Start Up No.875: San Francisco’s caste system, another blabby fitness app, cropmarks ahoy!, Firefox v Google, and more


Insulating foam: if it’s in China, is it made with CFCs? Photo by Henryr10 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 10 links for you. Inside the tent. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

This fitness app lets anyone find names and addresses for thousands of soldiers and secret agents • De Correspondent and Bellingcat

Maurits Martijn, Dimitri Tokmetzis, Riffy Bol and Foeke Postma:

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On Saturday, May 9, 2018, a man takes his regular morning run past the Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq. His pace is leisurely; he covers 2.9 miles in 29 minutes and 34 seconds.

On his wrist is a digital activity tracker, the Polar V800.
This is what the Polar V800 looks like. It records his speed, distance traveled, and calories burned over the course of his run.

The man – let’s call him Tom – is a Dutch soldier, part of the Netherlands’ Capacity Building Mission in Iraq. The CBM is encamped near the Erbil airport. Since 2015, this base has been one of the key locations from which the war against the terrorist group Islamic State is being waged.

We are absolutely not supposed to know who Tom is and where he’s stationed. And we most definitely shouldn’t know where Tom lives.

Yet the activity tracking map in Polar’s fitness app lets us see that many of Tom’s runs start and end near a cluster of homes in a small town in the northern Netherlands. A little Googling gives us his exact address. We also find the names of his wife and children, and photos.

Last Friday, Polar took its user activity map offline and published a short statement on its website. The company emphasizes that users have consciously chosen to share their activities on the map: the default setting is to keep all workouts private. We asked if this feature has always been opt-in rather than opt-out; the company hasn’t yet answered us. According to Polar, only 2% of its users share workouts on the activity map.

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Just like Strava, basically.
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Cropmarks 2018 • Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

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The unprecedented spell of hot, dry weather across Wales has provided perfect conditions for archaeological aerial photography. As the drought has persisted across Wales, scores of long-buried archaeological sites have been revealed once again as ‘cropmarks’, or patterns of growth in ripening crops and parched grasslands.

The Royal Commission’s aerial investigator Dr Toby Driver has been busy in the skies across mid and south Wales over the last week documenting known sites in the dry conditions, but also discovering hitherto lost monuments. With the drought expected to last at least another two weeks Toby will be surveying right across north and south Wales in a light aircraft to permanently record these discoveries for the National Monuments Record of Wales, before thunderstorms and rain wash away the markings until the next dry summer.


The Iron Age hillfort of Gaer Fawr near Lledrod, Ceredigion, looking across the parched landscape of mid Wales.

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link to this extract


Firefox and the four-year battle to have Google to treat it as a first-class citizen • ZDNet

Chris Duckett:

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Buried in Mozilla’s issue tracker is a bug that kicked off in February 2014, and is yet to be resolved: Have Google treat Firefox for Android as a first-class citizen and serve up comparable content to what the search giant hands Chrome and Safari.

After years of requests, meetings, and to and fro, it has hit a point where the developers of Firefox are experimenting by manipulating the user agent string in its nightly development builds to trick Google into thinking that Firefox Mobile is a Chrome browser.

Not only does Google’s search page degrade for Firefox on Android, but some new properties like Google Flights have occasionally taken to outright blocking of the browser. Over the past couple of months, I have been using Firefox Mobile as my primary mobile browser and happened upon Google Flights, and although I wasn’t blocked, it did fail in places — at the time of writing, though, it seems the site is fine.

As for Google’s flagship search page, Firefox users get an inferior version that does not even have the tools bar that allows users to narrow searches down by date. I find it hard to believe that in 2018, the world’s most visited web page cannot find the small amount of time and resources it would take to deliver a comparable page to non-WebKit browsers, even if they do make up a minuscule amount of its visitors.

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Hmm, how would one pursue this as a monopoly issue?
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Will Samsung’s struggles enable Apple to deliver in the seasonally weak June quarter? • BTIG Research

Walter Piecyk:

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Apple’s market share increased 350 basis points [ie 3.5 percentage points] sequentially to 58.0% in the month of June, its highest share since February 2017 according to the latest US based survey by Wave7 Research. Its gains principally came from Samsung as the Galaxy S9 launch provided less of lift in share this year and it cooled off faster when compared to prior Galaxy S models, based on the Wave7 data. Samsung pre-announced disappointing results overnight. As you can see in the table below, this resulted in only 20 basis points of share loss during the quarter compared to much larger impacts in prior years.

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The graph is here. Piecyk says that the April-June quarter is always slow (low upgrade rates, low churn), but it’s notable that Samsung really doesn’t seem to have made an impression this time round. There’s only so many people you can persuade to upgrade to an upgraded camera, it seems.
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Mysterious source of illegal ozone-killing emissions revealed, say investigators • The Guardian

Damian Carrington on the followup to the story which first surfaced in May:

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The Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-governmental organisation, has now identified widespread use of CFC-11 factories in China that make insulating foams. The EIA’s investigators identified factories that sold the chemicals needed for foam-making, then contacted and visited them.

“We were dumbfounded when out of 21 companies, 18 of them across China confirmed use of CFC-11, while acknowledging the illegality and being very blase about its use,” said Avipsa Mahapatra at the EIA. Furthermore, the companies said the use of CFC-11 was rife in the sector. “It was very clear. These companies, again and again, told us everybody else does this,” she said.

China is a major producer of the rigid polyurethane foams involved and the EIA calculates that if the illegal use of CFC-11 is pervasive in the 3,500 small- and medium-sized companies that make up the sector, then this would explain the surge. Without action, the CFC-11 emissions would delay the recovery of the planet’s ozone hole by a decade, scientists estimate.

“We didn’t know what on Earth someone would be using CFC-11 for – well, here’s one answer and that’s a surprise,” said Steve Montzka at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado, whose team revealed the surge. “Despite efforts to get rid of this activity, it continues.”

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This – too – is why regulation, and enforcement of regulation, matters. The report reveals that lots of the manufacturers find ways around customs and environmental checks.
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FTC Democrat hires tech industry critic who’s taken aim at Amazon • POLITICO

Nancy Scola:

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FTC Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra is hiring Lina Khan, one of the country’s foremost critics of the growing market power of U.S. tech companies and the author of a landmark paper making an antitrust case against Amazon.

Chopra’s move is a sign that the newly-minted commissioner is preparing to take a tough stand against Silicon Valley. He’s doing so as political figures on both the left and right, including President Donald Trump, call for greater checks on the tech industry.

A 2017 graduate of Yale Law School, Khan made her name with an academic paper called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” that argues that the current U.S. approach to antitrust law hasn’t kept pace with technology and fails to accurately measure the anti-competitive threat posed by companies like Amazon.

She maintained that simply because companies offer Americans obvious benefits like lower prices — criteria under the so-called consumer welfare test — that doesn’t mean they should be exempt from antitrust scrutiny. In the paper, she floated the idea of either breaking up Amazon or regulating it like a public utility.

Khan has more recently served as the director of legal policy at the Open Markets Institute, an advocacy group that has become perhaps Washington’s highest-profile champion for the idea that the U.S. approach to antitrust has failed to counter the negative effects of technology behemoths like Amazon, Google and Facebook.

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That’s an interesting hire. The FTC decided against taking antitrust action against Google in 2012, based on that “consumer welfare” test. Will things change?
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Timehop’s database breached compromising data of 21 million users • The Next Web

Vishwam Sankaran:

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The stolen data comprised mostly of user names and email addresses. Of the 21 million compromised users’ data, the phone numbers linked to 4.7 million accounts were also stolen.

“Tokens” provided by social media profiles to Timehop for gaining access to posts and images were also taken.

With the “access tokens,” hackers could view some of the users’ social media posts without their permission. However, Timehop claims that the tokens were deauthorized and made invalid within a “short time window” and cannot be used to gain access to users’ social media profiles.

Timehop noted that the compromised cloud computing account did not have multi-step verification before the incident – a gross oversight on the company’s part, given that it’s now common practice among firms handling large volumes of user data. Timehop is in cooperation with local and federal law enforcement officials to investigate further on the breach, and to enhance its security upgrades. Following the breach Timehop also reset all its passwords and added a multi-factor authentication to all its accounts linked to cloud-based services.

As of now, Timehop claims that there is no evidence of the stolen data being used. With the new GDPR privacy law defining a breach as “likely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of the individuals”, Timehop claims to have notified all its European users of the breach…

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Amazing that in this day and age any commercial company would run something without multi-step authentication.
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How Silicon Valley fuels an informal caste system • WIRED

Antonio Garcia Martinez:

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San Francisco residents seem to be divided into four broad classes, or perhaps even castes:

• The Inner Party of venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who run the tech machine that is the engine of the city’s economy.
• The Outer Party of skilled technicians, operations people, and marketers that keep the trains belonging to the Inner Party running on time. They are paid well, but they’re still essentially living middle-class lives—or what lives the middle-class used to have.
• The Service Class in the “gig economy.” In the past, computers filled hard-for-humans gaps in a human value chain. Now humans fill hard-for-software gaps in a software value chain. These are the jobs that AI hasn’t managed to eliminate yet, where humans are expendable cogs in an automated machine: Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, TaskRabbit manual labor, etc.
• Lastly, there’s the Untouchable class of the homeless, drug addicted, and/or criminal. These people live at the ever-growing margins: the tent cities and areas of hopeless urban blight. The Inner Party doesn’t even see them, the Outer Party ignores them, and the Service Class eyes them warily; after all, they could end up there.

Mobility among the castes seems minimal. An Outer Party member could reach the Inner Party by chancing into an early job at a lottery-ticket company (such as a Facebook or Google) or by becoming a successful entrepreneur. But that’s rare; most of the Outer Party prefers working for the Inner Party, gradually accumulating equity through stock grants and appreciating real estate.

The Service Class will likely never be able to drive/shop/handyman enough to rise to the Outer Party, at least not without additional training or skills. They’re mostly avoiding the descent to Untouchable status, while dealing with precarious gigs that disappear semi-regularly. Uber, for example, has made no bones about its intent to replace its drivers with robots. Delivery bots have already been deployed on city streets, though they were later restricted.

There are of course people outside this taxonomy. There are longtime property owners (and renters) who view the tech boom warily, even if the former benefit from rising property prices.

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His argument is that the rest of the US inevitably becomes like California, and Europe inevitably becomes like the US. I think this analysis is flawed on two counts: California isn’t just San Francisco, and Europe isn’t *that* enamoured of the US.
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Sarah Katz: what it’s like to work as a Facebook moderator • Business Insider

Jake Kanter:

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She worked in an open plan office in Menlo Park, where free snacks flowed and there was a reasonable camaraderie among her colleagues. They would set to work on their queue of posts for review, and when in full flow, Katz said she made decisions within seconds.

If ticket targets were not met, there would be consequences. Failing to hit a goal “once or twice” would result in a warning, Katz said. More than three times, “you would probably get let go.” Katz never witnessed this, but said it was informally known among members of staff.

“It’s kind of a monotonous job after a while. You definitely grow desensitized to some of the graphic material because you see so much of it. A lot of the content tends to recirculate,” she said.

Katz said there was a particularly sinister photo and video that popped up repeatedly in her queue.

It featured two children — aged between nine and 12 — standing facing each other, wearing nothing below the waist, and touching each other. It was clear, Katz said, that there was someone behind the camera telling them what to do.

“It would go away and come back, it would appear at multiple times of the day. Each time the user location would be different. One day shared from Pakistan, another day the US. It’s kinda hard to track down the initial source,” she continued.

At the time, Katz said she was not asked to report the accounts sharing the material — a fact that “disturbed” her. “If the user’s account was less than 30 days old we would deactivate the account as a fake account. If the account was older than 30 days we would simply remove the content and leave the account active,” she said.

Her experience raises questions about the effectiveness of Facebook’s efforts to tackle child exploitation.

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Target: 8,000 posts per day. You’d get some sort of PTSD from that.
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With stock IPO, Xiaomi is now worth three times as much as LG • Android Police

David Ruddock:

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Though a far cry from Apple, Google, or even Samsung in terms of overall market capitalization, Xiaomi is – on paper – now worth more than three times as much as the entirety of LG Electronics. Think about that for a second.

Of course, Xiaomi is overall a much smaller company than many of the brands it now finds itself compared to. Xiaomi’s revenue goals for fiscal 2017 were around $16.8bn, a goal it said it achieved by the end of October. While LG is valued at less than a third of Xiaomi, it generated over three times the sales in 2017 (over $55bn in revenue). Major questions remain about Xiaomi’s ability to profitably expand outside Southeast Asia, with competitors like Huawei and HMD Global (Nokia) – both of which are privately held companies – having already established foothelds in Western Europe and other key markets Xiaomi is likely looking to grow into.

With global smartphone growth slipping, I could see two major narratives unfold for Xiaomi – one good, one bad. The positive outlook holds that, in a market where consumers are holding onto phones longer and shopping around more, Xiaomi’s value-first approach will have real appeal. If a smartphone is merely a means to an end, why spend more money than strictly necessary on one?

The other bodes far more poorly: the smartphone market has become saturated, and consumers are inundated with ads and incentives from much larger brands with more value-adds to offer than Xiaomi, especially outside of China. Xiaomi could find it intensely difficult to break into markets where Samsung and Apple are heavily entrenched, even with its price-conscious approach.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.874: Twitter slaughters the fakes, how cybercrime feeds ad fraud, Sonos’s S-1 examined, and more


Best thing you could do to thwart thieves? Wrap it in aluminium foil. Photo by Yahya S. 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. Contains no football. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why you should wrap your car fob in foil • Detroit Free Press

Phoebe Wall Howard:

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Given that the best way to store your car keys at night is by putting them in a coffee can, what’s an ex-FBI agent’s advice to protect cars from theft during the day?

Wrap car fobs in aluminum foil.

“Although it’s not ideal, it is the most inexpensive way,” said Holly Hubert, a cybersecurity expert who retired in 2017 from the FBI in Buffalo, New York. “The cyber threat is so dynamic and ever changing, it’s hard for consumers to keep up.”

Now, as CEO of GlobalSecurityIQ, she suggests clients go online and spend a few dollars and buy what’s called a Faraday bag to shield the fob signal from potential theft. Imagine a traditional sandwich bag made of foil instead of plastic.

Thing is, the car is always waiting for the fob signal. Thieves can buy legitimate devices that amplify the fob signal sitting unprotected in a purse, a pocket, on a counter at home or even just copy the code to access the vehicle.

Copying code from key fobs isn’t difficult. And this is something the auto industry and insurance companies are monitoring closely.

The cheap (or homemade) metal protection covers, named for the scientist who figured out how to block an electromagnetic field, can prevent thieves from having access to vehicles with a wireless fob. Currently, thieves can capture fob signals from outside a home, office or hotel room.

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This has been an undercurrent for quite a few years; it seems like it might be getting worse.
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US opposition to breast-feeding resolution stuns world health officials • The New York Times

Andrew Jacobs:

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A resolution to encourage breastfeeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the crosshairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced…

…In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

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Very strange. Strong suspicion: lobbying by the US baby food industry.
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Exclusive: Twitter is suspending millions of bots and fake accounts every day to fight disinformation • The Washington Post

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The extent of account suspensions [70m across May and June], which has not previously been reported, is one of several recent moves by Twitter to limit the influence of people it says are abusing its platform. The changes, which were the subject of internal debate, reflect a philosophical shift for Twitter. Its executives long resisted policing misbehavior more aggressively, for a time even referring to themselves as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”

Twitter’s Vice President for Trust and Safety Del Harvey said in an interview this week the company is changing the calculus between promoting public discourse and preserving safety. She added that Twitter only recently was able to dedicate the resources and develop the technical capabilities to target malicious behavior in this way.

“One of the biggest shifts is in how we think about balancing free expression versus the potential for free expression to chill someone else’s speech,” Harvey said. “Free expression doesn’t really mean much if people don’t feel safe.”

But Twitter’s increased suspensions also throw into question its estimate that fewer than 5% of its active users are fake or involved in spam, and that fewer than 8.5% use automation tools that characterize the accounts as bots. (A fake account can also be one that engages in malicious behavior and is operated by a real person. Many legitimate accounts are bots, such as to report weather or seismic activity.)

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Here’s an interesting point: Harvey recently returned from maternity leave. And: things are changing there. I’d say she’s making the change. (Recall that odd Vanity Fair piece from February which seemed to imply that Harvey was somehow at fault for the bot problems.)
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The link between digital ad fraud and cybercrime • Marketing Science Consulting Group

Augustine Fou:

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Most of the general public has heard of the numerous major data breaches over the years where millions of consumers’ personal details are stolen. Many have also experienced malware, pop-ups, malicious redirects, and ransomware on their computers or mobile devices. But few understand how hackers “cash out” of these criminal activities.

It is documented that lists of stolen identities, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. are sold on the dark web. But it is far more lucrative to combine the aforementioned criminal activities to steal dollars from massive digital advertising budgets – over $100 billion in the U.S. in 2018, $300 billion worldwide. This pool of dollars gets larger and is replenished year after year after year.

How do criminals do this? Though digital ad fraud.

They set up fake websites and fake mobile apps to generate trillions of digital ad impressions that marketers eagerly buy, attempting to reach more customers online — except, these are not humans seeing ads. These are fake ads shown to fake users – bots – designed to create ad impressions and avoid detection.

Bots can also mimic humans by browsing various sites and combining bits of data from stolen identities to create fake audiences and segments that marketers pay extra to target.

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You can read the full report.
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Intel says 5G plans for iPhone are unchanged • VentureBeat

Jeremy Horwitz:

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Following yesterday’s report from Israeli publication CTech that Apple has decided not to use an Intel 5G modem called “Sunny Peak” in future iPhones, Intel has denied part of the report — and the publication has updated its story to remove its central claim.

“Intel’s 5G customer engagements and roadmap have not changed for 2018 through 2020,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We remain committed to our 5G plans and projects.” When asked whether this meant that Apple is a customer for an Intel 5G modem, the spokesperson said only that “the Intel 5G modem part of the story is inaccurate.”

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So there’s an update on the CTech article itself, which now says:

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Intel will not provide Wi-Fi and Bluetooth components for Apple’s 2020 mobile devices, according to internal company communications reviewed by Calcalist, and people familiar with the matter. Apple has notified Intel it would not use a mobile communication component developed by the chipmaker in its next-generation mobile device, Intel executives said. Further development of the component internally called “Sunny Peak” has been halted and the Intel team that’s working on the product will be redirected to other efforts, the executives said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Sunny Peak component also included 5G connectivity.

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Note that this does not mean that Intel *will* provide a 5G modem. Only that the component it now isn’t providing doesn’t have 5G.
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Replacing Instapaper • DisruptiveProactivity.com

Sam Smith, annoyed at Instapaper’s decision to abandon European users over GDPR, switched away:

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The major choices to replace it are pocket and Pinboard – pocket is an instapaper clone with the same business model.

I went with Pinboard. Pinboard is different. Very different.

How’d it go?

• The apps/bookmarklets work fine for adding, but it’s sometimes less slick than the instapaper iOS app
• There are various readers
• I’ll not switch back

There is the core service of pinboard – keeping a list of web addresses (bookmarks) with a ‘to read’ flag – and the apps that rely on pinboard as the backing store and add functionality. Pinboard is a one time fee of $11 to create an account, with some additional services costing per-year fees (archiving of content being one).

On iOS, Pinboard has a bookmarklet for adding links, plus options from a bunch of plugin apps which both read and write in various ways. ReadPaperback is also nice for reading. On the desktop the pinboard bookmarklet and readpaperback do the job more than adequately.

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Instapaper’s complete indifference to its European users is an indicator of how freemium services don’t work when there are regional costs imposed.
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Sonos S-1 filing • Securities and Exchange Commission

Sonos has filed its S-1, essentially laying out how its business runs. This might be a thing we see in more S-1s:

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If significant tariffs or other restrictions are placed on Chinese imports or any related counter-measures are taken by China, our revenue and results of operations may be materially harmed. The Trump Administration has signaled that it may alter trade agreements and terms between China and the United States, including limiting trade with China and/or imposing a tariff on imports from China. In March 2018, President Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports and announced additional tariffs on goods imported from China specifically, as well as certain other countries. The materials subject to these tariffs to date do not impact our raw material costs. However, if further tariffs are imposed on a broader range of imports, or if further retaliatory trade measures are taken by China or other countries in response to additional tariffs, we may be required to raise our prices, which may result in the loss of customers and harm our reputation and operating performance.

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Turns out that Sonos is very much a “Christmas gift to oneself” company: it typically generates half of all its revenues (and half its product sales) in the October-December quarter, and 61% of the 6.9m households with a Sonos product have more than one.

Key markets: US, UK, Germany; the Americas are (only) half of its $1bn annual revenues, in which it is looking to sell about 5m devices, average price around $250.
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How Likes went bad • Medium

Matt Locke:

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Facebook’s growth over the past few years has been so fast, and so complex, that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Right now, although the problems caused by this rapid growth are plain to see, Facebook’s potential decline is equally hard to predict.
It’s easy to blame Mark Zuckerberg for having too simplistic a vision of his creation, but as we’ve seen through this series, methods of measuring attention are palimpsests, built not in one blindingly clear moment of intent, but changing and adapting over time. The global industries that are built around these metrics are not created by one person, but by the competing needs of content creators, advertisers, investors — and audiences.
If we want to point to where Facebook went wrong, the first accusation would be that it didn’t — and probably couldn’t — have predicted the consequences of adding something so seemingly simple as a like button to a platform that already combined two exponentially powerful ideas — the social graph and the news feed.

And having built this, Facebook assumed that algorithms alone would be good enough to manage and control a platform that would end up with billions of users. Unlike Rob Manuel [at b3ta in 2005], who wanted a Like button to make his job of curating content from his community a bit easier, Facebook has continued to insist that the company can exist only as an algorithmically curated technical platform without human curators…

…We could create new public institutions to responsibly manage personal data, and we could create limits on any single company’s control and monetization of our attention. Perhaps we could even insist that no single platform should be allowed to scale beyond the point where human curation is no longer economically or logistically possible.

But even then, we wouldn’t be able to spot the next idea — the next like button — that has the potential to create a future attention monopoly. The ideas that shape our world never start big, but are created by people, like Rob Manuel, with a smaller, specific, problem. Monopolies are created through the combination of these smaller ideas, and that’s a much harder process to predict, let alone regulate.

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The dream of driverless cars is dying • The Spectator

Christian Wolmar went to a giant “Self-driving vehicle” exhibition in Germany, but found them in short supply:

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Surprisingly, I met more doomsayers than purveyors of the autonomous driving dream. The starkest warning came from Tim Mackey, who styles himself ‘senior technical evangelist’ for Black Duck Software, a company that specialises in security issues around autonomous vehicles. He believes there will be a seminal event that will stop all the players in the industry in their tracks. ‘We have had it in other areas of computing, such as the big data hacks and security lapses,’ he said, ‘and it will happen in relation to autonomous cars. At the moment, none of the big players are thinking properly about security aspects and then they will be forced to.’ He pointed to a video showing on another stand in which a man was calling up a car from a garage using a phone app: ‘That sort of thing is just too easy to hack. There’s all sorts of software put into cars that is old and easy to access. We just have to hope that the wake-up call will be minor and not kill anyone.’ Indeed, in a test a few years ago, hackers were able to get hold of a car’s steering and braking systems and Mackey is convinced that criminals will one day use the same method.

More widely, there was a general expectation these suppliers were riding the crest of a wave that will hit the rocks soon. While there is no doubting the scale of this industry, with billions being invested every year, none of the OEMs has yet made a penny from selling a driverless car. This money, benefiting these exhibitors, is therefore a punt, a high-stakes bet there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. One, Johannes, told me: ‘I see a pattern like the dotcom boom. At some point, people are going to realise that the day when they start to get returns for their investment is far off, if ever. Then they will start pulling out and who knows how bad it will get. But the clever money will move somewhere else.’ The bad publicity caused by a couple of deaths in Tesla cars while its autopilot was engaged and by the Uber fatality may be seen as the start of public disenchantment with the concept.

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The Spectator is a fairly right-wing magazine, so you might expect it to be down on new tech; but I worked with Wolmar at The Independent, and he’s fair but firm on topics like this.
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The rise of ‘pseudo-AI’: how tech firms quietly use humans to do bots’ work • The Guardian

Olivia Solon:

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In 2016, Bloomberg highlighted the plight of the humans spending 12 hours a day pretending to be chatbots for calendar scheduling services such as X.ai and Clara. The job was so mind-numbing that human employees said they were looking forward to being replaced by bots.

In 2017, the business expense management app Expensify admitted that it had been using humans to transcribe at least some of the receipts it claimed to process using its “smartscan technology”. Scans of the receipts were being posted to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourced labour tool, where low-paid workers were reading and transcribing them.

“I wonder if Expensify SmartScan users know MTurk workers enter their receipts,” said Rochelle LaPlante, a “Turker” and advocate for gig economy workers on Twitter. “I’m looking at someone’s Uber receipt with their full name, pick-up and drop-off addresses.”

Even Facebook, which has invested heavily in AI, relied on humans for its virtual assistant for Messenger, M.

In some cases, humans are used to train the AI system and improve its accuracy. A company called Scale offers a bank of human workers to provide training data for self-driving cars and other AI-powered systems. “Scalers” will, for example, look at camera or sensor feeds and label cars, pedestrians and cyclists in the frame. With enough of this human calibration, the AI will learn to recognise these objects itself.

In other cases, companies fake it until they make it, telling investors and users they have developed a scalable AI technology while secretly relying on human intelligence.

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Guild Wars studio fires two employees after clash with streamer • The Verge

Megan Farokhmanesh on the firing of Jessica Price, and a coworker who defended her:

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Price’s suggestion that [YouTube game streamer] Deroir was mansplaining game development — an area where he does not have the same knowledge or experience — sparked anger among the ArenaNet community. She subsequently responded to those criticizing her on Twitter that “I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.” Price was fired shortly after.

Although many fans are comparing this to something like working in a restaurant — be polite to the customer, or get fired — Price says it’s impossible to talk about this incident without larger context about systematic online harassment, particularly the sometimes abusive relationship between fans and game developers and the failure of game companies to address it. “Game companies are generally unwilling to be honest with themselves about how they’re complicit in creating and sustaining that environment,” she tells The Verge.

Many companies expect developers to have frequent contact with players, and “since creatives are perceived as being responsible for the way the game is more than customer support, companies are basically tying up their employees and setting them on the railroad tracks for angry people to run over,” says Price. This toxic relationship is one of the biggest factors in burnout among developers — and particularly for female developers, who experience more abuse and are “expected to perform more of this emotional labor and to do it with a smile on our faces (the sort of stuff that, from a male dev, gets dismissed as him being a bit prickly, or even lauded as him not suffering fools gladly, is a mortal sin coming from a female dev).”

«

That point about being “tied to the railroad tracks” rings true about the experience many female writers have on news sites: they’re often instructed to go and “engage” in the comments. It’s not usually good. Price was outspoken, but it hardly looked like a firing matter.

Now, though, ArenaNet belongs to reddit and its mob. Good luck with that, as they say.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.873: Dotcom nears extradition, Twitter’s non-uprising, the smart TVs watching you, Pruitt gone, and more


Turns out this solves gerrymandering. Photo by Marco Verch 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Kim Dotcom, Megaupload founder, can face US extradition – NZ court • Reuters

Charlotte Greenfield:

»

Internet entrepreneur and Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom can be extradited to the United States to face racketeering and criminal copyright charges, New Zealand’s Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday.

It upheld a lower court ruling in 2017 that the extradition could take place, and set the stage for Dotcom’s final appeal to the Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body.

The six-year legal saga is widely seen as a test for how far the United States can reach globally to apply American firms’ intellectual property rights.

“My legal team are confident that the Supreme Court will hear the appeal given there are such significant legal issues at stake,” Dotcom said in a statement.

U.S. authorities say Dotcom and three co-accused Megaupload executives cost film studios and record companies more than $500m and generated more than $175m in revenue by encouraging paying users to store and share copyrighted material.

The Court of Appeal said the United States had disclosed “a clear prima facie case that the appellants conspired to, and did, breach copyright wilfully and on a large scale, for their commercial gain.”

«

Think that one might be quite easy to stand up in a court.
link to this extract


Employee uprisings sweep many tech companies. Not Twitter • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

»

As BuzzFeed News declared last month, “Twitter is making an unexpected, somewhat miraculous comeback.”

Perhaps. But at what cost to the world?

“You have a platform that’s damaging people on a regular basis, and it’s being used to target groups of people on a regular basis,” said Leslie Miley, an engineer who left Twitter in 2015 after he said he became disillusioned with what he saw as the company’s weak efforts to hire a more diverse work force. “At some point you have to ask yourself if you’re doing more harm than good.”

Last week, I reached out to Twitter’s employees to ask just that. Insiders were reluctant to talk on the record, but a few said that even if there’s little public evidence of organized resistance, some employees are constantly debating the role the service plays in public discourse. Mr. Trump’s tweets, in particular, arouse internal conflict, they said. And Mr. Dorsey’s decision — earlier reported by The Washington Post — to meet with conservative pundits who have accused the platform of liberal bias did not sit well with many workers.

Twitter declined to make Mr. Dorsey available for an interview. The company did put me on the phone with Vijaya Gadde, its head of legal, policy, trust and safety, who echoed the idea that there is robust debate within Twitter about its impact on the world.

“A lot of our employees are here because they’re tied to the mission that we’re serving and to our purpose in the world,” Ms. Gadde said. She defined that mission as providing “a healthy public conversation,” but acknowledged the company has had trouble defining exactly what such a healthy conversation might look like.

«

link to this extract


“I-cut-you-choose” cake-cutting protocol inspires solution to gerrymandering • Carnegie Mellon University

Byron Spice:

»

Getting two political parties to equitably draw congressional district boundaries can seem hopeless, but Carnegie Mellon University researchers say the process can be improved by using an approach children use to share a piece of cake.

Just as having one child cut the cake and giving the second child first choice of the pieces avoids either feeling envious, having two political parties sequentially divide up a state in an “I-Cut-You-Freeze” protocol would minimize the practice of gerrymandering, where a dominant political party draws districts to maximize its electoral advantage.

The CMU protocol, developed by Ariel Procaccia, associate professor of computer science, and Wesley Pegden, associate professor of mathematical sciences, is the first to allow a fair division of a state into political districts without independent agents.

It calls for one political party to divide a map of a state into the allotted number of districts, each with equal numbers of voters. Then the second party would choose one district to “freeze,” so no further changes could be made to it, and re-map the remaining districts as it likes.

«

Obvious, and so effective when you think about it. This should be encoded into law.
link to this extract


How Smart TVs in millions of US homes track more than what’s on tonight • The New York Times

Sapna Maheshwari:

»

Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5m smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40m in venture funding from investors including Time Warner , the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban.

Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands — including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips — to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers “by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.” But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations.

Samba TV declined to provide recent statistics, but one of its executives said at the end of 2016 that more than 90% of people opted in.

Once enabled, Samba TV can track nearly everything that appears on the TV on a second-by-second basis, essentially reading pixels to identify network shows and ads, as well as programs on Netflix and HBO and even video games played on the TV. Samba TV has even offered advertisers the ability to base their targeting on whether people watch conservative or liberal media outlets and which party’s presidential debate they watched.

The big draw for advertisers — which have included Citi and JetBlue in the past, and now Expedia — is that Samba TV can also identify other devices in the home that share the TV’s internet connection.

Samba TV, which says it has adhered to privacy guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission, does not directly sell its data. Instead, advertisers can pay the company to direct ads to other gadgets in a home after their TV commercials play, or one from a rival airs. Advertisers can also add to their websites a tag from Samba TV that allows them to determine if people visit after watching one of their commercials.

«

“More than 90% of people opted in”. Yeah, sure. They clicked “I agree” to make it go away.
link to this extract


Apple registers several new Mac and iPad models in Eurasia • Mac Rumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

Apple has registered new tablets and Macs with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) this week, indicating that refreshes could be on the horizon. The filings, uncovered by French website Consomac, are legally required for any devices with encryption sold in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.

The five Mac model numbers are A1931, A1932, A1988, A1989 and A1990, indicating two distinct ranges. The last three numbers may relate to expected refreshes for the 13in MacBook Pro (with and without Touch Bar) and the 15in MacBook Pro, while the first two could reference a refreshed 12in MacBook and a potential replacement for the aging MacBook Air, which Apple has been gradually phasing out.

Apple is rumored to be planning to introduce the new entry-level 13in MacBook in the second half of 2018, which would serve as a replacement for the MacBook Air. Details have been scant about the rumored machine, but it could turn out to belong to the 12in MacBook family, and the model numbers A1931 and A1932 potentially reflect this.

It’s not known what the rumored 13in MacBook would be priced at, but the MacBook Air sells for $999, a price point Apple has thus far been unable to match with the 12in MacBook and the MacBook Pro.

«

Expected before September, or at least before the Mojave release. The keyboard teardown on those new models will be something to see.

link to this extract


The US Air Force learned to code—and saved the Pentagon millions • Fast Company

Mark Wallace:

»

At the Air Operations Center (AOC) at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, [then chair of Google Eric] Schmidt saw up close the way that today’s US Air Force met its enormous challenges: with magnets and colored plastic cards. The Air Force was then engaged in an offensive against the so-called Islamic State forces in Mosul, Iraq. But when Schmidt asked an AOC commander what his biggest concern was, he got a surprising answer. As Schmidt told me, “He said, ‘Well, frankly, it’s something different: I don’t want them to erase my whiteboard.’”

The AOC at Al Udeid is where AFCENT, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, oversees air force operations for over 20 countries from Egypt to Kazakhstan. An enormous amount of data is pushed through the center every day, through a system of 43 software applications that help with everything from assessing targets to planning attacks, getting information to pilots, monitoring operations, analyzing damage done, and more.

Not all the functions of the AOC are carried out on a computer, however. The whiteboard, as Schmidt and other DIB members soon discovered, was where daily planning took place for AFCENT’s aerial refueling operations. “We got the missions for the day, figured out what targets needed to be hit, and how much fuel was needed, who needed the fuel, and when they needed it,” explains U.S. Colonel Mike Drowley, AFCENT chief of staff. “It was an eight- or nine-hour process [for three or more people] to try and figure all the ins and outs. It was like a Tetris game of blocks and pucks.”

«

Ineffectual non-work by an outside contractor was replaced by an in-house tiger team. That worked. Same story in the UK government between departments: a Cabinet Office tiger team dug Universal Credit out of a deep hole and got it working where its owner department, Work and Pensions, couldn’t.
link to this extract


Apple passes over Intel in search for 5G chips for the iPhone • CTech

Yoav Stoler:

»

Intel will not provide 5G modems for Apple’s 2020 mobile devices, according to internal company communications reviewed by Calcalist, and people familiar with the matter. Apple has notified Intel it would not use a mobile modem developed by the chipmaker in its next-generation mobile device, Intel executives said in the communications. Further development of the modem component internally called “Sunny Peak” has been halted and the Intel team that’s working on the product will be redirected to other efforts, the executives said.

«

Hard to know the track record for this publication, but this is a couple of years off. Of course Apple would be thinking about this; if Intel isn’t in 5G, it’s really a bit screwed in terms of growth.
link to this extract


Clash of the titans: Chinese and US tech giants go at it in emerging markets • The Economist

»

According to CBInsights – a data firm – Tencent, Alibaba and its Ant Financial affiliate have backed 43% of all Asian “unicorns”, meaning startups worth more than $1bn. Alibaba’s investment in Lazada, South-East Asia’s largest e-commerce platform, has soaked up $4bn. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and boss, has pledged $8bn to India alone.

Their different approaches reflect the way the Western and Chinese firms make money. Google and Facebook earn the bulk of their revenue from advertising against services their users flock to. This requires little localisation, bar a bit of website translation to attract native users.

Chinese firms’ competitive advantage, by contrast, has historically come from being able to process payments and organise distribution of goods in a country where doing such things had previously been tricky. A business based on solving such nuts-and-bolts problems is hard to export. “For that sort of thing, it is difficult to have a one-size-fits-all approach for different countries,” says Tan Yinglan of Insignia Ventures Partners, a tech-investment firm. Being a distribution expert in Singapore (whose former postal monopoly is now 14% owned by Alibaba) brings little insight into distributing packages throughout Indonesia’s 17,500 islands, say. Nor does the ability to process payments in Vietnam smooth transactions in Brazil or in Nigeria, with their vastly different banking and regulatory systems. Such intricacies, in other words, might be better delivered by local entrepreneurs who can be bought out once they have cracked them.

How are these differing strategies panning out on the ground? The most intense Sino-American rivalry thus far is focused on India and South-East Asia. The scale of investment reflects the stakes: Indian start-ups received $5.2bn in Chinese tech money last year, according to Tracxn, a data provider, up from $930m in 2016. Forrester, a market-research group, says that Chinese tech giants (including Didi and JD.com) spent $6bn on acquisitions in South-East Asia in 2017.

«

Quite a clash where these two strategies come together.
link to this extract


Scott Pruitt out at EPA • NPR

Rebecca Hersher on the departure (fired or resigned?) of the ridiculously corrupt, absurdly ill-suited party dweeb:

»

While Pruitt’s environmental policies were controversial, it was his spending and attempts to use the position for personal gain that resulted in more than a dozen investigations.

Several patterns were quickly established, including unusually high spending on his office and travel and continually mixing his personal and professional lives.

The EPA spent about $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth for the administrator’s office, and The Washington Post reported that Pruitt spent thousands of dollars on first-class plane tickets. The New York Times reported Pruitt’s chief of security proposed that Pruitt spend $70,000 on two desks, one of them bulletproof. The desks were not purchased.

Pruitt cited security threats as one reason for the first-class travel, and he spent tens of thousands of dollars on a publicly-funded, 24-hour security detail, which his office said was necessary to protect him from threats. Pruitt’s security detail reportedly accompanied him on personal trips, including a family vacation to Disneyland. In August 2017, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General began investigating Pruitt’s travel and security expenses and has widened the investigation multiple times.

«

Whatever was coming out of the EPA OIG must have been colossal to make Pruitt resign. That is, assuming he wasn’t called in by John Kelly (WH chief of staff) and told to write his resignation letter. The OIG will still have to report. Does it get to censure and fine Pruitt?

And will his bad decisions at the EPA be reversed? Because that’s the big question.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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 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

»

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.

«

Savage.
link to this extract


Who will steal Android from Google? • Medium

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

»

[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.

«

link to this extract


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

Anuj Srivas:

»

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.

«

link to this extract


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

C. Scott Brown:

»

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.

«

link to this extract


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

»

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.

«

And the S8 sold less than the S7. Quietly, the premium users are getting entrenched and hanging on to their phones longer.
link to this extract


Ensuring your security and privacy within Gmail • Google Safety and Security

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

»

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.

«

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?”
link to this extract


Download bomb trick returns in Chrome — also affects Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi and Brave • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

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.

«

Amazing how long-lived this tech support scam is. I was writing about it in 2010, and it wasn’t new even then.
link to this extract


Rumors: flood in Sichuan, China destroyed bitcoin mining centers (but: didn’t?) • Yahoo Finance

»

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.

«

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.
link to this extract


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:

»

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.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.871: Berners-Lee steps up, how to launch badly, how to present well, the stork’s surprise and more


When Japan’s emperor steps down next year, it’s going to create a Y2K moment for Windows in Japan. Photo by sophietica 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 8 links for you. Well it’s not a holiday here. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

“I was devastated”: Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the world wide web, has some regrets • Vanity Fair

Katrina Brooker:

»

From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign. This episode was the latest in an increasingly chilling narrative. In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users. Both Google and Amazon have filed patent applications for devices designed to listen for mood shifts and emotions in the human voice.

For the man who set all this in motion, the mushroom cloud was unfolding before his very eyes. “I was devastated,” Berners-Lee told me that morning in Washington, blocks from the White House. For a brief moment, as he recalled his reaction to the Web’s recent abuses, Berners-Lee quieted; he was virtually sorrowful. “Actually, physically—my mind and body were in a different state.” Then he went on to recount, at a staccato pace, and in elliptical passages, the pain in watching his creation so distorted.

This agony, however, has had a profound effect on Berners-Lee. He is now embarking on a third act—determined to fight back through both his celebrity status and, notably, his skill as a coder. In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. On this winter day, he had come to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the World Wide Web Foundation, which he started in 2009 to protect human rights across the digital landscape. For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future. Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world’s population—close to 4 billion people—will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever.

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link to this extract


The Japanese calendar’s Y2K moment • I’m Not A Klingon

Shawn Steele:

»

The Windows 10 Spring Release includes a placeholder for the era expected to begin on 1 May, 2019. That information is in a registry key that can be removed or edited in the event that a system’s software misbehaves with this additional information.

The Japanese Calendar has Japanese Era Names that coincide with the reign of the Emperor. For most of the modern age of computing that has been the Heisei era, however the Emperor is expected to step down on April 30, 2019. Which will bring about the beginning of a new era. Fortunately, this is a rare event; however it means that most software has not been tested to ensure that it will behave with an additional era.

The magnitude of this event on computing systems using the Japanese Calendar may be similar to the Y2K event with the Gregorian Calendar. For the Y2K event, there was worldwide recognition of the upcoming change, resulting in governments and software vendors beginning to work on solutions for that problem several years before 1 Jan 2000. Even with that preparation many organizations encountered problems due to the millennial transition.

After the era has changed it will be too late to test for compatibility problems. Therefore, the Windows 10 Spring Release includes a registry entry with placeholder information for the expected Era transition. This is intended to help users discover any software limitations around the expected change to the new era. Users are encouraged to ensure that their applications are well behaved before the actual era change.

«

Dramatic as hell, when you think about it. I wonder how Android and iOS are set up for this?
link to this extract


Digg’s v4 launch: an optimism born of necessity • Lethain.com

Will Larson was in charge of it. As with war, the carefully-laid plans did not survive first contact with the enemy:

»

Launching v4 was our chance to return to our rightful place among the giants of the internet, and the cavernous office, known by employees as “Murder Church”, had been lovingly rearranged for the day. In the middle of the room, an immense wooden table had been positioned to serve as the “war room.” It was framed by a ring of couches, where others would stand by to assist. Waiters in black tie attire walked the room with trays of sushi, exquisite small bites and chilled champagne. A bar had been erected, serving drinks of all shapes. Folks slipped upstairs to catch a few games of ping pong.

The problems started slowly.

At one point, an ebullient engineer had declared the entire rewrite could run on two servers and, our minimalist QA environment being much larger to the contrary, we got remarkably close to launching with two servers as our most accurate estimate. The week before launch, the capacity planning project was shifted to Rich and I. We put on a brave farce of installing JMeter and generated as much performance data as we could against the complex, dense and rapidly shifting sands that comprised the rewrite. It was not the least confident I’ve ever been in my work, I can remember writing a book report on the bus to school about a book I never read in fourth grade, but it is possible we were launching without much sense of whether this was going to work.

We had the suspicion it wouldn’t matter much anyway, because we weren’t going to be able to order and install new hardware in our datacenters before the launch. Capacity would suffice because it was all we had.

Around 10:00 AM, someone asked when we were going to start the switch, and Mike chimed in helpfully, “We’ve already started reprovisioning the v3 servers.”

«

link to this extract


Hello. tbh, We’re Moving On • Facebook Newsroom

»

We wanted to let you know that we are shutting down three apps due to low usage: Moves, tbh and Hello.

• We launched Hello in 2015 for people using Android in Brazil, the US and Nigeria. It enables people to combine information from Facebook with contact information on their phone. We will be deprecating Hello in a few weeks.
• In 2014, we bought the fitness app Moves. It records your daily activity — including walking, cycling and running. We’re deprecating the Moves app and Moves API on July 31.
• Facebook acquired tbh in 2017. It’s an anonymous social media app for high school students in the US.
Facebook will delete the user data from all three of these apps within 90 days.

«

Who wants an anonymous social media app? Oh yeah, those used to be a thing a few years ago. Then they weren’t. Now they just aren’t.
link to this extract


How to demo software for 11,000 people • Subtraction.com

Khoi Vinh (from November 2017) found himself practising his 10-minute demo obsessively for months:

»

Even though there was relatively little debate about the aspects of Adobe XD that I would be presenting onstage, the actual narrative of those features really had to be developed through iterative, organic evolution. The version of the demo that I first began rehearsing back in late August was very different from the version that ended up onstage in mid-October, and it changed countless times in between.

Each of those many run-throughs was more than just a matter of learning or memorizing the content. The real value in doing it over and over, a dozen or two times a day, is that it allows you to make an endless number of incremental tweaks along the way—adding or subtracting a word or phrase here or there, trying out different sequences and emphases, learning how to communicate the message a tiny bit more clearly or succinctly.

There’s also the added complexity of the assets, or the sample design file, that forms the heart of the demo. Having a great looking project with which to show off an app’s capabilities makes all the difference. For various reasons, the sample file we started with had to be discarded, and so I spent a lot of time with one of our designers creating something entirely new, from scratch. He’s based in Germany which is five hours ahead of New York and eight hours ahead of San Francisco, which of course exacerbated the interminable jet lag that I was aready experiencing from all my back-and-forth travel. It was a very strange period of my life.

«

So now imagine how much work must go into the other presentations you see which involve screen demos.
link to this extract


US begins lifting ban on ZTE • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

The US Commerce Department has temporarily lifted a portion of the ban on ZTE that all-but shut down the company almost three months ago. After paying a $1bn fine, ZTE has been authorized by the United States to continue supporting much of its already deployed equipment and consumer devices. This largely seems designed to keep infrastructure up and running and allow ZTE to deliver security patches to its phones (and other products).

The eased restrictions are temporary, only lasting until August 1st. It’s not stated what will happen after that point, but Bloomberg reports that ZTE is expected to be in full compliance with the agreement it made with the US government by then, meaning the ban may be fully lifted. ZTE initially received the ban in April as repercussion for failing to follow through with penalties it received for violating US sanctions to Iran and North Korea.

ZTE has largely been dormant since being hit with a trade ban over two months ago, since it’s been unable to procure necessary parts and software needed to operate its business and sell products. The Commerce Department’s order should allow ZTE to at least partially resume operations, though it appears to be narrowly targeted to really only allow for maintenance and the benefit of customers, and not deployment of new products. By and large, the trade ban is still in place.

«

With the quarter having just finished, will be interesting to see which company or companies picked up ZTE’s missed share of the smartphone market when IDC, Counterpoint and the rest report their numbers.
link to this extract


Innovation can’t fix urban transportation’s woes • Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky:

»

In June, the University of Toronto’s Jonathan Hall and his collaborators concluded that the net effect of increases in Uber penetration in the US results in a gain in public transportation ridership. The averages hid a lot of variation: “Uber has the biggest complementary effects on the public transit systems that had the lowest ridership before Uber’s entry,” the researchers wrote. “However, Uber seems to be decreasing ridership on larger systems, and the effect on these systems could counteract the increase on smaller systems.”

That makes sense: Uber has the ability to deliver more people to mass transit stations from suburbs and inconvenient locations, so less-developed mass transit systems get a boost. To more developed ones, Uber is a competitor.

Regardless of these differences, Hall and his collaborators found, Uber tends to increase traffic congestion. That could change if most people agreed to give up private cars and use ride-sharing options, but there’s no evidence of that happening in the US, where 76% of commuters drive to work alone, a level that hasn’t budged in the last decade. 

Self-driving cars could make congestion even worse. On June 27, the World Economic Forum published a report it produced with the Boston Consulting Group predicting that once these vehicles become widely available for shared rides, travel time in the Greater Boston area would improve by about 4%. But congestion in downtown Boston would worsen because the vehicles “will be chosen as substitutes for short public transportation trips,” increasing travel times in the area by 5.5%.

«

That 76% figure is pretty dramatic.
link to this extract


Polish charity gets huge phone bill thanks to stork • BBC News

»

According to official broadcaster Radio Poland, the environmental EcoLogic Group placed a tracker on the back of a white stork last year to track the bird’s migratory habits.

It travelled some 3,700 miles (6,000kms), and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan before the charity lost contact.

EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan, removed the sim card and put it in their own phone, where they then racked up 20 hours’ worth of phone calls.
Radio Poland says that the organisation has received a phone bill of over 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700; £2,064), which it will have to pay.

«

This is why you put a passcode on the SIM, Wilkins.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.870: who’s reading your Gmail?, Uganda tries to stop VPNs, Dell’s coming back, scooter madness!, and more


Nadal and Federer at Wimbledon. They’re like smartphones, honest. Photo by Georgio 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A bug in Samsung’s default texting app is sending random pics to other people • Gizmodo

Sam Rutherford:

»

Sending pictures to others is one of the most basic functions of a smartphone, but when your phone’s texting app starts randomly pushing out photos without your knowledge, you got a problem.

And unfortunately, according to a smattering of complaints on Reddit and the official Samsung forums, it seems that’s exactly what happened to a handful of Samsung phone users, including owners of late model devices such as the Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S9.

According to user reports, the problem stems from Samsung Messages, the default texting app on Galaxy devices, which (for reasons that haven’t been determined), is erroneously sending pictures stored on the devices to random contacts via SMS. One user on Reddit even claims that instead of sending one pic, Samsung Messages sent out their entire photo gallery to a contact in the middle of the night.

Luckily for that person (or maybe not), those pictures were sent to their partner. But for others who may have had pics sent to more sensitive recipients like a business partner or boss, the bug could give other people an unwanted peek into their private life.

«

“Unwanted peek” indeed.
link to this extract


HTC lays off 1,500 people in latest cost-cutting effort • UploadVR

Ian Hamilton:

»

HTC’s leadership is laying off around one fifth of its workforce in an attempt to put the company on a path to sustainability.

According to a tweet from Bloomberg journalist Samson Ellis, HTC is cutting 1,500 people from its Taiwan workforce. That’s roughly 22% of employees.

The move is the latest attempt by HTC’s leaders to find a sustainable business in the shadow of giants like Google and Samsung.  Late last year the company received a $1.1bn injection from Google in exchange for key teams involved in the creation of the Pixel smartphone. Meanwhile, HTC’s engineering and marketing teams soldier on with launches like the Vive Focus standalone VR headset and  Vive Pro.

«

Apparently it’s not on the VR side of the business. Though I can’t imagine that’s thriving either. Nearly a quarter of the workforce going? Its revenues are already smaller than in 2005; it’s only that cash pile that’s keeping it afloat, one feels.
link to this extract


Bird’s $400m in 4 months is the poster child for Silicon Valley • Business Insider

Julie Bort:

»

so many people have bombarded Bird investors with questions on their thinking that some have taken to publicly defending their investment.

For instance, Mark Suster, a partner in LA firm Upfront Ventures, who invested in Bird’s $15 million A round as well as its last two enormous big rounds wrote just such a blog post.

“While this reaction to such a valuation is understandable, to anybody who has seen the meteoric rise in consumer demand and actual revenue the valuation is much less surprising and may turn out to be quite conservative,” he said.

Maybe.

More likely is that Bird, based in Santa Monica, is an example of the kind of more-is-always better, follow-the-herd venture investments that power the tech industry.

VCs see a young startup with a novel idea doing well, and pound down its door to be among the first investors. The premise is that it’s better to spend wildly to grow fast and be first than it is to be fiscally responsible. If you move too slowly, the thinking goes, you might end up watching an upstart steal your idea and your market.

With gobs of money and a bunch of VCs on the board, a young company may continue to flourish. But it’s also risky.

«

But where’s the penalty for being an investor? If it all goes south, sure, that’s money gone. But if things flourish, you’re in the money (after some time). There’s no opportunity cost in funding even something that looks hopeless, because there are so many companies to fund. Sometimes the herd is right; sometimes, the fact of having the herd there makes it the correct decision.
link to this extract


Ceres Imaging gets $25M to intelligently scan crops from above • TechCrunch

Lucas Matney:

»

Agtech startup Ceres Imaging, which uses computer vision and spectral imaging tech to deliver insights about crops to farmers, has closed a new round of funding.

The Oakland-based company has pulled in a $25m round led by Insight Venture Partners, with participation from Romulus Capital. They have raised around $35m to date.

Since the company closed their Series A, they’ve continued expanding their efforts beyond vineyards and orchards into “row crops” like corn, soybeans and wheat. While those crops may be lower margin by nature, they offer a big opportunity when it comes to scaling up their operations and tackling problems on a bigger scale.

«

Europe has had pretty much this, via satellite monitoring, for absolutely ages – it even uses it to monitor when farmers are falsely claiming “set-aside” payments (for fields left fallow). What’s new about this? It even uses piloted aircraft. That’s bonkers. Is it just that there’s more crazy venture capital money washing around the US? Or that the EU funds better science which quietly gets done?
link to this extract


Dell to return to public markets with tracking stock • The New York Times

Michael J de la Merced:

»

Mr. Dell and Silver Lake are expected to announce as early as Monday that they have struck a $21.7bn deal to buy out investors in a special class of shares created in 2016 to help Dell buy the networking company EMC. That stock effectively tracks the performance of Dell’s 82% stake in VMware, the fast-growing network software company that Dell inherited when it bought EMC. (The other 18% of VMware is publicly traded as a different stock.)

The deal, which was approved by the boards of Dell and VMware on Sunday evening, would simplify the stock structure of Dell and its publicly traded subsidiary. But it would also mark the return of Dell to the public markets, with a twist: The special shares held by Mr. Dell and Silver Lake would give them more votes than other investors.

The transaction represents in some ways the culmination of a nearly $100bn bet by Mr. Dell and Silver Lake that, away from the harsh glare of public markets, they could retool a company best-known for making personal computers and traditional servers for an age of smartphones and cloud computing. Dell still supplies the machines that sit on the desks inside many office buildings, and has also found a ready market selling equipment and software to the kinds of networked computing services that were once thought to spell its end.

“In 2012, people were saying the PC was dead. It wasn’t,” Mr. Dell said in a telephone interview. “Three years ago, people were saying that everything’s going to the public cloud. Turns out that was completely wrong, too.”

«

Dell’s buyout in 2013 was $24bn; the way it has mushroomed in size, with EMC and VMWare, is amazing. Wonder if we will get any visibility into the profitability of its PC business again.
link to this extract


Why Wimbledon is an iPhone launch, and Nadal is Samsung, and tennis is the smartphone business • Medium

I wrote a thing:

»

It’s Wimbledon time again! That time of year when people the world over remember that tennis professionals actually exist, having forgotten for the past 50 weeks. (If you want to interest kids, say they’re playing for a fortnight and hope they mishear it as Fortnite.)

So for the next two weeks, we’ll hear lots about Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Serena Williams, and the rest. I used to cover tennis; for years the pro circuit was my journalistic meat and drink. Now I cover technology. And just as the tennis circuit rises and falls, and just as tennis has risen and fallen in popularity and interest, so, it seems to me, with smartphones.

«

Basically, it’s Shira Ovide’s fault.
link to this extract


Uganda to block VPNs after people begin avoiding new social media tax • TorrentFreak

“Andy”:

»

Passed in May by the Ugandan parliament, the legislation requires local Internet service providers to block a wide range of social media and telecoms platforms until subscribers pay a flat fee of 200 shillings (US$0.051) per day. While just shy of US$19 per year might not initially sound like much, per capita income stands at US$600 and millions of Ugandans survive on less than a dollar per day

In a joint statement, ISPs MTN, Airtel, and Africell informed their customers that the services listed above would be blocked until payment is made. Payment must be made in advance via mobile phones, with a small discount available if customers pay a month up front.

“Access will be granted for a calendar day until 12:00 AM for the day, i.e until midnight if the customer has paid for one day,” the notice reads.

While this kind of taxation appears unique, people’s desire to avoid taxes is universal. In this case, that is easily achieved by using a VPN, since they’re able to circumvent ISP restrictions placed on the sites listed above. As a result, VPNs are now suddenly at the height of fashion in Uganda, with searches reaching an all-time high on Google.

But with Ugandans restoring their online freedom in droves, the government isn’t happy at the prospect of losing its revenue. Within hours of the news that VPNs were gaining in popularity, the government stepped in to do something about it.

In a statement, Uganda Communications Commission Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi said that Internet service providers would be ordered to block VPNs to prevent citizens from avoiding the social media tax.

«

I don’t see this ending well for the government, but it’s going to be fun to watch. Next stop Tor, I’d imagine.
link to this extract


Tech’s ‘dirty secret’: the app developers sifting through your Gmail • WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:

»

One of those companies is Return Path Inc., which collects data for marketers by scanning the inboxes of more than two million people who have signed up for one of the free apps in Return Path’s partner network using a Gmail, Microsoft Corp. or Yahoo email address. Computers normally do the scanning, analyzing about 100 million emails a day. At one point about two years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company’s software, people familiar with the episode say.

In another case, employees of Edison Software, another Gmail developer that makes a mobile app for reading and organizing email, personally reviewed the emails of hundreds of users to build a new feature, says Mikael Berner, the company’s CEO.

Letting employees read user emails has become “common practice” for companies that collect this type of data, says Thede Loder, the former chief technology officer at eDataSource Inc., a rival to Return Path. He says engineers at eDataSource occasionally reviewed emails when building and improving software algorithms.

“Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret,” says Mr. Loder. “It’s kind of reality.”

Neither Return Path nor Edison asked users specifically whether it could read their emails. Both companies say the practice is covered by their user agreements, and that they used strict protocols for the employees who read emails. eDataSource says it previously allowed employees to read some email data but recently ended that practice to better protect user privacy.

«

People do see value in having these companies scan their email (though Return Path is not really directly useful to you or I). But the lack of control is as bad as some Twitter API accesses.
link to this extract


The age of flux • The American Interest

Peter Pomerantsev:

»

Pollsters used to predict elections based on ideas of economic class and ideology, nowhere more so than where I live in the UK. Then, as the old economy changed and the Cold War ended, this became a poorer predictor of how one votes. In a world where government was a consumer service provider, marketing labels predominated. Sales firms such as Experian served up concepts like “the Ford Mondeo Man”—the swing voter whose desire for a certain type of car politicians had to fulfill. Now Mondeo Man seems far too fuzzy. Political targeting is more granular, looking for the little trigger which will get you out to vote.

Social media both helped crack open the vessels in which the old ideologies and identities were pickled in, and to ferment a new approach. Tom Borwick, digital director of the official Brexit campaign in the UK, thinks that for a population of 20 million, one usually needs 70 to 80 types of targeted social media messages: Animal Rights and Pot Holes, Death Penalty and Health Services. And, as Pavlovsky already knew in 1990s Russia, in a situation where groups you target are so varied, where identity itself is so fractured, one unites them round a vague feeling, as any concrete ideology would get in the way: Drain The Swamp or Take Back Control. And instead of a coherent vision of the future, conspiracy becomes the way you lassoo your vote together. The Deep State (for Trump). The CIA (for Putin). The Establishment (for everyone).

“Conspiracy,” says the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, “is what you have after ideology has died.”

«

This is like a companion piece to the Thomas Friedman piece from yesterday: the old certainties and identities, especially in politics, are dissolving.
link to this extract


A simple way for computers to improve our economic forecasts • Tim Harford

Tim Harford:

»

If the computers do produce some insight [into forecasts], it may be because they can tap into data that we could hardly have imagined using before. Satellite imaging can now track the growth of crops or the stockpiling of commodities such as oil. Computers can guess at human sentiment by analysing web searches for terms such as “job seekers allowance”, mentions of “recession” in news stories, and positive emotions in tweets.

And there are stranger correlations, too. A study by economists Kasey Buckles, Daniel Hungerman and Steven Lugauer showed that a few quarters before an economic downturn in the US, the rate of conceptions also falls. Conceptions themselves may be deducible by computers tracking sales of pregnancy tests and folic acid.

Back in 1991, a psychologist named Harold Zullow published research suggesting that the emotional content of songs in the Billboard Hot 100 chart could predict recessions. Hits containing “pessimistic rumination” (“I heard it through the grapevine / Not much longer would you be mine”) tended to predict an economic downturn. His successor is a young economist named Hisam Sabouni, who reckons that a computer-aided analysis of Spotify streaming gives him an edge in forecasting stock market movements and consumer sentiment.

Will any of this prove useful for forecasting significant economic and political events? Perhaps. But for now, here is an easy way to use a computer to help you forecast: open up a spreadsheet, note down what you believe today, and regularly revisit and reflect. The simplest forecasting tip of all is to keep score.

«

Rather as experts can make good diagnoses by tapping into data they’re not even consciously aware of, computers with access to more data and a well-trained machine learning system might “feel” an answer even when there’s no obvious way to tell.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.869: California gets data bill, animated Excel!, the smartphone future, email ‘inventor’ resends, and more


Apple Maps’s introduction didn’t go well; now it’s going for a big reboot. Photo by Noel Hidalgo 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 10 links for you. Yes, I did write a subroutine, and tested against a comma. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Science, engineering and games in Excel • Excel Unusual

George Lungu:

»

Welcome to Excel Unusual, the home of the most unique Microsoft Excel animated spreadsheets.

All the animated models in the thumbnails above are created using plain MS Excel.
All the Excel files and PDF tutorials can be downloaded from MODELS & TUTORIALS page.
All the downloads on this site are FREE and there are hundreds of them.

«

He’d like your donations, of all sorts. Come on, it’s Excel!
link to this extract


Best Western® Hotels & Resorts and IBM Watson Advertising introduce AI-powered ad to help consumers • PR Newswire

»

Consumers can start a conversation with Best Western’s AI-powered ad by simply engaging the ad and providing information on their current or upcoming travel plans. Through a series of dialogue prompts, the consumer will be guided seamlessly through a conversation about their travel needs and the AI-powered ad will respond with tailored suggestions on how to make the most out of their vacation and how they can take advantage of Best Western’s locations across North America.

«

How great to come up with a product that literally nobody will want to use.
link to this extract


Why are so many political parties blowing up? (Part 1) • The New York Times

Thomas Friedman:

»

We’re going through a change in the climate of globalization: We’re going from an interconnected world to an interdependent world. In an interdependent world your friends can kill you faster than your enemies. If banks in Greece or Italy — both NATO allies — go under tonight, your retirement fund will feel it. And in an interdependent world, your rivals falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals rising. If China takes six more islands in the South China Sea tonight, you won’t lose sleep; if China loses 6% growth tonight, you could lose your job.

Lastly, we’re going through a change in the climate of technology. Machines are acquiring most of the unique attributes of humans — particularly the ability to learn, analyze, reason, maneuver and drive on their own.

From 1960 to 2000, Quartz reported, U.S. manufacturing employment stayed roughly steady at around 17.5 million jobs. But between 2000 and 2010, thanks largely to digitization and automation, “manufacturing employment plummeted by more than a third,” which was “worse than any decade in U.S. manufacturing history.” And we’ve digitized only about 20% of the economy, meaning there’s tremendous technological climate change yet ahead.

These climate changes are reshaping the ecosystem of work — wiping out huge numbers of middle-skilled jobs — and this is reshaping the ecosystem of learning, making lifelong learning the new baseline for advancement.

These three climate changes are also reshaping geopolitics. They are like a hurricane that is blowing apart weak nations that were O.K. in the Cold War — when superpowers would shower them with foreign aid and arms, when China could not compete with them for low-skilled work and when climate change, deforestation and population explosions had not wiped out vast amounts of their small-scale agriculture.

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This is very much what I’ve been thinking. Things are changing, and very rapidly.
link to this extract


Future of smartphones: folding screens, many cameras, fingerprint readers and air charging • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

Picture this: You pull your phone out of your pocket and unfold it like a napkin into a tablet. You press your finger on the screen, and it unlocks. You switch to the camera app, and a spider-like array of lenses shoot simultaneously to capture one giant photo.

These are all things I’ve seen phones do — some in prototype form, others in models you can get only in China. Analysts in Korea say we might see a folding “Galaxy X” phone from Samsung as soon as next year. When I look into my crystal ball, I’m convinced we’re on the cusp of the most significant changes to the design and functionality of smartphones since they first arrived.

The shake-up couldn’t come soon enough. You probably couldn’t live without your phone but feel as excited about it as you do running water. And the water company doesn’t hold an event every year to hype slimmer faucets. From the front, the iPhone 8 is pretty much indistinguishable from the iPhone 6 that came out nearly four years ago. Americans are holding onto old phones longer than ever — 25.8 months, according the most recent research from Kantar Worldpanel.

The tech industry has been doubling down on software and artificial intelligence capabilities, which still hold huge potential. But there’s a lot to be done on improving phone hardware, too, the number one reason most people upgrade.

«

Sounds fun. Though still essentially phones, right?
link to this extract


Apple gets second supplier for OLED iPhone screens • Bloomberg

Min Jeong Lee and Sam Kim:

»

South Korea’s LG Display Co. will initially supply between 2 million and 4 million units, small relative to Apple’s sales, as it continues to work on ramping up capacity, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. That would however help Apple gain leverage in price negotiations with Samsung, the sole supplier of OLED displays for the iPhone X and Apple’s primary rival in smartphones. The expense of that component is a key reason iPhone X pricing starts at $1,000 and sales haven’t met initial expectations.

A successful supply deal would help both Apple and LG. The Cupertino, California-based company would be able to buy significant volumes from LG for next year’s iPhone model, as it tries fight off a slump in smartphone sales. LG needs a fresh source of revenue as it battles a slide in the price of liquid crystal displays.

«

That’s a really tiny number of screens compared to the number of OLED phones Apple will be looking to sell; remarkable if it has taken all this time – at least a year – to ramp up so little.
link to this extract


Google weeps as its home state of California passes its own GDPR • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:

»

California has become the first state in the US to pass a data privacy law – with governor Jerry Brown signing the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 into law on Thursday.

The legislation will give new rights to the state’s 40 million inhabitants, including the ability to view the data that companies hold on them and, critically, request that it be deleted and not sold to third parties. It’s not too far off Europe’s GDPR.

Any company that holds data on more than 50,000 people is subject to the law, and each violation carries a hefty $7,500 fine. Needless to say, the corporations that make a big chunk of their profits from selling their users’ information are not overly excited about the new law.

“We think there’s a set of ramifications that’s really difficult to understand,” said a Google spokesperson, adding: “User privacy needs to be thoughtfully balanced against legitimate business needs.”

Likewise tech industry association the Internet Association complained that “policymakers work to correct the inevitable, negative policy and compliance ramifications this last-minute deal will create.”

So far no word from Facebook, which put 1.5 billion users on a boat to California back in April in order to avoid Europe’s similar data privacy regulations.

«

The result came too late for Friday’s edition (sorry) but it means that California avoids the ballot measure that would have been worse, had it passed (and it looked likely to pass).
link to this extract


“Inventor of email” appeals ruling that tossed his libel suit against Techdirt • Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar:

»

The appeal to the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals comes more than a year after a federal judge dismissed the libel lawsuit brought by Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur who is now also running as a longshot candidate for the United States Senate.

In the lower court ruling, US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor found that because it is impossible to define precisely and specifically what email is, Ayyadurai’s “claim is incapable of being proved true or false.”

In Ayyadurai’s lawyers’ Thursday filing, they argued Techdirt previously published articles and comments that contained numerous antagonistic words used to describe Ayyadurai—a “fraud,” a “charlatan,” a “liar,” a “fake”—that a “reasonable reader” would find as asserting a factual statement rather than a protected opinion. Because of this, Ayyadurai’s team believes, Techdirt’s work can constitute defamation.

The appeal also argues that because Techdirt disregarded “extensive factual evidence,” the publication “consciously disregarded” the truth and knowingly acted with “actual malice.” Based on that, Ayyadurai and his attorneys claim, the case should be allowed to go forward.

However, numerous legends of Internet history—including Vint Cerf himself, a co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol—have publicly dismissed Ayyadurai’s claims regarding email.

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Who you gonna believe, though, the internet legend or some guy with a vague grievance? Though I like the judge’s sidestep on this: can’t define exactly what email is, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . Add this to “lawsuits that have gone on too long and should never have started”.
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How North Korea could go from hermit kingdom to factory hub • Foreign Policy

Elias Groll:

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The summit, and the prospect of an end to international economic sanctions, could lead to a flood of foreign capital that could transform North Korea from a hermit kingdom into an economic juggernaut, concludes the study by Samsung Securities.

“If South Korea combines its wealth and industrialization knowhow with North Korea’s human and natural resources, the economies of both nations could make a quantum leap over the long term,” the authors write.

The report offers a nearly 200-page blueprint detailing how foreign capital could revamp North Korea’s battered infrastructure, strengthen its mining sector, and turn a nearly autarkic economy into a manufacturing and logistics hub thanks to its privileged position between some of the world’s biggest economies. The report riffs on the US demand for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear program to argue instead for “complete, visible, irreversible prosperity.”

Granted, realizing the report’s vision will require overcoming a formidable list of obstacles, including a wide-ranging sanctions regime against Pyongyang, corporate reluctance to jump into an economy rife with illicit activity, and heavy-handed state control over nearly all aspects of the economy.

Iran’s disappointing bid to attract foreign investment after winning its own sanctions relief in 2016 as part of the nuclear deal is a case in point, said Jonathan Schanzer, a sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish Washington think tank.

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North Korea has an advantage over Iran: it’s right next door to a gigantic manufacturing power. But does Kim Jong-un really want to give up his dictatorial grip? The benefits for everyone would be great. I’m hopeful, though not optimistic.
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Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

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It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 Beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, public pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been 4 years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning…

…[Eddy] Cue points to the proliferation of devices running iOS, now numbering in the hundreds of millions, as a deciding factor to shift its process.

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”

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Going to be a long time before Apple can cast off third-party suppliers everywhere; though it might be able to wave goodbye to paid ones. (OpenStreetMap, for example, is free, though there might be a give-back licence on changes.) This is quite a move, though. OSM got its start by getting motorcyclists to map London with GPS trackers. Next step: the world. (Panzarino also has a post answering many questions arising. Such as: might do “street view”; will locate doors of buildings; will use AI to read business names.)
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Neural network trained on UKC logbooks: the results • UKClimbing

Natalie Berry:

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We recently shared the work of Janelle Shane, who trained a neural network on a database of route names from Joshua Tree (5,633) and Boulder, Colorado (4,527). The results were both amusing and baffling. We wondered how the generated names might differ if we provided Janelle with our much larger database of 432,000 route names, which we split by country.

A reminder of what a neural network is, for those who are unsure:

‘A neural network is a type of computer program that learns by example, rather than being told exactly how to solve a problem. Based on thousands of examples of route names, it had to figure out the rules that let it generate more like them. At a low temperature* setting, it will generate names that it thinks are very quintessential – they’ll end up a bit repetitive, but it will mostly be correct. At a higher temperature setting, it will be more daring when it generates names, going with less common sounds and phrases.’

* Temperature is a hyperparameter of LSTMs (and neural networks generally) used to control the randomness of predictions by scaling the logits before applying softmax…apparently…

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The names are wonderfully realistic: The Stuff, Rocket Sheep, Ramp of Lies, Strangershine, Candy Storm, The Dog Sand, Holy Mess, Left Hand Monster, The Scratching One, The Angel’s Crack, Suckstone Gully, The Folly Cloud, and many more. For those who don’t know: in rock climbing, if you are the first ever to climb a route, you get to name it. British route names tend to the sardonic. (There’s a [human-named] route called Strawberries; nearby, a subsequent one called Dream Topping. There’s Lord of the Flies; and Lord of the Mince Pies. Elsewhere there’s one called Comes The Dervish, whose derivation I’ve never understood.)

It’s lovely to see this work loop around to UKClimbing: in 1995, when I was trying to figure out this “world wide web” thing, I created a web page with a listing of indoor climbing walls in the UK. Soon after, some other climbers got in touch and said they were looking to create a website – climbing in the UK? UKClimbing? – and wanted to include the indoor walls listing. But the grand aim was to have a listing for every route in the UK, and perhaps abroad too. Turns out there are more than 150,000 routes in the UK, though we didn’t know that at the time – nobody did.

We crowdsourced a lot of it; and a lot of our experiences in trying to create lat/long pairings from postcodes (for the climbing walls, so you could figure which was the nearest to you) led to my advocacy for the Free Our Data project so that we could include maps, tide times (which matter, a lot, for sea cliff climbing) and location data without busting our tiny budget.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified