Start Up No.899: FTC prods backpack crowdfunder, WearOS redesigned, Miami’s freshwater problem, Amazon’s tennis trouble, and more

This is basically all homeopathy uses. You’d think they could avoid poisoning people. Photo by Petras Gagilas on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. It’s the weather. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The FTC is investigating a crowdfunding campaign that disappeared with more than $700K • The Verge

Ashley Carman:


The Federal Trade Commission might have a renewed interest in justice for crowdfunding backers. Emails seen by The Verge show that the agency is investigating at least one crowdfunding campaign gone bad — the iBackPack — which raised more than $700,000 across both Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

The backpack’s creator, Doug Monahan, marketed the device as a Wi-Fi-enabled, battery-packed backpack that would power gadgets on the go and provide a local hot spot for wearers’ friends. It launched on Indiegogo in 2015 and Kickstarter in 2016. Years later, the backpack has yet to ship, although some backers did receive “beta” device accessories, like batteries and cables, some time ago. Monahan’s two previous campaigns never reached their funding goals, but they were eventually used to market the iBackPack.

These backers tell The Verge that an FTC agent began reaching out to them this week in an effort to research the campaign…

…The iBackpack backers believe Monahan sold their information to other crowdfunding companies, as evidenced by communications they’ve had with some of these groups. They’ve also been told that the years-long delays had to do with undefined battery issues, including possible lithium-ion battery explosions. Monahan last posted an update to Kickstarter and Indiegogo in March 2017.

One backer said he was told by the FTC agent over email that the agency will “always try to recover any money we can for consumers when we file cases in court. Unfortunately, if the money has already been spent by the company or individual there is no money to recover.”

The website for iBackPack no longer functions, nor does the listed email address, and Monahan is completely incommunicado. The backers hope the FTC can find him and recover their funds, or at least bring his ill-fated campaign to light.


Monahan’s going to have to change his name if he wants to survive in the modern world. Searches on his name in future will be brutal.
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Homeopathic company expands recall as FDA warns of “life-threatening” infections • Ars Technica

Beth Mole:


On Tuesday, the agency issued its own alert about King Bio’s products and offered a scathing perspective of the company’s manufacturing standards and business.

In the agency’s alert, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was quoted as saying: “We take product-quality issues seriously, and when we see substandard conditions during the course of our inspections—in this case conditions that are leading to high levels of microbial contamination with the potential to harm the public—we act swiftly to try to ensure the products are removed from circulation.”

The alert went on to note that, in a recent FDA inspection of King Bio’s manufacturing facility, the agency discovered that “several” microbial contaminants had turned up in the company’s products, including the bacteria Burkholderia multivorans. This is an opportunistic pathogen that causes severe illnesses in people with compromised immune systems and is a rare but emerging cause of meningitis. The FDA added that it also found evidence indicating “recurring microbial contamination associated with the water system used to manufacture drug products.”

After King Bio issued the expanded recall on August 22, the FDA immediately notified the company that it needed to do more. “The FDA contacted King Bio on August 23, 2018 and recommended the company again expand its recall to include all products that use water as an ingredient, including drug products for humans and animals,” the agency explained in the alert.


Amazing: how can a company that (basically) sells water screw something like this up so colosally?
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Huge Wear OS redesign is coming, check out how it works in these GIFs • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:


The updated Wear OS will put more of an emphasis on getting to important information at the time it matters most to you. It also brings smarter health tracking and coaching (in tandem with the newly updated Google Fit) and more proactive help from Google Assistant.

Google hopes that these new features will help you get the most out of every minute of every day.

In the Wear OS redesign, you can easily see your notifications as well as quickly get to settings and functions that you use often. By swiping up on the screen you’ll see a stream of notifications along with Google Assistant-powered smart replies you can easily send with a quick tap.

Swiping down from the top of your watch face will bring up handy shortcuts to most important apps, like Google Pay, Find my Phone, and more.


So, basically, a lot closer to Apple’s WatchOS.

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Miami’s other water problem • Bloomberg

Christopher Flavelle:


As developers built out Southeast Florida, they found that instead of connecting each new home to the local sewer system, it was often easier to install septic tanks. Miami-Dade has about 90,000. “It was the magic carpet for quick, cheap development in Florida,” says Brian Lapointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University who focuses on the role of septic tanks in water contamination. These tanks are typically used in rural areas where homes are too far apart to justify connecting them to a central sewage system—but also in places where residential construction happens faster than municipal infrastructure development. Septic tanks trap solid waste, which is supposed to be pumped out, while the liquid stuff drains into the soil, where gravity and time filter out bacteria and whatever else is in it before it reaches groundwater. In Southeast Florida, that groundwater is especially close to the surface—and rising.

The state requires at least two feet of dry soil between the bottom of the drainage field and the top of the water table, but Lapointe says that during the wet season, the groundwater in parts of southern Florida already comes above that two-foot threshold. More intense flooding and rainstorms will swell the water table further, on top of the gains caused by sea level rise, sending partially treated human waste into the aquifer. That waste can contain E. coli bacteria, which cause diarrhea, vomiting, and even kidney failure. High levels of nitrates, another component of untreated waste, cause what’s called blue baby syndrome, in which infants’ blood can no longer carry sufficient oxygen.

Lapointe adds that one of the ways researchers track septic-tank contamination is by tracking the levels of acetaminophen in the groundwater. “People’s medications are coming with that septic-tank effluent.” The wonders of the human digestive system are many and varied, containing any number of other bacteria and viruses—“all these other organic compounds that may or may not be affected by the treatment at the utility plant,” he says.

How long does Miami have before the water table overwhelms the septic system? Officials, including the South Miami mayor, worry that the point of failure is closer than people realize. Says Stoddard, “I’m convinced that some of those septic systems are working by force of habit rather than by the laws of physics.”


And this is only one of multiple ways that Flavelle describes in which south Florida’s water supply is overwhelmed and liable to pollution. But who wants to pay taxes for better services?
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With expectations of a positive second half of 2018 and beyond, smartphone volumes poised to return to growth • IDC


Android’s smartphone share will hover around 85% share throughout the forecast. Volumes are expected to grow at a five-year CAGR of 2.4%, with shipments approaching 1.41bn in 2022. Among the more interesting trends happening with Android shipments is that average selling prices (ASPs) are growing at a double-digit pace. IDC expects Android ASPs to grow 11.4% in 2018 to $262, up from $235 in 2017.

IDC expects this upward trajectory to continue through the forecast, but at a more tempered low single-digit rate from 2019 and beyond. This is a sign of many OEMs slowly migrating their user base upstream to the slightly more expensive handsets. Overall this is a positive sign that consumers are seeing the benefits of moving to a slightly more premium device than they likely previously owned. The broad range of colors, screen sizes, features, and brands are a large catalyst for this movement.

For iOS, iPhone volumes are expected to grow by 2.1% in 2018 to 220.4m in total. IDC is forecasting iPhones to grow at a five-year CAGR of 2.0%, reaching volumes of 238.5m by 2022. With larger screen iOS smartphones coming up for launch in the second half of 2018, IDC has shifted greater volumes into the 6in to sub-7in screen size forecast for iOS. Products are on schedule to begin shipping in the third quarter and ramping up into the fourth quarter of 2018, with volumes growing to account for half of all iPhones shipped by 2022.


The OS market is a complete duopoly; 85% Android, 15% iOS. And IDC sees it continuing that way. Apple gets the money, Android gets the volume.
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Amazon suspends reviews of US Open coverage after deluge of complaints • The Guardian

Mark Sweney:


Amazon’s $40m five-year deal to broadcast the US Open to UK tennis fans – its first exclusive broadcast of a sports event – was meant to showcase the Silicon Valley giant’s streaming prowess and prove it can match traditional broadcasters and become a credible home for live sport.

The company, which has successfully streamed NFL matches in the US, has pulled out all the stops, including setting up its own studio at Flushing Meadows and drafting in former players such as Jim Courier, Greg Rusedski, Annabel Croft and Mark Petchey.

However, the internet giant has been inundated with complaints about a host of problems including the picture and sound quality of its streaming service and an inability to record matches. Almost 90% of the 650 reviews posted by subscribers to its £5.99 Prime Video service, home to its US Open coverage, gave Amazon just 1 or 2 stars.

“There is no replay option, no ability to record [and] the picture quality is very poor,” said one unhappy tennis fan. “It’s like going back in time 25 years.”

Others urged Amazon to “give tennis back to Sky and Eurosport”, which both used to broadcast the US Open in the UK before Amazon snapped up the exclusive rights.


Total 765 complaints by the time it suspended them; 627 of them 1-star. The five-star ones insist that it’s just about download speed, and ignore the fact that ITV and Eurosport had coverage of every court – not just three or four. Someone’s getting fired at Amazon.
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Announcing LTE Beacon for asset tracking • Estimote


Today we are proud to announce another revolutionary IoT device. Once again, we chose to leverage emerging IoT technologies (LTE M1 and NB-IoT) and have designed and productized a new device we call the “Estimote LTE Beacon.”

It’s a small, wireless beacon that can compute both its precise indoor and outdoor position. It can talk directly to the cloud and last multiple years on a battery.
Estimote LTE Beacons are designed primarily to seamlessly locate assets and vehicles when they move between indoor and outdoor environments. Their secure firmware/cloud software is crafted to provide true “proof of location” and “proof of delivery.”

Since the device is fully programmable using JavaScript, it can also support other creative use-cases — for example, it can act as a remotely managed iBeacon or a gateway used to configure other Bluetooth beacons.

The best way to think of this new IoT device is to imagine it as a small smartphone, but without a screen. It can last years between charges and the cost is similar to a beacon. It has cellular LTE connectivity, built-in GPS, and Bluetooth radio. And it is also possible to create and download apps that run on the LTE beacon.


Apparently a use for this will be for Hilton and other hotel chains so that housekeepers can push it as a panic button: it’s accurate to a metre.
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Russia secretly ran news websites in eastern Europe • Buzzfeed News

Holger Roonemaa and Inga Springe:


Russian state media created secret companies in order to bankroll websites in the Baltic states — a key battleground between Russia and the West — and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The scheme has only come to light through Skype chats and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, Estonian newspaper Postimees, and investigative journalism outlet Re:Baltica via freedom of information laws, as part of a criminal probe into the individual who was Moscow’s man on the ground in Estonia.

The Skype logs and other files, obtained from computers seized by investigators, reveal the secrets and obfuscating tactics used by Russia as it tries to influence public opinion and push Kremlin talking points.

The websites presented themselves as independent news outlets, but in fact, editorial lines were dictated directly by Moscow. Raul Rebane, a leading strategic communications expert in Estonia, said that this scheme and others like it are “systemic information-related activities on foreign territory. In other words — information warfare.”

He said that Russian propaganda networks in the Baltics had been operating for years but had become more intense recently. “The pressure to turn [Estonia] from facing the West to facing the East has grown.”

Long before Russian interference in the 2016 US election became one of the biggest stories in the world, and Kremlin disinformation campaigns became a household issue, Moscow faced accusations of trying to influence public opinion in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which are all members of NATO.

The revelations about the websites in the Baltic states provide a rare and detailed inside look into how such disinformation campaigns work, and the lengths to which Moscow is willing to go to obscure its involvement in such schemes.


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Don’t pretend Facebook and Twitter’s CEOs can’t fix this mess • WIRED

Ellen Pao (who was, for a time, CEO of Reddit):


Companies can address harassment without hurting their platforms. Taking down shitty content works, and research supports it. When we took down unauthorized nude photos and revenge porn, nothing bad happened. The site continued to function, and all the other major sites followed. A few months later, we banned the five most harassing subreddits. And we saw right away that if we kept taking down the replacement sites, they would eventually disappear. University researchers who studied the impact of the ban report that it successfully shut down the content and changed bad behavior over time on the site—without making other sites worse.

If you’re a CEO and someone dies because of harassment or false information on your platform—even if your platform isn’t alone in the harassment—your company should face some consequences. That could mean civil or criminal court proceedings, depending on the circumstances. Or it could mean advertisers take a stand, or your business takes a hit.

Today, I don’t see a single CEO or even board member who is willing (or perhaps able) to step up and say: “Enough. I’m willing to focus on quality and user experience. I am willing to take a hit on quantity to create a real place for meaningful conversation and to end harassment, misinformation, and the goal of engagement at any cost.” We need to fill this vacuum of leadership.


Of course, advertisers are happy to ignore the consequences too; let’s not forget that. They’re the ones who can ultimately make these free-to-use services really think about what they’re doing. If companies were pulling multi-million campaigns and making a noise about it, perhaps that would do it. Though we’ve seen that with YouTube, and little changed.
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The rise of giant consumer startups that said no to investor money • Recode

Jason Del Rey:


When Moiz Ali launched his startup Native, the maker of a natural deodorant brand, he couldn’t help but be self-conscious when mingling with other Bay Area entrepreneurs.

“In Silicon Valley, it’s often embarrassing when you haven’t raised money,” Ali told Recode recently. “When I’d go to parties or dinners, entrepreneurs would talk about how many employees they had. But for me, it was just me.”

Native eventually secured $550,000 from professional and individual investors, a relative pittance in the startup world where $100 million funding rounds and billion dollar valuations are discussed in a way that could sound like the norm.

For Ali, the limited funds meant cautious spending on marketing, a staff size that never rose above 10 and, even rarer, the need to turn a profit on each sale. In the earliest days, Ali and his small team also followed up with every disappointed customer — an education that eventually led to what’s called “product-market fit,” or the creation of a good that a large number of people in a certain market want.

So when Native sold to Procter & Gamble last year for $100 million in cash — just two-and-a-half years after launching — Ali could laugh last; he still owned more than 90% of his business and was worth a fortune. As important to him, he kept a strong grip on the brand’s destiny by remaining its CEO.


In a way, this story is unintentionally hilarious: as though a new tribe had been discovered, which Doesn’t! Take! Venture! Capital! Funding! When in reality, working your way up from “small and profitable” to “big and profitable” has been a favoured business approach since forever. All that’s slightly tweaked is that “direct-to-consumer” can use the web to expand their sales base, and follow up with happy (or sad) customers.
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Nest x Yale smart lock now supports Google Assistant voice commands • Android Central

Joe Maring:


This is the first time any voice commands have been available for the Nest x Yale, and with Google Assistant support, you’ll be able to check the status of the lock, lock your door, and add it to any of your Assistant Routines. For example, if you add the Nest x Yale lock to a Routine titled “Goodnight”, you can turn off your lights, set an alarm, and lock all your doors with just one command.

All of these controls should prove to be mighty convenient, but take note that you won’t be able to unlock your door using Google Assistant. This was done as a sort of security precaution, and if you ask us, is a smart move on Nest’s part. Nest says you’ll be able to use Assistant commands for the Nest x Yale on both Google Home speakers and smartphones.


As it happens I wasn’t asking you, Joe, but it’s staringly obvious that you don’t want a door that can be unlocked using voice control. We don’t even need to go into why.

Meanwhile, the “Goodnight” routine is undoubtedly a clever idea, and those of a nervous disposition might like to be able to be sure whether the door is locked or unlocked. Baby steps, but that’s the way to make the smart home really work.
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Fitbit heart data reveals its secrets • Yahoo Finance

David Pogue:


Before you freak out: Fitbit’s data is anonymized. Your name is stripped off, and your data is thrown into a huge pool with everybody else’s. (Note, too, that this data comes only from people who own Fitbits — who are affluent enough, and health-conscious enough, to make that purchase. It’s not the whole world.)

Most of what you’re about to read involves resting heart rate. That’s your heart rate when you’re still and calm. It’s an incredibly important measurement. It’s like a letter grade for your overall health. “The cool thing about resting heart rate is that it’s a really informative metric in terms of lifestyle, health, and fitness as a whole,” says Scott McLean, Fitbit’s principal R&D scientist.

For one thing — sorry, but we have to go here — the data suggests that a high resting heart rate (RHR) is a strong predictor of early death. According to the Copenhagen Heart Study, for example, you’re twice as likely to die from heart problems if your RHR is 80, compared with someone whose RHR is below 50. And three times as likely to die if your RHR is over 90.

Studies have found a link between RHR and diabetes, too. “In China, 100,000 individuals were followed for four years,” says Hulya Emir-Farinas, Fitbit’s director of data science. “For every 10 beats per minute increase in resting heart rate, the risk of developing diabetes later in life was 23% higher.”

So what’s a good RHR? “The lower the better. It really is that simple,” she says. Your RHR is probably between 60 and 100 beats a minute. If it’s outside of that range, you should see a doctor. There could be something wrong.

…Fitbit’s data confirms a lot of what cardiologists already know. But because the Fitbit data set is ridiculously huge, it unearthed some surprises, too.

“I was a researcher in my past life,” says McLean. “You would conduct an experiment for 20 minutes, then you’d make these huge hypotheses and conclusions about what this means for the general population. We don’t have to do that. We have a large enough data set where we can confidently make some really insightful conclusions.”


Some of it really is counterintuitive – such as these on heart rate by age, and against BMI.

It would be great to be able to analyse this data in more detail – but Fitbit’s not making it public.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.899: FTC prods backpack crowdfunder, WearOS redesigned, Miami’s freshwater problem, Amazon’s tennis trouble, and more

  1. I’m always a little bit surprised by rising smartphone ASPs. Over the past couple of years, midrangers have gone from “good enough” to “delightful”, and have become cheaper – again, that Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 which is basically a $150 Samsung Galaxy S6.

    I think flagships are wildly overserving except the list dedicated cave photographers. My 2 best explanations:
    1- fashion. Smartphones are handbags, having something recent cute expensive is a powerful social marker.
    2- Users are at least on their 2nd smartphone, and realizing how much they use those, so ready to pay more for a little extra comfort. Smartphones costs tenths of cents per hour of use anyway, one of the cheapest entertainment/tool.
    3- A variant of that, people around me who used to insist on small phones now want bigger screens (so slightly more expensive phones, $250 7″ Mi Max instead of $150 Redmi Note 5, they’re the same apart from the screen; or Note 5 instead of 5.2″ non-Note) . Any data on that ? Is screen size the driver in ASP rise ?

    • I think fashion explains a little. In China, certainly, a new Apple design is quickly copied (*cough*notch*cough*) so that it looks as though you have The New Thing. I’ve certainly seen that in Shenzhen.
      The “pay more to get more, because you want more” explanation certainly makes sense. We live inside our phones, so why not get a more comfortable place to stay, where you don’t have lag, and it’s roomy, and bright?
      I don’t know if screen size is driving ASP. If I find an analyst to ask, I will.

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