Start Up No.887: Google’s (still) tracking your Android phone, safeguarding self-driving cars, tech v kids, and more


Age-related macular degeneration: a Google algorithm can spot it. Photo by Community Eye Health on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. And emails too now! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hackers plan to keep GM’s self-driving cars safe • Yahoo News

Rob Pegoraro:

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Their plan for the autonomous vehicles coming from Cruise, based on the Chevy Bolt electric car, starts with a simple premise: Remove the systems that opened up those other vehicles to remote attacks.

Bluetooth? Forget it — the car is driving itself, so you don’t need hands-free calling. The radio? You’ll listen to your phone anyway. And that fancy touchscreen hardwired into the dashboard doesn’t need to exist either, not when the passengers can interact with the car via a stripped-down, locked-down tablet.

“If you don’t need something, take it out,” Valasek said. It’s Security 101 to reduce a device’s “attack surface” — the parts that respond to outside inputs, and which an adversary could therefore try to exploit. But it hasn’t always been Connected Car 101.

Miller’s and Valasek’s formula also includes a healthy dose of paranoia. Their design calls for the car to refuse any inbound connections — no data will come to the vehicle unless it asks for it first.

And much as in the locked-down framework Apple (AAPL) built for the iOS software inside iPhones and iPads, this autonomous-vehicle system will digitally sign and verify code at all levels, with messages from one component to another encrypted whenever possible.

Miller noted one possible speed bump: The wired networking in many cars is too old to support that encryption. “The components in cars are just so far behind,” he complained.

If this level of security by design sounds like something worth paying extra for — sorry, you can’t. Cruise Automation will run only as a ride-hailing service, like an Uber or Lyft but devoid of life forms in the driver’s seat.

That solves the issue of how you sell a car without a radio or Bluetooth: You don’t have to.

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Clever – and probably necessary.
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The tech industry’s psychological war on kids • Medium

Richard Freed is a psychologist treating children and adolescents:

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Nestled in an unremarkable building on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, is the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, founded in 1998. The lab’s creator, Dr. B.J. Fogg, is a psychologist and the father of persuasive technology, a discipline in which digital machines and apps — including smartphones, social media, and video games — are configured to alter human thoughts and behaviors. As the lab’s website boldly proclaims: “Machines designed to change humans.”

Fogg speaks openly of the ability to use smartphones and other digital devices to change our ideas and actions: “We can now create machines that can change what people think and what people do, and the machines can do that autonomously.” Called “the millionaire maker,” Fogg has groomed former students who have used his methods to develop technologies that now consume kids’ lives. As he recently touted on his personal website, “My students often do groundbreaking projects, and they continue having impact in the real world after they leave Stanford… For example, Instagram has influenced the behavior of over 800 million people. The co-founder was a student of mine.”

Intriguingly, there are signs that Fogg is feeling the heat from recent scrutiny of the use of digital devices to alter behavior. His boast about Instagram, which was present on his website as late as January of 2018, has been removed. Fogg’s website also has lately undergone a substantial makeover, as he now seems to go out of his way to suggest his work has benevolent aims…

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This is a long piece, but full of remarkable insights into what’s happening with children.
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Artificial intelligence ‘did not miss a single urgent case’ • BBC News

Fergus Walsh:

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A team at DeepMind, based in London, created an algorithm, or mathematical set of rules, to enable a computer to analyse optical coherence tomography (OCT), a high resolution 3D scan of the back of the eye.

Thousands of scans were used to train the machine how to read the scans. Then, artificial intelligence was pitted against humans. The computer was asked to give a diagnosis in the cases of 1,000 patients whose clinical outcomes were already known.

The same scans were shown to eight clinicians – four leading ophthalmologists and four optometrists. Each was asked to make one of four referrals: urgent, semi-urgent, routine and observation only.

Artificial intelligence performed as well as two of the world’s leading retina specialists, with an error rate of only 5.5%. Crucially, the algorithm did not miss a single urgent case.

The results, published in the journal Nature Medicine , were described as “jaw-dropping” by Dr Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist, who is leading the research at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

He told the BBC: “I think this will make most eye specialists gasp because we have shown this algorithm is as good as the world’s leading experts in interpreting these scans.”

Artificial intelligence was able to identify serious conditions such as wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can lead to blindness unless treated quickly. Dr Keane said the huge number of patients awaiting assessment was a “massive problem”.

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Contrast this with IBM’s Watson, trying to solve cancer and doing badly. This has a better data set, clearer pathways to disease, and is better understood generally. Part of doing well with AI is choosing the correct limits to work within.

And this won’t replace the doctors; it will just be a pre-screen.
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Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not • Associated Press

Ryan Nakashima:

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For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.

Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History.

Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude — accurate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account.

The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.

Storing location data in violation of a user’s preferences is wrong, said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau. A researcher from Mayer’s lab confirmed the AP’s findings on multiple Android devices; the AP conducted its own tests on several iPhones that found the same behavior.

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It’s amazing. Location tracking comes up as a topic every two years or so, and it’s always Google (and sometimes Facebook); Apple has managed to stay out of it since 2010. And then it fizzles away. Jonathan Mayer’s involvement is repetitive too: he noted Google hacking Safari’s cookies for ad tracking a few years back.
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Instagram Stories at two: what price have we paid for recording everything? • Esquire

Olivia Ovenden:

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As well as turning holidays into a highlights reel, Stories has forever altered the witching hours of drunken evenings out which are now witnessed by hundreds before the night even ends. On Sunday mornings I now watch a sped-up reel of friends and fleeting acquaintances doing shots or wrestling on the night bus like a trailer advertising their Saturday night.

“I have definitely seen my friends acting up for the camera,” 30-year-old Matt tells me. “It’s always been the case with Instagram but Stories make it so much worse because you’re basically encouraged to share as much as possible.”

Dating, now, also has the added pressure and thrill of knowing exactly when someone you like has looked at what you’ve uploaded. The downside is that this becomes a game of cat and mouse that requires a lot of ‘brand maintenance’.

Lara, 27, tells me she found recording a digest of her day to impress someone exhausting. “I had to delete the app on my phone for a while because I would stage these ridiculous scenes when drunk to impress a guy I was dating,” she says. “I hoped it made my life look like some non-stop party but looking back they were so awful. Even when I was sober I’d get dressed up, post something misleading and see how long until he looked at it.”

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This sounds like a modern form of torture.
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How to lose $3 billion of bitcoin in India • Bloomberg

Archana Chaudhary and Jeanette Rodrigues:

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…on Jan. 4, 2018, the state of Texas filed a cease-and-desist order against BitConnect. North Carolina followed five days later. The news came as the price of bitcoin crashed.

Amid the ensuing market turmoil, the Reserve Bank of India announced measures that virtually banned crypto transactions. Cryptocurrency exchanges responded with a lawsuit that is due to resume hearings in the Supreme Court in September.

Investigators across Gujarat and in the Indian capital of New Delhi say complaints about crypto frauds began pouring in after the U.S. cease-and-desist letters.

Still, those who had been trying to hide untaxed cash were in a quandary. If they went to the authorities, they would have to declare their investments.

So Bhatt and nine accomplices – including Paladiya – kidnapped two BitConnect representatives in Surat and demanded 2,256 bitcoin as ransom, CID investigators alleged. Paladiya, however, wanted more. He contacted his influential uncle, Kotadiya, and tapped the latter’s network in the local police to double-cross Bhatt and allegedly extort his bitcoin, according to allegations in police documents and interviews with investigators.

They were confident of success, gambling that Bhatt wouldn’t go to the authorities and certain that the anonymity of bitcoin would make the heist untraceable, according to the investigators.

They were wrong. Bhatt pressed charges.

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All as a result of Narandra Modi’s move to ban high-denomination currency in November 2016 – just at the sort of time bitcoin began taking off.
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Vietnam confirms suspension of Bitcoin, cryptocurrency miner imports • Cryptocurrency News

Samburaj Das:

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Domestic businesses and individuals have stopped importing crypto mining equipment altogether since the beginning of July, according to the Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) Customs Department, as reported by Viet Nam News on Monday.

Officials from Vietnam’s largest city said individuals and firms had imported as many as 3,664 application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) devices in the first half of 2018. 3,000 machines were notably imported by four enterprises involved in mining operations with the rest imported by individuals and organizations who did not include import tax codes, the authority said. A majority of the devices were revealed to be Antminer models, a brand of cryptocurrency mining equipment developed by industry giant Bitmain.

As reported previously, Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance (MoF) first proposed the blanket ban in June after authorities in the nation increased their scrutiny into the domestic crypto sector following a nationwide ICO-fraud that reportedly conned an estimated $660 million from 32,000 domestic investors. The fallout led Vietnam’s prime minister ordering six government ministries, the police, and the central bank to investigate the scam.

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Media democratization and the rise of Trump • ROUGH TYPE

Nicholas Carr, reviewing the new book “Trump and the Media” – a collection of essays:

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One contentious question is whether social media in general and Twitter in particular actually changed the outcome of the vote. Keith N. Hampton, of Michigan State University, finds “no evidence” that any of the widely acknowledged malignancies of social media, from fake news to filter bubbles, “worked in favor of a particular presidential candidate.” Drawing on exit polls, he shows that most demographic groups voted pretty much the same in 2016 as they had in the Obama-Romney race of 2012. The one group that exhibited a large and possibly decisive shift from the Democratic to the Republican candidate were white voters without college degrees. Yet these voters, surveys reveal, are also the least likely to spend a lot of time online or to be active on social media. It’s unfair to blame Twitter or Facebook for Trump’s victory, Hampton suggests, if the swing voters weren’t on Twitter or Facebook.

What Hampton overlooks are the indirect effects of social media, particularly its influence on press coverage and public attention. As the University of Oxford’s Josh Cowls and Ralph Schroeder write, Trump’s Twitter account may have been monitored by only a small portion of the public, but it was followed, religiously, by journalists, pundits, and politicos. The novelty and frequent abrasiveness of the tweets — they broke all the rules of decorum for presidential campaigns — mesmerized the chattering class throughout the primaries and the general election campaign, fueling a frenzy of retweets, replies, and hashtags. Social media’s biggest echo chamber turned out to be the traditional media elite.

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link to this extract


The woman who just cost Google $5bn revealed her next target, and it could spell trouble for Apple • Business Insider

Jake Kanter:

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In a written answer to a question from an EU lawmaker, [Margrethe] Vestager said her team is about to launch a review of smartphone chargers, amid concerns that tech firms have not acted on a promise to standardize charging points.

Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Nokia were among 14 companies to sign a voluntary deal in 2009, agreeing to harmonize chargers for new models of smartphones coming into the market in 2011.

Vestager said progress against this aim had not been good enough. “Given the unsatisfactory progress with this voluntary approach, the Commission will shortly launch an impact assessment study to evaluate costs and benefits of different other options,” she said.

This could spell all sorts of trouble for Apple. Android phones use either USB-C and micro-USB connectors into the handset, and Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector is something of an outlier. This may make it an obvious target for Vestager’s investigation.

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Vestager’s intent is to reduce e-waste – that when someone buys a new phone, they don’t need to throw out the charger from their old one. Pre-smartphones, this used to be a terrible problem: Sony, Nokia and Motorola all had different, incompatible chargers.

Now it’s the Android phones where you find incompatibility, to be honest. All of Apple’s are Lightning (unlike 2012, when you could still buy 32-pin phones, but Lightning had come in). And all Apple’s chargers have a USB-A socket, so you can use them with other leads.

I can see Vestager might want to go somewhere with this, but I’m not sure how well it’s going to work.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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