadays the only problem is energy storage.
link to this extract

Why is the BBC downplaying the Facebook Brexit scandal? • The Guardian

Jonathan Freedland:


It’s now understood that Vote Leave may have broken electoral law, by violating campaign spending limits. It’s also known that Leave.EU misled MPs about its true connections with Russia: the group’s founder Arron Banks told a parliamentary inquiry he had had “two or three” meetings with the Russian ambassador to London – having long insisted his sole contact with the official was one “boozy lunch” – and on Sunday my Observer colleague, Carole Cadwalladr, revealed that Leave.EU in fact met Russian embassy officials as many as 11 times ahead of and just after the Brexit vote.

Now the BBC has not ignored any of this; indeed, it went first with a leak of the Electoral Commission’s draft findings about Vote Leave spending. But it has not given the story the kind of full-spectrum coverage that it does so well: leading every bulletin, dominating its discussion programmes and interviews, putting it top of the national agenda. It is careful to clock it, to ensure it’s covered, but it hasn’t given it the weight that only the BBC can generate.

This is not a rare occurrence. The phone hacking revelations of 2011 followed a similar pattern: the Guardian had plugged away for years, mainly ignored, until suddenly the story exploded. Windrush was similar: months of reports by the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman, until a critical mass was reached and the BBC became fully engaged.

Why has that moment not yet come for this affair? Some will say that the story is too arcane, full of obscure stuff about algorithms and data that news editors fear will leave the average viewer and listener cold. That belief may indeed play a part, along with the lazy assumption in some newsrooms that this is a story to be filed under “tech” rather than “politics”, a niche concern rather than one central to our democratic life.


Here’s the Guardian’s story on the £0.5m fine for Facebook – the largest that the UK Information Commissioner’s Office could enforce on a pre-GDPR offence. Were it to happen now, it could levy a £1.2bn fine.
link to this extract

Does having the best camera phone matter? • The Wirecutter

Ben Keough:


Whenever flashy new smartphones debut, manufacturers inevitably claim they’ve produced the best camera phone ever. Sharper! Faster! More accurate colors! Smoother bokeh! Tech sites compare the cameras endlessly, and benchmarks like DxOMark’s mobile reviews attempt to rank them in a controlled lab setting. It’s enough to give any smartphone owner an inferiority complex, but all the experts we interviewed (including one who helped design DxOMark’s test) agree that stressing over which flagship phone has the most impressive camera is a waste of time, because they’re all impressive.

Unless your phone is several years old, we don’t recommend upgrading just to get a better camera. But if you need to upgrade anyway, we think you should go with what’s familiar—switching platforms for the promise of a slightly better camera is not worth the hassle. And unless you’re actually printing your photos, most of the differences between phone cameras get ironed out in the process of sharing photos through messages or social media, which shrink and compress images to save data.


Perhaps that’s part of why the Galaxy S9 isn’t selling well: it’s essentially just a better camera, and Samsung isn’t selling a story for those whose phones are two or three years old.
link to this extract

Kuo lists expected Apple products for autumn • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:


Here’s a roundup of what Kuo predicts Apple will ship this fall:

• Per previous reports, three new iPhones includes an updated 5.8″ OLED model and a new 6.5″ OLED model, plus a new 6.1″ LCD model
• Updated iPad Pro models with Face ID and no Home button with an updated 12.9″ version and a seemingly new 11″ version
• Several Mac updates including chip upgrades for the MacBook, MacBook Pro, an iMac with “significant display-performance upgrades”, and finally the Mac mini
• A new low-price notebook that Kuo now believes may not be called MacBook Air
Apple Watch updates with larger displays as previously reported, Kuo now specifies 1.57″ and 1.78″ screens with enhanced heart rate detection
• Mass production for both AirPower and updated AirPods


This is simply incredible. An updated Mac mini??
link to this extract

What does the continued exodus of Apple Watch apps mean for smartwatches? • 777 Labs


many folks want full phone capabilities in their smartwatch, much like folks wanted full desktop capabilities in smartphones, back in the day. The way we use smartphones today, dominated by snacking, ubiquitous info, and real-time connections to social networks took a long time to coalesce, and is quite different from how we use desktop computers (though tablets are starting to blur these distinctions and provide an interesting continuum of digital experiences).

We’re at an early stage with smartwatches and folks need to stop thinking of how they use smartphones and try to shove the smartphone experience into their watch. Designers need to take a fresh look at how a wrist-top haptic and interactive surface can provide value to users. You can get an idea by observing the phone-watch connection between Apple-branded apps on the iPhone and on the Apple Watch (though the flow can be a bit fragmented or sometimes stupidly asymmetrical). And I’ve mentioned the Nike experience, before.

While I don’t think all apps benefit from a Watch app, I do think that some brands that have left in the exodus could benefit. The challenge is to think differently, rather than just port the phone experience to the watch.


link to this extract

Airbnb benefits local economies. But mainly in white neighborhoods, study finds • Washington Post

Tracy Jan:


Airbnb frequently touts its economic impact in “diverse” neighborhoods, saying guests spend money locally and boost businesses in areas where tourism is not already prevalent.

But a new Purdue University study found that white neighborhoods – not their black or Latino counterparts – are the ones most likely to benefit from an influx of Airbnb guests.

The study found that users of the home sharing platform generally eat in the neighborhood restaurants near where they are staying. However the spillover effect does not hold true when 50% or more of a neighborhood’s residents are black or Hispanic.

“Airbnb has made repeated claims that it helps the local economy in black neighborhoods, especially in New York City,” said Mohammad Rahman, a professor at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management who specializes in the digital economy and big data. “We do not find any evidence of that economic spillover effect in restaurant employment.”

Rahman and his team focused their initial research on the impact of Airbnb on restaurant employment growth in New York City, the most visited, and the most active Airbnb city, in the United States.


link to this extract

Global warning: Nick Harkaway on Gnomon • Waterstones

Nick Harkaway’s novel Gnomon began in 2014 as a rumination on a surveillance society, but realityt is starting to outpace its author:


there’s an outer ring of surveillance which has also emerged over the last few years, and which can do similar tricks: the ring of data. We leave a trail through the world, of Internet history and store cards and credit cards and Oyster cards. Your supermarket knows you’re worried about staying healthy because you buy vitamins; they know you’re trying to get pregnant because you’ve changed your purchase; that you’ve succeeded; that it’s a boy; that it’s a girl; that it’s twins. Or they know to a reasonable percentage of certainty, and their model of you changes with those assumptions so that you get offered different things. So that they can persuade you to buy things. So that they can, to some degree, control your choices.

So that you can be “ground honest” [the purpose of the panopticon] – or in this case, ground into buying a more expensive brand of formula milk. Or trainers. Or birth control. Whatever it is that you want, they know you want it – sometimes before you do.

The inner and outer layers of surveillance – the brain and the cloud – give away intimate secrets. They allow the state and the commercial sector to know things which, if someone were simply watching you with a long lens, you would consider grossly inappropriate and probably criminal.

And these things are in their infancy. They have barely begun to take hold. A decade ago we swam in a sea of chaotic data and our minds were opaque. The day after tomorrow we’ll be, effectively, in a transparent glass tank, and our minds will legible. Employers – already keen to watch workers in the workplace both physically and digitally – will begin to ask you to sit for direct assessments. Are you loyal, enthused, considering a move? Are you thinking of joining a union? Starting one? Are you a troublemaker? Are your values in line with the company’s? 

Before you say “that will never happen,” stop and understand that to a great extent it already does in many industries, just without the new technology to make it more straightforward.


link to this extract

She cut her weekly trash down so much it fits in an unbelievably small jar • Washington Post

Victoria Adams Fogg:


[Tippi] Thole and her son, Eames, are newly minted members of the Zero Waste movement, a worldwide group that aims to eliminate as much waste as possible. Zero Wasters avoid plastics and disposable products, bring their own containers when shopping, make things that most of us buy packaged and buy clothing and furniture only when necessary and only secondhand.

When Thole, a 41-year-old freelance graphic designer who lives near Montreal, examined her trash, she discovered that most of it was food packaging. Now she buys her edibles at farmers markets and bulk-food stores, and she belongs to a farm cooperative — all places that provide unpackaged food.

Cutting way back on trash doesn’t require time, she says, but you do have to be prepared. Thole has a shopping kit that includes cloth bags and glass jars to collect dried food, liquids, meats and cheeses. She uses a wine tote to keep the jars upright and prevent them from banging against each other. She keeps everything in a wicker basket, stored in the back of her car.

“By shopping for package-free food,” Thole says, “we’re able to eliminate this category of waste entirely. You can buy just about anything in bulk…


Jemima Kiss, with whom I used to work at The Guardian, is trying to live #Plasticfree (ie, don’t buy plastic-packaged goods), which I guess is a step towards Zero Waste. It looks difficult, but only because plastic wrapping has become pervasive – even when unnecessary.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.877: the BBC v Facebook, the phone camera question, AirBnB’s mixed benefits, towards Zero Waste, and more

  1. re: Galaxy S9 woes: it’s a bit sad because Samsung has avoided the worst trendy offenses (S9 has no notch, still a jack, still an SD slot, still FM radio)., which kind of makes up for those idiot rounded sides, improving but still meh OS customizations, and controversial Bixby button.
    What I can’t get over is the price. I bought the Galaxy Note v1 for 550€ back in the day, they want 1.000€ for the 8 now. The tech has been getting better and cheaper, my needs haven’t changed from 7 yrs ago… I’m paying less these days, not more.

    I’m not sure what drives purchases of flagships these days besides fashion. Cameras improve only slightly from one year to the next so the sensible choice is to buy last year’s flagship. Ditto performance. Ditto design. Ditto other features. I’d say to drive sales you have to offer something dramatic people can see. So… a notch ? We’re doomed !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.