Start Up No.888: Apple aims for health chip, faking YouTube, the truth about fighting fake news, drones at work!, and more


Voting on the blockchain! Super pointless! Photo by Keith Ivey on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. If it were a fruit machine, we’d have hit the jackpot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple looks to develop chip for processing health data • CNBC

Jordan Novet and Christina Farr:

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Building custom chips for narrow functions can help Apple add new features and improve efficiency of its hardware while protecting its intellectual property from would-be imitatotrs.

A July 10 job posting from Apple’s Health Sensing hardware team says, “We are looking for sensor ASIC architects to help develop ASICs for new sensors and sensing systems for future Apple products. We have openings for analog as well as digital ASIC architects.”

It’s not clear what the sensors would measure, but it appears to be information from the body. An Aug. 1 posting said simply that the team wants to bring on an engineer who can “help develop health, wellness, and fitness sensors.” And a June job listing shows the team was looking to keep working with optical sensors. Currently available Apple Watches have optical sensors that can measure heart rate.

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link to this extract


Homepod sales may be closer to 1-1.5m than 3m since the speaker launched • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

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HomePod shipments totaled an estimated 700,000 units in the second quarter of 2018, giving Apple a roughly 6% share of the worldwide smart speaker market, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

Strategy Analytics previously estimated HomePod shipments totaled 600,000 units in the first quarter of 2018, suggesting that worldwide shipments have reached 1.3m units since the speaker became available to order in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom in late January.

That figure is much lower than one shared by research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, which recently estimated Apple has sold 3m HomePods in the United States alone since the speaker launched.

The significant variance in the datasets stems from the fact that Apple doesn’t disclose HomePod sales, instead grouping the speaker under its “Other Products” category in its earnings reports, alongside the Apple Watch, Apple TV, AirPods, Beats, iPod touch, and other Apple and third-party accessories.

Apple reported revenue of $3.74bn from its “Other Products” category last quarter, up 37% from $2.73bn in the year-ago quarter.

Shipments aren’t sales, either, so it’s impossible to know exactly how many HomePods ended up in the hands of customers.

If we had to guess, we’d say the Strategy Analytics numbers are probably more within the ballpark, as the HomePod is a niche product.

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Niche, certainly. Now the question is: could it carve out a bigger niche if it “did more”, a la Amazon Echo and Google Home? Or are those niche too, but just got in earlier to the game, and captured lots of early adopters?

My feeling is that we’ll find out in the next couple of quarters – by January, when we’ve had both CES and sales estimates for the Christmas quarter – whether Amazon and Google (and Apple) have voice-driven speaker hits on their hands, or just another flash in the technological pan. Michael Love, on Twitter, is pretty sure it’s the latter.
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The flourishing business of fake YouTube views • The New York Times

Michael Keller:

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“I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video,” Mr. Vassilev said in an interview. “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around.”

After Google, more people search on YouTube than on any other site. It is the most popular platform among teenagers, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, beating out giants like Facebook and Instagram. With billions of views a day, the video site helps spur global cultural sensations, spawn careers, sell brands and promote political agendas.

Just as other social media companies have been plagued by impostor accounts and artificial influence campaigns, YouTube has struggled with fake views for years.

The fake-view ecosystem of which Mr. Vassilev is a part can undermine YouTube’s credibility by manipulating the digital currency that signals value to users. While YouTube says fake views represent just a tiny fraction of the total, they still have a significant effect by misleading consumers and advertisers. Drawing on dozens of interviews, sales records, and trial purchases of fraudulent views, The New York Times examined how the marketplace worked and tested YouTube’s ability to detect manipulation.

Inflating views violates YouTube’s terms of service. But Google searches for “buying views” turn up hundreds of sites offering “fast” and “easy” ways to increase a video’s count by 500, 5,000 or even five million. The sites, offering views for just pennies each, also appear in Google search ads.

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This is what happens when you optimise for “engagement”. Compare to Wikipedia…
link to this extract


Why Wikipedia works • NY Mag

Brian Feldman:

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On YouTube, I might make one video about the Stoneman shooting, and you might make another with a totally opposite idea of truth; they’d then duke it out in “the marketplace of ideas” (the YouTube search results). On Wikipedia, there’s only one article about the Stoneman shooting, and it’s created by a group of people discussing and debating the best way to present information in a singular way, suggesting and sometimes voting on changes to a point where enough people are satisfied.

Importantly, that discussion is both entirely transparent, and at the same time “behind the scenes.” The “Talk” pages on which editorial decisions are made are prominently linked to on every entry. Anyone can read, access, and participate — but not many people do. This means both that the story of how an article came to be is made clear to a reader (unlike, say, algorithmic decisions made by Facebook), but also that there is less incentive for a given editor to call attention to themselves in the hopes of becoming a celebrity (unlike, say, the YouTube-star economy).

Wikipedia articles also have stringent requirements for what information can be included. The three main tenets are that (1) information on the site be presented in a neutral point of view, (2) be verified by an outside source, and (3) not be based on original research. Each of these can be quibbled with (what does “neutral” mean?), and plenty of questionable statements slip through — but, luckily, you probably know that they’re questionable because of the infamous “[citation needed]” superscript that peppers the website.

Actual misinformation, meanwhile, is dealt with directly. Consider how the editors treat conspiracy theories. “Fringe theories may be mentioned, but only with the weight accorded to them in the reliable sources being cited,” Wikimedia tweeted in an explanatory thread earlier this week. In contrast, platform companies have spent much of the last year talking about maintaining their role as a platform for “all viewpoints,” and through design and presentation, they flatten everything users post to carry the same weight.

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Succinct, and accurate. What if YouTube was forced to limit itself to a single, checked, accurate video per topic? Sure, it’s like asking musicians to only write one song. Yet there’s that suspicion that there’s a better way to organise it even so.
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Twitter is wrong about Alex Jones: facts are not enough to combat conspiracy theories • The Verge

Laura Hudson:

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Who doesn’t want to think that the truth will always win in the end, that information not only wants to be free, but that this freedom will lead us toward a more just world — especially when it is your job to share information?

But in our current moment, it is a dangerously naïve idea. While the internet has led to the promotion of important voices we might not have otherwise heard, the last decade has demonstrated with searing clarity that this idea has far more powerfully contributed to the amplification of lies, manipulation, and an epistemological collapse that has deformed human discourse and undermined the very notion of truth.

A growing body of research has demonstrated that the distorted light of modern media does not always lead to illumination. In a 2015 paper, MIT professor of political science Adam Berinsky found that rather than debunking rumors or conspiracy theories, presenting people with facts or corrections sometimes entrenched those ideas further.

Another study by Dartmouth researchers found that “if people counter-argue unwelcome information vigorously enough, they may end up with ‘more attitudinally congruent information in mind than before the debate,’ which in turn leads them to report opinions that are more extreme than they otherwise would have had.”

A 2014 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics similarly found that public information campaigns about the absence of scientific evidence for a link between autism and vaccinations actually “decreased intent to vaccinate among parents who had the least favorable vaccine attitudes.” When people feel condescended to by the media or told that they are simply rubes being manipulated — even by expert political manipulators — they are more likely to embrace those beliefs even more strongly.

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This is a terrific article, worth reading in full.
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West Virginia’s Voatz blockchain voting pilot … is another single-user blockchain as a database •Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard, quoting West Virginia’s deputy legal counsel:

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Voatz incorporates a series of various security procedures eligible voters must go through before they can even get the chance to cast a vote.

“You take a photo of your photo ID and then they take a selfie of themselves,” Kersey explained. “Facial recognition software is then deployed to compare the photo on the ID and the photo of the person who took the picture. Only if that’s verified will you be registered to use the application and receive a ballot. Once you’re in, it matches you in the application to you in the voter registration.”

The process then involves further verification from the county clerk, staff from the Secretary of State’s office and staff assigned to the effort at Voatz.

“Then you receive your ballot and use Voatz to make selections by clicking on your screen,” Kersey explained. “And when you’re done, you click the vote button.”

Kersey said once the person clicks the vote button, a third and final layer of biometric security is triggered involving either a second “selfie photo” or thumbprint.

“Once it’s good, the vote goes into a digital lockbox. This is where Blockchain comes in.”

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That is — all the hard work is identifying the voter. Then they put the vote into Voatz’ private database, and take at face value the hype claims of anything labeled “blockchain” being a tamper-proof “digital lockbox” — even as it’s under Voatz’ complete control.

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In other words, the stuff about the vote being “on the blockchain” is just pointless. Puzzling too why the US feels that physical paper isn’t good enough for the job. Gerard’s book “Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain”, written last year, is an excellent primer on all the hype around blockchain and bitcoin.
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Apple and Huawei flex their strength in a declining tablet market • IDC

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According to the latest figures published by International Data Corporation (IDC), the overall tablet market for Western Europe declined 10.1% YoY, shipping 6.3 million units in the second quarter of 2018 (2Q18).

Slates exhibited a degree of resilience in the commercial space, following strength in certain niche use-case deployments. However, market saturation, lengthening life cycles and a lack of innovation resulted in the ongoing sluggish demand on the consumer side, leading to an overall decline of 6.1% YoY. In terms of volume, detachables had a challenging quarter, declining by 23.3% YoY. As the market has become increasingly dominated by Apple and Microsoft, and consequently more premium-focused, the range of options available to more price-constrained customers has diminished, leading them to consider cheaper alternatives such as lower end convertibles or even traditional PCs. Furthermore, the announcement of upcoming product releases from the main players likely acted as an inhibiting factor on overall demand this quarter, as customers postponed their purchases in anticipation of these newer devices.

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Samsung hangs on there in second place, but it’s down more than the market, while Huawei roared up into third place. It’s only selling a third as many as Samsung (and a quarter as many as Apple), but it’s definitely pushing hard.

Apple had a 30% share. And probably a 90% share of the profits. (To reiterate, these are the western Europe figures.)
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Deploying drones • Bloomberg

Brianna Jackson:

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The reach of drones across US sectors is wide, especially since the unmanned aerial vehicles can go places that may not be safe for workers and are generally faster and less expensive than people. They can be particularly good for inspecting wind turbines and solar farms, according to Bloomberg NEF. In one case, drones took about a week to evaluate the 80 turbines at a German offshore wind farm, a task that would’ve required three months for workers to visually examine each blade.

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Thus demonstrating my related point about Magic Leap’s pricey AR headset, in a roundabout way: there’s insufficient consumer demand for drones to keep that market afloat. But there’s very real business demand for them, and business is less price-sensitive. The market therefore lies in pricier, more functional machines. Ditto for AR headsets: the consumer use case just isn’t there (it isn’t even there for gaming with VR headsets), so the business/industrial space is the one to aim for.
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FBI warns of ‘unlimited’ ATM cashout blitz • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

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Organized cybercrime gangs that coordinate unlimited attacks typically do so by hacking or phishing their way into a bank or payment card processor. Just prior to executing on ATM cashouts, the intruders will remove many fraud controls at the financial institution, such as maximum ATM withdrawal amounts and any limits on the number of customer ATM transactions daily.

The perpetrators also alter account balances and security measures to make an unlimited amount of money available at the time of the transactions, allowing for large amounts of cash to be quickly removed from the ATM.

“The cyber criminals typically create fraudulent copies of legitimate cards by sending stolen card data to co-conspirators who imprint the data on reusable magnetic strip cards, such as gift cards purchased at retail stores,” the FBI warned. “At a pre-determined time, the co-conspirators withdraw account funds from ATMs using these cards.”

Virtually all ATM cashout operations are launched on weekends, often just after financial institutions begin closing for business on Saturday. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke a story about an apparent unlimited operation used to extract a total of $2.4m from accounts at the National Bank of Blacksburg in two separate ATM cashouts between May 2016 and January 2017.

In both cases, the attackers managed to phish someone working at the Blacksburg, Virginia-based small bank. From there, the intruders compromised systems the bank used to manage credits and debits to customer accounts.

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link to this extract


SEC slaps ‘fraudulent’ ICO founder with $30K fine, lifetime ban • CoinDesk

Stan Higgins and Nikhilesh De:

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced Tuesday that it had secured new prohibitions against the founder of a company behind an allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO).

The agency said that it obtained officer-and-director and penny-stock bars against David Laurance and his company, Tomahawk Exploration LLC. Tomahawk, the SEC alleges, sought to raise funds through a “Tomahawkcoin” token sale that utilized misleading marketing materials and false claims about oil drilling licenses.

Further, the Tomahawkcoin is said to have been sold along with the false promise that “token owners would be able to convert the Tomahawkcoins into equity and potentially profit from the anticipated oil production and secondary trading of the tokens,” according to the SEC’s statement on the matter.

According to the Tuesday announcement, Laurance has neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s allegations but he and the company have agreed to the bars along with a $30,000 penalty.

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A gloomy day on the crypto range: Bitcoin’s value plunged briefly below $6,000, and “Pot Publication High Times Now Says It Won’t Accept Bitcoin in IPO”. Downer.
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Why solar is likely to power the home of the future • The Verge

Angela Chen on US trends, noting that 2m out of 90m US homes have solar panels – but California recently made it a requirement that new homes have solar panels:

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If solar becomes ubiquitous, we’ll likely see it being integrated with smart energy management systems in the home, predicts Bywater. These will regulate the battery, the home by using different sensors, and the solar panels. “The real trick is for the system to know how to make someone comfortable and how to be aggressive on conserving energy,” he says. It should know the optimal temperature of the home and how to change it based on utility rates and the time of day to save money.

Ultimately, says Baca, “we’re personally looking forward to a day when solar is as ubiquitous as AC.” Very few places had air conditioners when the technology first became available, and now it’s rare to find a builder who would create a new home without it. “People think something’s missing when it’s not there,” he says. “I think that’s where we’re going with solar, and I hope we see it sooner rather than later.”

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Given the preponderance of air conditioning (AC) systems in the US and its creaking electrical grid, you’d think the power companies would be encouraging local generation like crazy.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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5 thoughts on “Start Up No.888: Apple aims for health chip, faking YouTube, the truth about fighting fake news, drones at work!, and more

  1. Sigh. That’s a credulous article about Wikipedia, misleading in multiple ways. Yes, I will grant, Wikipedia doesn’t have the bad outcomes which arise from clickbait outrage-mongering business models. Unfortunately the problem is too many writers stop thinking at that point, concluding (to radically simplify for conciseness) that since Wikipedia isn’t horrible in that one specific failure-mode, Wikipedia must be great. It’s extremely bad in many other ways, just not the particular obsession of these types of writers (namely, the phenomena of demagogic hucksters playing to the low-information crowds).

    Simple proof: the many pains of people who find their Wikipedia biography filled with attacks and sensationalism give the lie to the article’s title.

    I understand the temptation to talk-up Wikipedia. I grasp it in terms of the mess of the current media environment. But I’m unrepentant about Wikipedia being fundamentally flawed. These people are wrong, they’re grasping at straws out of desperation and/or ignorance. Any organization which can be described as having an attitude of “experts are scum” will do badly by truth.

    • What’s the solution though ? The press, encyclopedias, books, TV, radio all have also b shown to be “hackable”, biased, incomplete, unreliable… Is Wikipedia such a bad compromise ? What replacement are you proposing ?

      • It’s not any sort of compromise since it’s so deeply anti-intellectual, again just playing to a different crowd. This isn’t even “enemy of my enemy”. It’s “enemy from another direction”. Note all those sources you list as “hackable” are supposed to be what Wikipedia uses itself, so garbage-in, garbage-out.

        Look, once more, I *understand* the impulse. But this is like being adrift at sea with little pure water provisions. Someone says to drink seawater. I say no, that won’t help, it’ll ultimately make things worse. The reply – it is so bad, and what replacement can I propose? But I can see why someone adrift and suffering from thirst would drink seawater, and it would deceptively seem to help. That doesn’t change the fact it’s a bad idea.

      • My issue is with the term “impulse”. You make it sound like it’s a shallow choice, akin to buying coffee from whichever shop you’re in front of. For me and people around me, it’s not an impulse, but a rational choice to get accurate, basic, free, instant info on pretty much any topic. It’s certainly not the best source for in-depth info, nor for divisive (political, religious, sexual) topics. But it’s a very good start for all other topics, and a passable start even for these hot issues.

        Also, many (most ?) articles are not written up by laymen cribbing off other second-hand material, but by amateurs or experts with their on first-hand knowledge of the topic. Not all, and it’s indeed a pain to guess if an article is fully valid, updated, and on point; but most.

        I go out of my way to get good coffee. And I start most of my research on Wikipedia, if only to delineate a topic, and as a non-native speaker make sure I use the right vocabulary. It makes googling up further specialized websites and forums a lot more efficient. Also, explore [sources] ^^

  2. “Why solar is likely to power the home of the future • The Verge”
    US power companies care only about maximizing their own profits consequences be damned. Several actually try to charge people with solar a surcharge for reducing usage because it impacts their profitability.

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