Start Up No.884: the dumb smart bike lock, skinny bundling challenges, covering Musk, and more

Fibre broadband for all! At some future date. We hope. Photo by Ruth on Flickr.

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PLEASE NOTE that this week will have a shorter posting schedule: you’ve had Monday, there’s Tuesday (this one), and Wednesday. After that I’m on a fortnight’s break.

A selection of 11 links for you. for your comfort and safety, we have disabled caps lock. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The story behind Google’s secret offer to settle EU’s Android probe • Bloomberg

Aoife White and Stephanie Bodoni:


Vestager indicated in the interview that any settlement offer should have been made in 2016, after the company received the EU’s statement of objections, which detailed the antitrust problems with Android. The EU said the company might breach competition rules by unfairly pushing search and browser apps onto Android phones.

That might have been the narrow window to settle the case, but Google’s legal team were spinning dozens of plates in 2016. They had deadlines to respond to the Android charges, the shopping probe was still a major priority and there were new complaints filed to the EU by News Corp. and other rivals.

After the rebuff, the EU stepped up its probe, sending a formal “letter of facts” in November 2017, adding new evidence, two people said. There was little substantive contact between the two sides until Google representatives talked with EU officials in April during a so-called state of play meeting about the case, which was well on the way to the record fine.


Pretty thin gruel, this story; it’s clear that Google misread the timings and overestimated its chances of winning.

However the EC’s solution is no good. It should have obliged Google to offer Google Play separately. But even then, it’s far too late.
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Full-fibre broadband pledge for new homes • BBC News


Under [the new UK national telecoms strategy] targets, all of the UK will have full-fibre broadband coverage by 2033, replacing the copper wire network that currently delivers the service.

It proposes legislation to encourage more private infrastructure investment.

Earlier this month, research was published indicating that the UK has slipped from 31st to 35th place in the global broadband league tables, behind 25 other European countries.

The data was collected by M-Lab, a partnership between Google Open Source Research and Princeton University’s PlantLab, and the results compiled by UK broadband comparison site Cable.

Government statistics suggest only 4% of UK premises have a full-fibre link – compared to 79% in Spain and 95% in Portugal…

…Andrew Ferguson, editor of the Think Broadband site, said the strategy turned visions of full-fibre coverage into “slightly firmer targets”. However, he added, there was one “very important caveat” to the strategy which might slow the take up of full-fibre in the UK. In nations such as Spain, he said, full-fibre was the first decent broadband people were offered which meant people enthusiastically signed up.

“Getting the UK to upgrade to full-fibre if they are getting decent speeds from a VDSL2 or cable broadband connection may be harder,” he said, adding that how the packages were priced would be a factor in adoption.


I’ll believe it when I see it.
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Lattis Ellipse Smart Bike Lock review: equal parts smart and frustrating • CNET

Patrick Holland:


In everyday use, the lock worked… okay. But there were many times I struggled with it. For example when we filmed the video accompanying this review, I tried to lock my bike to a thicker post and ended up dropping my phone and cracking the screen. This scenario happened frequently: Holding the two pieces of lock and my phone, while tapping the screen to force the Ellipse closed.

The Ellipse app does provide a “handsfree” alternative called auto lock and auto unlock. To use, I close the Ellipse around my bike and the rack, walk away, and the app automatically triggers it to lock. The same thing happens in reverse to unlock it: I just have to walk towards the lock.

This is a good idea, but it doesn’t work consistently. Sometimes it took an unnerving amount of time for the lock to trigger. Also, this doesn’t quite solve the problem when I had to physically hold the Ellipse closed to lock it. I wish the Ellipse was integrated with the Apple Watch or Wear OS device to free up my hands.

There were also instances when my phone’s Bluetooth connection was off, and I had to wait for it to connect to the Ellipse and then unlock it. For those moments, I opted to use the lock’s built-in touch keypad. But even then, the keypad was annoying, too. It feels like touch technology from 10 years ago. I was only able to enter my passcode successfully when I used a deliberately slow touch.


The “smart” bit is that it can tell if there’s a theft (or attempt), or if it thinks you’ve had a crash. The stupid bit is described in the extract above: it’s too hard to lock.
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YouTube TV shows tough economics of skinny bundles • The Information

Jessica Toonkel and Tom Dotan:


As hundreds of thousands of people continue to drop cable and satellite TV every quarter, some are signing up for cheaper streaming versions introduced in the past few years. Google’s YouTube TV has so far amassed close to 800,000 subscribers while Hulu with Live TV is near a million, The Information has learned (see chart below). Including Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now, the total number of people using these services is close to six million—75% higher than last October. But it’s still a fraction of the estimated 92 million people who still pay for satellite and cable.

But these streaming services have yet to figure out how to make money. In fact, the more people they sign up, the more money they lose. That’s because the services are paying more for programming than what they’re charging consumers. YouTube TV, for instance, is estimated to be paying $49 per subscriber a month—$9 more than it charges—for most of its channels, according to people familiar with the situation.

That highlights the challenge for these streaming cable services and the broader entertainment industry. The streaming services were meant to provide a cheaper alternative to traditional cable, keeping the lucrative cable channel business alive for companies like Disney, 21st Century Fox and Time Warner. But they haven’t changed the fundamental cost structure of cable. Entertainment companies charge the new services as much—or in some cases, more—than what they charge satellite and cable services to carry their TV networks. Entertainment companies couldn’t offer discounts to the new services even if they wanted to: contractual provisions ensure that big cable operators like Comcast always get the lowest rate on programming.

“The fundamentals of the pay TV business are still broken,” said one person who’s arranged these deals. “You just had deeper-pocketed people wanting to play in this business for a number of different reasons.”


This slightly misses the point. Once people abandon cable for a skinny bundle, they’re very unlikely to go back. That gives the skinny players a loyal subscriber, and thus the chance to carefully boil the frog – raise prices or push upsells. Outcome: longer-term profit. And they have huge numbers of unconverted potential users.
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Britain proposes tougher foreign investment rules to protect national security • Reuters

Andrew MacAskill and Ben Martin:


The decision to tighten the screening of foreign investment rules marks a further shift in policy for the world’s fifth-largest economy which has traditionally been one of the most open markets to global mergers and acquisitions.

Britain is pressing ahead with the changes in parallel with similar efforts in other western economies such as Germany and Australia amid growing levels of Chinese investment.

Under the new rules, the government will broaden its power to investigate deals regardless of the size of the companies’ revenue or market share and have the right to scrutinize any transaction in any sector of the economy.

The government will also have the power to intervene when a company wants to acquire an asset such as a particular piece of technology or intellectual property rather just when they are seeking to buy or take control of a firm.

At present the government can only intervene if a deal creates a group with 25% of the market or with turnover of over £70m ($91.72m). That has already been reduced to £1m for companies that make technology with military or dual-use applications.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy expects the changes will mean the government will investigate around 50 deals on national security grounds each year, up from one this year so far and one last year.


In years gone by this would have been a standard move for a left-wing Labour government, and there would have been eye rolling from right-wing Tories about how you can’t interfere in the free market and that foreign investment is important. (It’s how most of the water and electricity companies are now foreign-owned.)

Now? Everyone’s worried about China and the shutters come down.
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Infowarzel 7/23 • Campaign Monitor

Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed has a newsletter, and one of his topics in the latest is about Elon Musk’s crazy ranting style on Twitter, and what or how the news media should cover it:


How can the media best cover newsworthy figures who’re extremely thin-skinned and extremely online? Public opinion about Elon’s tweets seems to have largely mirrored the reaction in 2015 to Trump’s use of Twitter: first it’s novel (he’s so accessible!), then a mix of shock and outrage, calls for him to knock it off, and then the contrarian opinion that he should tweet more, because it shows the world what a total boob he is.
Personally, I’m not sure what the press ought to do, though it feels increasingly like the current practice (person tweets → tweets are aggregated into news stories → large freakout/backlash → backlash is aggregated into more news stories) is reactive and counterproductive. In the end, despite all the bluster and punditry, the winner in all of this seems to be the Musks and Trumps of the worlds. Their original grievances/musings are repeated endlessly; they’ve commandeered the news cycle.
I touched on a lot of this last week, but increasingly it feels like the press (self very much included) lack a blueprint for dealing with people like Musk or Trump. In a tweet this week the brilliant Zeynep Tufekci described the situation this way: “It’s like we’re supposed to fight oxygen but our only tools are matches.”


Tufekci is a genius. Totally stealing that one. There’s also a Linda Smith comment I saw recently, playing on a Margaret Thatcher comment (about blocking Irish Republican Army spokesmen from speaking on British TV to “deny them the oxygen of publicity”): “I don’t know about the oxygen of publicity. I wish we didn’t give him the oxygen of oxygen.”
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Sonos aims to raise up to $264m in IPO • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaw and Nicole Bullock:


Initial pricing details released in an updated filing on Monday, as the company kicked off its roadshow in New York, suggest Sonos itself could raise up to $105.6m, while selling stockholders will receive up to $158.3m in proceeds. KKR, the company’s largest shareholder, is selling only a small portion of its holding. 

Sonos said it expected to sell shares at $17-$19, although that price could change as it makes its pitch to Wall Street investors in the coming days, ahead of a likely market debut in August. On a fully diluted basis, at the midpoint of the current pricing range, that would leave Sonos’s valuation above $2bn but below the $2.5bn-$3bn range it was said to have been targeting as it readied for and IPO earlier this year.

When it published its full prospectus earlier this month, Sonos revealed it had 18% revenue growth in the six months to March, up from 10% in the financial year ending in September 2017. 

Alongside Netgear’s planned spin-off of its internet-connected security camera business Arlo, Sonos will be a test of investors’ appetite for consumer electronics businesses. Previous US flotations, such as Fitbit and GoPro, have performed poorly, although Roku, the TV streaming technology company, has fared better in recent months. 


August is an interesting time to IPO. Market quiet (in theory). More to the point, none of the big companies will have announced results – or new hardware. That’s the way to get the shares moving.
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Google: security keys neutralized employee phishing • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs on Google’s requirement for its 85,000 staff:


“We have had no reported or confirmed account takeovers since implementing security keys at Google,” the spokesperson said. “Users might be asked to authenticate using their security key for many different apps/reasons. It all depends on the sensitivity of the app and the risk of the user at that point in time.”

The basic idea behind two-factor authentication (2FA) is that even if thieves manage to phish or steal your password, they still cannot log in to your account unless they also hack or possess that second factor.

The most common forms of 2FA require the user to supplement a password with a one-time code sent to their mobile device via text message or an app. Indeed, prior to 2017 Google employees also relied on one-time codes generated by a mobile app — Google Authenticator.

In contrast, a Security Key implements a form of multi-factor authentication known as Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), which allows the user to complete the login process simply by inserting the USB device and pressing a button on the device. The key works without the need for any special software drivers.

Once a device is enrolled for a specific Web site that supports Security Keys, the user no longer needs to enter their password at that site (unless they try to access the same account from a different device, in which case it will ask the user to insert their key).

U2F is an emerging open source authentication standard, and as such only a handful of high-profile sites currently support it, including Dropbox, Facebook, Github (and of course Google’s various services). Most major password managers also now support U2F, including Dashlane, Keepass and LastPass. Duo Security [full disclosure: an advertiser on this site] also can be set up to work with U2F.


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Passionate sports fans are more likely to endorse right-wing policies • Pacific Standard

Tom Jacobs:


The 1,051 participants completed an online survey in November of 2016. They were asked whether they considered themselves a fan of, or closely followed, “professional or collegiate football, basketball, baseball, or another sport.” For each sport they followed, they indicated how often they watched or listened to games, and whether they engaged in six fan-related behaviors, including wearing team clothing.

They also answered questions about their political attitudes, including their endorsement of traditional gender roles, support for the military, and which factors they considered most important to a person’s “ability to improve themselves financially and get ahead in life.” Strong beliefs in the importance of “ambition, hard work, and good money-management skills” reflected an individualistic mindset.

Altogether, the study found that 81% of men and 65% of women followed at least one sports team. “Football was the most popular sport, with 56% identifying as fans, followed by baseball (38%) and basketball (26%),” the researchers report.

“Basketball fans are more likely than those who do not follow sports to lean Democratic,” they write. Otherwise, spectator sports attract people from across the political spectrum pretty much equally.

However, ideological differences emerged when the researchers compared casual fans with real enthusiasts. “Fan intensity is significantly associated with the belief that economic success is due to individual effort,” they report. It was also strongly associated with support for the armed forces.


I wonder if Trump’s advisors had knowledge of this sort of information when they picked their fight with (black) NFL players who take a knee during the US national anthem; his tweets couched it as disrespectful to the military. Their protest is nothing to do with that; it’s about police violence towards black citizens. The lie shouted loudest persisted, though.
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Facebook to publish data on Irish abortion referendum ads • The Guardian

Emma Graham-Harrison:


Facebook is to publish comprehensive data on political advertising during Ireland’s abortion referendum campaign, giving an unprecedented insight into targeting of voters on social media, and setting a powerful precedent for election transparency.

The US company has told Irish politicians it will provide anonymised details of the amount spent on targeting Irish voters on its platform between 1 March and 25 May, and the number of referendum-linked ads that had been purchased.

It will also provide details of proposed advertisements, and proposed spending, that it had rejected after bringing in a ban on foreign organisations paying for online campaigns inside Ireland.

The Irish Green party leader, Eamon Ryan, who has been pushing for greater transparency and new legislation to regulate online political campaigning, welcomed the social media firm’s decision. He said he hoped it would set a new benchmark for democracy in the internet era.

“Providing data about online spending in the recent Irish abortion referendum sets an important precedent, which should apply now in every future vote,” Ryan said.


Not perfect, but a big improvement. Facebook is already making it harder for people outside a country to buy ads in another one (based on location) – I know someone who tested this. The next question is tracing the “dark money” that flows to “think tanks” that are often just fronts for foreign money.
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2016: beware of Uber vomit scam, passenger says • SF Gate

Mike Moffitt:


A New York City ride-share passenger was sickened to discover that Uber charged her $200 in addition to the fare in order to clean up vomit that she supposedly spewed over the car.

But Meredith Mandel told Gothamist that when she and her companions reached their destination in Williamsburg shortly before 1:30 a.m., they left the Uber vehicle without even a belch, much less puddles of puke.

When she saw the PayPal charge — $19 plus the $200 cleaning fee — for the two-mile trip, she naturally was outraged.


Naturally. Just proving that this scam, highlighted here yesterday, isn’t new at all. Though it has reversed the positions of power. In the old days, if you hurled in the taxi, it was tough for them to extract your money. Now it’s easy; the harder thing is proving you didn’t. (Thanks Papanic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.884: the dumb smart bike lock, skinny bundling challenges, covering Musk, and more

  1. I can’t help but think there’s a deep difference between Musk tweets and Trump tweets. Musk is thin-skinned, and socially awkward if not an asshole. His tweets are genuine.
    Trump is also thin-skinned, but I’m fairly sure a good amount of his tweets are calculated, not spontaneous, aiming to distract both his base and his opponents from less triggering, but more important, subjects. The issue is not so much that Trump’s tweets are reported on, but that they’re reported on in the first degree, and without context, and at the expense of the really meaningful stuff.

    Both men are bound to get publicity. It doesn’t have to be brainless reacting whichever way they want though.

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