Start Up No.882: Huawei under UK scrutiny, experts on EC v Android, Facebook light on alt-right, Samsung’s folding phone?, and more


An event like Trump-Putin in Helsinki overwhelms Google News’s algorithm. Photo by Garret Keogh on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Well, how many technology sections did you need? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: Britain says Huawei ‘shortcomings’ expose new telecom networks risks • Reuters

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Technical and supply-chain issues with equipment made by Chinese firm Huawei have exposed Britain’s telecom networks to new security risks, a government report said on Thursday.

The assessment, made in a report signed off by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency, will intensify the espionage debate around Huawei Technologies, which has come under increasing fire in the United States and Australia over concerns it could facilitate Chinese government spying.

The report was released after sources told Reuters that senior British security officials say they can now give only limited assurances that Huawei’s UK operations pose no threat to national security, downgrading their previous position.

“Identification of shortcomings in Huawei’s engineering processes have exposed new risks in the UK telecommunication networks and long-term challenges in mitigation and management,” officials said in the report.

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, said that it welcomed the thrust of the report by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) oversight board, which it said showed supervision by British authorities was working well.

“The report concludes that HCSEC’s operational independence is both robust and effective. The Oversight Board has identified some areas for improvement in our engineering processes,” a Huawei spokesman said.

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The report concluded that it wasn’t certain that Huawei’s manufacturing would prevent espionage by Chinese operatives inserting things into products as they were made (rather as the NSA did with Cisco routers). That’s not good, given that BT’s entire telecoms backbone relies on Huawei.
link to this extract


The EU fining Google over Android is too little, too late, say experts • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

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[The EC’s demands are] a similar strategy to that employed by the EC in 2004, when it forced Microsoft to release a version of Windows without Windows Media Player and later offer a browser choice screen, which allowed users to select a web browser other than Internet Explorer.

But as with the Media Player-free version of Windows, Windows XP N, for which there was no demand, consumers are unlikely to buy a version of Android without Google’s services.

“The EU’s stance is arguably six to eight years too late,” said [Geoff] Blaber [of CCS Insight]. “Android has already helped establish Google apps and services as essentials for consumers in the western world.

“While the separation of apps from the operating system may help foster competition over the longer term, manufacturers will continue to need to offer Google services to be competitive and address consumer demand.”

Richard Windsor from research company Radio Free Mobile said that because users in the EU are so accustomed to using Google services and have come to prefer them “separating Google Play from the rest of Google’s Digital Life services would have very little impact as users would simply download and install them from the store”.

The EC also ordered Google to stop paying smartphone manufacturers and mobile network operators through revenue sharing for exclusively including Google Search on their phones. Finally, Google is also ordered to stop blocking manufacturers from using so-called forked or modified versions of Android, such as Amazon’s Fire OS, if they want to use Google services on their other devices.

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Android was 40% of sales share (the first indicator of market dominance) in 2Q 2011, according to IDC. It had 40% of the installed base of smartphones by 2012. Even allowing then for the possibility that Windows Phone might have blown the bloody doors off, the EC is five years too late in this: market dominance was established long before Margrethe Vestager even pulled back her chair. Her predecessor, Almunia, was a failure. That’s evident now.

Nokia did try an Android-without-Google phone in 2014 – the Nokia X. It sank without trace. The game had finished by then.
link to this extract


The spread of true and false news online • Science

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There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being. To understand how false news spreads, Vosoughi et al. used a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.

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This is only the abstract (I can’t get at the full text – help welcomed) but those are some dramatic numbers.
link to this extract


On a big story like the Helsinki Trump/Putin summit, Google News’ algorithm isn’t up to the task • Nieman Journalism Lab

Rich Gordon:

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look what I found at the top of the “Full coverage” page for the Trump/Putin press conference:

All four of these items come, directly or indirectly, from Fox News. Even worse, none of them is a factual report about the press conference — and all are commentary from the conservative end of the political spectrum, more specifically Trump sympathizers:

• From Fox News directly: “Dr. Gorka on the left’s reaction to the Trump-Putin summit”;
• From Fox News Insider: “WATCH: Tucker Carlson Previews TUESDAY Interview With President Donald Trump”;
• From RealClearPolitics, a story about a Fox News interview: “Stephen F. Cohen: Do You Prefer Impeaching Trump, Or Avoiding Nuclear War With Russia”;
• From The Hill, a story about comments Tucker Carlson made on Fox News: “Tucker Carlson: Mexico has interfered in U.S. elections ‘more successfully’ than Russia.”

The fact that Google News thinks the four most important stories about the summit all come from or are based on Fox News is just stunning. Especially considering that the fallout from the press conference included criticism of Trump from conservative voices like Bob Corker, Lindsey Graham and John McCain.

Look, I understand that we have a polarized political environment and that publishing a partisan spin on the news is a reliable way for digital publishers to build an audience. One of the reasons I would go to Google News is to find different perspectives on an important story.

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It could be that this is skewed by what Gordon normally searches on (if he writes about right-wing outlets), but this only emphasises that Google isn’t doing what we assume it should be doing – providing access to information – and instead is pushing people towards reinforcement of what they think.

And if not, then something is seriously wrong. Though Google News has been broken, as a concept, almost from its inception.
link to this extract


Undercover Facebook moderator was instructed not to remove fringe groups or hate speech • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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An investigative journalist who went undercover as a Facebook moderator in the UK says the company lets pages from far-right fringe groups “exceed deletion threshold,” and that those pages are “subject to different treatment in the same category as pages belonging to governments and news organizations.” The accusation is a damning one, undermining Facebook’s claims that it is actively trying to cut down on fake news, propaganda, hate speech, and other harmful content that may have significant real-world impact.

The undercover journalist detailed his findings in a new documentary titled Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network, that just aired on the UK’s Channel 4. The investigation outlines questionable practices on behalf of CPL Resources, a third-party content moderator firm based in Dublin, Ireland that Facebook has worked with since 2010.

Those questionable practices primarily involve a hands-off approach to flagged and reported content like graphic violence, hate speech, and racist and other bigoted rhetoric from far-right groups. The undercover reporter says he was also instructed to ignore users who looked as if they were under 13 years of age, which is the minimum age requirement to sign up for Facebook in accordance with the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 privacy law passed in the US designed to protect young children from exploitation and harmful and violent content on the internet.

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It is truly surreal how awful far-right stuff is tolerated by American companies.
link to this extract


Samsung plans to launch foldable-screen phone early next year • WSJ

Timothy Martin:

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Samsung Electronics Co. is planning to introduce a foldable-screen smartphone early next year, according to people familiar with the matter, as the world’s largest phone maker eyes a splashy device to help re-energize its slumping handset business.

The Samsung prototype, which bears the internal code name “Winner,” features a screen that measures about 7 inches diagonally, roughly the size of a smaller tablet, these people said.

The screen can be folded in half, like a wallet, these people said. When the phone is folded, its exterior shows a small display bar on one side and cameras on the other, they said.

A foldable-screen device has long been a hotly rumored industry pursuit, with several phone makers said to be developing models. Unlike a traditional flip phone, the device when opened would be almost all screen, giving consumers a large display akin to a tablet, with the portability of a phone that could fit in a consumer’s hand, pocket or purse.

Other manufacturers have launched smartphones that fold, but those devices used two screens connected at their phone frames.

The new Samsung design—using a foldable screen—could help rejuvenate a handset industry that has struggled to find new dazzling features to impress consumers.

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(Narrator’s voice: it didn’t rejuvenate the handset industry, because nobody cared that your phone could fold.)
link to this extract


British broadband speed map • FT

Alan Smith, Nic Fildes, David Blood, Max Harlow, Caroline Nevitt and Ændrew Rininsland:

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The areas of the country with ultrafast internet have often taken a go-it-alone approach. Small telecoms operators such as B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) in Lancashire and CityFibre in York have replaced old copper wires with their own fibre-optic networks that are independent of the traditional national network, controlled by Openreach, BT’s engineering arm.

And while the data show that speeds are generally faster in urban areas compared with rural ones, this is often the result of strong investment in the suburbs. One of the most striking features of the British internet reality is that connections are very poor in the centre of the main cities, including London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. In many of those cases, the speed is below the 10 MBit/s threshold set for the “universal service obligation” that the government is set to introduce as a minimum standard for broadband access over the coming years.

In Britain, the digital divide is often not between urban and rural areas: it is between the suburbs and the inner city.

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Terrific interactive where you input a postcode and get an idea of how you compare against somewhere else. (The introductory graphic comparing part of Knightsbridge, in expensive London, with rural Shropshire is an eye-opener.) However we’re no closer to truly fast, universal wired broadband because there hasn’t been competition, unlike the situation that was mandated in mobile (where there were two, then four, then five principal competitors).
link to this extract


Be My Eyes: how can I help a blind person to see? • The Big Tech Question

Barry Collins:

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The headline on this story sounds like hyperbole or an advertising slogan. Trust me, it’s not. The simply brilliant Be My Eyes app genuinely lets you see on behalf of someone who is blind or visually impaired.

The app works by turning the visually impaired person’s smartphone into a live video camera. When they need help identifying something – whether it’s a caller at their door, a tin of food in their cupboard or a packet of painkillers – they put out a request for help. Within seconds, one of the app’s 1.5 million volunteers will answer the call and be their eyes, using live video to see what’s in front of the visually impaired person and tell them what it is.

It’s hard to think of a more ingenious use of a smartphone – which is one of the reasons why it picked up a BT Tech4Good Award at the ceremony at BT HQ in London yesterday.

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This is amazing, and as Barry says, such a good and somehow obvious – in retrospect – idea.
link to this extract


How do movie genre tastes change with age? • Stephen Follows

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The data for today’s piece came from Pearl and Dean’s public microsite, comScore, IMDb and the Office of National Statistics.  It focuses on films released between 2005 and 2015, inclusive.

Movies were permitted to have up to three genres, and I used IMDb’s genre classification system.  This explains why the overall choices of any age group add up to more than 100%.  For example, Alien Vs Predator is not only a bad action movie but also a bad horror movie and a bad sci-fi movie.

The Pearl and Dean exit poll data is designed to help cinema advertisers and it does not cover all movies, meaning that there will be a slight bias towards the bigger, advertiser-friendly movies.  That said, in this article I’m looking at the overall UK cinema population and the majority of those tickets are bought for the major movies (an average of 75% of the box office goes to the 50 highest grossing films each year). Therefore, if your focus is independent or art-house cinema then you may find that your audience skews older.

The chart comparing UK population and cinema receipts requires some nit-picky detail to ensure we all understand exactly what it’s showing.  The UK population data is from the Office of National Statistics in 2014 and shows what percentage of the UK population aged over six years old falls into each of the six categories.  I excluded everybody aged six and under because we don’t have cinema data for that age group and I wanted to compare like with like.  The cinema data is a calculation based on exit polls and the total box office income.

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Comedy and adventure decline, action and SF have a mid-age peak, drama and romance grow. Now go and finance a film.
link to this extract


How one company defied the odds and is grossing almost $1 billion in revenue… in Nigeria • Medium

Efosa Ojomo:

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In 1988 Nigeria was not a premier investment destination. Life expectancy for the country’s 91 million people was 46 years; gross domestic product (GDP) was about $23bn; GDP per capita was about $256; 78% of people lived on less than $2 per day; about 37% of people had access to sanitation while roughly 58% had access to improved water source; Nigeria had experienced six coups in its short 28 years of existence as a republic; it was also under military rule in 1988 so technically and literally, anything could happen. In fact, in 1993 Nigerians unhappily welcomed General Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators Nigeria would ever know, to rule the country. In short, if you were an investor, Nigeria was just not the place to go.

But the executives at Tolaram Group paid little to no attention to those statistics. In 1988, Tolaram began importing instant noodles into Nigeria. Since then the company has vertically integrated in-country and has grown their Indomie Noodle® instant noodle sales to a staggering $700m a year. A packet of noodles cost about 18 cents. They sell more than 4.5 billion packets of noodles per year. In 1988, Nigeria did not have an instant noodle market. How was Tolaram able to set up and sustain operations in one of the most difficult countries to do business? After assessing Tolaram’s strategy, I cannot help but highlight the following attributes and impacts of their business — business model targeting non-consumption, interdependence, patient capital, and job creation and tax revenue.

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Astonishing story – part of a series.
link to this extract


Anatomy of a butterfly (keyboard)—teardown style • iFixit

Sam Lionheart digs deeper (and notes a MacRumors story which says the new design is to prevent debris problems:

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what does this silicone barrier [on the keys] actually look like? Are the keys wrapped in individual cushions? Did Apple just hide one of those goofy keyboard covers in this device? Like an ogre onion, this keyboard is a series of layers, so let’s get to peeling. In order to get to the keyboard at all you need to gut the MacBook, peel off a large backing sticker, remove a whole brace of screws and bust through more than a dozen rivets. And you wonder why Apple is replacing entire top case assemblies—including batteries—when they only really need to replace the keyboard. Apple could have saved themselves a lot of money, grief, and a ton of negative press if they just made this thing easier for their own techs to work on. And even after the irreversible pin removal, we still need to cook the thing under a pile of iOpeners to loosen the adhesive holding it together.

Oh, and remove all 64 keycaps on the laptop.

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The complexity and irreversibility of this design is truly strange.
link to this extract


Siri’s last remaining cofounder is out at Apple — The Information

Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin:

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[Tom] Gruber is retiring and will be pursuing personal interests in photography and ocean conservation, said people. His departure comes as the Siri group is undergoing a major leadership change, with the announcement last week that John Giannandrea, the former Google artificial intelligence research and search chief who joined Apple in April, would take over the unit. Apple’s head of search, Vipul Ved Prakash, has also left the company.

Mr. Gruber was the last of three cofounders of Siri Inc., the digital assistant startup, which Apple bought in April 2010 for $200m. The two other cofounders, Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, departed from Apple several years ago, around the time Siri was first integrated as a feature into the iPhone by Apple in 2011. Messrs. Kittlaus and Cheyer later went on to found another digital assistant startup called Viv Labs, which was acquired by Samsung in 2016 for more than $200m.

Mr. Prakash was the CEO of Topsy, a search engine company Apple acquired for more than $200m in 2013. The search team sits within the Siri group.

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Topsy used to be a terrific search engine for Twitter; I couldn’t point now to what its effects have been on Apple’s search efforts (which I assume are mainly in its app stores?).

Gruber is retiring – if that’s definitely what he’s doing – at the age of 59. Sounds reasonable. It’s all going to change with Giannandrea in charge.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.882: Huawei under UK scrutiny, experts on EC v Android, Facebook light on alt-right, Samsung’s folding phone?, and more

    • It’s the EC’s measure: when one company has 40% of a “relevant market”, then it is in a position that may be approaching “market dominance” – assuming the rest of the market isn’t owned by a single rival company, say, but split between multiple entities. In 2Q 2011 there were multiple OSs in the market: Android, iOS, Symbian, Windows Mobile, BBOS, Bada (https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1764714) but it was noticeable that share had flipped from Symbian being the biggest in a small market to Android being the biggest in a fast-growing market. (Those are global figures, but European sales were roughly in line.)
      By mid-2012 that had been cemented, with Android hitting the 40% of *installed base* (ie phones in hand), and 70% of sales. That train had left the station. So that was the time when, if the EC was truly to take this seriously, it should have acted. Now? Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, move to the next town, brought up a family and sent them to school.

  1. Also, on the topic of sad journalism, did I read correctly in that piece about Google’s fine that “Oracle owns Linux” ??? The piece was from Dun and Bradstreet or some such.

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